INSIDE THAT GREAT COVER By Lynde Lakes

 

In previous articles I covered hooks, truth in writing, evoking sympathy, reader identification, empathy, taking the reader with you on a magic carpet and how to heighten suspense. Now lets look closer at what else need to be between the pages of that great cover:

 

MENACING YOUR CHARACTER: Dimpled Mary was adorable (tell about her, make us love her.) Just learning to walk, she is curious about everything, reaches for everything, wants to touch it. One Monday morning, her harried mother left a pot of water boiling on the stove while she briefly left the kitchen to answer the phone. Mary looked up at the shinny brown and copper handle of the pot sticking out. She crawled to the stove and stood up, stretching her hand high for the handle….

           

Throughout the story, we want the reader to worry about bad things that might happen to our sympathetic characters. If your character is sympathetic and menaced, you have created a page-turning state of anxiety and apprehension in the reader. Now light the fuse.

 

LIGHTING THE FUSE: Time! Time–time running out in COWBOY LIES. Matt must get his baby and Molly out of harm’s way. But even the FBI, the agency he worked for, is throwing road blocks to stop him. Will he make it?

 

It was day zero when Matt took his brother Luke’s call.. His brother had been watching Molly and her guards from the hotel across the courtyard through high-powered binoculars. “It’s time,” he said. “A woman took yer baby to the adjoining room,” he said in his Texas twang. “Jus’ her, no agents.”

 

Matt’s throat tightened. It’s was the kind of break the kidnapper’s would watch for. He had to get there first. He raced down the hall and knocked on the door adjacent to Molly’s suite.

“Who is it?” Came a voice he recognized—Agent Gina Nagales.

“Matt Ryan. I have a court order.”

“Stand in front of the peep hole,” Gina said.

He complied, and she opened the door, gun in hand.

“You won’t need that. I’m alone.”

Gina tucked the gun back into her holster. Sara Jane was in the play pen, babbling happily. God, she’d grown. He’d missed all those months. Matt showed Gina his phony temporary custody order.

She frowned. “No one told me about this. Hold on. Ramon and Gordon will be here in a moment. You can show this to them.”

            Prepared for resistance, Matt lunged at Gina with a cloth permeated with chloroform and held it over her nose until she stopped struggling and went limp. “I’m breaking every kind of law here,” he whispered.

 

MURDER IN THE CLEAR ZONE, LYNDE LAKES This beginning lights the fuse for what is to come and that is necessary from the get-go.

            Bard Nichols worked in the field which in this instance meant the area within the Aircraft Clear Zone for Norton Air Force Base, better described now as a war zone.

            The thought of the unrest in the clear zone brought Paula Lord’s frizzy red hair and brilliant blue eyes to mind. He couldn’t think of the problems there without seeing the image of the twenty-four-year-old widow. She was trouble. And it wasn’t just her seventy-five birds that gave him a headache.

 

 

MEMORABLE CHARACTERS: Readers can’t sympathize with a wimpy character who can only suffer and wallow in self-pity. They want a character ready and willing to take action. It may not be the right action, but they will jump into the conflict and give it their all. All characters, even wimps, must be dynamic—driven and want something desperately. This desperation is the force inside that fires-up characters. Dynamic characters have conflicting emotions and desires. These strong emotions, such as ambition and love, fear or patriotism or faith, lust, or some other raging emotional fire, pulls our dynamic characters in more than one direction. Only action will lead to more story conflict and more inner conflict.

            Only characters with the uniqueness of real people are worth reading about.   They must have contrasts of inconsistent behavior common to people you know and like, love or hate. Contrasts and rich and varied experiences make character. Interesting people move about in the world and have thought deeply about life and have opinions. Maybe the man was a sailor on the U.S. Arizona, maybe the woman worked on the set of MGM, or have made astronomical sails to isolated islands to view eclipses. Perhaps they have been on spiritual quests, trying to unravel life’s mysteries. In any case, they have fully lived.

Use biographies of real people to get ideas. Look for a biography on your character’s profession–dancers, F.B.I., whatever. If possible, talk to those in the profession.

            Write about people who are good at what they do. Great characters are often a little wacky, colorful, theatrical, exaggerated, flamboyant, ditzy and contrary. Look at the successful TV series, “WILL AND GRACE.” They exaggerate traits to the ridiculous and it works. Use a fear of horses, fear of commitment, etc. Or an obsessive love of gadgets or electronic eavesdropping, or a compulsive need to examine and touch everything like Monk or the lead character does in the movie, “AS GOOD AS IT GETS.” Give us an FBI agent who believes in living life to the fullest, and damn the consequences. Contrast him with a heroine who has a totally different agenda and completely opposite traits. In my werewolf book, I’ve given my heroine a dual nature which she has to learn to tame to operate effectively. Take some risks and make your characters fresh and most of all, memorable.

 

CHARACTER CONTRAST AND SETTING: in LASSO THAT COWBOY Amber is a city girl who—having no place to run—escapes to a ranch and runs smack into more trouble with a capital T.  This former executive’s assistant, who is used to a generous salary and high living, now has to apply for a nanny job on a cattle ranch where she is expected to ride a horse and know her way around a lasso. To set her circumstance off we have plunged her into immediate difficulties with her new boss, a possible deadbeat, and plunked her into an unfamiliar surrounding. To heighten the suspense, she fears someone may have followed her to this place she doesn’t belong in the first place, a place where she’ll forced to deal with new and possibly frightening events and dangerous men? Maybe even her bad boy boss?

 

RULING PASSION: A characters central motivating force, the sum total of all the forces and drives raging within him/her. The ruling passion might be to escape a murder scene and a possible jail sentence, to stay safe, to hide out. It might be something less specific, such as to get retribution on the cowboy who lassoed her, embarrassed her, and scared the hell of her. Or it might be like the mysterious recluse in my werewolf story who simply wants to be left alone. The characters ruling passion determines what he/she will do when faced with dilemmas. The measure of a person is not the charm they reveal in good times, it is the control and intelligence they display in the bad times.

 

Example: COWBOY LIES. In the beginning, Matt has one ruling passion that rules his life—keeping Molly and her baby safe. Matt also has a dormant and an active ruling passion to control every situation. The dormant passion, control, still defines his character for the writer and reader, but it isn’t what motivates him once he takes over the protection of his two charges. At all times our character must remain driven by at least one ruling passion. However, what motivates him in one scene may not be the original passion but he may return to it once the present crisis is past. A characters passion generally isn’t consistent; many times it changes in the course of a story and then changes back as the situation changes. In many great stories, it is the switch from one ruling passion to another that forces dramatic decisions on the character and makes the reader root for the character. Avoid changing the ruling passion too often, make it logical action and reaction.

 

            Secondary characters have the same set of passions. In COWBOY LIES, Matt’s brother, Luke wakes up in a drunken stupor and find a gun in his hand and his brother, Parker, bloody and dead next to him. From the murder on, his driving passion is to proving his innocence and finding killer. After the murder with his brother as a suspect, it also become one more driving passion for Matt who already is carrying the weight of the world on his shoulders. The characters dramatic decision to change his passion ups the stakes and enhances his growth.

 

In LASSO THAT COWBOY, Luke’s passion is to join the rodeo circuit. He hires a nanny, planning for her to accompany him. Amber’s passion to escape crowds, notoriety and remain hidden away, thrusts an opposing passion into the mix, and both characters must struggle to rule and control the situation of the story.

When core conflicts are resolved at the end of a story, the character may return to his or her original ruling passion. But in as in COWBOY LIES, and LASSO THAT COWBOY, all of the characters have undergone such dramatic growth, that new passions have arisen and as in all romances—love rules.

            If a character does return to original the ruling passions, it is often with a different outlook or understanding, which gives finite meaning to the drama of the story.

 

THE DUAL CHARACTER:

The dual character like my killer in BILLBOARD COP suffers opposing natures—good and bad. He shifts in between the three ego states—parent, adult and child where the parent and adult is considered rational and the child irrational. These entirely separate states rule him at different times. This mostly evil man fights to keep the soft side of himself a secret, even from himself. To win he must retain his evilness to the end. But the small boy thrusts him into conflict.

 

DRIVING THROUGH TO THE END:

           Inside that great cover we need strong, dramatic fiction where everything is relevant, everything we put on paper counts, and leads to what is to come—and bring our readers to a climax where all is resolved.

 

(Lynde will continued INSIDE THAT GREAT COVER in a later blog for the wrap-up)  Hugs and Aloha, Lynde

 

 

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