Friday, February 13, 2015

Break the Rules, Dammit!

At the last meeting of Sisters in Crime at our San Joaquin chapter, we had a visit from two charming Bay Area writers that delivered a punch with their talks both at the meeting and at the venue that followed. 

Seal of Approval
is the President of National Sister in Crime (an organization that was formed to support women writers who were not getting a fair shake in the publishing/promoting arenas) She has been nominated for an Edgar Award and brought along the Sisters in Crime mascot, Seal of Approval, with her. 

is in charge of Publicity for National Sisters in Crime. He is an accomplished author with more than 150 published stories and articles under his belt and winner of an Anthony Award. He had some writing advice that goes against the grain of what we have been hearing regurgitated in the writing community for quite a while. Some of this advice is opposite what you might have heard. 

Since I began reading his latest thriller first, The One That Got Away, I thought it would be good to pass along some of the writing advice he shared with us, which he clearly follows with a facility of style in his novels.

Rules for series characters:
  • See the character grow through the series. What is the overarching goal?
1.       You shouldn’t be able to sum up your character in one line. You can’t describe a ‘personality succinctly. You can get to know someone–over time.
2.      You need a ‘voice’ for that character. Take out all that is not her/his voice in the re-write.
3.      The character sees himself and knows that he’s not perfect.
  • On the other hand, a good crime novel does not have to have good or great characters. So, plot, pace and high stakes can make it alone. Think about James Bond, Jack Reacher, Robert Langdon—they are not complicated figures, but they maintain a certain attitude—that’s about it. Yet they pull us through book after book. We don’t have to know why a personality does what he does only that he reacts in certain ways.
  • A true flaw in your main character has to have a cost. You have to do it in a way that works. (Girl on a Train and Gone Girl—unlikeable characters). 
  • Characters do NOT have to want something. It limits where you go with the character. Your hero can have unresolved desires and wants if he is a series character.

The take away—don’t be bound by the rules and advice of other writers, especially when they don’t work for your story. Sometimes a new and fresh way of writing wakes people up. I guarantee you will find it hard to put down Simon’s novel, The One That Got Away.

Is there a rule that you break in your writing?

Or do you try and follow famous authors' rules consistently?


Clowning at the meeting with my gal pals: 

"NO, wait, let me take my glasses off!"

"Okay, now we're ready. Everybody say cheese."