Wednesday, September 26, 2012

How much rope do you give yourself when diving into the minds of killers, cops, and bystanders who have no set religious affiliation?

I think it’s vital to be honest in the way we portray our characters, whatever their religious views might be. I’m a Christian and inevitably approach writing from that point-of-view. I believe that there is one good and gracious God who’s both loving and just, that good and evil exist in our world, that our lives are beautiful but marred by pain, that hope and redemption are ultimately available only through faith in Jesus Christ.

These beliefs about the world—that our lives and choices matter to God, that evil is real, that justice and love will prevail, that redemption is available—affect the stories that I tell and the way that I tell them. If I were to tell a story that glamorized evil or celebrated the things that God abhors, I wouldn’t be writing in a way that is congruent with my convictions. My stories are by no means sermons, but you’ll see themes related to these issues of justice and evil, of hope and love and accountability woven through almost all of the stories I write.

Whenever I’m writing from the perspective of someone who doesn’t believe the same things as I do, I strive to be as honest as I can in portraying that character’s views and beliefs.

But how much rope do I give myself when the character I’m writing about (say for example, a serial killer) has different views of justice, of sin, or accountability to our Creator? Well, I do my best to step into that character’s head and write what he or she would naturally think. And, yes, sometimes it’s frightening. In a few cases, it’s been terrifying.

When I was writing Opening Moves, the villain named Joshua (don’t worry, that’s not a plot spoiler), really startled me in how he viewed people and how alluring it was to him to cause pain in their lives. I had nightmares writing a few of the scenes in this book. I suppose that’s one of the drawbacks of entering into your writing on such an emotional level—it can’t help but affect your emotions. But honestly, I don’t know any other way to write.

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

When creating your characters, do you have a system to organize them, keep their characteristics consistent, make back-stories, etc?

Many authors and writing instructors exhort writers to create long back-stories about their characters. Books and websites offer complex worksheets for this that the aspiring author is supposed to fill out for each character. The templates often include nicknames, favorite sayings, pet peeves, school history, parents names, first pet or job or kiss or . . . well, you get the idea. It goes on and on.

As you can probably tell, I’m not a fan of this system. Here’s why:

(1) If you spend all the time coming up with this material, you’ll be tempted to use it, and more often than not, this is a mistake. Only include information that’s essential for the reader to know about each character. When you unload background information on readers, you’re making a promise that the information is important somehow. If it’s not, you’ve broken your promise to the them.

(2) I don’t know where my best friend went to high school, or the name of his first girlfriend, or where he lived when he was a kid, or any of those things. But I know what he’s passionate about, what makes him angry, what he is willing to sacrifice his time for. A character with an attitude is much more interesting than a character with a history.

After seven novels and hundreds of characters in my stories, I’ve finally jotted down a few essential facts, quirks, and interests of the central characters, but this has grown out of the stories and is intended to keep dates, ages, etc. consistent.

The system I use is simply reviewing the story from the beginning and keeping in mind the information about the characters as I move the story forward. With most stories this isn’t too difficult, but toward the end if you have several dozen characters, you might want to jot down a few things about each one. I don’t think you need much of a system, just a simple way to keep them straight.

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

How much time does the process take between the first ideas for a story and writing the first word of the actual novel on paper? How much time do you spend working on the idea before you start writing the book?

Artist Robert Motherwell once said, “When I'm thinking I'm working.”

Honestly, that’s the way it is for me. I have a hard time mentally shutting off my projects. I carry a notepad of some type (paper or computerized) with me nearly everywhere I go, and I jot ideas down as they come to me. It’s both a curse and a blessing. I couldn’t do what I do without the ideas, but sometimes I wish I wouldn’t have any more until I can use up the ones that are already overwhelming me.

Every idea is the genesis for another story or another scene. It’s really not possible to say when those seeds of stories actually become stories themselves. Every idea that I write down is, in essence, a work in progress.

I should note that not every idea is a good one. It’s important that writers acknowledge that and realize that most of the ideas they come up with will never be used. One of my biggest problems is differentiating between the ideas that are workable and the ones that really aren’t worth pursuing.

Every idea is a doorway and they all lead to something—usually more doorways. But sometimes you’ll find a doorway that opens to a room that becomes part of your eventual story. Every idea is, at the very least, a doorway to the next.

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

Giving Birth

I have three daughters, and although I was there when they were born, I obviously didn’t experience what it was like to actually give birth. This much I do know from being there and sharing the moment with my wife: there’s a mixture of pain and joy, of both letting go and receiving in giving birth.

Those are some of the same feelings I have today as Opening Moves, the latest of my Patrick Bowers thrillers, is officially released.

There was certainly some degree of pain in the process of bringing this book to life—long hours, frustration over scenes that weren’t working right, the difficult process of trying to wrench just the right word out of the air to make the story the best I had to offer.

And there is joy, too. Joy in seeing the book, fully formed, arrive on bookshelves.

I can feel a sense of release, of letting go, of bringing something I care deeply about into the world and setting it free from my mind, and a sense of receiving back satisfaction and feedback from my readers.

So for me, this is a memorable day, a unique and special day.

If you like gritty crime novels and haven’t ordered a copy of Opening Moves yet, I hope you will. And I hope you’ll enjoy it, the latest child of my imagination.