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Friday, October 26, 2012

What the Mentalist Teaches About Supporting Characters

If you missed the first two installments of my What I Am Learning About Good Writing From The Mentalist series, here they are again:



This week I want to talk about supporting characters.

In the television series The Mentalist, the characters who are a part of the CBI team work together to solve crimes.  They play second fiddle to the two primary characters, Patrick Jane, a consultant and former psychic turned crime solver, and agent Teresa Lisbon who is head of the CBI investigation team. I already discussed Jane’s traits in an earlier post so I won’t delve into them again now, but his free-wheeling and manipulative ways of solving crimes often go against agent Lisbon’s more conventional methods of crime solving.

When the show first launched we were told very little about the CBI team.  Their personalities and background slowly emerge over time. When I work on my fictional characters, I use a Character Profile worksheet to record what they look like, their age, their history, habits and any specific gestures or expressions they use. I have all of the info at my fingertips, but don’t necessarily dump and spill all of that at once. Some of it may never be revealed, but it goes into making the characters do what they do and behave the way they should.

The better you know your characters before you start writing, the more they will dictate what they are supposed to act like once you do start writing.  Another trick recommended by professionals is to give your character a secret.

Lisbon is tough and keeps her emotions under wraps. Jane, who is an expert on reading people, struggles to know the deeper Lisbon. In one episode where they are investigating the murder of two people who planned to attend a high school reunion, Jane probes Lisbon to find out what activities she was involved in in high school. He guesses she was in band and then proceeds to suggest instruments she might have played. She denies all.

In another episode, Libson is knocked unconscious and awakens with a bomb strapped to her chest. As she and Jane race by car to meet the bad guy who claims he will detonate the bomb if she fails to comply to his demands, she frantically says a Catholic prayer. In another show, when Jane is nearly drowned, she again prays while clutching a small cross necklace, pleading “Oh please, oh please,” to God as paramedics work frantically to resuscitate him. The reveal?  She has faith in God and deeply cares for Jane.

 In this same episode we learn her mother died when she was a young girl, and in another that her father was an alcoholic. In the closing scene of this show (I think it was the same episode), she pulls a bottle of liquor from her desk drawer, nearly takes a drink, and then puts it back. (Remember, give your character a secret.) We’re left to wonder. Does she have a secret drinking problem or has she had one? In yet another, she encounters a former boyfriend and we are left to wonder if she is sorry she broke it off with him as she considers the family he has from the woman he ended up marrying might have been hers had she stayed with him.

Other CBI team characters include agent Wayne Rigsby who is boyish, clean cut, and often naïve, especially when it comes to Jane’s exploits. His area of expertise is arson. His father is a n’er do well crook who’s been in and out of prison for dealing pot and stolen goods. Rigsby is enamored with attractive, sweet Grace Van Pelt. Grace has a spiritual side and believes that some psychics are real. The writers enjoy occasionally pitting her beliefs against Jane’s, who denies there is an afterlife. Grace is also a horrible judge of men when it comes to her romantic life. Two of the men she dated, one was a fiancé, ended up being pure evil. Dating within the same department is against the rules, so when a love affair develops between Van Pelt and Rigsby and they are given an ultimatum, break it off of lose their jobs. She breaks if off claiming she wants to keep her career. But as the episode closes we see her sobbing and we know Rigsby was the right man after all.

Then there is tough as nails agent Kimball Cho who shows little emotion. He was in the armed forces and then became a cop. As a teen he was in a gang and went to juvenile hall, but later broke free of the gang. He’s got a soft spot for kids who’ve had tough lives. He ends up emotionally and physically involved with Summer, a former prostitute turned police informant. He truly cares for her, but when her antics create too much turmoil, and she deliberately tries to provoke him. He comes undone and backhands her, immediately regretting the action. Cho breaks off the relationship because he knows they will destroy each other, though he loves her.

The show also has recurring characters who make appearances from time to time. I won’t spend time on them here. But if you are planning to write a series, recurring characters, both good and bad, can add another dimension. Supporting characters can act as foils or complements to main characters. They can also be used in subplots which makes a story more interesting.  Just as we meet different characters in our everyday lives, the characters in the stories we read and write should be unique and interesting.

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Grammar Jokes -- Get Ready to Groan

 A friend just shared these grammar jokes with SALT, one of my writer's groups. They are real groaners but funny.


A comma splice walks into a bar, it has a drink and then leaves.

A dangling modifier walks into a bar. After finishing a drink, the
bartender asks it to leave.

A question mark walks into a bar?

A gerund and an infinitive walk into a bar, drinking to drink.

 The bar was walked into by the passive voice.

Three transitive verbs walk into a bar. They sit. They drink. They
 leave.

The past, the present and the future walk into a bar. It was tense.

A sentence fragment into a bar.

A hyperbole totally ripped into the bar and literally obliterated
everything!

A: Knock. Knock.
B: Who’s there?
A: To.
B: “To” who?
A: “To whom,” you idiot.

A linguistics professor was lecturing to his English class one day.
“In English,” he said, “a double negative forms a positive. In some
languages, though, such as Russian, a double negative is still a
 negative. However, there is no language wherein a double positive
can form a negative.”
....A voice from the back of the room piped up, “Yeah, right.”

Did you hear the one about the pregnant woman who went into labor
and began to yell, "Couldn't! Wouldn't! Shouldn't! Didn't! Can't!"?
She was having contractions.

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Friday, October 19, 2012

Developing Your Villain. More Lessons from the Mentalist.

In my first posting about the television show, The Mentalist, and what it could teach about good writing, I spoke about the main character, Patrick Jane. Here's Lesson 2 pertaining to the importance of supporting characters. This week I want to talk about villains.

At the very beginning of each show, the CBI team is called in to investigate a murder. Then they proceed to probe and prod until they narrow down the suspects. Without a villain, the show would be very dull. There is definitely a formula to most of these shows. They have just enough time for three suspects and the true bad guy is rarely the first person they investigate. In mystery or suspense writing, keeping your reader guessing is crucial. You want them trying to figure it whodunnit along with your hero or heroine. If the answer is too obvious, they'll bail out on you.

Be sure to include interesting potential bad guys. Find some way for them to tie into the main event. Give them a motive for being involved. Make the real bad guy really bad. He or she needs to stand out from the crowd. They can be richer, more conniving, more hard hearted, merciless, more attractive, seemingly sweeter, needing more money, etc.

You might even have the most villainous villain. In the Mentalist, the one man that the protagonist Jane wants to catch most is Red John, the man who murdered his wife and child. It is his ultimate driving motivation--and motivation is very important. Without motivation, you will most likely end up with a bland story. Throughout the series Red John stays active. He periodically murders someone and Jane seems close to catching him often but Red John is very crafty and always gets away. He is ruthless and cruel and sadistic, and extremely dangerous. No one is safe near him and he uses pawns who believe in him, but then turns on them and often kills them too. It's this tantalizing tension of Jane and those who come close to him being endangered by this villain that makes the audience tune in from week to week. Will he ever catch him?  That's the question. Work on developing good villains. They will hook your reader and keep them reading.

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Book Review, Faith Matters by Carol Round


This treasury of well-written devotions  are a great way to kick start your day.  The author uses every day life as illustrations and ties them into a short scripture passage for reflection. Devotions end with a short takeaway.  Stories are simple and easy to understand and there are over 50 two page devotions. If you are looking for life lessons to inspire, look no further.  It's available on amazon.com. Here's the link

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Cool Free Gifts When You Buy Wind Over Marshdale on Amazon Today Only!


Tracy Krauss is launching her book WIND OVER MARSHDALE on Tuesday, Oct. 16. Full of intrigue, romance, and plenty of surprises, see what’s hiding just beneath the surface in this seemingly peaceful town. You can help her achieve ‘best seller’ status by purchasing the book at amazon.com TODAY – and receive all kinds of cool free gifts while you’re at it!
Here’s how:
1. Go to the Landing Page on Tracy’s Website
2. Buy the book at amazon.
3. Go back to the Landing Page and fill in the form with your name, email and purchase number.
It’s that easy! You’ll be directed to your free gifts and all you have to do is choose which ones you want.

About the book:
Marshdale. Just a small farming community where nothing special happens.  A perfect place to start over… or get lost. There is definitely more to this prairie town than meets the eye. Once the meeting place of aboriginal tribes for miles around, some say the land itself was cursed because of the people’s sin. But its history goes farther back than even indigenous oral history can trace and there is still a direct descendant who has been handed the truth, like it or not. Exactly what ties does the land have to the medicine of the ancients? Is it cursed, or is it all superstition?
Wind Over Marshdale is the story of the struggles within a small prairie town when hidden evil and ancient medicine resurface. Caught in the crossfire, new teacher Rachel Bosworth finds herself in love with two men at once. First, there is Thomas Lone Wolf, a Cree man whose blood lines run back to the days of ancient medicine but who has chosen to live as a Christian and faces prejudice from every side as he tries to expose the truth. Then there is Con McKinley, local farmer who has to face some demons of his own. Add to the mix a wayward minister seeking anonymity in the obscurity of the town; eccentric twin sisters – one heavily involved in the occult and the other a fundamentalist zealot; and a host of other ‘characters’ whose lives weave together unexpectedly for the final climax. This suspenseful story is one of human frailty - prejudice, cowardice, jealousy, and greed – magnified by powerful spiritual forces that have remained hidden for centuries, only to be broken in triumph by grace.

What others are saying:
Tracy Krauss has a deep talent. I am looking forward to more from her.
-          Tom Blubaugh, Author of Night of the Cossack

Tracy Krauss typifies all that is good in modern Christian authorship. She is consistently there for her readers and elevates her every effort.

-          Joyce Godwin Grubbs, Author From the Grassroots

Tracy’s characters are raw and real; her plots edgy and electric.

-          Lisa Lickel, award winning author of Meander Scar,  A Summer in Oakville, The Map Quilt and other inspirational novels.

There is plenty of intrigue and mystery to keep any reader's attention, but for lovers of romance, this one will make your heart pound.
-          Michelle Sutton, reviewer and author of more than a dozen inspirational novels
Author bio:
Tracy Krauss is a high school teacher by profession, and a prolific author, artist, playwright and director by choice. She received her Bachelor’s degree from the University of Saskatchewan and has gone on to teach Art, Drama and English – all the things she is passionate about. After raising four children, she and her husband now reside in beautiful Tumbler Ridge, BC where she continues to pursue all of her creative interests.

FREE STUFF:
Here’s just a sampling of the FREE e-gifts from generous supporters:
-    a free copy of  25 Years In the Rearview Mirror - compiled and edited by Stacy Juba; Shoot the Wounded by Lynn Dove; Live Without Stress by Shelley Hitz; Alternative Witness by Pauline Creeden; and Writing Your Family Legacy and Reflections of the Heart, both by Linda Weaver Clarke
- a free first chapters of such best-selling books as From Spice to Eternity by Yvonne Wright; Angels of Humility by Jackie MacGirvin; and Silence by Barbara Derksen
- beautiful downloadable greeting cards by Brenda Hendricks; and poetry posters by Violet Nesdoly
- the ‘Fit Test’ by author and trainer Kimberley Payne; plus a chance to win an ‘amazon’ gift card courtesy of Ruth Hill
-          And much more!
All if you buy your copy of WIND OVER MARSHDALE  at amazon.com on Oct 16! All links will be operational on the ‘Landing Page’ at www.tracykrauss.com/ 

DISCLAIMER: This ‘Best Seller book launch’ has been coordinated with the help of the ‘John 3:16 Marketing Network’ and many other generous supporters. The free gifts are deliverable electronically over the internet or by email by individual authors and supporters. They are not in any way associated with, nor deliverable by, amazon.com  

Friday, October 12, 2012

Book Review, Out of Darkness

At the heart of this story is a mega church started with sincere
intentions by a humble pastor named David Padgett who wanted to reach
a lost world for Christ. Desperate to succeed, he goes to a successful
motivational speaker who helps him realize his dream. But the original
vision becomes skewed by success and his family is being pulled down
by the undertow of a world of affluence and power.

What took years to build, unravels overnight and dark actions are
covered up to create a nightmare of despair for Padgett who
is sucked into the vortex. Bravo to author Darrell Case who, just when we
think things can’t get any worse, shows us they can. Case conveys a
powerful spiritual message of what it means to resist the world and
stay true to an original calling.

Anyone who has been troubled by the corruption and worldliness in
large ministries will identify with the message. A suspenseful read.
Darrell Case does a good job heating up the intrigue and mystery.

Friday, October 5, 2012

What I'm Learning About Good Writing from The Mentalist

I rarely ever watch TV unless its a rerun of Project Runway, American Pickers, or a DVD.  But in recent months I discovered a show I'm hooked on. My treat for a hard day's work is to come home and watch a pre-recorded episode of the Mentalist on DVR.

The Mentalist is a detective show whose main character is Patrick Jane. Jane is a former psychic whose wife and child were murdered by a serial killer. In truth Jane never was psychic, he was just a master of manipulation and gifted at reading people so he made his living duping gullible people and he was very good at it. Following the horror of his family's death, he turns his gifts to good with a primary motivation to help capture Red John, the man who caused his family's death. He works with the California Bureau of Investigation solve murder crimes. Over the next few weeks, I will be sharing a few things I've learned from the writers of this show which I feel can be applied to good writing in general, especially if you are writing suspense or mystery.

Lesson # 1.  Make your main character(s) captivating. Jane is handsome and charming and a smooth talker. He is above average in intelligence. He is also a master of picking up small clues and innuendos so that he easily reads people. All of these characteristics made him a good "psychic" (and in his reformed days, a good detective).

He uses his natural gifts to his advantage.  Jane's character matures as the seasons pass, but in season one especially, he is very emotionally wounded. The trauma from losing a wife and daughter he dearly loved has scarred him and left him a little unbalanced.(In a later episode we learn he spent a short time in a mental ward because of the trauma).  The emotion from this deep loss surfaces during various cases as memories are triggered or circumstances occur where he must face his past or another crime committed by Red John. 

We are fed this information a little at a time, through flashbacks, or other devices. It makes us feel his pain. He's hurting and he emotionally distances himself, even from the CBI team, though we all know that what he needs most is to learn to love again.

His tenderness toward young children and empathy for those who have lost family through tragic circumstances is one of his most endearing qualities. He's also still a soundrel....though a lovable one. He does not play by the rules, he bends and breaks them, manipulating people (including the CBI team) to get the answers and results he wants. This frequently lands himself and his co-workers in various precarious situations, but it's forgivable because he closes cases. Just when he does something very upsetting, he'll turn around and  redeem himself.

Thursday, October 4, 2012

Book Reviews, My Cousin Rachel


Daphne DuMaurier is a master of dark intrigue. You may know her work from the Alfred Hitchcock movie The Birds which was adapted from her story by the same name.

I like to collect classics and count Dumarier’s work among them. So, when I found one of her books, My Cousin Rachel, at a thrift store, I snapped it up and plan to give it a place of honor on my bookshelves.

Though some of her works, such as The Birds and Rebecca were set in contemporary settings, there is a gothic feel to them.Locations are often mysterious or have a dark history, or some supernatural element is added.  Dumarier likes to incorporate romance, but often they are ill-fated.

In the case of My Cousin Rachel, set during the 1800s, the main character, Phillip is the narrator.  He’s lived under the guardianship of his older cousin, Ambrose, who has been like a father and Phillip looks very much like a young version of him. When Ambrose takes a journey to Italy in hopes of improving his health (he suffers from rheumatism), he meets Rachel, a captivatingwoman of English and Italian ancestry--who is also a distant cousin. In a matter of months they marry.

Phillip, who has always been close to Ambrose, impatiently awaits his return, but time passes and letters from Ambrose become less frequent and troublesome. All is not well between him and his new wife. When Phillip learns that Ambrose’s health has seriously deteriorated, he makes ahasty trip to Italy to visit him but finds he has arrived too late. Rachel, by that time has already left, unaware that Phillip has made the visit.

Not long after, Phillip returns home and Rachel arrivesa short while later. Phillip is determined to hate her and be hostile to her—blaming her for his cousin’s death, but the more he is exposed to her, the more enraptured he becomes. It’s almost as if he is bewitched.

Rachel treats him in much the same way she treated Ambrose, sometimes being affectionate and at other times distancing herself. It becomes a maddening game of cat and mouse, which slowly unhinges Phillip. To complicate matters, Rachel, who was virtually penniless and in debt when she married, and was not included in Ambrose’s will, seems obsessed with material possessions.

I won’t spoil the plot of this, but Dumarier masterfully portrays Phillip as someone both naïve and obsessed and it is the complexity of this relationship and of the enigmatic Rachel that makes the story so supberb  The edition I have of this book is copyrighted 1952 and one can only guess how the book was received in its day because of its dark theme and the proprieties of the day.  It would be deemed tame by today’s standards, but still it’s well worth the read. I had difficulty putting it down.

I give this 5 out of 5 stars.

Monday, October 1, 2012

Spanish Word of the Week, Moneda

The Spanish word of the week is moneda. It means money, coin, currency.

It seems that most everyone wishes for more moneda.