Tuesday, 31 January 2017

How to write a novel - developing characters

I am often asked what comes first, plot or character. For me it is the formation of the characters. Before that though I will have an idea for the crime novel, which can spring from a location where a body is found (as is usual in the Andy Horton Marine Mysteries), an incident that occurs which can change someone's life, (this often features in the Art Marvik marine based crime novels and I've also used it in my thriller, In For The Kill), or an overheard conversation (which I've used in my crime novel In Cold Daylight.)

Once I have a idea for a victim or a main protagonist, I begin to create them and the other characters that will surround them.  In order to develop my characters I use a system of spider grams (or mind maps as they are sometimes called). I draw a circle and put each character in the centre of that circle and then throw out lines and ask a series of  ‘open’ questions, the who, what, where, why, how and when. By answering these questions the character/s begin to form.

For example, with regards to the victim:

Who is he/she?
How did he/she end up where they were found?
Why would someone want to kill him?
How was he killed?
When was he killed?
Does he/she have any family/friends/enemies?
How will they and others react?
Who killed him?  This is often the last question which is answered and I frequently don't know the answer until I am three quarters of the way through writing the novel. Sometimes not even until the end!

The following also applies to my main protagonists  - although I have my regular cast of characters in the DI Andy Horton series and the Art Marvik series and already know a great deal about them and their backgrounds. The sort of questions I would also ask about my characters - victims, protagonists and others are:

What is their background, family, education, experience, employment?
How old are they?
Where do they live?
What are their personalities and motivations?
What do they look/walk/talk like?
What has shaped them?
What are their biggest fears?
What are their cardinal qualities, strengths and weaknesses?

The answers to these questions will shape their action, their interaction with others, their dialogue and their decisions and will therefore help to drive the plot.  As I write I ask myself what will this character do in this situation, I shape and reshape them.  I put them in difficult or unusual situations, and as I do the story unfolds, the tension builds and so the plot begins to unfurl.

For me then it is characters that matter, they come first and foremost. Without them there is no plot.

Wednesday, 25 January 2017

The relationship between a writer and his characters

The relationship between writers and their characters takes many forms. For me some characters I have created are irritating, others entertain me. Some make me feel cuddly and comfortable, while others I positively loath. And some I love, especially my flawed and rugged detective, Andy Horton. I even like my alpha male, Detective Superintendent Steve Uckfield, head of the Major Crime Team, with all his irritating and course habits whereas DCI Lorraine Bliss, Andy’s immediate boss, I (and my readers) find a pain in the proverbial.

Then there is former Royal Marine Commando Art Marvik now an undercover investigator for the National Intelligence Marine Squad (NIMS), tough, resourceful, fit, able to operate outside the law if it means he gets the baddie, but troubled and trying to find his way in civilian life.  He's a fairly new kid on the block with two missions to his name, namely Silent Running and Dangerous Cargo.  He will appear in two more missions, one that concerns his past and his parents' deaths in 1997, killed in an underwater earthquake off the Straits of Malacca. 

Whatever the relationship between the creator and characters  though it should never be dull. 

It’s easy to become a little bit obsessed with your characters. Oh, alright very obsessed and more so when writing a series because the main cast of characters are with me all the time, they are as much part of my life as real people, they occupy my thoughts throughout the day, but strangely enough I never dream of them. Perhaps there is some hope for me yet and I’m not about to be carted off to the insane asylum.

I think about my characters a great deal. Where are they? What will they do next?  How will they react to this or that situation?  What is happening in their private lives as well as in the job?  What is their relationship with their colleagues? This is all good stuff because their actions, feelings and motivations drive the plot, which can be annoying especially if I think I’ve got the plot line all nicely worked out. They can have the habit of taking me right off track even to the extent that often I thought I know who ‘done it’, why and how, only to discover the killer is someone completely different.  Do I hear the distant siren of an ambulance approaching?  

Thinking about your characters is not the same as thinking about your ‘real’ friends or the people you know because with your characters you are creating their lives, although they do often have a habit of doing something that surprises you.  Marvik is not bound by the law or police procedure so he can push the boundaries. But Andy also frequently operates outside the law, much to the annoyance of DCI Lorraine Bliss. In ‘real life’ Andy would probably either have been promoted or kick out of the police force by now! But, hey, this is fiction.

So before you call for the men in white coats I assure you I am quite sane, well as sane as any writer (and especially a crime writer can be – after all we kill people for a living). 

Creating characters and their lives is a fascinating game, as many children know from their play, and perhaps that's what a lot of us writers are - kids at heart. It’s either that or we’re closet villains or psychopaths. I know what I prefer, I leave you to make up your own mind.

Visit Pauline Rowson's website for more information and articles


Thursday, 19 January 2017

Different types of crime novels and settings

There are many different types of crime novels ranging from gritty gruesome, cozy comfortable to cops, robbers and gangsters, racy, action-packed thrillers, historical or contemporary crime novels, detective or private eye and many more variations in between.

Then there is the setting: the city, the sea, countryside, mountains, home or abroad. There is plenty of scope to work with and the type of crime novel you decide to write is often linked to the type of crime novel you like to read.

I write what have been termed as 'police procedurals' or 'detective novels' featuring my flawed and rugged detective Andy Horton. But I also write thrillers, In Cold Daylight and In For The Kill, and a variation on a 'private-eye' style crime novel but with lots of action in a new series featuring former Royal Marine commando, Art Marvik, introduced in Silent Running  Marvik has his second outing in Dangerous Cargo and I have written the third in the series. With Marvik I wanted a character who was not bound by the official rules of the law, like my detective, Andy Horton, but who was nevertheless on the right side of it and who goes out to solve complex crimes and catch ruthless killers.

Silent  Running also had to have all the hallmarks of my brand – a troubled  hero, the sea, boats, interesting and diverse characters and lots of action.  There are now twelve published in the Andy Horton series  set in the Solent area, with number thirteen Lethal Waves being published by Severn House in the UK in February 2017 and in the USA on 1 June 2017.

My crime novels have contemporary settings and are set around the sea. The Andy Horton crime novels are set in the Solent area and the Art Marvik novels along the South Coast of England. 

So here are a couple of pointers to help you get started or hopefully provide you with more guidance on writing a crime novel.

1. Choose your location/s - it can be real or fictitious but it must have atmosphere.

Listen and watch the video on choosing a location and the journey to becoming a published crime writer.

2. Choose your type of crime story - detective, thriller, private eye (you might find that as you write your type begins to choose you!)

I believe that you should write what you are enthusiastic about because it will show in your writing, and even if you don't have first hand experience of what you are writing then you will be keen to research it.  Read more on choosing what to write

Visit Pauline Rowson's website  for more

Where to buy

Pauline Rowson's books USA

Pauline Rowson's books UK

From your local bookshop

Also available as an ebook and on Amazon Kindle, Kobo and for loan from UK, USA, Irish and Commonwealth libraries

Thursday, 12 January 2017

What makes the crime genre so popular

Crime fiction is one of the best selling genres and the most borrowed from public libraries. So what is it that makes crime fiction so popular?  Well apart from being a cracking good read, in crime fiction we know that, generally speaking, justice will be done and the case will be resolved and that doesn’t always happen in real life.

In crime fiction the villain either gets caught or gets his/her comeuppance but in real life the evil and manipulative, the guilty can get away with it as in the case of the unsolved murder in my own family in 1959 that of my great aunt, Martha Giles.

Crime fiction can give us a resolution. It can also give us an insight into what makes people tick.

One of the reasons I believe crime fiction is popular is because people are fascinated by human behaviour. Sometimes we are warmed by the actions of others and at other times horrified and appalled by it.  I am interested in personalities, behaviour and motivation. What is it that makes people do the things they do? 

I also enjoy a puzzle to solve, a crime to investigate and a mystery to unravel  and that's what I enjoy writing.  I also like plenty of action and tension.

When reading a crime novel I like to pit my wits against the protagonist or the detective and see if I can solve the crime before he or she can. When writing my own police procedural crime novels featuring the rugged and flawed detective, Andy Horton I often don't know who did it, why, where or when  until I am writing the novel. As the characters begin to develop and their personalities and motivations become clearer then I begin to unravel the crime.

The same goes for my new series hero, Art Marvik. a former Royal Marine Commando, who becomes attached to work undercover for the UK's National Intelligence Marine Squad (NIMS).

Crime fiction covers so many facets of human nature.  The same for true crime. It’s a kind of voyeurism, the ghoul factor that causes people to stand and gawp at an accident or incident. Me though, I’m a real coward. I run a mile from reading true crime. Give me crime fiction any day where I can see that justice is served and my heroes triumphs!

Visit Pauline Rowson's website for more 

Where to buy

Pauline Rowson's books USA

Pauline Rowson's books UK

From your local bookshop

Also available as an ebook and on Amazon Kindle, Kobo and for loan from UK, USA, Irish and Commonwealth libraries

Tuesday, 3 January 2017

How to write fiction

When it comes to writing fiction it is often said that you should write what you know, but I don't agree.  I believe that you should write what you are enthusiastic about because it will show in your writing, and even if you don't have first hand experience of what you are writing about then you will be keen to research it.

I find researching for my detective Andy Horton crime novels and the Art Marvik Marine Mystery crime series fascinating including all the forensic bits! I also believe in writing the kind of novel you like to read because not only will you enjoy the experience but again it will be apparent in your writing.

When you embark on a writing career it is not always obvious what you want to write. Some people begin with short stories, others throw themselves into a novel. But just as in painting when it takes the artist time to find his or her style so too is it the same for the writer.  This often happens by trial, error and experimentation.

When I first started writing I began with writing historical sagas. Over time I found that a criminal element kept creeping into these sagas and I also discovered that I preferred to write from the male point of view. It was a while before it dawned on me that I should be writing crime novels with a male protagonist. It should have been pretty obvious because I have devoured crime and thriller novels for years and am a great crime fiction fan. But that time spent writing wasn't wasted, I learnt a lot along the way.

The key to finding what you want to write about is simple, write and experiment, but most of all enjoy it.

Visit Pauline Rowson's website for more

Where to buy

 Pauline Rowson's books USA

 Pauline Rowson's books UK

From your local bookshop

Also available as an ebook and on Amazon Kindle, Kobo and for loan from UK, USA, Irish and Commonwealth libraries