Sometimes, a character introduces themselves to you in such a fashion that you cannot ignore them. It is not a simple matter of them appearing to say hello and settling back down to wait their turn to be written. These characters storm into your life and disrupt even the most boring day to day tasks.
I have just been introduced to one of these characters, and he just refuses to pipe down. He stands here with all day long, whispering in my ears. Demanding that I stop what I am doing and tell his story. Now, I can understand why he is doing this. His tale is quite the one to tell. But I just cannot do it. Not yet.
Brother Jack is upset with me for this, and is starting to shout louder and louder, in the vain hope that I take heed of his words and give him the paper he needs to unburden his soul. Or maybe to trap yours.
You see, Brother Jack is not a nice man. He is a troubled man, whose backstory alone would be a novel that would make most people cringe, reincarnating those childhood fears of what happens in the dark. His story is one of a child forced to bear witness to all manner of horrific deeds and acts. Incidents that even a grown man should never have to witness. He was a child that was forced to grow up long ahead of his time. He was taught anger and rage ahead of love and compassion. He was a quick learner. Too quick in fact. For he learned not to shrink away from the things that were to him. Rather, he embraced them. He enjoyed them, and longed for the chance to be able to add his own twist on things. Brother Jack’s childhood was destroyed, but only he understood that he was not meant for childhood. He was someone else. He was something else. Trapped in the body of a child, he had an understanding of the world that transcended social acceptance.
Locked away from the world, a supposed punishment, Brother Jack found nourishment. In many ways, even though he lived for many years before it happened, he was not truly born until that fateful day. The day the fires were lit. The day of the burning.
These are his words. This is what he told me today. I do not know the full extent of what he endured, but I understand the sick obsession he developed with the ways of the world. The way things worked.
He is a loving man, and he cares deeply for those that he has welcomed into his circle. He educates them, and he is looking forward to being given the chance to educate you also.
Where did Brother Jack Come From?
Normally, when a character appears in my mind, I can trace where he came from. I can piece together the moments of my day that led to his creation. Brother Jack, however, is different. I cannot quite fathom when he came to be. He feels as if he is part of me. The more he talks, and the more I listen, for when Brother Jack talks, you cannot help but listen to him, the more I start to think that he was nor created, but born in the deepest corner of my mind. He was produced and now he has decided that this is his time to rise. He is not asking me to tell his story, he is telling it to me, and I feel compelled to pass it on. Maybe it is because what he has to say, is far too harrowing for even a man like me to take.
Obviously, Brother Jack is not his real name. It was the name he gave himself upon his second birth. He has a lot of people that listen to him. He has a lot of people out in the world who are willing to do what he asks, simply because he asks it. They do not question him, and are loyal to the extreme. You might say, if you feel so inclined as to try and categorize Brother Jack, that he is running a cult. The patriarch of a sect, a family, where every woman is Sister, and every man is merely a tool. You see Brother Jack likes the ladies, and whether they are willing to admit it or not, the ladies will love Brother Jack.
I am not ready to tell the story of Brother Jack. I only met him recently, and while he has not stopped his whisperings, he has done little to educate me in the wider construct of his life. As I have said several times, I have two other novels currently on the go, but I am fascinated by Brother Jack. I know he is not a nice man, not by the constraints of social opinion, but I like him. He has struck a chord with me, and I would feel as if I were abandoning him were I to just bury him in a few lines on a ‘Book Notes’ files somewhere in the corners of my Dropbox folder.
As should be the case with a man of his particular interests and desire, he is rather charismatic, and I am loathe to turn my back on him. So, while I cannot actually tell his story just yet, I am strongly considering giving him a regular post on my blog. A post devoted to the ‘Word of Brother Jack’. It will be his own place, where he can unburden himself, and introduce you all to his world. What do you think? Should I hand my blog over to a cult leader, and one of the most deranged, and dangerous individuals my brain has even conjured.
Brother Jack’s true image is still percolating in my brain, but I currently see him as a cross between Captain Spaulding and Bray Wyatt. He is a fairly large man, and he walks with a cane. He has a back injury at the moment, but once he has healed, he is a strong, strong man. I can’t wait to learn more about him, and I think giving him a place to preach will help me keep his development going, placate his yearning for attention, and still allow me the peace of mind to finish my current novels.
The only thing that worries me, well maybe no worries, because I love pushing buttons and boundaries, is that Brother Jack is certainly not for everybody, and to give him a place to sound his voice, dare I say a place to perfect his voice ahead of his big book debut, might cause some folks to run and hide from me, rather than following me. I will not censor the Brother Jack posts, they will be raw and real, I will probably use real time current affairs, mixed with a little hint of fiction to give him something to preach about each week, and maybe work on revealing small glimpses of his own character development as I go.
I know I have been saying this a lot lately, but I am really excited to explore Brother Jack and see how dark I can make him.
Another thing that concerns me is that maybe, just maybe, I am crossing too many lines with this one. Or rather, I could do, if someone is not there to reel me in from time to time. Boundaries are there to be broken, but how far is too far?
When I first started writing, one of the key things I was always told is, write what you know. This, to me, was common sense. It is surely better to write about things, or locations you know, twisting and tweaking them into different places, but using the same base. Sure, you research and expand your knowledge, but to write what you knew made sense to me.
The other thing I always heard was, don’t write what is hot. Don’t follow the latest fad. Back then, back in the world before the writing revolution that was eBooks and self-publishing, this piece of advice made sense. When it could take two years for your next piece of fiction to finally hit the shelves, after having found a publisher to produce it, the fad you were following would be gone. Heck, timelines like that, the next two fads were already lined up for publishing while you were still chasing the original.
However, times have changed. The world has moved on and is a now a place governed by the instantaneous. We want to, and will not wait for anything. Correspondences, delivered in an instant, replies the same. Everything needs to be express, next day, same day deliver if possible. The same can apply to writing.
It is possible – and I am not saying this is the way it does go, or should go, it is merely an example – to write a story, edit and publish in, in say a week, after the writing process has been completed.
When you have turn around times that can be that fast, a few weeks, maybe just a month or two, if we are being realistic, is nothing compared to the ‘several years’ wait of before.
That changes the writing game. Fads, love them or hate them, are a part of our lives, they always will be. People follow what is hot. The only difference is, that now there is that much more opportunity to add fuel to the fire. An entry point, if you will. You can get your writing into the middle of a hungry pot.
I am not saying that this is a great way to build a career, but for all of those people out there, who read a book, fell in love with the concept and wanted to run with their own thoughts, the modern writing and publishing landscape could be a veritable goldmine for them.
Let’s take Fifty Shades of Grey as an example.
Think of it what you will, call it what you will, that book inspired an enormous fad. Everybody wanted to read it, and as such lots of titles sprang up covering the same themes. These books had always been out there. I know many writers, who were producing such books long before Fifty Shades was there. But the ability to write and publish books on such a quick turnaround, introduced a lot of new authors and readers, to a genre, or style of writing that they had never seen before.
The writing world has changed, it is still changing. Will the fad become the new way forward? Will it become an even more dominant movement, with writers flitting from genre to genre, keeping up with the times? Or will the fads end up dying out quicker and quicker? The market gets flooded too much, too soon, and like a car engine, it just says, ‘Whoa, slow down Timothy.’
Could it even be conceivable that writing itself could just become the fad? Everybody can write and publish, so what would be the need for such a popular single channelled frenzy?
What do you think? Are fad movements being strengthened or weakened by the evolving writing landscape? How can we, as writers look to use this, if at all, to our advantage?
I do have another post on this similar topic planned, looking at it from a different perspective, and that will come later in the week, but for now, I would love to hear your thoughts on the above.
Thanks for reading, and don’t forget to share this post around with anybody you think might enjoy it. The more the merrier, that’s what I always say.
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It is my pleasure to introduce my first guest author of the year, Sharon A Crawford to my blog. She has a very interesting post to share with you all today, discussing horror, and how it can be used in crime fiction.
Don’t forget to check out her blog and pay her some love via the links below.
The Horror in Crime Fiction
By Sharon A. Crawford
Crime fiction needs to have horror. Not necessarily monsters or chain-saw murders. However, if you are going to write crime fiction, whether mystery, thriller, suspense or all three, you have to horrify your readers.
It can be subtle as in cozies or right out front. The rule of thumb for mysteries is a dead body must show up somehow and somewhere in the first 50 pages. That’s what the editor at my publisher’s told me when I emailed the “final” copy of my current novel Beyond Blood. (Blue Denim Press, fall 2014). My first murder was way after page 50. So I rewrote and had two murders in the first 50. One was foreshadowing in the Prologue and the other one (closer to page 50) was the discovery of the dead body of a little boy.
And therein also lies another horror – the murder of children. That is horrifying even to police in real life. I had to decide how graphic to write it. Because there is a series of child kidnappings and murders, I decided to do it in different ways – this also would eliminate repetition in the narration. So, for the body of the first little boy found by police I used a radio newscast which my main characters fraternal twin PIs Dana Bowman and Bast Overture heard. Also present was Dana’s six-year-old son, David, so I had Dana shut the radio off right away. This scenario also foreshadowed David’s kidnapping a few chapters later.
Later, Dana identified the body of a little boy washed ashore and focused on her horror as she goes up to the covered body, envisions it is her son, hides her feelings of horror and trepidation by trying to do her usual wise-cracking with Detective Sergeant Fielding and Dr. Farley, the coroner. I use some dialogue from these three characters and Dana’s inner thoughts as she approaches the body. Here is some of that.
“Wait.” Fielding held up a hand towards Dr. Farley and turned to me. “Are you sure D … uh, Ms. Bowman, you want to see it?”
“It could be David. Couldn’t it Dr. Farley?”
“It’s the body of a male child, age six or seven.”
I sucked in air. “I have to look.” Fielding reached for my arm. “Alone. Okay, you can both come along.”
The three of us moved in silence. Those damned waves started thrashing around inside my whole body. Please God, not like this. When we were up against the dark mound, Dr. Farley pointed a flashlight at it, and it became a person, a child hidden under a blanket. Fielding crouched and removed the blanket.
“But he’s naked.” I screamed, digging fingernails into my scalp and continuing on like an echo.
“Easy, Dana,” Fielding said.
The waves continued to whip around inside, forcing me to wobble. Instinctively I grabbed Fielding’s arm, took a deep breath and forced myself to look down. After a few more breaths, I dug fingernails into Fielding’s arm as my eyes moved over the body. A fish hook was caught in the nose. The head was almost ripped off the neck and a few fish nips appeared on the left cheek and right arm. But it was the eyes—staring stark scared up at me as if pleading for his life. Hazel eyes. Hair knotted, wet and dirty showed only traces of red. I removed my hand from Fielding’s arm, crouched down and reached over to close the eyes, then drew back. (Beyond Blood, Copyright 2014, Sharon A. Crawford)
Dana then runs off, falling down in the sand as she faints.
Beyond Blood also has a serial killer in it so some of the story is told from his point of view. However, I only briefly describe one scene of him committing murder – and the aftermath for him when he continually showers to remove the blood long after shower number one did so.
Killing animals in a mystery novel is somewhat controversial because of animal rights. Some mystery novelists include murder of the family dog. If that is crucial to your plot, then do it – but show the afterwards, not the murder. Beyond Blood has no domestic animal killings but some wild animals are killed as part of the plot.
With children and animals, the perpetrators have to get caught.
That is my outcome for any murders, whoever the victim. Murder is a heinous crime and making sure the guilty parties get punished some way puts the horror in perspective. I’m sure you have read novels where this doesn’t happen. It leaves more than a bad taste in your mouth; it makes you feel sick.
These are just a few examples of putting the horror in crime fiction. You take it from all angles – the crime, the motive, the perpetrator, the victim, victim’s friends and family, investigators (often the latter two overlap). Think feelings, motives, character and what works with your plot. Don’t be graphic just for the sake of being graphic (unless you are writing a horror novel – the rules change…and I’ll leave that one to Alex Laybourne to discuss).
Just remember – horror in fiction doesn’t have to resemble the TV series Criminal Minds. At the same time, you are using words, not visual (unless a graphic novel), so you need to get the picture in the reader’s mind.
And sometimes being subtle and leaving the scene to the reader’s imagination can work better.
Sharon A. Crawford Bio.
Sharon A. Crawford, a former journalist, is a freelance book editor, writing instructor/tutor and author of the Beyond mystery series. She is Writer-in-Residence for Canadian Authors Association Toronto, a member of Crime Writers of Canada, Sisters in Crime Toronto, Professional Writers Association of Canada, and runs the East End Writers’ Group.
Author blog www.sharonacrawfordauthor.com
Blue Denim Press www.bluedenimpress.com