Monday, June 29, 2009

Trying to learn from other writers - 3

I’ve just finished reading the second Claire Hanover mystery, and I’d have to say Beth Groundwater’s main character is another one strong enough to my interest through a series.

Claire, of course, is a very different character from Sam Acquillo or Gus LeGarde. For a start, she’s a woman. Plus, while enormously resourceful, she really doesn’t have the kind of background or physical strength to be an action hero. But she does have lots of character, or chutzpah, as one of her friends has been known to say.

Claire has the confidence to believe what she sees and to tell it like she sees it. Just because no one else saw the ski tracks doesn’t mean they’re not there. Just because no one else sees the danger doesn’t mean she shouldn’t protect her daughter. Just because…

So she walks into police stations and describes exactly the sort of details that someone unaccustomed to such places would notice—the presence or absence of family photographs, the pictures on the walls… She walks into a night club and learns the right words for the music by making mistakes—okay, so daughter’s embarrassed, but Mom’s taking charge. She leaps into action, rightly earning the nickname Mama Bear. And the reader follows along, all the time amazed and impressed and, if you happen to be me, just plain wishing I were more like her.

I guess Claire’s more of a niche hero, perfect for us moms with kids fleeing the nest, and ideal for the recipients of gift baskets. She makes me want to ski again. She believes in ibuprofen. She’s real and she’s fun. And she’s more than capable of leaving me eagerly awaiting her next adventure.

So maybe “write what you know” means write about people you might understand. And learn the unknown details on the way, as I’m sure Beth Groundwater did, to make the plots and locales ring so vividly true.

4 comments:

Terry Odell said...

Characterization is such a big part of writing -- for me, it's 90% of the reason I read a book, and why I'll stick with a series even if the sub-genre might not be quite my cup of tea. Give me a character I love, and I'm yours.

When I write, I have to remind myself constantly of the character who's on the page. A cop walks into a room and sees things differently from an artist, or a cowboy. All the details have to ring true. Age/career appropriate vocabulary, even in narrative.

Nothing pulls me out of a story faster than a disconnect when the character is speaking dialogue, but the author is writing the narrative.

Kaye Lynne Booth said...

Another great character that seems very real and you just have to like is Odd Thomas, of the Dean Koontz series. This character just makes you feel as if you've known him all of your life as he reacts like a regular guy to some very irregular circumstances, assuring that he lives up to his name. You really do have to care about a character to continue on with a series.

Sheila Deeth said...

Good point Terry. The disconnect really pulls you out of the story.

And yes Kaye, Odd Thomas is a great character (I need to get the next book - I'm falling behind).

So now I'm looking round the bookshelves to see what other series we're hooked on. There's really quite a few...

Terry Odell said...

Characters I love -- the list is way too long, I fear. Just a few:

Harry Bosch, Elvis Cole (and Joe Pike), Lucas Davenport, Jack Reacher, Eve Dallas, Roarke, Roarke and Roarke, Kinsey Milhone, Peter Decker.

Those are series characters. I won't begin to touch stand alone characters where I hated for the book to end. (Anyone else expect to run into these people at the grocery store?)