Who will you write?

Today I'm delighted to welcome author Dan Jolley back to my blogm as he tours the internet with another suspense thriller with murder, mystery and more... But what about that whole "Write what you know" thing. Does he know murder and mystery...? Does he know murderers...? Over to you Dan!

“Writing Who You Know”

Dan Jolley

One of the things about writing that it took me longer to learn than it should have is the importance of characters.

You might be thinking, “Well duh. What are you, Jolley, stupid?”

Let me clarify. It took me longer than it should have to learn that, in many if not most cases, your characters are more important than your plot.

Basically, the only time plot matters more than characters is when you’re writing a one-off. A stand-alone screenplay, for example. The plot of The Matrix was a good bit more important than the characters, as evidenced by the utter blanks with which most of the characters presented us. What did we know about Switch, for example, other than how she looked? How well could you describe Tank’s personality? But you know what — it didn’t matter. We were there for the big ideas, the spectacle, the bullet-time. The revelation of what had happened to the planet Earth.

If you’re writing anything that is serialized in nature, however, you’d better make damn sure your readers (or your viewers) are invested in the characters. Because the characters are what bring the eyeballs back, with each issue of your comic book, or each post of your webcomic, or each new novel in your series.

Take The Flash, for instance. I’m talking about the TV show, not the comic book. I watched The Flash for years because I liked Grant Gustin’s aww-shucks portrayal of Barry Allen. I liked how goofy Cisco was. I liked the yearning of Barry’s unrequited love for Iris, and once they actually got together, I was right there to see how the relationship went.

I was not there for the plots.

With apologies to all involved, because I do sincerely like the show, some of the plots are profoundly dumb.

The Flash vs. a couple of guys who shoot guns? So what if they shoot blasts of fire and cold? Barry can run faster than those guys can think. Zoom up, take the guns out of their hands, and punch them in the face. Episode over.

And yet I kept watching the show. For the characters.

So that begs the question: how do you write characters who are that engaging? How do you write characters who jump off the page and grab readers by the throat and shake them back and forth and scream, “YOU WILL REMEMBER ME FOR YEARS AFTER YOU’VE FINISHED THIS BOOK!” ?

One way to do that is to base your characters on people you already know.

That might sound overly simple, but it’s not. I’m talking about replicating someone you know, a real person who’s a part of your life, on the page. In the same way an up-and-coming painter might meticulously recreate the works of a master, I’m suggesting that you make a full-blown study out of one of your friends, or a family member, or a teacher. Maybe it’s your next-door neighbor. It could be anyone.

An aside: this is getting into one of the common side-effects of becoming a writer. When you’re a writer — when you design characters and plots professionally, when it’s up to you to crack the story and settle on the best structure and motivations and whatnot — you stop reading things and watching things purely for the entertainment of it. I enjoyed the hell out of Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri, but the whole time I sat in the theater, I was analyzing everything I saw with a proverbial microscope. This often becomes a source of irritation for people you see movies with.

I did a lot of this conscious re-creation in my new novel, The Storm. It’s a mystery-thriller set in a tiny, fictional town in northwest Georgia, many of the people and environs of which were inspired by the tiny, real town in northwest Georgia where I was born and raised. Several of my beta readers are from the same area, and more than one of them came back to me and said things like, “Good Lord, I know a guy exactly like that,” and “A woman just like her sings in the choir at my mom’s church!” and “Hey, this isn’t based on me, is it?”

So you pick someone, and you pay attention to everything about them. Their speech mannerisms, their favorite topics of conversation. How they walk, what kinds of jokes they tell, their favorite sayings. My father, for example, when he gets agitated, is likely to bellow, “I’ll swear to my time!” Now, I don’t know what that means, exactly, but the sentiment is unmistakable. It’s probably a series of euphemisms strung together so he could avoid cursing in front of his kids. And I’ve never heard anyone else say that, ever, in my entire life. It’s unique to him. That’s the kind of thing you want for your characters.

(Ideally, you will embark on this character study without coming off as creepy, or as a stalker, or as a creepy stalker.)

See if you can re-create a living, breathing person on the page. If you write a character based on someone, and then you show your writing to someone else who knows that person, the perfect outcome will be for the reader to say words to the effect of, “Holy crap, that’s Bill! Jeez, you nailed him!”

In the process of performing such character studies, what will happen is that you’ll grow accustomed to creating characters who feel real. Characters I’ve heard described as “fully imagined.” So when it comes time to generate a character who’s not based on a person you know, you won’t come up with someone a reader could only describe as “angry” or “weak,” or, most reductive of all, “female.” You’ll put characters on the page with complex personalities and unique, memorable elements, with hopes and dreams in their futures and both victories and defeats in their pasts. You’ll create characters readers want to come back to over and over.

Whether the plots they’re involved in make sense or not.

(Your plots should make sense, too, though. For God’s sake, Barry, punch those guys in the face already.)

Dan Jolley

February 16, 2019

Wow! I've got to admit though, I'm still hoping nobody quite recognizes themselves in my stories. But I do want them all to seem real. And now I'm thinking of a new writing exercise for our writers' group. Could be fun... But I digress. This is your tour and your book and your readers want to know more... Thank you Dan!

Dan Jolley's The Storm Blog Tour

February 18-25, 2019

Discover a great new suspense thriller in Dan Jolley’s The Storm Blog Tour, taking place February 18-25!

An intense tale that explores murder, mystery, and race relations in a rural area of modern day Georgia, The Storm delivers a captivating reading experience!

About the author: 

Dan Jolley began writing professionally at age 19. Starting out in comic books, Dan has worked for major publishers such as DC (Firestorm), Marvel (Dr. Strange), Dark Horse (Aliens), and Image (G.I. Joe), and soon branched out into licensed-property novels (Star Trek), film novelizations (Iron Man), and original novels, including the Middle Grade Urban Fantasy series Five Elements and the Urban Sci-Fi Gray Widow Trilogy.

Dan began writing for video games in 2007, and has contributed storylines, characters, and dialogue to titles such as Transformers: War for Cybertron, Prototype 2, and Dying Light, among others. Dan lives with his wife Tracy and a handful of largely inert felines in northwest Georgia, and enjoys connecting with readers via his website (www.danjolley.com) and on Twitter (@_DanJolley).

Where to Find Him:
Twitter: @_DanJolley
Website:  www.danjolley.com

About The Storm:


A tiny town in Georgia’s northwest corner — ninety-five percent white. Five percent black. Utterly unprepared for the devastating tornado that rips and smashes through it one dark August day.

SHERIFF ZANDRA SEAGRAVES already faced an uphill battle. Elected by a fluke, Red Springs’ first-ever black, female sheriff leads the recovery efforts, despite knowing how much the townspeople–and her own department–loathe her. But Zandra has no idea just how hellish things are about to get.

Because one of the relief workers stumbles across a ghastly secret: the tornado tore a long-abandoned house off its foundations, revealing a grisly, recently-used torture dungeon below it.

A monster has been dwelling in Red Springs. Undetected for years. Preying on the unsuspecting populace. His atrocities only brought to light because of the storm.

Now, amid the tornado’s wreckage and surrounded by people who want her gone, Zandra has to hunt this monster down before he disappears again.

And to do it, she’ll have to peel back all of Red Springs’ dark, corrupted layers. One vile secret at a time.

Where to find The Storm
Amazon Print Version: https://www.amazon.com/Storm-Dan-Jolley/dp/1948042665/
Kindle Version: https://www.amazon.com/Storm-Dan-Jolley-ebook/dp/B07LC78379/
Barnes and Noble Link for The Storm: https://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/the-storm-dan-jolley/1130007043?ean=9781948042666

Find out more: Follow the Tour:

2/18    Jazzy Book Reviews    https://bookreviewsbyjasmine.blogspot.com/      Top Ten's List

2/19    I Smell Sheep  http://www.ismellsheep.com/        Vlog

2/20    Breakeven Books       https://breakevenbooks.com           Guest Post

2/21    Sheila's Guests and Reviews http://sheiladeeth.blogspot.com     Guest Post

2/22    Jordan Hirsch http://jordanrhirsch.wordpress.com           Review

2/23    Sapphyria's Books     https://saphsbooks.blogspot.com/ Guest Post

2/23    The Book Lover's Boudoir     https://thebookloversboudoir.wordpress.com/     Review

2/24    Horror Tree    https://www.horrortree.com          Guest Post

2/24    Willow's Thoughts and Book Obsessions     http://wssthoughtsandbookobsessions.blogspot.com/            Review

2/25    The Voluptuous Book Diva    http://www.thevoluptuousbookdiva.com  Guest Post

Amazon Links for The Storm

Print Version: https://www.amazon.com/Storm-Dan-Jolley/dp/1948042665/

Kindle Version: https://www.amazon.com/Storm-Dan-Jolley-ebook/dp/B07LC78379/

Barnes and Noble Link for The Storm: https://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/the-storm-dan-jolley/1130007043?ean=9781948042666


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