Polly Iyer's Blog

November 29, 2019

Mind Games is FREE

The first book in the Diana Racine Psychic Suspense series, Mind Games, is FREE for a few days, starting November 29, 2019. https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/13576017-mind-games
https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B00...


During a New Orleans Mardi Gras Ball, psychic entertainer Diana Racine touches the hand of a masked Cyrano de Bergerac and is instantly transported into the icy-cold body of a dead woman submerged in water. As Diana crumples to the floor, water filling her lungs, she hears Cyrano whisper that the game has begun.

Diana has been called every epithet in the book: charlatan, cheat, publicity hound...and genius--all at least partially true. But convincing New Orleans police lieutenant Ernie Lucier that her vision of the dead woman is the real thing may be her hardest act yet. He becomes a believer when Diana leads him to the alligator-infested bayou and the woman's remains. When another vision leads to another body, it's clear that the two dead women are a prelude to the killer's ultimate victim--Diana.
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Published on November 29, 2019 12:56

July 25, 2019

Clichés in Plots and Description



Background image by airpix, via Flickr. Credit: stubblepatrol.com

Clichés.  Books are full of them, both in the plots and writers’ descriptions. Yes, I know, there are only seven major plot themes, and all stories evolve from one or a combination of them. So they say. I found a great explanation with examples in this post by Len Wilson


Overcoming the monster
Rags to riches
The quest
Voyage and return
Comedy
Tragedy
Rebirth

I never thought about the seven plots when I wrote my books. I didn’t even know about them until I kept hearing how there are only seven basic plots. I found the idea rather defeatist and didn’t want to look further for fear I might quit writing altogether since I was sure everything I’d written had been written before. When I finally read them, I found the definitions to be broad and generic, with enough latitude to erase my anxiety.

It’s a writer’s job to find nuances in plots that make them as original as possible. Some genres adhere to formula. Cozy mysteries usually have an amateur sleuth stumbling on a body. Detective novels have a world-weary, sometime alcoholic PI or cop. In romantic suspense novels, the  heroine and hero usually dislike each other in the beginning. Many times their animosity is misconceived or misinterpreted. Other times it’s dredged up from a past experience that went sour. But without a doubt, by the end of the book, they’ll either be in love or in bed, usually behind closed doors.

My book Hooked (watch the book trailer here)

is not a romantic suspense in the classic definition because of the ending. The male character is a sex-crime investigator; the female is a very expensive, retired call girl. He blackmails her into working for the police to find a murderer or she's off to prison on a tax evasion charge. They dislike each other for what they are until over the course of the story they get to know who they are. I know this is not the only novel where the cop falls for a lady of the night, but I hope it's different enough to stand alone.

One reviewer complained the characters in my romantic mystery, Murder Déjà Vu, fall in love too fast. Well they like each other―tough. He spent fifteen years in prison for a crime he didn’t commit; she endured the same time in an abusive marriage to protect her sons. Because of plot demands, they don’t have time to dislike each other.

My alter ego’s erotic romance, The Escort, a book about a wealthy retired colonel blinded in Iraq who hires an escort to help him navigate a tricky meeting with two soldiers under his command, sounds like a book written by another author long after my book was published. That was the first time I saw a book described that sounded close enough to one of mine that it threw me. Surely, there are more. I doubt writers think about those seven plot lines when constructing their stories. We develop a story idea and run with it, adding our own ingredients into the recipe.

Overused descriptions are a big bugaboo of mine. The ones that drive me batty are not exactly clichés, but I’ve read them often enough for them to qualify. I’ve used some myself, which makes my complaint hypocritical.

…she said through gritted teeth.
…his lips formed in a straight line.
She squared her shoulders.
One corner of his mouth tugged upward.
She straightened her spine.
He rolled his eyes.
His smile didn’t reach his eyes.
I released a breath I didn’t know I was holding.
Cleansing breath, ragged breath, calming breath, sighing every which way, etc.

You get the picture. These are all good descriptions. We know what they mean, and maybe once they were original, but they’re overused now. I'm reading a book now that I swear has them all. As writers, we look for new ways to say the same thing. Sometimes there aren’t that many choices, no matter how hard we try to find one. We stalk thesaurus sites online, searching for a fresh approach, a word no one has ever used before―unlikely―and we spend too long on a phrase or paragraph, striving for originality. Whenever I come across one of those overdone descriptions, I grit my teeth, square my shoulders, and bang my head against the wall―sorry. Every time I read a word or description that is clearly strained because the writer is stretching to be original, it stands out to me like a sore thumb―sorry again―and takes me right out of the story.

I write genre fiction. When I read over what I’ve written, if it doesn’t sound real, if it doesn’t sound like someone speaking naturally, I rewrite it. (Or as Elmore Leonard says in his ten rules: "If it sounds like writing, I rewrite it.” Thanks, Elmore.) I don’t want my readers to stop reading because I’m working too hard to make it sound important or lyrical or unforgettable. Exquisite prose is not natural to me as a writer. I wish it were, but it’s not my strength. Getting into my characters’ heads is. I want my readers invested in them. I want my readers to care enough about my heroes and heroines to turn the page to learn what happens to them. I want readers to be afraid, to cry, to sympathize, and to think about my creations after they close the book. I strive to create the most original plots I can with unusual characters filling the pages. I hope my readers don’t roll their eyes and think they’ve read my books before by other writers, because, you know, there are only seven basic plots.
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Published on July 25, 2019 14:48

Why the Beginning of Your Novel Is Important

Let’s talk about the first lines and/or the first few pages of your novel. Agents claim they can tell if a book is worth representing from reading the first five pages, and they can and do accept or reject representation based on those pages. I know readers who would ditch a book if they’re not enthralled right away. I give it more time if the writing appeals to me.

It helps to have an outstanding first line. I’ve had a first line in my head for years, but I’ve never been able to come up with a story to go with it. Julia Spencer-Fleming’s first sentence in In the Bleak Midwinter is a gem: “It was one hell of a night to throw out a baby.” Now really, doesn’t that make you want to keep reading?

There are some first lines that stick in your mind even though the book fades from popularity. Here’s a link of 100 of the best first lines: http://americanbookreview.org/100BestLines.asp You'll probably recognize many of them.

What do you expect from the first five pages of a novel? Literary agent Noah Lukeman wrote a book titled, you guessed it, The First Five Pages. I bought it, and it makes some great points. First and foremost, he judges whether the book is “technically accomplished enough to merit a serious artistic evaluation to begin with.” He says agents want to get through their slush pile, and they’ll do anything to eliminate a book for any reason. That’s disheartening because I’m sure many a gem has been overlooked, maybe forever.

Lukeman also says that even if the first pages are terrible, he might check a random section in the middle and at the end to see if the book is terrible throughout. I think that’s a great idea. The three strike option gives an author a better shot of an agent reading her book.

A “suggestion” in producing a salable mystery is to have the murder as close to the beginning as possible. This risks creating a slew of books that start out with similar opening scenes. For amateur sleuths, our character trips, falls, or finds a dead body almost immediately. For police procedurals, the crime might take a little more time, but it’s still early on.

Conflict is another early page grabber. Romantic suspense usually has the two protagonists at each other’s throats right off the bat. Bet on it. An agent might never know how long the conflict continues if those first five pages aren’t well written. If it goes on too long, readers like me might shut the book because of the contrived back and forth tension.

Both of these “rules” can produce formulaic books. There’s a saying that rules are made to be broken. Big name authors can get away with more than a lesser-known writer. I break both rules in my novel, Murder Déjà Vu. The two main characters’ conflict lasts about an hour. They like each other―gasp―right away. To take the abomination one step further, the murder doesn’t occur until the end of the sixth chapter, page thirty. Double gasp. There’s a reason why it works. That’s my opinion, and I’m sticking to it.

The high rate of manuscript refusals among agents is one of the reasons self-publishing came into existence. First, a number of vanity presses promised authors publication “for a small fee,” which turned out not to be small at all. Writers got conned and lost money when those presses didn’t follow through on their promises.

Self-publishing had been around for a while, but it took Amazon to make it an easy and profitable platform for novelists. A writer’s investment consists of a good editor, formatter, and cover artist. The actual publishing is free, and the reward is between a 35 and 70% royalty, along with other benefits. Their “Look Inside” feature gives readers the chance to read those first five pages and more to judge whether they want to commit to the whole book. That makes the beginning of your book even more important. But don't forget the rest of the book. A reader can just as easily stop reading halfway through if you slack off. The beginning is only the beginning.
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Published on July 25, 2019 14:13

January 11, 2018

New Publication and a FREE Book to Celebrate

For everyone on the planet, 2018 marks a new year, a new beginning. For writers, it marks another year to produce a book for publication. I haven’t published a new novel since September of 2015. I reached 35,000 words on one, decided I didn’t believe the premise, and gave up, though I think it has future possibilities with a little more thought. I did write The Last Heist, a novella for the anthology, Lowcountry Crime, but that was it.
On January 9th, I published The Scent of Murder, the fourth book in the Diana Racine Psychic Suspense series, my ninth suspense novel, and my twelfth book overall, including erotic romance books written under a pseudonym.

When I published Backlash, the third book in the series, I thought it was the most difficult book I’d written, not because it was a hard book to write, but because I didn’t want the series to diminish in quality.

We’ve all read reviews of books deep into a series that suggest the author should move on, that s/he had written the best of the books and now the characters, story, and suspense have become tired and repetitive. A few writers have been able to pull off a long series and keep readers engaged, but it's not easy to keep the plots and characters fresh? I thought about how to make the fourth book as good or better than the third book. Here are the answers that work for me.


Characters.
Characters.
Characters.

How many times have you read that the characters in a book were unlikeable? It takes an amazing plot to overcome that. I’ve stopped reading books because I didn’t care what happened to the main character. DIDN’T CARE! I want my characters to be likeable. Damaged, maybe, but I want the reader to care about them enough to follow them into subsequent books.

Developing relationships in a series is essential. My lead series characters meet in the first book, Mind Games. I personally don’t like cat and mouse games for too long in a romantic relationship. A little tension in the beginning is fine, but their constant back and forth irritability is annoying, and if a writer keeps that going in subsequent books, especially stand-alones, readers know what to expect, and the books become formulaic. Characters grow to like each other; get on with the story and quit messing around with their hot and cold emotions, especially in a suspense/thriller.

I had posed a question to writer friends if a series character always needs to be in danger at the end of every suspense/thriller. The answer was a resounding YES! How many times can a writer make that fresh? Different dangers, different rescues, different, different, different. It’s a terrific challenge to keep the reader alert and engaged. Of course, he or she is rescued unless you want to end the series, but how it’s pulled off is crucial.

Secondary characters in a series—the ones in every book—should be as developed as you can make them short of having them take over the story. As the series develops, so should they. Readers get to know them, like them, see their different personalities. In some cases, a secondary character can be the story, and that’s okay. Think John Sandford’s character Virgil Flowers in the Prey series becoming his own series. Why? Because he was interesting and well developed.

In The Scent of Murder, I introduce a ten-year-old boy and thought long and hard about whether to keep him as an ongoing character in the series. I didn't decide until the end of the book.

Then, of course, there's the plot, or in the case of this book, two plots that have nothing to do with each other. Could I switch from one plot to the other without jarring the reader? That was the question I asked beta readers. One plot also takes Diana, a retired psychic entertainer, into another realm of her otherworldly gift. It was tricky and risky. I’m sure my readers will let me know if I succeeded or if I opted for sensationalism and failed.

Because I have two plots, I have multiple villains. Remember characters, characters, characters? Even though villains appear in only one book (unless s/he is a recurring villain - think Professor Moriarty), they should be as well developed as the main characters. Writers can make them nasty, irredeemable, or sympathetic. I’ve written them all, but they must be memorable.



To celebrate the publication of The Scent of Murder, I’m giving away the ebook of Mind Games, the first book in the series, January 11~14 on Amazon, and I’ll be interviewed on the Writers Who Kill blog on January 13th. www.writerswhokill.blogspot.com

Amazon Author Page: https://www.amazon.com/Polly-Iyer/e/B...

Happy writing. Oh, and happy reading too.
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Published on January 11, 2018 12:55 Tags: mind-games, new-orleans, police-procedural, psychic-suspense, the-scent-of-murder

July 14, 2017

Creating Real Characters through Dialogue, Mannerisms, and Actions

One of the difficulties in writing fiction is how to individualize your characters to make them real. This can be achieved through dialogue or specific character tics or mannerisms. Doing this in a series is more difficult because you have to keep the characters consistent in book after book.



One of my favorite series—and I qualify this because I’m not a big series reader—is Michael Robotham’s Joe O’Loughlin series. Joe is a clinical psychologist with Parkinson’s Disease. Robotham doesn’t hit the reader over the head with the disintegrating effects of the illness on Joe’s body. Instead, throughout the series, the symptoms become more subtly noticeable: a disobedient leg that freezes in mid-gait or a hand tremor, but never does he make the character about the disease or the disease about the character. To coin one of my least favorite phrases, it is what it is. Joe goes about his business solving crimes without ever becoming a victim.

I can think of two series where the characters never change. That’s fine for those readers who aren’t bothered by that, but I am. One is the time period never changes, so neither does the character. The other is the stupidity factor, where the character keeps making the same mistakes over and over. I stopped reading both series when I realized neither character would grow.





I’ve published three books in the Diana Racine Psychic Suspense series with another on the way. Diana has been a famous psychic since she was six years old. She’s now an adult and a psychic performer who’s played Vegas and other venues around the world, so she’s had her share of hecklers and skeptics. She’s also learned how to respond with a quick wit and sharp tongue. I can’t forget that, or I lose my character.

So how do I keep her honest? In Mind Games, book one, she meets Ernie Lucier, the New Orleans police lieutenant who’s one of the skeptics. There’s no surprise that they’ll become a couple, but on one of their first “dates,” he takes her for hot wings, promising they’ll be the hottest wings she’s ever eaten or will eat. He's clearly testing her, and Diana knows it. She bites into the wing, and though it’s fire hot, she picks the bone clean and takes another one while he looks on in disbelief. She doesn’t get through the burning sensation of the second wing, but it’s indicative of her personality to try to beat someone at his own game. In book four, a work in progress, she does it again. Spicy hot cucumber sandwiches that the host prepares and watches as she eats not only one but two. This time, she carries off the deception without choking. Diana is a smart aleck whenever the opportunity arises, but caution―too much of a good thing wears thin and becomes tiresome. Lke Joe O’Loughlin, a little goes a long way.

Diana’s father is good old country boy with the dialect to prove it. He drops the g in ing words and uses double negatives. “I don’t remember nothin’ ’bout no animal.” I have to be consistent, or the dialect doesn’t work, but again, it's important not to overdo the slang.

One author I like a lot writes a series about two partner detectives that alternate books and sometimes share a story. One character is a constant wiseacre. I skip his books because the sass is excessive. The other character is dark and enigmatic. The mystery of him keeps me reading his stories, because I want to know more about him.

In Murder Déjà Vu, my male character, a quiet man who spent fifteen years in prison for a crime he didn’t commit, rubs the back of his neck when he’s unsure of what to say. He does it enough for the reader to know it’s a tell, much like the tell of a card player, but not so often that it’s annoying. I hope.

When I wrote Threads, I was so fascinated by a secondary character that he became the lead male. Garrett stutters. Badly. Like foreign accents or regional dialect, stuttering in dialogue is risky. When it becomes tedious, the reader will shut the book. The trick is for other characters to mention the stutter interspersed with the character’s dialogue so there’s not stutter overload.

Elmore Leonard, whose books I adore, is a master of dialogue. I wrote a Blood Red Pencil post in November of 2104, but here are a few of his ten rules of writing.



• Use regional dialect, patois, sparingly.
Once you start spelling words in dialogue phonetically and loading the page with apostrophes, you won’t be able to stop.

• Try to leave out the part that readers tend to skip.
…Think of what you skip reading a novel: thick paragraphs of prose you can see have too many words in them. … I’ll bet you don’t skip dialogue.

My most important rule, says Leonard, is one that sums up the 10. If it sounds like writing, I rewrite it.
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Published on July 14, 2017 19:49 Tags: michael-robotham-elmore-leonard

Humor, Satire, and Wit

Humor in literature depends on what people find funny. That sounds simplistic, but what tickles one person might not cause a twitch of the lip to another. Writing can feature many different forms of humor. Books can be belly-laugh funny, subtle, satirical, dry, ethnic, screwball farce, neurotic, slapstick, political, absurd, and probably a dozen more. Each style causes a different reaction to different readers. I’m going to feature a few humorists and some writers known for their wit.



Writer Dorothy Parker was one of the wittiest satirists ever. Here are a few of her priceless comments I find funny:

“If you have any young friends who aspire to become writers, the second greatest favor you can do them is to present them with copies of The Elements of Style. The first greatest, of course, is to shoot them now, while they’re happy.”

“I hate writing, I love having written.”

“There's a hell of a distance between wise-cracking and wit. Wit has truth in it; wise-cracking is simply calisthenics with words.”

And one of my very favorites: “It serves me right for putting all my eggs in one bastard.”

Humorist Will Rogers said some funny things about politics and politicians in his day, as I read them, I found them very current. Does that mean that things stay pretty much the same?



“Everything is changing. People are taking the comedians seriously and the politicians as a joke.”

“There's no trick to being a humorist when you have the whole government working for you.”

“There are three kinds of men. The one that learns by reading. The few who learn by observation. The rest of them have to pee on the electric fence for themselves.”

“Now if there is one thing that we do worse than any other nation, it is try and manage somebody else's affairs.”

Democrats never agree on anything, that's why they're Democrats. If they agreed with each other, they would be Republicans.

Before Will and Dorothy, there was Mark Twain.

“Get your facts first, then you can distort them as you please.”

“It is better to keep your mouth closed and let people think you are a fool than to open it and remove all doubt.”

“In 'Huckleberry Finn,' I have drawn Tom Blankenship exactly as he was. He was ignorant, unwashed, insufficiently fed; but he had as good a heart as ever any boy had.”

One of my favorite satirists is Andy Borowitz. His quotes are political: they’re also so close to the truth that it’s hard to differentiate the satire. I’ll post a few of my favorites that aren't obviously political.

"To mark Michael Phelps' amazing Olympic career, I think the USA should legalize marijuana."

"If you buy your July 4 supplies at Walmart you can celebrate our independence from Britain and our dependence on China at the same time."

These were the top vote getters in Goodreads poll of funny books:

Hitchiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, Catch 22, The Princess Bride, Good Omens, Me Talk Pretty One Day, A Confederacy of Dunces, The Importance of Being Earnest, Bridget Jones’s Diary, and One for the Money.

Authors known for humorous novels:

David Sedaris
Terry Prachett
Kurt Vonnegut
Janet Evanovich
Christopher Moore.
Carl Hiaasen
And Elmore Leonard because of his quirky characters.

I’ve read quite a few of the authors above, and some made me laugh out loud. Though I’m a mystery, suspense, thriller reader, even those genres require a bit of levity for a break. It can be dialogue, characters, or scenario, but it should be there.

Who are your favorite humorous authors? What books made you laugh out loud?
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Published on July 14, 2017 19:29

Famous, Infamous, and Just Plain Nobodies

The Blood Red Pencil Wednesday, June 21, 2017

Who knew that being an author could be so difficult? As if it’s not hard enough to write a book—and kudos to all those who have or will in the future—being taken seriously as a writer is sometimes beyond your control, even if you write a good book.

Exactly what does that mean? Certainly, the best way for people to want to read your books is if they already know who you are. If you have a platform and you’re famous, even locally, you grab the attention of an agent who knows part of her work is already accomplished. A writer with built-in name recognition can parlay that into bookstore signings, panels at conferences, interviews, and reviews by the big review sites. Many TV personalities have developed a major revenue stream from their books, using their programs as prime advertisements. They’re lucky, because most of us plug away in the silence of our offices, knowing that writing the book is just the beginning.


Networking is an important part of name recognition. That means going to multiple conferences, getting to know other writers, giving them support in exchange for the support they give you. The problem is conferences cost money. Lots of money. There’s the price of the conference, travel expenses, hotel, and if you have a job, which many writers need in order to survive, time off from work. Maybe you can juggle vacation time to offset the loss. Good for you.

Are you famous yet? Probably not, but if you can manage the cost of all I just mentioned, you have one step up, no, a whole flight of stairs up on those of us who can’t.

So what’s a Nobody to do, especially one who self-publishes? Years back, that would be the kiss of death. It meant you weren’t good enough to get an agent and a publisher. Not so much now, though there’s still a question of legitimacy. Many writers prefer to self-publish. A writer has control of his/her work, reaps more of the financial rewards (if there are any), and can’t blame anyone else for her lack of success. Many make more money than traditionally published authors, though the latter have garnered that elusive legitimacy by being published traditionally in the first place.

Internet social media, Facebook and Twitter, are of major importance to those of us who can’t swing the expense of a publicist or conferences after we’ve paid for editing and cover design. We post information about reduced pricing, good reviews, make friends, and realize a million others are doing the same thing. It’s also tricky. If all you do is self-promote, it turns people off, so we have author pages on Facebook and intersperse book information on our personal pages, hoping it’s not overkill. We tweet, which I’ve stopped doing because I felt I was preaching to the choir, though a friend who has over 60k Twitter followers, swears by its success in promoting her books.

We blog, blog hop, spend a lot on how-to books, advertise, have sales, promote, write and write some more, and sometimes we wonder why we’re doing all this to remain anonymous. Yet we keep doing it because most of us will say we can’t NOT write. It’s a conundrum, but it also makes us writers.
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Published on July 14, 2017 17:53

January 5, 2017

InSight is 99¢ Jan 5-8

description Psychologist Abigael Gallant fought her way back from her ex-husband's brutal attack that killed their daughter and left her blind. Now she "reads" audio books, runs with a guide at a local track, and has a thriving practice that specializes in treating the newly disabled. The last thing she needs is another man in her life.

Enter Detective Luke McCallister, a cop forced into counseling a year after a gun blast during a meth lab take-down robbed him of his hearing. Luke is fighting hard to stay on the force, but computer work and fingerprint analysis are not what he has in mind. Initially reluctant to Abby's therapy, Luke's barriers tumble because Abby sees deeper into him than anyone ever cared to.

Though Luke's lip reading is excellent, he refuses to "listen" to Abby's warning that his romantic overture jeopardizes her professional ethics. But when break-ins and threatening computer messages escalate into a physical attack on Abby and her guide dog, Luke walks a fine line between cop, protector, and lover. Unable to deny their physical attraction, Abby and Luke tiptoe around their personal baggage and enter into a delicate relationship.

Then Abby is kidnapped. While Luke puts his life at risk to find her, Abby discovers the ghosts of her past are back to haunt her, and the man she once loved was as much of a victim as she.

https://www.amazon.com/InSight/dp/B00...
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Published on January 05, 2017 20:22

June 2, 2016

Looking for a Great Summer Read?

Indiscretion is on sale through the month of June here: http://www.amazon.com/b?node=12573935011
Regular Price - $3.49. June price $1.99.
Use code READJUNE16


Separated from her controlling husband, romance author Zoe Swan meets a charismatic art history professor on the beach and begins a torrid affair. But who is he really? By the time Zoe finds out, she's wanted for murder and on the run with her husband, his jewel thief brother Paul, and a priceless painting stolen from the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum. With the FBI and the murderer in pursuit, the trio heads to Boston to take refuge in the home of Paul's friends. Soon the lines are blurred between the good guys and the bad, and the only way to prove their innocence is to make a deal with the very people who want them dead.
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Published on June 02, 2016 09:40 Tags: amazon, code, sale

January 21, 2016

Why We Love Damaged and Tortured Characters

What is it about damaged heroes that attract women readers, and writers? Damaged and tortured heroes and heroines, either emotionally or physically, are a staple in literature: Hamlet, Quasimodo, or Heathcliff. Maxim de Winter in Rebecca. In film, give an actor or actress the role of a handicapped or emotionally challenged character and you can almost be sure an Academy Award will follow. The Three Faces of Eve, My Left Foot, The Theory of Everything, A Beautiful Mind, Charlie. Even children’s books have damaged characters: The Secret Garden, Beauty and the Beast. How about theater’s award winning Phantom of the Opera? Those are but a few of the examples. The list goes on and on.

My critique partner says that I make heroes out of damaged characters. I never thought of it that way, but I went over my bibliography, and she’s right. My stories are full of damaged characters, both emotionally and physically. I’ve written eleven books, eight suspense novels under my name and three erotic romances written under a pseudonym. Out of the eleven novels, nine have damaged heroes/heroines. The two that don’t are the second and third books in my series, but that’s only because the main characters’ histories are explained in book one. No sense beating a dead horse.

All villains are messed up, but in my book, Mind Games, the villain is almost sympathetic, even though he’s evil to the core. It’s much easier to write a pure villain with no redeeming qualities than it is to make him understood, in that weird villainous way.

Not only do I write damaged heroes, I read them. The most interesting, in my opinion, is Will Trent, Karin Slaughter’s series character. Because he’s dyslexic and wired differently—he literally can’t read―he uses other methods to piece together the clues in a crime that “normal” cops don’t see. He’s socially inept, almost backward, but that’s because he had a Dickensian childhood. I root for him. I want him to succeed. More about that later.

I have a character like Trent in my book Threads, written long before Will Trent came on the scene but published long after. I worked on it for years, but one character remained true, and that was Garrett. What a mess, but I fell in love with him. I’ve fallen in love with all my heroes. If I don’t, I can’t write them.

My book Murder Déjà Vu may have my favorite damaged hero. Architect Reece Daughtry spent fifteen years in prison for a murder he didn’t commit and was released when his lawyer proved he was convicted on tainted evidence. Fifteen years in prison has left him with a form of PTSD. He has a terrible fear of being confined. Even the house he builds has skylights in every room, so he can “see the clouds and stars and know the universe exists.”

There’s Luke McCallister in InSight, a deaf cop forced into counseling with Abby Gallant, a psychologist blinded by her ex-husband’s failed attempt to kill her. Now there’s an interesting coupling.

Abby isn’t my only damaged female character. I believe in gender equality. There’s retired call girl Tawny Dell in Hooked. She can’t fall in love, so she does her job and goes home to an empty loft. A little messed up? Ya think? Then she meets the cop who might send her to jail if she doesn’t do a job for the NYPD. Bet you can guess what happens. Oh, he has a history too, of course. Lincoln Walsh, is a cop who discovered his mother’s suicide, which left him a ward of the state.

So what’s the fascination with damaged characters? I might be a little close to the situation to answer, but I think it’s because readers want to root for a character, whether male or female, to beat the odds, to win, to come out of their shells, or take the first step. To find love because they never experienced it or because they were so badly hurt by someone they shunned the very people who could give them what they don’t know they need. As readers and as writers, we want to care about the people in our stories because they become real to us. From the time we create them to the time we type, THE END, we live with them, become them, and feel them.

Of course, the real answer why we’re fascinated by flawed and tortured characters might be that normal is boring. But don’t tell anyone I said that.
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Published on January 21, 2016 16:30