Very possibly I made an impression on my daughter’s new
in-laws last month when I said how, with most women, you can talk to them about
their careers or their kids or what they’re reading, but in my case you could
talk about blood spatter.
You might think this would have been a conversation-stopper,
but my daughter’s new sister-in-law immediately launched into how her son had
bled so profusely after knocking his head on the kitchen counter. “Oh yes,” I
said knowingly, “scalp wounds. Lots of blood.” It pays to know your stuff.
I added to my trove of crime and thriller lore this past
weekend at the annual Deadly Ink
conference, an intimate group of crime and thriller writers and readers, mostly
from New Jersey and its Manhattan suburbs. It’s a great place to expound upon crime-writing
topics and to hobnob with other like-minded folk. Guest of Honor this year was
energetic and down-to-earth author Wendy Corsi Staub, who participated
beginning to end, and our Toastmaster was Dick Belsky.
I ended up on three panels, Character (you need them!), the
Dark Side (who, me?), and Building Suspense. The only suspense was whether I
could think of something useful to contribute. Regardless, the panels were all lively
and fun and, since almost no one ran out screaming and demanding their money
back, they may have actually been useful or, possibly, entertaining.
I had made some modest preparations for the Character panel
and focused my remarks on what I’d brushed up on, character description.
Sometimes writers describe characters readers only see once or twice. Not
necessary.. Sometimes they give a complete height-weight-eye color (so often
green, have you noticed?)-hair color-complexion rundown. Also not necessary, I
said, except when these details are relevant to the story, like six-foot,
full-figured Monica Ludd, who uses her size to intimidate (or seduce) in Maggie
Gee’s new novel Blood, reviewed
I cited Stephen King in On
Writing, who says a character’s description begins in the writer’s imagination
and ends in the reader’s imagination. No need for details. Let your readers
fill in. When they do, they own the character and that’s exactly what you want!
For King’s character Carrie White, all he said was that she was a high school
outcast with bad skin and a fashion-victim wardrobe. What more is needed? We’ve
all known and maybe sometimes been that person.
That led to a discussion of how the movie version of a
character can become our indelible picture of a character—Tom Selleck as Jesse
Stone, Robert Taylor as Walt Longmire—and what happens when that picture
conflicts with our internal picture—Tom Cruise as Jack Reacher. Total fail.
Donald Maass (Writing 21st
Century Fiction) further points out the paradox that the more unique you
make your characters the more universal they are. Readers can latch onto some
aspect of a character and relate to it, almost no matter what. What you don’t
want are bland, generalized, two-dimensional characters with no unredeeming
attributes. Give them flaws! Too-perfect characters are boring and not
This excellent panel was moderated by Lynn Marron and included the
estimable Jane Kelly,
D.W Maroney, and Dick Belsky.
(Tomorrow: More from Deadly Ink)
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