Friday, May 27, 2011

Please welcome a special guest at ACME. My guest blogger today is a 5-Star Bks. Author with an impressive amount of determination and talent. Kelly Irvin is articulate and entertaining. Her bio says it all:

Kelly Irvin's writing career in nonfiction and fiction spans the last twenty-five years. The Kansas native has a degree in journalism from the University of Kansas. She spent a year and a half in Costa Rica as a college student, learning the Spanish language and gaining an understanding of other cultures. She moved to Laredo, Texas, in 1981 to work at a local newspaper. After five years in Laredo, she spent another year in El Paso. That stint at border newspapers gave her keen insight into this multicultural region. All of these experiences were fodder for her fiction and are reflected in her…

Bombshells With a Side of Empathy

My Blazer hurtles through the streets of San Antonio at a neck-breaking speed of three miles an hour during rush hour traffic. Which is why I listen to audio books. The other day I enjoyed an old Dana Stabenow novel that got me to thinking about character versus plot and that ironclad rule that says you have to hit the reader with something earth shattering in the first few pages. Kate Shugak had been lollygagging about in her Alaskan park eating pie and drinking tea for several chapters before Stabenow hit me with a murder that left tears in my eyes. I admit I’d been thinking what the heck, when is something going to happen? Then I realized the time she gave me to build a relationship with her characters made the murder incredibly effective.

Granted the book is a few years old and Stabenow is an established author who can get away with this delayed bombshell in an era of instant gratification, thirty-second sound bites, and twenty-four hour cable TV. I can’t and sell my work. I imagine most of us can’t. So how do we make readers care about our characters when that bomb blast hits on page two? In A Deadly Wilderness, my first novel, I introduce a nasty murderer-for-hire in the prologue, then proceeded directly to Ray Johnson’s trek through a wilderness park where he falls from a cliff and lands on a dead body. Why care about Ray? He uses his day off to take two young boys on a hike. One has lost his father and the other is a foster child whose mother is in jail. It’s apparent Ray is in love with Marco’s mother—and the love is as yet unrequited. Plus he’s hurt. All in the first couple of pages of chapter one. The main character is fleshed out by his actions and reactions to the events occurring around him.

In No Child of Mine, which debuts in September, seven-year-old Benny Garza is introduced on page one. Very quickly the reader knows he’s a foster child who has experienced more than his share of pain. His mother’s in jail. He’s been terrorized by gang-bangers and Mom’s boyfriends. Yet, he’s still excited by the same things as most little boys are—horses and food. He wants to fly. He’s worried his foster dad will be mad because he gets his church clothes dirty. By the time the inciting incident occurs on the second page, it’s enough (I hope!) to make the reader want to scream aloud: “Stranger Danger, Stranger Danger! Run, Benny!”

All this to say, it is possible to make readers care and care quickly. We just have to spin the tale with fewer, carefully selected details that build character and propel plot at the same time. Happy spinning!

Kelly Irvin

No Child of Mine
Coming September 2011

Currently available:

A Deadly Wilderness
(Also available in large print)
"A solid romantic suspense debut . . ."
--Publishers Weekly


Warren Bull said...

Very god advice. Thanks.

Jacqueline Seewald said...

Sounds like another winner! Congrats!

Jacqueline Seewald
THE TRUTH SLEUTH--new release from Five Star/Gale

Morgan Mandel said...

A writer has to know what's best for a story. Yes, it's true you can't always follow what works for others. Sometimes it's hard to know the difference.
Great post.
Morgan Mandel

Debra St. John said...

Hi Kelly,

Thanks for joining us today. That's the key, isn't it? To keep on spinning!

Gorgeous cover on "A Deadly Wilderness" by the way. It's just beautiful.

Kelly Irvin said...

Thanks, Debra. Five Star Gale does a great job with the covers. I really do work hard to find a balance between building characters who are real and fleshed out for the readers, while pumping up the action to keep them on the edge of their seats. That's the kind of book I like to read!

Margot Justes said...

Thank you for joining Acme Authors. I agree fantastic cover, and a great blog.

Rob Walker said...

Some additional great advice on character-building, I have found in Robin Carr's out of print title - Tips for Writing Popular well as Jerome Stern's equally out of print: Making Shapely Fiction. Want to THANK YOU, Kelly for sharing with our Acme Crowd, and best for your future work as well as the present. Post on my facebook wall anytime to promote your book, my friend....ahhh, actually that goes for any of you here, Warren??? You know we need be sharing more what with both of us doing historicals.


Kevin Lynn Helmick said...

Great Blog. I think the show don't tell rule can and is being re-thought for today's fast food audiances,' I probably wouldn't have stuck around for three chapters of eating pie and drinking tea, I might have, depending on the writing. but I get the point. I get the importance of delveloping that relationship. Personaly I try to find more clever economical ways of doing it. Carefully choosing your words and sentenances is essential to me.

Kelly sounds like writer I'll have to check out. I feel like I'm missing out.

Great Job.

Deb Larson said...

Glad you could be with us at Acme. Creating tension and realness of character are the key ingredients to a great read - sounds as if you are a pro at doing both.
Thanks for sharing your insight ~
your book sounds great, and the cover is awesome!
DL Larson

Bob Sanchez said...

Hi Kelly,
Is it the need for instant gratification that requires us to grab the reader right away? I'm not sure. People just want a reason to keep turning pages. If they're reading a book about murder, they want a murder--or at least the tension that promises something will happen.

Fun post!

Rob Walker said...

Myself, despite what happens in opneing paragraphs or pages, I feel it is my job to make it a fact that SOMETHING is happening on every page, be it the last or the first page and all in between. David Morrell says in his book and classes, you need to bring "heat" to every page....I believe he means passion, and I believe this is what Kelly is also saying. I try to triangulate at least 3 of the 5 senses in every scene and strive for the 6th sense when it makes sense to do so.

Gotta keep the forward moving dynamo of the plot going at the same time you are developing character...a real balancing act...six spinning plates on long sticks while riding a unicycle....a real Show.

Rob with THANKS to Kelly for a fascinating topic that is always of importance in writing dramatic fiction.