If Walls Could Talk: Writing Series Characters

M.H. Norris

Curating the All the Petty Myths anthology has been a unique experience. Along with getting some fun stories that I can’t wait to share with you all, and yes I promise we’ll be sharing them soon, I got to set together a project that’s been in the works for a number of years.

I’ve also gotten to do something that, as I writer, I haven’t really tried yet.

When I started developing Midnight, I honestly didn’t think Rosella’s story would develop the way it did. I thought it would be one of those projects I did because it was an idea I’d had for years, and then I would move on to the next project.

But somewhere in the process, James and I realized that Dr. Rosella Tassoni had the potential to carry her own series. As you all know, about six months or so ago, I announced that the anthology will feature the first story in her series.

I was talking with someone. They asked me how my writing was going. I mentioned that we are putting the finishing touches on my next story, then they asked me an interesting question I’m not sure I’ve been asked before.

“Do you get involved in the story?”

As a writer, I feel to an extent you almost have to. There have been times I’m writing, and the scene takes a turn from what I was thinking, and goes its own direction because that’s what the character wants to do.

I also mentioned, that since Rosella is a series character, I have to get inside her head more than other characters. Because the more and more we get into the story, the more I need to know to carry her longer into the series. There is nothing worse for a series of fiction than a character who is flat and doesn’t grow.

In fact, as I finish Midnight, I’m beginning to draft her first full-length novel and that’s something I’m having to address. For both you, as readers, and me, as a writer, her story in the upcoming anthology was a chance for us to get to know her and who she is.

Now though, I have to take the information and the events of that story and go, “What now?”

That leads to something else I absolutely hate but see all too often in stories. A character goes through this story, and then proceeds to act as if nothing has happened and nothing has changed.

No.

Just as we as people are shaped by circumstances and events in our lives, so are our characters.

Let me give you two examples.

We’ll start with TNT’s recently-renewed The Librarians. As most of you may know, the show just finished its third season and it was announced yesterday that they are getting a fourth season. But before the show, there were three TV movies feature Flynn Carson played by Noah Wyle.

For the first season, Flynn is in less than half the episodes; in the second, he’s in a few more; this past season he’s in seven out of ten.

There’s an episode near the end of this last season where Flynn has someone point out to him just how much he’s grown and changed since that first movie. He’s done a fair bit of growing over the last few seasons thanks to his new friends and co-workers.

We meet a young Flynn Carson in The Librarian: Quest for the Spear, the first movie, who seems perfectly content to continue to be a professional student for the rest of his life (anyone else who watched the movies ever wonder just what his student loan debt looked like, what with the number of degrees he had?). The Flynn we meet has no knowledge of the real world that isn’t found in a class.

So when he gets a mysterious invitation to a job interview at the Metropolitan Library, he takes it. He becomes The Librarian and learns that there is so much more to the world than what is found in his classes.

Flynn is easily one of my favorite fictional characters, joining the ranks of the Doctor, Sarah Jane Smith, and Chuck.

Now, Flynn’s hyper-intelligence has been smoothed out a little and, thanks to the new Librarians (long story), he finally has a team to work with and people who can match his wit (and keep him in his place because he need that).

The Librarians did something interesting here with Flynn’s character. They spent three TV movies establishing him as a unique hero who was often the thin line between evil spilling out into the world and the balance being maintained.

Then, in the course of the pilot, Flynn is presented with a handful of other people who can do it alongside him. He went from being one Librarian to one of many. You see a bit of a crises there. Using hints he’s dropped, especially in his limited appearances in the first season, we know he’s been The Librarian for a little over a decade and a lot has happened in that time.

If there’s one way to develop a character, it’s to turn their world upside down. That’s why the starting point the show chose worked so well for them.

That was something I faced with Rosella. In fact, her circumstances and her starting point changed several times over the course of the initial drafts of Midnight. I had to keep asking myself why am I starting here.

Why am I starting here and where am I going? How is she going to take it and how is it going to shape and grow her character?

Shawn Spencer, from Psych, is another character whose growth helped carry the show. It’s funny to watch the first season and then the last and see how much he changed. Yes, Shawn is the same person, and that’s not questioned, but he does grow up over the course of 8 seasons.

We meet a Shawn Spencer who has not owned up to responsibility. He’s had 27 jobs in the space of about 10 years and has moved all over world in that time. He gets into the whole psychic thing because he’s backed into a corner and it’s the easiest way out.

I think the Shawn Spencer who we said goodbye to in the finale laughs a little when he thinks back to those days. While he is still childish and immature, this is a Shawn who has stayed in one place for the better part of a decade, found something he actually enjoys, and has done a little growing up.

Shawn is one of my favorite examples of a character growing up because he proves the point that while a person can remain intrinsically the same, they can change quite a bit too. While Season 8 Shawn probably cringes and then laughs a bit at the antics of his Season 1 self, Season 1 Shawn would probably not believe you if you told him what he’d be like in just a few short years.

We went from a man who saw responsibility as a dirty word to one who took it on willingly.

But another thing to note about Shawn’s character is his relationship with his father. We piece together what happened throughout the course of the show. Sometime in Shawn’s senior year of high school his own father arrested him for stealing a car to impress a girl.

That caused Shawn and his father to become estranged and they would remain that way for the better part of the decade between that point and the beginning of the show. Even once the show began it would take a while for the two to cease hostilities and even longer to have something that resembles a functional relationship.

But repairing that relationship helps both characters grow and develop.

Transforming Rosella from a one-off character to a series character made me question who we would see again, and who is only going to appear in this one story; her relationships with the people around her needed solidified, or changed. That’s something I can play with as time goes on and I already have some plans regarding it.

Another fun one to take a look at is Sarah Jane Smith, especially because you she develops radically over time. Her first serial, The Time Warrior, lets us meet a 22-year-old Sarah Jane Smith whose spunk, persistence to get to the heart of a matter (because, after all, she is a journalist), and her insane amount of pure dumb luck make her a character you quickly fall in love with.

35 years later, at the beginning of The Sarah Jane Adventures, we find a vastly different but essentially the same, Sarah Jane. This older woman is someone who was forever changed by her time with the Doctor. We know from her appearance in “School Reunion” that the years weren’t always great to her—and that for quite a while she didn’t know how to handle life on her own.

But even between “School Reunion” and The Sarah Jane Adventures we see a change. It’s as if her brief time with David Tennant’s Doctor allowed her to find the girl the world fell in love with in The Time Warrior again and to go out and do what she does best once more.

For those of you who read The Whole Art of Detection you found your first look at Rosella. I found it amusing to spend some time writing a Rosella who’s a bit older than the one in Midnight. She wandered into that story a bit by accident but it was something that fit rather well and I couldn’t resist.

But there is also a reason I kept her appearances to a minimum—and, besides what was relevant to the plot, you don’t find out a whole lot about her. Some of it is because I haven’t certain decisions yet. Some of it is to surprise you.

Sarah Jane Smith is a character we see for most of her life, her story left hanging when her actress, Elisabeth Sladen, passed away, with the simple words “and the story goes on…forever.”

The BBC does a good job at growing her character through her time with The Doctor, her reappearance in the twenty-fifth Anniversary special, her Big Finish spin-off, and then on to New Who. Sarah Jane is an excellent character to study when looking at developing a character through stages of their life.

Follow me for a second.

Most book and television series only show a character over the course of a few years, but with Sarah Jane we are able to see her grow and develop over the course of decades. From the young journalist who assumes her aunt’s identity to get a story, to the older woman who is still using the title of journalists to hunt down alien activity on Earth and continue to protect it.

Sarah Jane came in the feminist movements of the 1970s, when the BBC decided they need a new third Doctor female companion who didn’t fawn over the Doctor and go “yes Doctor” or “of course Doctor,” returning to the style of companion featured in the first and second Doctors’ eras. In fact, Sarah Jane would spend most of her first serial distrusting him. Sarah Jane was, and is, a fiercely independent person.

We see this in the beginning of The Sarah Jane Adventures when she fights tooth and nail against the kids who are offering to help her.

Thinking about it, it’s kinda heartbreaking that Sarah Jane spends so much of her life alone. Sure, until 1999 she has her Aunt Lavinia but she doesn’t know about the Doctor and how it completely changed how Sarah Jane sees the world.

She had nobody and thought that the one person who would understand died soon after he dropped her off..

Sarah Jane is a character I’ll look at later on when I’m getting further and further along in a series. Because her story lasted for decades and still goes on…

So what separates a good series from a great one?

It’s the characters. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it here now as I wrap up. People come for the premise and they stay for the characters. And that’s the challenge I find myself facing now. Making sure Rosella is someone people are willing to stick with for a while.

Announcement: Preditors and Editors Readers’ Poll 2016

James Bojaciuk and Ben Kasson

You did it again.

You absolutely floored us with your kindness.

Not only did you nominate us for multiple categories in the 18th Annual Preditors and Editors Readers’ Poll, you voted with us in such force that we either won or placed in the top ten in nearly every category.

That’s unbelievable.

Thank you so much for your continued support, and kindness. We do this for you.

Congratulations, and thanks, to all our authors, editors, and artists for the fine work you do. You’re outstanding, every one of you.

Whenever anything we’ve released receives an award, we can’t help but feel an overwhelming surge of pride and gratitude for the people we’ve met and gotten to work with while embarking upon this crazy road.

It’s times like these that make every bump and every pothole worth it.

We got into publishing not only because we couldn’t stay away from the world of literature if we tried, but also because we wanted everyone involved in the process to be better appreciated, from artists, to authors, to editors. This goes a long way toward giving them the appreciation they deserve.

Without further ado, let’s review our winners, in alphabetical order.

After Avalon

Our big winner, After Avalon, walked away with two awards…

Barbara Sobczyńska’s gorgeous cover–which Jon Black called “dreamlike and hauntingly symbolist”–took home the well-deserved award for Best Artwork. Barbara specializes in spectral visions that tease the imagination and capture your imagination. She did no less with this cover. She can capture mood and intangible ideas with the greatest of ease.

It’s impossible to say enough kind, or insightful, things about her art. It needs to be seen to be appreciated, and I can only hope this increases her audience tenfold.

After Avalon itself was also voted the #4 best anthology, Congratulations to Colin Fisher, Leigh Ann Cowan, Amy Wolf, Thomas Olivieri, Jon Black, Patricia S. Bowne, Claudia Quint, David Wiley, Christian Bone, Patrick S. Baker, and Elizabeth Zuckerman; special congratulations to the curator, Nicole Petit, for assembling the book, and discovering what became of Logres after Camelot fell.

Readers have responded overwhelmingly for this book full of the Arthurian world’s magic.

Nicole Petit

Nicole Petit earned a bronze medal finish for all of her editing this year, ranging from her unique anthologies After Avalon and Just So Stories to her role as 18thWall Productions’ native series editor (particularly notable, in 2016, for her work on Dead West). I’ve never met anyone with a greater innate understanding of storytelling, or knowledge of what makes a story the best it can possibly be. She earned this award a dozen times over.

I also don’t know of anyone better at discovering new talent, encouraging writers to be their best, guiding stories and prose to their brightest, or, simply, being a writer’s support and friend. The literary world is lucky to have an editor like her, and 18thWall is equally as lucky to employ her.

 

A Study in Grey

John Linwood Grant’s A Study in Gray was proud to walk away with…

John placed tenth with this entry in his The Last Edwardian series, a weird fiction series that has more than earned its first award.

I’m not sure where John has been keeping himself all these years, but from the moment he did appear, I knew three things. First, that his fiction had something of the touch of the early Neil Gaiman–obviously magical, and character-focused while old-time-narrator-driven, and deeply inspired by pre-war genre trends. Second, that he would make a name for himself and win an absurd amount of readers and awards. Third, obviously, that a writer this excellent deserves a place to write, and that I should quickly give it to him.

To John! Let this be the first award of many!

The Whole Art of Detection

M.H. seems to be trying to make winning awards for her mystery novellas as effortless as Cinderella’s make-over. She was proud to be awarded…

She earned the #4 spot in the awards for The Whole Art of Detection, with her tale of Sherlock Holmes’ legacy, rip-off fantasy novelists, incredibly astute detectives, wise women, the lies we choose to believe, and certain worms unknown to science.

M.H. has grown very much as a writer since she appeared on the scene with Badge City: Notches, and it’s been a great pleasure, as a publisher, to give her a playground where she can grow to her full potential.

Rather than say anything else, I’m excited to see her even more grow into her role as “mystery maven.”

Runner Up: The Dragon Lord’s Secretary

I wouldn’t normally mention a runner up, but all of you fought hard for The Dragon Lord’s Secretary. As I watched the rankings in the last day, I saw this one briefly break into the top ten before falling back. It bounced up and down the rankings several times before the contest ended with it at #15. In the end, I imagine it only missed the top ten by five or six votes.

Thank you for all your support for Nicole’s novel!

Preditors and Editors Winners’ Sale

Perhaps you knew this was coming. it seems to be a tradition with us and awards. But we like to take this moment to give you a chance to read any of our winners you haven’t already read, and see what all the fuss is about.

Until March 1st, all of our winners are 20% off!

You can find them at the links below!

After Avalon

Just So Stories

Dead West: West of Pale

A Study in Grey

The Whole Art of Detection

The Dragon Lord’s Secretary

If Walls Could Talk: Research and Rabbit Trails

M.H. Norris

The internet can be a writer’s best friend, especially when it comes to research. But it can also quickly become a writer’s worst nightmare.

It’s no secret that often times I’ll wander off on a rabbit trail here as I make my way to whatever point I happen to have that day. Maybe occasionally I have a reason for wandering off on said rabbit trail…

Yeah, I do it a lot. Here in my weekly column, in discussions I have with people, and when I do research, too.

There was a time with Badge City: Notches where I hadn’t quite decided how it was going to end. Actually, if you go and look on what I submitted to Pro Se vs. how the book actually ended,  they’re a little different. The whodunit didn’t change, but I had a scene in my head that I was tempted to write.

But to write it, I had to do some significant research.

This was a two day researching session going on websites, blogs, and going over the chapter in one of my books I was reading.

Part of the reason I spent time on this scene was I felt like I needed to justify a decision I’d been thinking about. I felt like I could justify after that research.

But then, after spending two days on research I later decided to ditch that whole scene. I probably would have done it earlier than I did if it weren’t for that fact that I was being butt-stubborn.

So in the end, that ended up being something I left unsaid,  and something I considered addressing later.

Later won’t come.

But maybe sometime someone will ask me about it, or stumble across this post and ask me what that two day research session was about and what I left unsaid…

Yesterday, news broke on a slightly-related topic to my two-day research session and I ended up spending two hours looking up the case, the development in it that got me started on that rabbit trail just going over it in a sense.

So my research rabbit trail caused a rabbit trail of its own…

That’s my problem with research. I find something I find fascinating and then I end up spending way more time than I should working on that–instead of what I should be researching.

That’s why I said the internet can be a writer’s best friend or their worst enemy. The sheer amount of information out there can be overwhelming and trying to sort out what is useful to you and what isn’t is a full time job.

That, and the act of having to research a novel can be overwhelming. Which is why it sometimes takes me a while to slide into that stage of writing a book.

With Notches, I had pages upon pages of notes. Yet I was still going to Google while writing the story. I had articles printed out, statistics memorized, and a story in mind. But, sometimes, I still needed more.

Research lays the foundation for the rest of the story.

The trick is making sure you don’t let yourself get but so distracted when laying that foundation.

If Walls Could Talk: Taking an Idea and Making a Story

M.H. Norris

Let’s talk Research and a little contest update

It seems like every time I start a new story I find myself surprised at the struggles I go through in order to even get the project started, much less have anything that resembles a story.

Not only is there research to be done, there’s figuring out the story.

I’ve found it comes in pieces. At least, that’s how Badge City: Notches got started. Pro Se Productions gave me the series bible. From there, it came in pieces.

Deidre is a detective, yes. But what kind of crimes does she investigate? Murder, robbery, vice? The list goes on for a bit. Honestly, I chose murder because into USA Network’s Psych at the time. Because I’d watched SO MANY of those episodes, I was really familiar with the concept.

That didn’t stop me from spending a month researching various things about it. I read articles, website material, and books about the subject. One of my favorites (and one I recommend if you are writing police procedurals) is Police Procedure and Investigation: A Guide For Writers by Lee Lofland. I found it by accident—but I liked it so much I ended up later getting another book of the series (Forensics: a Guide For Writers by D.P. Lyle M.D.).

But before I got to all that research, there was the little issue of having to submit a full synopsis to Pro Se. I think I’ve said it a few times here, but let me say it again, I hate having to write synopses.

Hate it. Hate it. Hate it.

I’ll barely concede there’s value to them. But I feel like they are, at times, constraining—especially in the form that I had to do for Badge City. That would be what they approved. To me, as a new writer, I felt like I couldn’t change what I submitted.

Here’s your fun fact.

That synopsis took me three days to write and it was maybe three pages.

Those who knew me were surprised when they read Notches because I like to call it an adventure into my dark and twisted side.

It involved going back and forth with James and a series of what ifs. I’d say “what if this happens?” Then he’d ask me why, or can I justify it, or how does it affect the story?

And back and forth we went.

Variations of this happened with The Lemon Herberts and “Midnight” as well. Though I’ll admit I didn’t completely know who did it when I started writing The Whole Art of Detection. I think I got several thousand words in and was like, “I really should figure out who did this, shouldn’t I?”

Confessions of a mystery writer.

The Whole Art of Detection was nominated in the 18th Annual Preditors and Editors Reader’s Poll for Best Mystery.

So, I guess I didn’t do but so bad.

You’ve got until the 14th to vote, so if you haven’t please do.

Pretty please.

You can vote here.

And vote for Nicole Petit too. She’s up for Best Fantasy/Science Fiction Novel. Her Anthology After Avalon is up for Best Anthology and Best Artwork. She’s also up for Best Editor, something well deserved.

Best Editor: Nicole Petit

Best Anthology: After Avalon

Best Artwork: After Avalon

Best Science Fiction & Fantasy Novel: The Dragon Lord’s Secretary, by Nicole Petit

Voting is easy. Follow the link, click on the book you’d like to vote for, enter your email address (they won’t spam you), and hit submit. Check your email for a link to click to prove you’re a real human. Then you’re done!

Rabbit trail successfully chased…where was I?

Oh yeah!

This is where I find myself now, for Rosella’s first novel. I have a setting in mind, I have the myth in mind. It’s down to weaving the two, figuring whodunit and whydunit, and maybe having an actual plot in mind.

The Midnight Game lended itself to “Midnight” by its very existence. Others myths, legends, and stories take a bit more creativity t work into a mystery. I think I know where the key lies, now. I just don’t quite know the answer to that question yet.

If Walls Could Talk: Location Research

M.H. Norris

As 2016 came to a close and we welcomed in 2017, I started digging back into research for the first full length All the Petty Myths novel. I have the myth, I have the location—but the latter is one thing I need to spend time researching.

There is the old saying, write what you know, but honestly, that takes the fun out of it. It’s no secret that writers do write settings in places they know little about, when they set out to write the book.

And here I sit, wondering how to do research on it. Originally I thought it would be as simple as visiting Barnes and Noble and picking up a guide book. But looking at what they had to offer, I realized those are geared where they should be, to tourist who wants to visit the city in question.

So yes, within the pages of the guide books I can see the city’s top tourist destinations, the best places to eat, museums to visit, places to stay, a variety of things.

But it misses what gives the city life. The history, the culture, a way to ground the story and give it the sense of place it desperately needs.

Short stories you can get away with to a certain extent, but for a full length story you need to have a fair amount of knowledge.

Let’s take Badge City: Notches for an example.

All I was given regarding the city was that it was known as “Badge City” and had gained that nickname because of its historically strong police force.

That was it.

Everything else you read within the pages was something I spent days mapping out. Its state (Northern California), its proximity to the shore (I left a body on a beach and had to decide it that was a viable option before plotting that out), its general population (I couldn’t find my notes but I believe I had it somewhere around 1 million people), a bit of its history (past mayors, economic state, and a few other details), its streets and landmarks, as well as a couple of other things.

To me, that was something that brought it alive and helped make it as strong as it was.

Even with an established place, some of the locations are made up. In my story for The Lemon Herberts, set in 1960s Sydney: some geography was real, while a lot of the locations were made up (I think I used an actual hospital, but their hotel was made up).

Another thing that gave that story a sense of place was the time. For the most part, I’ve stuck with contemporary pieces because it is easier. But that one gave me a fun challenge. I was used to having modern technology to help my heroes solve the crime. The Lemon Herberts didn’t have that advantage.

And trust me, there were many times where I wanted to yell at the 1960s for their lack of computers. They make crime solving so much easier.

God bless the internet.

So here I sit, doing research and having trouble deciding where to start. I’ve been tempted to turn to Reddit to see if people in sub-Reddits for the city can give me insight. Wesley Julian’s had great success with that. I also got advice to watch TV shows based in that city, but unfortunately none are on Netflix at this time. I will also look into books.

But wouldn’t it be nice if there was a website where an author could go to and say “Hey I want to write a story in this place. Is there anyone willing to help me learn about it?”

Then the information is there for the next time someone wants to use that setting.

Alas, this does not exist (the closest thing I can think is Reddit—hence my temptation to use it). If I could afford to go spend a couple of days there I would love to. Alas, it is not in my budget at this time.

But, I can’t wait to get going on this story and bring more of Rosella to you soon. Hopefully I will have more news on the anthology soon!

Available Now: The Horror Crossover Encyclopedia: Second Edition

James Bojaciuk

It’s our pleasure to announce the second edition of Robert E. Wronski Jr.’s The Horror Crossover Encyclopedia.

The Horror Crossover Encyclopedia is the ultimate guide to horror genre easter eggs, crossover stories, and cameos. They not only catalogue a history of influence and homage, but a secret secondary world which ties together everything from the Invisible Man to Ghostbusters, or H.P. Lovecraft’s Cthulhu Mythos to Aliens.

Robert E. Wronski Jr. is the virtuoso researcher who created the Television Crossover Universe, founded the Television Crossover Universe Podcast, and authored or is authoring several other books on the subject. If you need to know when Lucy Ricardo met Superman, he’s the man to ask.

All-new features include:

  • Expanded and corrected entries;
  • A new introduction by Mr. Wronski, looking back on the book;
  • A new preface by Dynamo Mars;
  • All-new, high-quality images;
  • All-new typeset, for increased readability

Available now from 18thWall.com and Amazon.

If you previously purchased The Horror Crossover Encyclopedia:

If you previously purchased The Horror Crossover Encyclopedia from 18thWall.com, the second edition is already available in your account. If you purchased the ebook somewhere else online, we’ll happily provide you a free digital copy with proof of purchase (send it to mhnorris@18thwall.com).

If you previously purchased the print edition: if you send a picture of yourself holding the print edition to mhnorris@18thwall.com, we’ll give you 25% off the new edition. (Alternatively, you could simply send us a proof of purchase–but what would be the fun in that?)