Latest Blog Posts

If Walls Could Talk: Suffering Through Synopses

M.H. Norris

Most people know that, as a writer, I tend to be rather spontaneous. At the same time, I like to have a plan when I’m being spontaneous.

Sounds like I’m contradicting myself? Well, perhaps I am.

I’m working on an entry for a contest and, as part of the entry, I have to have a synopsis. This isn’t my first time dealing with synopses, in fact I’ve done several. But over time it doesn’t seem to get any easier. In fact, my inner writer seems to rebel at the idea.

Why should I have to know, before I even begin to write, every single thing that’s going to happen?

I change my mind all the time.

Potentially, you can change your story from what you submit. I always worry, since the publisher accepted that idea—but changing the story might change that.

I hate synopses. I feel like they limit me as a writer. I know, I know that there are people who swear by them, and cannot begin a project without either that or an outline (or both). But me? I love the idea of going in with an idea and no outline and being surprised at what happens. And hopefully, my readers will be surprised alongside me.

That’s not to say I have no idea what I’m doing when I start a story. Remember the contradicting thoughts? I like to have a vague idea of where I’m going, but I don’t necessarily want a map to tell me how to get there.

But for the sake of being practical and because James likes for me to include advice here, let’s talk synopses for a bit.

Synopsis are not query letters

When you first venture into the world of writing you quickly discover that we have a language of our own. Terms like query letter, synopsis, CV, credits, and bios quickly become apparent.

And often, when you’re submitting a short story for an anthology, you find they want a synopsis, a query letter, and/or a sample of your work.

In a query letter you often out a summary in but it is nowhere near as comprehensive as a synopsis.

A synopsis helps publishers see your passion

I have to give it to synopses. They are useful for seeing if someone thought an idea through. You’ll know going in that the problem is indeed solvable.

I’ve had some trouble with figuring out where to go with a story and I have to grudgingly admit that maybe with a synopsis I wouldn’t have been stuck. That doesn’t mean I like them though…

But if you are passionate and creative with your synopsis, publishers are going to notice. Don’t write something you’re not interested in for the sake of a publishing credit—it’s not worth it.

Know you can change it

Publishers, generally, are buying the idea—not the general execution. You have room to expand and play.

The synopsis is a chance for you to sell your story and as a result it should not be taken lightly. Take your time, put in the effort, and give your story its best chance.

Synopses have their place in the writing world. And speaking of, I need to get back to mine…

The Horror Crossovers Encyclopedia: Star Trek: Assignment: Eternity

Join us each week as we share a new excerpt from Robert E. Wronski Jr.’s book, The Horror Crossover Encyclopedia, now available in print and digital editions!

ASSIGNMENT: ETERNITY (NOVEL BY GREG COX)

Assignment Eternity

Release Date: 1998 (Setting is 2269 A.D.)

Series: Star Trek

Horror Crosses: Kolchak the Night Stalker

Non-Horror Crosses: The Avengers (television); The Girl from U.N.C.L.E. The Questor Tapes; Mission Impossible; James Bond; The Prisoner; The Andromeda Strain

The Story: Gary Seven and his partner Roberta Lincoln travel from the year 1969 to the 23rd century and once more encounter the crew of the Enterprise, commanded by Captain James T. Kirk.

Notes: This novel is a sequel to the Star Trek episode Assignment Earth, which introduced Gary Seven in what was meant to be a pilot for his own series. Gary and his assistant mention having knowledge of the people or events from all of the above listed crosses.

If you’re dying for more, you can find The Horror Crossover Encyclopedia on Amazon, and more of Robert E. Wronski Jr.’s work on The Television Crossover Universe. You can listen to Robert’s crossover podcast right here.

New Call for Stories: Speakeasies and Spiritualists

Anthology curated by Nicole Petit

“Most mediums, with their spurious and specious methods, with their ghostly trumpets and spectral hands, hold few secrets—and fewer terrors.”~Rose Mackenberg, “Exposing the Weird Secrets of ‘Mediums’ and ‘Spirits’”

Rose Mackenberg_Supernatural Sleuth

Original illustration from Rose Mackenberg’s newspaper articles.

ADVICE TO THE SPOOK-BUSTERS

By Annabelle Lovelace

Chicago’s Daily Star, September 28th, 1928

War is boom time for the frauds. Concentrated human misery is a sure-fire way for charlatans of every stripe to find easy marks among bereaved mothers, fathers, brothers, sisters, and wives. As we have recently survived the war to end all wars, today is a gold rush for fraud.

Women rapping tables with their toes convince the bereaved that husbands and wives have found peace in the higher realms, and men with collapsible trumpets are all the evidence some need that departed children are not so departed. Every cause has a trick, all performed with the finest materials your corner store has to offer: painted balloons for spirits, corn flour for otherworldly smoke, or tambourines hoisted on black poles.

Despite the petroleum jelly ectoplasm, and haunted hands piloted by a man under the table, and all the tricks of the false spiritualist–there are stranger cases.

For example, I’ve been called in on three such cases in the last month:

The upper crust is beset by fads. A fad for speakeasies and a fad for séances. One enterprising hostess set out to combine them all–inviting her guests down to their favorite speakeasy for a night of summoning. In one of the back booths things progressed a bit further than normal, spirits coming up and running free among the spirits. It’s quite a thing for cowed gangsters to show up at your door, begging for help.

While lecturing in England, I came across the strangest case. We’re used to bootleggers transporting spirits across state lines. But one enterprising medium began smuggling spirits, corked in bottles she sealed with holy water and wax. She intended to smuggle them across the Irish border, and sell them to a sect of latter-day druids. Perhaps she should have gone into business with Chicago’s royalty instead.

You have a favorite radio show. We all do. But what do you do when you stop receiving Amos ‘n’ Andy, and start receiving transmissions from, ah, what my editors would prefer me to call “warmer climes”? Moreover, what do you do when these transmissions are detailed in-the-moment troop movements in an invisible war–and they’re all converging on your home?

These tax the abilities of the spook-buster.

But keep in mind most spooks are scams and you’ll come out alive.

What We Want

Supernatural stories set in the 1920s. Not horror stories, necessarily, but stories that use the 1920s and its spook culture (and spook-busting culture) in an engaging way. Bring us supernatural adventures, supernatural mysteries, supernatural fantasy, or supernatural pulp.

You want things other than horror? Yes. While we will happily accept horror, and our collection would be remiss without horror, we’re also looking for a wide-range of genres. Mystery, fantasy, pulp, adventure. Science fiction and Romance are harder sells, but we’ve been surprised by submissions in styles we’d never have thought to expect. When it doubt, submit.

We’re looking for supernatural fantasy stories, supernatural mystery stories, supernatural pulp stories, supernatural adventure stories, supernatural horror stories and any other kind of story so long as they make use of the 1920s supernatural world.

Should my ghosts be real, or fake? I have no preference. Focus on telling a good story, whether your spooks are ectoplasm or petroleum jelly.

Can I use the Cthulhu Mythos? Yes, but I strongly encourage, and prefer, fresh takes. Show us something new. The more it feels like a copy/paste of Lovecraft, the less interested I’ll be.

Do you take reprints? Yes. Just let us know in the submission (this will not count against you).

In the end, really, it comes down to this: Gather us around the rattling table, and give us a taste of the otherworldly.

What should I read for inspiration? We’re particularly looking for stories in the tone or style of Josh Reynolds’ The Royal Occultist series (The Royal Occultist’s website, and the first novel in the series), Big Finish’s Doctor Who audio The Chimes of Midnight, Rose Mackenberg’s life and articles (“Exposing the Weird Secrets of ‘Mediums’ and ‘Psychics’” and “The Art and Crime of Illusion”), Jim Beard’s Sgt. Janus, Libba Bray’s The Diviners, Charles William’s War in Heaven, and the graphic novel Small Town Witch.

Do Spirits Return_Houdini Says No and Proves It

Payment: 5% of the gross profit will be paid for each accepted story. These payments will be issued to you at quarterly intervals. Stories under 1,500 words will only receive 4% of the gross profit.

Rights: First World Digital and Print.

Deadline: September 2nd, 2016

Word Count: 1,000-16,000

How to Submit your Story:

  • All stories should be sent, as an attachment, to submissions@18thwall.com.
  • The file must be formatted in .doc or .docx.
  • The interior of the document must be in double spaced Times New Roman (12 point font).
  • Indents must be placed through your system’s Paragraph function; do not set indents by pressing tab or space. If you already have tabbed or spaced indents, please remove them first.
  • At the top of your document, please include William Shunn’s submission header.
  • Tell us a bit about yourself in the body of your email. Don’t stress this, it won’t make or break your submission.
  • Place your name, story title, and word count in the subject line of your email. For example, “Speakeasies and Spiritualists / Rose Mackenberg / So You Want to Attend a Séance?”

 

Nicole Petit writes because no other job lets her sleep until noon. Fantasy is her forte, a sliver of genre right between urban fantasy and fairy tales. She writes the Magic Realm Manuscripts series and curated the collections Just So Stories, After Avalon, and the award-winning series From the Dragon Lord’s Library.

If Walls Could Talk: Two Sides, Same Coins

M.H. Norris

Writing a mystery is a lot like playing with both sides of the same coin. You have to play both sides of the field in a sense in order to have the protagonist come out on top. That is, if that’s what you decide to do. After all, even Sherlock Holmes didn’t solve all of his cases.

Either way, you’ve got to play the field. Who is your unsub? Why did they do what they did? How did they do it? Was it spur of the moment or did they plan it out? What did they leave behind, intentionally or accidentally?

You might be thinking that these are questions your protagonist needs to answer and you would be correct. But in order for the crime to be there, you have to be in ahead of your unsub.

After all, they are the ones who did the crime that you now have to solve. And trust me when I say not knowing everything they’re up to is a pain—when it comes to leading your protagonist to them.

Why?

Motive. Books and articles have been written on this subject (hey, look how many of those articles are mine!). And each and every time I start a mystery I spend hours—days—agonizing over why my unsub did it.

Criminal Minds has said motive doesn’t have to make sense to us, it only has to make sense to the killer.

Badge City: Notches is a good example of this, in my opinion. When figuring out my unsub’s motive, I spent a lot of time agonizing over why they were driven to eight little girls. At the end of the day, I realized that it might not make sense to everyone, my readers and protagonist included, but it made sense to them.

But the why can lend itself to some clues that your unsub might purposely or accidentally leave for your protagonist to find.

Leaving clues intentionally might tell you a bit about your unsub. Maybe they want to play a game with the protagonist and their organization. Or they honestly think they are smarter than them. Or that they are being witty. Either way, it’s a way to profile.

There were a lot of ORs or MAYBEs in that last paragraph. Because there are an almost infinite number of possibilities for you to discover and perhaps use.

Knowing who is also helpful. I’ll confess something to you. On the mystery I’m writing right now, I actually didn’t figure it out until I was halfway through and I’m actually still ironing out some of the details.

I do not recommend that route.

There is the well-known rule that you have to introduce your readers to the unsub at some early point. Some people do it in odd ways. They introduce them outright as a suspect or a bystander.

Both routes have their merits and it is up to you to decide which one you want to choose. But seriously, have your readers meet them. Because whether or not they want to admit it, they want to play the guessing game—and doing without introducing your killer reduces him or her to a deus ex machine.

One coin, two sides, and a whole lot of questions. But in the end, life is full of mysteries that can be fun to figure out as they come.

If Walls Could Talk: You’re So Vain You Think This Blog Is About You

M.H. Norris

Let’s face it: our characters are vain.

They want their stories told and perhaps have kept you up at night with rounds of “then this happened” or “what if this happened” and you just wished they’d shut up and let you sleep.

I’m working on one of The Science of Detection novellas and, being so close to James, I knew when he approached me about doing one that I couldn’t (or maybe wouldn’t is the right word) write a Holmes centric story. I didn’t trust myself to write The Master Detective to his standards.

So instead I had to create my own sleuth and I’ve found that she tweaks my writing style to suit her story, something I’ve never experienced before with a character.

When James sends a draft back to me, one of his notes usually tells me he think I should put more details into my story, give you more description. And I’ll admit that that is my weakest writing link. But Dr. Adelaide Baynes doesn’t let me have that weakness. Adelaide’s hero is Sherlock Holmes. She strives to be like him. Her dream is to solve cases. She has spent ten years developing the skills needed and building a reputation to rival his. She’s detail oriented. Everything needs to be written on notepads—and while she’s willing to admit she has a problem she’s not going to do anything about that. It’s safe to say she’s unlike any character I’ve written.

I’ll admit, my various leading ladies tend to take odd traits from me because it gives me a gateway of sorts into their heads. Rosella and Adelaide both have this ability to read people, something they got from me.  There are other traits, this and that and some things get exaggerated, and it’s fun to see a little piece of me in them.

I’ve talked a lot about characters and as I’ve said many times, if you do not put time and effort into your characters, your story will fall short. Also, not talking the time to figure out not only what they look like and bits of their personality but their aspirations, their motivations, their hopes, dreams, fears, goals makes them fall flat.

And I’ll admit sometimes it takes a while to get into their heads. Sometimes you have to write a bit of the story to help you find them, find their voice.

Don’t give up.

Your story will improve greatly if your characters are well-developed. Characters who are flat, boring, and/or don’t grow tend to have people pointing this out and finding all the holes, or taking to fanfiction to give the characters the attention they think they deserved.

Maybe that’s a bit extreme, but you get my point. There are reasons there are entire websites who talk about characters, books, articles, shoot even several posts here.

We all need a hero, someone to root for. We need people to love, people to trust and believe in.  Reading can be a form of escape and people find friends inside the pages of books. We want to come back time and time again to visit our friends and learn something new about them.

The best characters are the ones where the author let’s the character run the show a bit.

One of my favorite experiences as a writer is when I get so in touch with my characters that they start to help me tell their stories. Sometimes, I get so involved with a scene that my characters start to take it directions I wouldn’t expect but help to make it a stronger story.

Not only is the character allowed to come alive, they can help you get past a hurdle in a story and sometimes, especially with mysteries, they might help lead you to your next lead.

The World of the Wall

  • Hannah Lackoff’s collection, After the World Ended, has just come out. Watch out for my interview with her, coming soon! You can get her book here on 18thWall Productions, and also on Amazon.

The world is a museum of fragile, curious things.

In this collection of eighteen of her very best stories, Hannah Lackoff takes you on a guided tour of the marvelous: a ranch which held out, for years, believing the apocalypse had consumed the world (and the man who discovered them); twin sisters inseparable by eye or death; the life of a queen and the many lives of a mirror, mirror on the wall; wrong numbers on the restaurant wall and a small cabin in the woods, near your home, where the dead never dare to stay dead.

Hannah Lackoff, like so many great authors before her, settles in with the bones with old stories, clichéd tales, and urban legends and builds them into her exhibits. They are alive again, and demand your attention.

Step into her museum, won’t you?

After the World Ended_Kindle

The Horror Crossover Encyclopedia: This Island Earth

Join us each week as we share a new excerpt from Robert E. Wronski Jr.’s book, The Horror Crossover Encyclopedia, now available in print and digital editions!

This Island Earth

THIS ISLAND EARTH (FILM)

Release Date: June 1, 1955 (Contemporary Setting)

Series: This Island Earth

Horror Crosses: Mihmiverse; The Works of Robert Rankin

Non-Horror Crosses: Doctor Who; UHF; Borderlands; Mystery Science Theater 3000; ReBoot; Looney Tunes; A Great Moon Hoax; Arena

The Story: Aliens from Metaluna are abducting scientists to aid in their battle against another world.

Notes: As with most public alien invasions or giant monster attacks, the government and private concerns are able to cover up the events. It helps that in the Horror Universe, people seem almost intentionally oblivious in the face of anything beyond their normal expectations of their world. This is more of a sci-fi film, but the Metaluna Mutant from this film was considered to be part of the Universal monsters combat series in Scary Monsters Magazine. In fact, it was that series that brought this film in. Though this is a Universal film, I still consider the Gill-Man to be the last of the famous Universal Monsters to be introduced. The Metaluna Mutant isn’t so famous, though this is still a fun film if you’re into 1950s sci-fi films. This film (and the written story it was based on) also introduces the interocitor (sometimes spelled interositer). It is an alien communication device that will appear again in Doctor Who, UHF, Borderlands 2, Mystery Science Theater 3000: The Movie, ReBoot, Looney Tunes: Back in Action, A Great Moon Hoax, Arena, Attack of the Moon Zombies, The Suburban Book of the Dead (Armageddon III: The Remake), and others. Later on, I will explain more about Doctor Who in the Horror Universe. UHF is a comedy that can still fit realistically in the Horror Universe. Borderlands is a game series that takes place on another planet. Mystery Science Theater takes place in the not too distant future of one possible alternate future. ReBoot takes place within a video game reality that is attached to the Horror Universe. See the entry on Looney Tunes: Back in Action for how I explain the Looney Tunes characters in the Horror Universe. Looney Tunes: Back in Action also has the Metaluna Mutant. A Great Moon Hoax is a short humorous sci-fi story by Ben Bova. Arena takes place in space in one possible future timeline. Attack of the Moon Zombies is part of a series of 1950s B style movies that are part of Christopher R. Mihm’s Mihmiverse, and now the Horror Universe as well. Robert Rankin is an author who uses the device in many of his works, including The Suburban Book of the Dead. Since the device is a recurring item in his works, it brings in all of his works. This film has been referenced and spoofed many times in other films and television.

If you’re dying for more, you can find The Horror Crossover Encyclopedia on Amazon, and more of Robert E. Wronski Jr.’s work on The Television Crossover Universe. You can listen to Robert’s crossover podcast right here.

If Walls Could Talk: Time Travel

M.H. Norris

There’s a lot of talk about time travel this week. It seems to be becoming a theme, and, as we know things, themes tend to come in threes. I decided to make this week’s blog post the third in the set.

What are the other two, you might ask?

  1. The TVCU crew interviewed the authors of So You Created a Wormhole. I even made a cameo as the guest host of the week. Let me take a second and brag on these guys. They spend a lot of time getting the show ready and talking things through. It was an honor to get to work with them for a week to get things ready and to talk time travel with people who enjoy it. You can listen to it here.
  2. Kairos Kore, a new podcast that focuses on time travel, aired its first episode yesterday. Hosted by yours truly, week to week I’ll be discussing various aspects of time travel from mechanics, to its place in popular media, to anything and everything temporal. You can listen to it here.

A few weeks ago, I mentioned the fact that I have a writing bucket list. Writing about time travel in it is high on the list. And, eventually, I plan to get to it.

But what are some things to look for when writing time travel?

We all have our story of when we fell in love with it. When I was young, I don’t think I realized just how in love with the subject I would fall. I was too young to notice paradoxes or inconsistencies, but the story of Marty McFly and Doc Brown is one I fell in love with.

When writing time travel, here are something things you need to consider.

Define Your Terms

This might seem obvious, but when writing your own time travel universe (or writing in someone else’s) you need to have your terms defined. Such as:

  • Paradox
  • Alternate Universe
  • Parallel World
  • Multiverse
  • Time

Some of these may seem obvious, but I know of people who spend a lot of time trying to determine these (myself included).  Knowing you have set meanings to these terms will help you when you are writing. Otherwise, you might find a paradox the size of Belgium in your book.

Know Your Method

Also may seem obvious but how are you getting to your temporal destination. DeLorean? Transdimensional Police Box? Hot Tub? Space Ship? Magic Stones in Scotland?

This method is yours for the choosing and you might not reveal everything, but you need to know all of the details. Knowing your stuff helps you to write.

Should your book blow up and be a best seller, nerds like me will come out of the woodwork and question your every temporal move. Make sure you can outsmart us (within the confines of your own universe, at least).

Know Your Rules

Can time be changed, or are travelers just observers? Can the same person have two versions in the same spacetime coordinates? How flexible is time? Are there fixed points?

All these things, and more, need to be figured out. They will come up (either in your book or when the nerds come with their crazy amount of questions).

After all, this is your universe and you should take great care in worldbuilding while working on your story. And, if you are breaking one of your rules, make sure you have a reason.

Be creative

I’ll admit, it’s this one that’s holding me up from cranking out a time travel epic. I’m trying to find a fun, unique concept that uses time travel and hasn’t been beaten to death. And trust me, that’s easier said than done.

Be creative when coming up with your premise. Cliches and Tropes are like landmines when it comes to time travel and you should take caution lest you step on one.

Don’t Let Anything Else Slide

Don’t let your characters, plot, writing quality, or any other element of craft fall through. Because you may think you can fall back on “Oh, look, I’m writing about time travel,” but Iit won’t work.

Make sure you have great writing, good characters, a solid world for them to live in, and a plot for your readers to love.

That being said, good luck and see you down the time line.

The World of the Wall:

  • 18thWall Productions has two podcasts currently out and running along. Stuff and Nonsense: Beyond Wonderland and Kairos Kore. Keep your eyes peeled here and on iTunes–more will be coming in the near future, and our podcast homepage will be launching soon.

If Walls Could Talk: The Pulp Ark New Pulp Awards

James Bojaciuk

M.H. was given a break this week. In my head, I fancied I’d know exactly what to write. Instead, I have paused over this blog post for days, stunned. Words resist me.

Thanks to you~thanks to each and every one of you~18thWall Productions had an excellent showing at the Pulp Ark New Pulp Awards. You didn’t just vote for us, you voted for us with enough force that we won, and won in significant categories. Thanks to you, J Patrick Allen and From the Dragon Lord’s Library: Volume 1 were chosen for best short story, and thanks to you Morgan Fitzsimons’ cover for From the Dragon Lord’s Library: Volume 2 was named best cover.

As much as I could climb on my soapbox and crow about how great Nicole is at curating collections (and she is), and how great J Patrick is at writing (and he is), and how great Morgan is at her art (and she is), and how great a publisher I am (I flatter myself to think so)…that approach doesn’t feel right.

We didn’t give these awards to ourselves. You saw something in our work, and you remembered it until voting started~months later. You gave us these awards. This was your work, and your effort.

Thank you, on behalf of myself, Ben, and all of 18thWall Productions. We’ll do our best to make this year even more rich in reading pleasure~all for you.

If you’re new to 18thWall Productions, and you want to get a taste of what we do here and why people chose to give us an award, we’re running a special Get Acquainted with 18thWall sale.

Until May 2nd, From the Dragon Lord’s Library: Volume 1 and Volume 2 will be available at 50% off. Our big winners will also be represented in another way–Nicole Petit’s The Dragon Lord’s Secretary (featuring a cover by Morgan) will be 25% off, and J. Patrick Allen’s novel Dead West: West of Pale will be 25% as well. If you liked their award-winning work, be sure to pick up these novels. Both novels spin directly or indirectly out of From the Dragon Lord’s Library.

While you’re at it, feel free to pick up a copy of The Return: A Novella of Sherlock Holmes, which is permanently free for your enjoyment.

If you’d like even more of our award-winners, you can find Nicole Petit on the web here (and listen to an interview with her here), find J. Patrick Allen here, and Morgan Fitzsimons here.

[Please note that this sale is exclusive to 18thWall Productions’ online store, and that our online store can only serve customers in North America.]

If Walls Could Talk: Crime Fiction & Miranda Rights

M.H. Norris

When writing crime, I often find myself having to look up legal jargon, previous cases on various levels (usually State and a few Supreme Court cases), protocol for various things, police procedure (in fact, I have a couple books for that), and of course laws. James and I often discuss my ideas for this column and in my traditional round of  “I don’t have a topic what am I going to do” James came up with the idea of doing a sub-series talking about various aspects of crime fiction. So here’s the first post of that little sub-series, “Crime Fiction &…”

While doing research for Badge City: Notches, I found myself having to have a crash course in police procedure and one of my favorite things was reading about the Miranda rights. Of course with Deidre being a detective, those would come into play and they got mentioned in a book I read.

Often with crime shows and books, we hear about the Mirada rights and people getting Mirandized but until I started working on Badge City, I didn’t know a lot about them.

The Miranda rights earned their name in the 1960s, but have their basis in the Fifth Amendment. Here’s my first writing tip for this blog post, if you are going to write crime, become familiar with the Bill of Rights. (Most writers aren’t lucky like me and have a little brother who has a copy of the Constitution handy.) Granted, there is Google, but you’ll find you know your way around those first ten amendments.

Here’s the Fifth Amendment: “No person shall be held to answer for a capital, or otherwise infamous crime, unless on a presentment or indictment of a Grand Jury, except in cases arising in the land or naval forces, or in the Militia, when in actual service in time of War or public danger; nor shall any person be subject for the same offense to be twice put in jeopardy of life or limb; nor shall be compelled in any criminal case to be a witness against himself, nor be deprived of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor shall private property be taken for public use, without just compensation.”

The clause that the Miranda rights focuses on is where they can not be compelled to be a witness against themselves, the right against self incrimination.

But where does it get its name?

A lot of people are like Madea and refer to Miranda as an actual person. She tends to come and visit when you’ve gotten yourself into a nice bit of trouble (or not, as in Madea’s case). But, while they are right about Miranda being a real person, Miranda was actually a he. Ernesto Miranda was charged with kidnapping and rape in 1963 and found guilty and sentenced to 20-30 years in jail. In 1966 the infamous Supreme Court case, Miranda vs. Arizona, came to court and found that Miranda hadn’t been properly informed of his rights under the Fifth Amendment. In his retrial a year later, he was once again found guilty and sentenced the exact same way as before.

Of course, we’ve heard the familiar words on many a crime show, but in case you haven’t here is what is traditionaly said when a person is Mirandized.

“You have the right to remain silent. Anything you say can and will be used against you in a court of law. You have the right to an attorney. If you cannot afford an attorney, one will be provided for you. Do you understand the rights I have just read to you? With these rights in mind, do you wish to speak to me?” On a show, we traditionally hear these rights being “read” to a criminal as the detective/agents of insert agency here is slapping the cuffs on them. I read in Police Procedure and Investigation that that is often not the case.

Often times, one doesn’t get Mirandized until you are in the interrogation room and not only are you read your rights, but you are given a paper with them and are asked to sign saying you understand your rights. When doing research for this post, just to brush up on my facts, I read a statement that confirmed this. The Miranda rights aren’t necessary for an arrest to be made, they are necessary for an interrogation to happen. Granted, this information doesn’t come into play with your name, age, address and the like, but everything else…

Upon his release, Miranda got into a violent barfight and was stabbed. He was declared dead upon arriving at the hospital. His killer claimed his rights under Miranda v. Arizona.

History does have a sense of humor at times…

The World of the Wall:

  • Our fourth Science of Deduction novella, John Linwood Grant’s A Study in Grey, will be out this Friday. Keep your eyes narrowed on our homepage, and on Amazon. You can find John online at his should-be-awarding-winning website, greydogtales.

A Study in Grey_Grant_Cover

If Walls Could Talk: Let’s Talk Characters Again

M.H. Norris, with some words from James Bojaciuk

Why do we watch TV shows? What makes us come back episode after episode, season after season? What makes us buy merchandise and plan parties?

I’ve said a few times that I’ve learned that people often come for the premise and stay for the characters. Something in the pilot must make you relate to at least one character, and make you want to keep watching.

For example, in Psych (one of my favorite shows, and yes I will happily have a long discussion with you about it if you ask) we are introduced to a couple of character dynamics. On the one hand, we have the infamous duo, Shawn and Gus who have been best friends since diapers and because of an odd string of events they are given the chance to live out on of their childhood dreams. I know I’ve several times compared which one I am versus a friend. I’ll let you guess which one I get the most often. But there itself is something people can relate to. Everyone has a best friend, someone that they would love to grab on go on this kind of adventure with. Whether you’re the impulsive Shawn or the down-to-earth Gus, this goofy duo is endearing and makes you want to keep watching. Then there’s Shawn and Henry. Henry has some of the shortest screen time of the main characters but what little he has in the pilot we quickly see the dynamic between him and Shawn. And for a society where strained relationships with fathers is more and more common, it’s something a lot of people related to easily.

The Dragon Lord's Secretary_Digital Cover

Books take us a to a deeper level when it comes to knowing characters. We get inside their heads, and know more about their thoughts, feelings, and motivations. Just recently we released The Dragon Lord’s Secretary, the first book of Nicole Petit’s Magic Realm Manuscript series, and Josh Reynolds’ “The Door of Eternal Night.” Nicole’s Miss Scarlet Chase and Josh’s Charles St. Cyprian and Ebe Gallowglass have this in common: they’re expertly developed characters that beg you to turn the page and turn the page until you’ve reached the end, counting the characters old friends by the end of the experience. (For a more in-depth look at their work, take a look at two recent interviews I conducted with them. Nicole Petit, here, and Josh Reynolds, here.)

book cover the door of eternal night_Final

What makes these characters so endearing?

First off, characters have to be three-dimensional. I’ve mentioned a few times that I was watching a show and while the writing wasn’t bad, the characters fell flat and I found myself a season in and not caring one way or another what happened to any of them.

Good guys can’t be all good, bad guys can’t be all bad. There is a lot of grey in this world, and your characters should show it. That is, if you’re not explicitly choosing to paint in black and white. Superman, Galahad, and Captain America are captivatingly pure because the best of their authors understood the special touches and flourishes necessary to make white shine. Similarly, Hannibal Lecter and Fargo‘s Grimsrud wouldn’t be half so enthralling if flecked with white. Painting with strong colors requires your total attention and talent, though it can be well worth doing if you do it well~though a nightmare if you can’t tell white from black, as in the case of Zack Snyder.

Superman Saves Suicidal Girl_All-Star Superman

One of my favorite things to do with characters is to give them an odd quirk. In Badge City: Notches, Detective Diedre Tordano is addicted to Starbucks (I’m fairly certain she broke records making it to Gold level on the app). In “Midnight,” my All the Petty Myths novella, Rosella Tasoni is hooked on tea (like me) and struggles with a family who loves to butt in on her cases.These quirks can endear a character to your readers. Sometimes it’s fun letting them see that these characters aren’t perfect. Deidre finds the case in Badge City becoming personal, Rosella has a variety of problem that find their way into the heart of the case.

But even then, their problems can help win a reader over. We all have problems here and while books, and television, are used as a form of escape at time, we find it refreshing to see the characters have problems and then overcome them. Maybe we can overcome the problems we’re having, since they overcame theirs. Isn’t that why Cinderella’s story has existed for centuries in various forms? We all want that happily ever after in the heart of some unpleasant circumstances. We all dream and hope.

Names. I can’t write a character without a name. They’re essential to creating characters, for me. When you write a character, sometimes the hardest thing is the name. Sometimes, you want a name that means a specific thing. Google can be your best friend. Lately, I’ve been a fan of the name generator. I use Scrivener to write and whoever had the idea to put a name generator into the program and I should be friends. However you name your characters, I know I’ve spent a lot of time. Maybe I want a regional name, maybe the good old name generator can help me out, male, female, long short, nicknames, like I said, naming can be complicated.

After a name, you can start to work on more about this character. Who are they? Why is their story starting here? What are their hopes, dreams, fears? Why do they do what they do? Best friends, families, I’ll admit that sometimes I can get lost in creating a character.

My first few stories I did anthologies and while there were original characters of my own, many of the characters were created by someone else (so some of this work was already done). But even then, you still have to flesh out the brief description you get; these descriptions are often less than fifty words, so your full imagination is required. That isn’t always enough to write a whole story. It all comes down to the author’s creativity, for better or worse. For example, I had a character given to me for an anthology that was a big flirt, and it was funny imagining that he flirted with a character of mine. When you’re in an opportunity like this, you’ve got to play up the traits given to you, invent new quirks, and have fun with the characters.

Closing up, even with writing, people come for the premise and stay for the characters. If your character doesn’t change and grow won’t be able to sustain a story.

From there, people take a variety of approaches to creating characters. There are websites dedicated to helping you develop your characters. Some people need to fill out several page long questionnaires. Scrivener has a really simple version. I tend to have a name, some traits, some quirks, and an idea of their motivation. In the case of “Midnight,” where I know I’m writing a series, I have an idea of what’s coming ahead not necessarily the mystery itself but in Rosella’s life.

Wherever you find your inspiration for your characters, make sure you take the time to make them well-rounded, relatable, and fun. That way, when your readers come to your book for your premise, your characters make sure they stay until the last page.