Tuesday, February 27, 2018

Fictional Frenemies: Partners? Maybe.

~ We are delighted to welcome historical mystery author Ann Parker to our blogging team. ~

When it comes to partners in fiction, there are all types, including love birds, best buds, and sidekicks of all kinds (for some great advice on sidekicks and how to develop them, check out Diana’s post from Feb. 1). Another flavor of fictional partner, which could overlap with the above in certain cases, could be termed the "frenemy."

According to the Oxford English Dictionary, a frenemy is: "a person with whom one is friendly, despite a fundamental dislike or rivalry" or "a person who combines the characteristics of a friend and an enemy." I thought this was a very recent term, so imagine my surprise to find it dates from 1953 and was first coined by the newspaperman Walter Winchell in the Nevada State Journal in an article titled "Howz about calling the Russians our Frienemies?" (Oh, how I love to wallow around in the OED!)

Frenemies can be fun to read and write. Can you trust them? Can your protagonist? Sometimes yes, sometimes no. The dynamics of the relationship can increase the tension and conflict in your story.

So, who are some fictional frenemies?

Well, just as OED is my friend for words, Google is my friend for questions such as these.

A quick search shows that, sure enough, someone has already tackled this topic. (Am I surprised? ;-) ) On HuffPost, writer Katie Finn examines frenemies in novels in the article “9 Fictional Frenemies Who Remind Us That Relationships Are Complicated.” Among the couples she cites are sisters Jo and Amy March in Little Women, and Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde in The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. (I love her takeaway line for Dr. J and Mr. H: "Proof that you can sometimes be your own worst frenemy."

Goodreads also has a list of Popular Frenemies Books—more than 900 novels are listed, so I guess the frenemy partnership is not an unusual one in fiction.

Thinking of my own Silver Rush historical mystery series, I believe there’s a bit of of a frenemy on-again, off-again partnership between my protagonist, Inez Stannert, and another returning character, madam Frisco Flo. The year is 1880, and Inez runs a saloon in Leadville, Colorado, while Flo runs a high-class Leadville parlor house. The two cross paths in the first book of the series, Silver Lies, where Flo only plays a “bit part” in the story. But Flo isn’t content to stay in the shadows and keeps popping up in book after book. Sometimes Inez and Flo are at odds. In other stories, they work together, particularly in the newest in the series, A Dying Note, coming April.

Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec 005
The freewheeling madam and the proper saloon-owner: Sleuthing partners? Sometimes yes, sometimes no.
(At the Moulin Rouge, The Dance
, by Henri de Loulouse-Lautrec)

Is this frenemy dance between these two strong-minded businesswomen premeditated and deliberately choreographed on my part? No! I truly have no idea where this relationship is going from book to book. All I know is that when Flo shows up and plays a significant role, I have great fun writing the scenes in which Inez and Flo are together, and readers often comment how much they like the interactions between the two characters. So, their partnership (a tenuous one at best) is an experiment, a journey. We shall see where it leads.

What about you? Are there frenemy partners in fiction that you enjoy reading? Let me know!

Ann Parker authors the award-winning Silver Rush historical mystery series published by Poisoned Pen Press. During the day, she wrangles words for a living as a science editor/writer and marketing communications specialist (which is basically a fancy term for “editor/writer”). Her midnight hours are devoted to scribbling fiction. Visit AnnParker.net for more information.

Thursday, February 22, 2018

Collaboration - Ten Tips to Make it Work

Other than a marriage and parenting, I can’t think of anything else that is more difficult for two people to share than one writing project.  But when it’s done right, when everything works, the results are amazing. I have had the pleasure of collaborating with several people on stories for books and screenplays, and the primary benefit that I saw in doing that was the blend of artistic strengths that produced a better story. Not to mention the extra nod to discipline when having to report to another live person about your writing progress.

My first partnership was with Margaret Sutton on the mystery Doubletake. When we decided to write a book together, all I could think of was “The Odd Couple.” Not that either of us matched the personality types of Felix and Oscar, but we certainly were as opposite as opposite could get. How could a humor columnist who was known as the Erma Bombeck of Plano, Texas and an entrepreneur whose writing credentials included invoices, business letters, and a single sale to Ellery Queen’s Mystery magazine turn out anything even remotely appealing to fans of hard-boiled crime fiction?

Finding our way from that brash beginning to the publication of Doubletake, a police procedural featuring a female homicide detective, was a most interesting journey. I juggled five young children and a weekly deadline at the newspaper. Margaret juggled a manufacturing business and a busy social life. But somehow we made it.

The first thing we realized was how much research we needed to do. Collectively, we knew zip about law enforcement – speeding tickets not withstanding - and we had no clue how the criminal mind works. Honest, we didn’t. We were lucky in that we both had connections to people in law enforcement, and those people were happy to help us get it right.  Police officers really do hate it when authors don't get it right.

After an initial period of research and outlining the story, we each chose sections to write. Usually, that was determined by who came up with the original idea for that part of the plot, and I was sometimes amazed at how effortless that process could be. Our plan was to meet once a week and trade chapters. We each would then add our touch to the other’s work, hoping the end result would be a smooth blend.

Margaret was the epitome of tact when she read my first attempt to get into the killer’s mind. It was… well, how should I put this…so nice. But what did she expect from a mom? She put the pages down and suggested that perhaps the killer wouldn’t be thinking in terms of “Gosh, Golly, Gee.” Maybe he’d go for something with a little harder edge. When I told her I didn’t know about harder edges, she took me out back and made me use words I’d never even heard before. She made me say them over and over until they could come out without making me stammer or blush.

When collaborating, it really helps to have a sense of humor. When egos tended to get a bit sensitive, we found laughing beat arguing and Margaret took that to heart. It became a personal challenge to come up with a bigger and better practical joke to play on me the next time I came to her office to work. Don’t even ask me about the fake puke on the stack of manuscript pages I’d spent weeks typing. (Yes, this all started long before computers and printers.)

A writing partnership that is a complement of talents is a real gift.  I found that true again when I next partnered with Craig Wargo to write scripts and produce a film in Dallas, as well as when I started working with Stephen Marro, a director in New York. Both of them were amazing in their ability to come up with unique characters and story ideas and visuals. I was better at structure, pacing, and dialogue, and there was always a sense of thrilling excitement when those elements came together to create a terrific story.

More recently, I have collaborated with Bill Jones, the Winnsboro Historian, on two nonfiction books: Images of America, Winnsboro and Reflections of Winnsboro. Each collaboration has worked well because I rely on some basic guidelines for a writing partnership that Craig and I developed. Even though that was many moons ago, the guidelines still apply.

1. When writing fiction, both writers must have an equal understanding of the characters. That will avoid potential mistakes in continuity of character traits and motivations.

2. Both writers must have the same vision for the direction of the story. Otherwise it would be like two people trying to follow the same map, but taking two different roads.

3. One writer should not object to a scene, character, or the way something is written without first being able to clarify why they object, and secondly having an alternative ready to offer. This insures careful, well thought out criticism.

4. Don't count words or pages written by each partner, or try to measure individual input in concrete terms. You could destroy the partnership by trying to keep those things equal. NOTE: In my partnerships, I tended to produce more pages, as I was the one with the typewriter and later the computer. But the contributions of the others during story and character development more than balanced the input value.

5. Be flexible, frank, yet kind. Respect each other's talent and feelings.

6. To get the most out of brainstorming sessions don't stop to evaluate as you go along. Just keep the ideas flowing.

7. Decide with each new project who is going to have final say. Establishing that before you start helps if you reach an impasse on a major decision. In most cases that may be the person who first came up with the story idea.

8. Have periodic reviews of the state of the project as well as the partnership in general. Are both parties still enthused, happy, and eager to keep going? What, if anything, needs to change.

9. Always let your partner know if something is coming up in your personal or business life that is going to affect the partnership.

10. Relax, laugh a lot, and have a good time.
Maryann Miller won her first writing award at age twelve with a short story in the Detroit News Scholastic Writing Awards Contest and continues to garner recognition for her short stories, books, and screenplays. You can find out more about Maryann and all of her stories at her Amazon Author Page  * Website   * Blog  and follow her on Facebook and Twitter

Margaret likes to remain more of a mystery. 

Tuesday, February 20, 2018

A Surprise Partnership

I am about to finish the final proofing of a book that came my way through an illustrator I've worked with for several years. The writer, a retired investigative reporter in need of an edit, shares that occupation with the protagonist in a story I began 15 years ago.I mentioned my partially completed novel, and he wanted to read the prologue. After perusing it, he asked to be part of the project. His enthusiasm inspired me to move my story from the shelf to the top of my books-to-finish list.

Partnering with another writer has crossed my mind a number of times over the years, but I never seriously pursued the idea with anyone. It has been said we should write what we know. In lieu of first-hand knowledge, however, we may want to venture into unfamiliar situations and locations requiring extensive research.

Historical fiction is a good example of reaching out beyond our personal experience, and our partners become those who lived and wrote at the time our story takes place. In addition, numerous volumes have been penned by others who have researched the past and recorded events and customs of those times. We also have to keep in mind that many readers of this genre are also history buffs. The need for extensive and meticulous research becomes a must if we are to appeal to such a discerning audience. Partners can be a huge help when research needs to be done.

A side benefits of my new partnership will be getting the male point of view. My protagonist is a man who has just retired from his job as a foreign correspondent and accepted an offer from a local news anchor to work as her investigator. Now, I will be able to present him more realistically with input from my partner, who has spent decades working on and reporting high-profile stories. He will bring insight, reality, and reaction to my protagonist beyond what I could glean from research alone.

The idea of working with a writing partner doesn't come without a bit of trepidation. Personalities and writing styles may play into the mix, as well as ideas about how the story should go. While most of my stories fall into the category of women's fiction, this one will venture toward the thriller realm. Based on conversations with the man I'll be partnering with, as well as what I've gleaned from his non-fiction book, he has lived literally on the edge, dealing with people in all manners of lifestyle about which I have no knowledge. Not only will this be a fun project, it also promises to be an exciting adventure.

Editor Linda Lane has returned to her first love—writing—while maintaining her editing work. Most of her novels fall into the women's fiction category, but she will be venturing into the thriller realm with a new book scheduled for release late this year. You can contact her through her websites: LSLaneBooks.com and DenverEditor.com.

Thursday, February 15, 2018

Words and Images: A Partnership Between Writer and Photographer (Part Two)

When the February theme for the Blood-Red Pencil turned out to be Partnerships,
one collaborative effort popped into my brain from right here in Northern Colorado. Author, writing consultant, and publisher Kerrie Flanagan teamed up with artist and photographer Suzette McIntyre to create and publish three coffee table books.

Read Part One of this article here.

The three books created by Kerrie Flanagan and Suzette McIntyre are called Beauty Surrounds Us (March 1, 2016), The Paths We Take (November 10, 2016), and Reflection (March 29, 2017). Reflection is identified as their last words and images coffee table book, so I asked Suzette to describe the projects as far as difficulty of ideas and coordination of duties.

“The second and third books materialized from the enthusiasm of artists," Suzette told me. "They liked the themed competitions and the idea their pieces could possibly be published. The themes of the competitions/book titles for these three books came to me after a massive introspection and study.”

Kerrie did an internet search on the titles to make sure they were unique, an important step in choosing titles so a book is not buried in a long list of like-titled publications.

Suzette added, “Coordination was easy. I did the layouts and design. Kerrie put it all into the format for Ingram/Spark.”

Now that the three-book endeavor is complete, I was curious how Kerrie and Suzette felt about their books and how well they worked together.

Kerrie has worked on several joint projects, so she was an old hand at partnerships. “I have loved working with all the authors I have collaborated with; my 100 Haiku for the 80s Generation with Dean Miller, Write Away with Jenny Sundstedt, and now these three Words & Images Coffee table books with Suzette. I have enjoyed each collaboration and am proud of the resulting books. Maybe my co-authors think differently, but from my point of view, the process for all these books was smooth. Each of my co-authors brought different skills and strengths to the books. I think the best answer to this question is collaborate with writers you get along with. :-)”

From Suzette, I wanted to know if she’d ever thought of going it alone with books featuring only images and what the pros and cons were of going it alone. She responded, “I have thought about producing themed photography books many times, however I think the idea of adding additional poetry/text will always be a part of my model now. The two need each other to form the deeper dimension.”

I think it’s clear that most writers and artists would work faster on their own without the need to coordinate efforts with another person or team, but would each writer/artist pay as much attention to detail alone as they would with a partner? Kerrie noted Suzette’s “incredible eye for detail” and her knowledge of Photoshop and added she appreciated Suzette’s meticulous attention to the photos, layout and design. Suzette noted that she worked slower than usual on this project, but that she loved having Kerrie’s expertise in publishing to rely on.

From my own point of view, I’d say Kerrie and Suzette formed a great partnership for the duration of their three-book project. No two people work the same way, spend the same amount of time focusing or procrastinating, or have the identical vision when it comes to a final product. It appears the keys to a successful partnership are (1) working with writers or artists you already get along with, and (2) working with a legal contract.

Thanks so much to Kerrie and Suzette for taking time from their busy schedules to answer my questions.

More about Kerrie:

Photo by Suzette McIntyre
Kerrie Flanagan is a writing consultant, publisher, author and freelance writer with over 18 years experience. She has published eight books under her label, Hot Chocolate Press. Her book, A Guide to Magazine Article Writing, through Writer's Digest is scheduled to release in July of 2018 (and now available for preorder).

Kerrie enjoys working with writers to help them find success with their writing. To contact her about consulting or speaking at an event, contact her at kerrie.flanagan@gmail.com. You can learn more about her at her website.

More about Suzette:

Suzette McIntyre is an award-winning artist and has been recognized internationally for her signature style of photography and mixed media paintings. She works in genres from weddings and portraiture, to landscape and fine art.

Suzette views photography as a relationship as well as an art. Combining the two creates her intimate distinctive style. Her canvases and photography, inspired by her deep passion for people and her love of the western wilderness can be seen in galleries throughout Colorado and Wyoming and on her website.  Suzette is the co-founder of Words & Images.

Pat (Patricia) Stoltey is the author of four novels published by Five Star/Cengage: two amateur sleuth, one thriller that was a finalist for a Colorado Book Award in 2015, and the historical mystery Wishing Caswell Dead (December 20, 2017).

Pat lives in Northern Colorado with her husband Bill, Scottish Terrier Sassy (aka Doggity), and brown tabby Katie (aka Kitty Cat).

You can learn more about Pat at her website/blog, on Facebook, and Twitter. She was recently interviewed for a Rocky Mountain Fiction Writers podcast that you can find at the RMFW website.

Tuesday, February 13, 2018

Words and Images: A Partnership Between Writer and Photographer (Part One)

There are many ways a writer could collaborate with readers, other writers, illustrators, and more. Friends and fans can form a writer’s launch team for a new book. Other authors who write in the same genre can form promo teams to blog or release book sets. Those who write books for children are especially likely to team up with illustrators.

When the February theme for the Blood-Red Pencil turned out to be Partnerships, however, one collaborative effort popped into my brain from right here in Northern Colorado. Author, writing consultant, and publisher Kerrie Flanagan teamed up with artist and photographer Suzette McIntyre to create and publish three coffee table books.

The project seemed a huge undertaking to me, so I contacted Kerrie and Suzette to see if they would share a few of their experiences. I started with Kerrie, asking her how the idea for these projects originated.

“The idea for the books grew from a class Suzette and I did together on photography and poetry," Kerrie said. "It was a three-week class where she taught photography techniques and I taught poetry. We talked about how powerful these mediums are individually, but when you put them together it adds another dimension to the work. As a culminating project, each participant chose 3-5 photos and the accompanying poem to display in Suzette's gallery. We hosted a wine and cheese reception for the artists and general public. That was when we talked about making a coffee table book with photography and poetry.”

Suzette expanded on the class and workshops she and Kerrie presented, then added, “The first book was originally going to be just Kerrie and me, but I was getting ready to hold an art competition at the gallery, and after a bit of discussion we added a poetry category to the competition and decided to add the winners to the book. Doing this would create more awareness and interest."

Kerrie had “dabbled in poetry before” and taught the craft when she was an elementary school teacher. She prefers to write short “poems that have a specific pattern and framework like Haiku and Cinquain. This gives me parameters to work within and that works better for me than free verse.”

At that point, I was curious about what came first during the creative process, the words or the images. I asked Suzette that question plus one about their brainstorming process.

“I typically had the photograph first and the poetry/words emerged from the image," Suzette said. "In a few cases, I had a poem in my head and went out to capture an image to depict what I was saying.”

For Kerrie’s contributions, she sent her photographs to Suzette for book layout, then Suzette inserted Kerrie's text on the opposite blank page when she received Kerrie’s poems. Most of the work was done through email, but the two met a few times to talk about marketing.

There’s a business side to think about when collaborating with another person on a project, so I asked Kerrie what her best advice would be on the value or necessity of a written contract for these projects.

Kerrie responded, “Suzette and I have known each other for years, but I still wrote up a contract for these books. I have done this for all the books I have collaborated on with other writers. A contract spells everything out ahead of time so there is no guess work with the money, who owns the rights to the content, and all the other details. Writing and publishing a book is a business. When you collaborate on a project it becomes a two-person business. A contract ensures that both parties know the specifics of our business arrangement and lessens the chances of future disagreements. I value my relationship with Suzette, and I don't want anything to change that.”

When I think of the one collaborative writing project I worked on many years ago with my brother, I’m impressed that Kerrie and Suzette produced three of these amazing books. My brother and I vowed not to write together again after just one try.

Here is Part Two of this article, including bios for Kerrie Flanagan and Suzette McIntyre.

Pat (Patricia) Stoltey is the author of four novels published by Five Star/Cengage: two amateur sleuth, one thriller that was a finalist for a Colorado Book Award in 2015, and the historical mystery Wishing Caswell Dead (December 20, 2017).

Pat lives in Northern Colorado with her husband Bill, Scottish Terrier Sassy (aka Doggity), and brown tabby Katie (aka Kitty Cat).

You can learn more about Pat at her website/blog, on Facebook, and Twitter. She was recently interviewed for a Rocky Mountain Fiction Writers podcast that you can find at the RMFW website.

Thursday, February 8, 2018

A Mix of Romance and Murder

Our theme for February, Partnerships, brought to mind book and TV series where the main characters are a couple who solves crimes in the manner of Nick and Nora Charles from Dashiell Hammett’s The Thin Man series.
Though the Hammett books were more in the true mystery genre tone, most people will remember the movies, starring William Powell and Myrna Loy, which tended toward the lighter side. Smart, funny, and urbane, the movies brought more people to the books and vice versa.
So what mystery books in today’s bookstore/library shelves carry on the tradition of either a married couple or a male/female partnership in a personal relationship? TV series?

The most popular series that comes to mind is J.D. Robb’s futuristic Death series. Though not married when the first book debuted in 1995, New York police lieutenant Eve Dallas and her billionaire husband Rourke—no first name—balance their relationship with her job as a cop. These novels are far darker than The Thin Man books and movies, and the fact that the latest addition is number 45 confirms their popularity.

Catherine Coulter is another female author writing a male/female team in her Dillon Savich and Lacey Sherlock FBI Thriller series, with a mere 22 entries. Again, these two are not married when the series begins, and the relationship builds as the series progresses. In real life, I doubt the FBI would allow a married couple to work together on the same case, though they can both work for the FBI. But alas, this is fiction, and a writer can do pretty much what she wants, claiming artistic license.

Faye Kellerman, another female author writes the Peter Decker/Rina Lazarus series. He’s a cop, she’s an Orthodox Jew who helps him solve crimes. I haven’t read any of this series, but it’s an interesting premise. It also reminds me of the Harry Kemelman series about a rabbi in Marblehead, Massachusetts, who solves crimes using the Talmud. Since I grew up in the next town, I read that series and loved it. I noticed that they’ve been released as ebooks after all these decades.

But I digress.

Another series of novels made into TV shows with husband and wife team comes to mind―Mr. and Mrs. North, taken from the 26 books by Frances and Richard Lockridge and starring Richard Denning and Barbara Britton in the second reiteration. I doubt many people remember this TV show from the 50s, but I do. In reruns, of course.

In the late 70s, early 80s, Robert Wagner and Stephanie Powers starred in Hart to Hart, a husband and wife team who find themselves in the role of amateur detectives. It was a huge success and though not based on a book series, it was written by Sidney Sheldon, one of the master fiction writers of his time.

I would be remiss not to mention my series, the Diana Racine Psychic Suspense series, with a black cop and a psychic entertainer who join forces and mix a bit of woo-woo with some tried and true police procedures. Initially, they dislike each other, but that doesn’t last long because I find that formula cliché. So far, there are four books in a series I never expected to be a series.

Reverting to those mentioned above, the bottom line, in more ways than one, is that series sell. If you start one, you’d better like your characters enough to let them grow and evolve, because they may be around for a long time.

Jot your favorites in the comments section. (Any written by men?)

Polly Iyer is the author of nine novels: standalones Hooked, InSight, Murder Déjà Vu, Threads, and Indiscretion, and four books in the Diana Racine Psychic Suspense series, Mind Games, Goddess of the Moon, Backlash and The Scent of Murder. A Massachusetts native, she makes her home in the beautiful Piedmont region of South Carolina. You can visit her website for more on Polly and connect with her on Facebook and Twitter.

Tuesday, February 6, 2018

The Silent Partnership

February is "partnership" month at BRP. Significantly broadening the topic of love, this opens up an exploration of partnerships in a number of areas we may not consider when writing our stories. We know we need a team to put out a great book. We've visited the team discussion before, so no need to rehash it here.

However, we do need to seriously consider another partnership we often overlook: our partnership with our reader. This was recently driven home to me when I read the latest novel by a well-known and prolific writer who has made a very good living for many years from the sales of her books and the movies based on them. She's published by a large house and undoubtedly has a huge fan base. I expected a powerful and compelling read and excellence in writing, and rightly so; I am, after all, contributing to her wealth. That makes me a partner—albeit a silent one—in her success because I purchased her story.

The following is what I received.

POV: The story was told in omniscient point of view. One paragraph often got into the head of two or more characters. I had to go back and reread several times throughout the book to figure out who was thinking or doing what. With few exceptions, omniscient POV drains the power from a story. When the reader knows what every character thinks and feels, that reader is deprived of not only what should have been surprises, but also of the character development that helps create a page turner. As a silent partner, I felt cheated.

Show, Don't Tell: The story abounded in lengthy descriptions and other trivia that went on page after page. Sparse dialogue read like it came from a textbook and bore little resemblance to the way people talk. Some passages bordered on soliloquy rather than two-sided conversations. I was told the story. (Don't tell me the antagonist is a bad man. Show me by his actions what he is.) I was shown almost nothing. Not one single scene created a picture in my mind that I could relate to. As a silent partner, I felt shortchanged.

Ups and Downs: Stories, like life, have peaks and valleys—or at least they should. This one flatlined from beginning to end. It offered no emotion I could tap into, no feeling that wasn't contrived, no urge to cheer for the protagonist or boo the bad guy, no connection with any of the characters or what they were going through. As a silent partner, I felt unfulfilled.

Grammar and Punctuation: Most sentences were complete, but many of them dragged on endlessly and thus lost all impact. They should have been divided into two or even three good sentences to infuse some life into this inert story. As for punctuation, comma errors abounded. They appeared where they were not needed and were absent where they were. Sometimes, I had to read a sentence two or three times to figure out what it said. As a silent partner, I felt slighted.

Likelihood of Reading Another Book from This Author: Zero.

I'm not maligning this writer, who will remain nameless. Perhaps she creates outlines, and ghost writers turn them into stories. Whatever the case, I'm sure she doesn't know or care whether I ever purchase another of her novels; she won't miss my few paltry dollars. However, the above speaks volumes to us as writers.

Our Takeaway:
Point of view needs to be both powerful and specific. One story can contain multiple POVs, but not in the same paragraph or the same scene unless the change is clearly indicated to the reader (such as a double space between paragraphs where the POV shifts).

Telling is almost always required to some extent in a story. Description gives the reader a sense of time, place, and characters. Just keep it short and sweet. The more the writer can show action, the more the reader can become part of it.

Tension waxes and wanes in a good story. Keeping it front and center on every page exhausts the reader. Omitting it bores the reader. Find the balance.

Grammar and punctuation are the bane of many writers. Use them to the best of your ability. Then hire a competent editor to fix the places where you strayed outside the grammatical box.

We want readers to enjoy our books, and they have the right to expect us to uphold our end of the partnership. In a sense, we are product producers, and they are consumers. We owe these silent partners the best we have to give.

Editor Linda Lane has returned to her first love—writing—while maintaining her editing work. Most of her novels fall into the women's fiction category, but she will be venturing into the thriller realm with a new book scheduled for release late this year. You can contact her through her websites: LSLaneBooks.com and DenverEditor.com.

Thursday, February 1, 2018

Developing Sidekicks

~ Our theme for February is Partnerships, and today we (ahem) kick off with a look at the fictional partnerships between main characters and their sidekicks. ~

In addition to a unique main character, many stories feature unforgettable sidekicks, such as:

Sherlock Holmes's friend and biographer Dr. Watson who provides the practicality to Holmes's genius.

Batman and his protégé Robin exemplified experience versus the rashness of youth.

Captain Kirk and Spock represent the perfect balance between freewheeling emotion and cautious logic.

Here are a few tips for creating a memorable partner.

1. Avoid cardboard cutout props. Make your sidekick fully three dimensional. Give him goals and stakes as well as opinions.

2. Give him autonomy. Don't create a tin soldier sitting on a shelf, activated only when needed. Make sure he has momentum of his own. Give him a history that motivates and a present with complications.

3. Change it up. The sidekick doesn't have to be professional partner. They can be best friends, a romantic couple, brother and sister, mother and daughter, father and son, or AI versus human.

4. Don't create "yes men." Being his own person, your sidekick should have different viewpoints, education, experience, and tactics. His agenda might not always align with your protagonist's.

5. Balance the yin and yang. They don't have to be complete opposites to represent different sides of a thematic argument. The most common motifs are youth versus experience, caution versus carelessness, thinker versus doer, intuition versus facts, and analysis versus winging it. Give them complimentary strengths, but avoid differences so extreme they can't believably work together.

6. Keep the reins tight. So often our secondary characters become more interesting and attempt to take over the story. Don't let them. If your sidekick is more interesting than your protagonist, you have a serious problem.

Developing your sidekick can be just as much fun as designing your protagonist. Make them memorable.

Diana Hurwitz is the author of Story Building Blocks: The Four Layers of Conflict, Story Building Blocks II: Crafting Believable Conflict, Story Building Blocks III: The Revision Layers, and the YA adventure series Mythikas Island. Her weekly blog, Game On: Crafting Believable Conflict explores how characters behave and misbehave. Visit DianaHurwitz.com for more information and free writing tools. You can follow her on Facebook and Twitter.