October 31 – November 6: “Is tone linked more to the author’s or the character’s attitude?”

thriller-roundtable-logo5We have a full house this week, with ITW Members Hank Phillippi Ryan, Mona Karel, Simon Maltman, Jean Rabe, Vicki Delany, Anna J. Stewart, David Mannes, Carole Nelson Douglas, J. T. Rogers, Neil Plakcy, A. J. Kerns and David C. Dawson all discussing tone. Is tone linked more to the author’s or the character’s attitude?


yemenArthur Kerns is a retired FBI supervisory special agent and past president of the Arizona chapter of the Association of Former Intelligence Officers (AFIO). His award-winning short fiction has appeared in numerous anthologies. He is a book reviewer for the Washington Independent Review of Books. Diversion Books, Inc. NY, NY published his espionage thriller, The Riviera Contract, and the sequel, The African Contract. The third in the series, The Yemen Contract, was released in June 2016.


say-no-moreHank Phillippi Ryan is the on-air investigative reporter for Boston’s NBC affiliate. She’s won 33 EMMYs, 14 Edward R. Murrow awards and dozens of other honors for her groundbreaking journalism. A bestselling author of nine mystery novels, Ryan has won multiple prestigious awards for her crime fiction: five Agathas, two Anthonys, the Daphne, two Macavitys, and for THE OTHER WOMAN, the coveted Mary Higgins Clark Award.


questionMona Karel is the writing alter ego of Monica Stoner, who wrote Beatles fan fiction and terribly earnest (read just not very good) Gothics in her teen years. She set aside writing while working with horses and dogs all over the US, until she discovered used book stores and Silhouette Romances. Shortly after that she also discovered jobs that paid her for more than her ability to do a good scissors finish on a terrier, and moved into the “real” working world. Right around then she wrote her first full length book. It only took her twenty seven years after that to be published, and not that book!


chaser-coverSimon Maltman is a writer and musician from Northern Ireland. This is his debut novel after previously having crime fiction short stories featured in a number of magazines and anthologies. He has also had poetry and articles published in a range of magazines. Simon has self-published a number of crime fiction e-books over the last year. There is work underway for further crime fiction releases in the near future.


the-dead-of-winter-1Jean Rabe is the author of 35 fantasy, science fiction, and adventure novels, and more short stories than she cares to count. She is the assistant editor of Galaxy’s Edge Magazine and edits novels in her spare time. When not working, Jean tosses tennis balls to her cadre of dogs, plays boardgames and role-playing games, and fuses glass. She lives in Central Illinois, surrounded by farmland and railroad tracks.


wewishyou_coverVicki Delany is one of Canada’s most prolific and varied crime writers, author of more than twenty published crime novels, including standalone Gothic thrillers, and the Constable Molly Smith series from Poisoned Pen Press and the Year Round Christmas Mysteries from Penguin Random House. Under the pen name of Eva Gates she is the national bestselling author of the Lighthouse Library cozy series from Penguin Random House, set in a historic lighthouse on the Outer Banks of North Carolina. Vicki lives in Prince Edward County, Ontario. She is the current president of the Crime Writers of Canada.


more-than-a-lawman-thrillerUSA Today and national bestselling author Anna J. Stewart can’t remember a time she didn’t have a book in her hands or a story in her head. A geek at heart, Anna writes romances featuring strong, independent heroines. RT Book reviews says Anna’s romances are “refreshingly unique, quietly humorous, and profoundly moving” and NYTimes bestselling author Brenda Novak says “The talented Anna J Stewart delivers every time!” Anna lives in Northern California where she deals with a serious SUPERNATURAL, STAR TREK, and SHERLOCK addiction and tolerates an overly affectionate cat named Snickers (or perhaps it’s Snickers who tolerates her). When she’s not writing, you can usually find her at fan conventions or at her local movie theater.


The Reptilian Encounter by David M. MannesDavid M. Mannes is a Cantor-Educator and a member of the American Conference of Cantors. He has served congregations in the United States and Canada. He is also former educational film producer/director and scriptwriter. He was nominated in 1990 for best non-dramatic script in the Alberta Motion Picture Industry Association (A.M.P.I.A.) awards for “Writing-on-Stone” featuring actor Leslie Neilson which he co-produced for Alberta Parks. David is the author of The Reptilian Encounter, Scarlet Justice, and Creature Feature among others. His new humorous coming-of-age novel, The Cantor’s Son, will be published in 2016. He has had a long time interest in UFOs, paranormal and unexplained phenomena, as well as, history. David is also a member of the Writer’s Guild of Alberta. David Mannes is married and lives in Edmonton, Alberta, Canada.


catCarole Nelson Douglas says if she has a literary muse, it’s definitely feline: mysterious, wise, playful, and packing sharp shivs in velvet gloves. An award-winning ex-journalist and USA TODAY best-selling novelist, Carole has written sixty-three novels ranging from historical and contemporary mystery and romance to science fiction thrillers to high and urban fantasy. She’s a four-time Rita Award finalist and has RT Reviews magazine Career Achievement awards in Suspense, Mystery, Versatility and as a Pioneer of Publishing. Currently, she writes the popular Las Vegas-set Midnight Louie, feline PI, mysteries partially narrated by a “Sam Spade with hairballs”. She’s also written the Delilah Street, Paranormal Investigator, noir urban fantasies about werewolf mobsters and Silver Screen zombies in a paranormal Sin City.


in-from-the-coldJ.T. Rogers grew up wanting to be either a superhero or a spy—but rather than pick one over the other, she chose to become a writer instead so she could be both in her spare time. Her fiction reflects her childhood obsessions, blending together the distrustful, cloak-and-dagger world of spies with the high-octane action and camaraderie of her favorite superheroes. The product of a bilingual education and an alumna of a handful of universities, J.T.’s passions include history, comic books, and Shakespeare. She has lived all over North America and loves to weave threads of authentic local color into her stories. Just ask her about Lucy the Elephant.


the-next-one-will-kill-you-600Neil Plakcy has written or edited over three dozen novels and short stories in mystery, romance and erotica. To research The Next One Will Kill You, he participated in the FBI’s sixteen-week citizen’s academy, practiced at a shooting range, and visited numerous gay bars in Fort Lauderdale. (Seriously, it was research.) He is an assistant professor of English at Broward College in South Florida, and has been a construction manager, a computer game producer, and a web developer – all experiences he uses in his fiction.


necessarydeathsthefsDavid C. Dawson is an author, award-winning journalist, and documentary maker living near Oxford in the UK. He has traveled extensively, filming in nearly every continent of the world. He has lived in London, Geneva, and San Francisco, but now prefers the tranquility of the Oxfordshire countryside. David is a Mathematics graduate from Southampton University in England. After graduating, he joined the BBC in London as a trainee journalist. He worked in radio newsrooms for several years before moving to television as a documentary director. After more than twenty years with the BBC, he left to go freelance. He has produced videos for several charities, including Ethiopiaid, which works to end poverty in Ethiopia, and Hestia, a London-based mental health charity.


  1. Hi Big Thrill Readers!

    I’m–wait for it–thrilled to participate in my first Thriller Roundtable!

    I really had to chew on this question for a while. Ultimately the author is at the wheel of the story. Regardless of the characters’ attitudes, the author decides how to present the novel’s subject matter–including framing those characters’ thoughts and opinions. To borrow from the world of cinema, the only difference between comedy and horror is the music. The author crafts the tone of the novel through a thousand little decisions: word choice, pacing, setting, plot. A character’s attitude may dictate the story’s tone, prompting the direction of those aforementioned decisions, but ultimately it’s the author’s approach and attitude, and ability to craft the world of their writing around their characters, that play a more fundamental role.

      1. Ohhohoho no. You will note the word ‘control’ doesn’t appear in my initial answer. Because hoo boy. Nope. Characters do what they do, sometimes to my delight, more often to my abject stupefied horror, but whether it’s the bravest thing or the most awful thing, no matter what the characters wind up doing over the course of a story, I still get to choose how it’s framed, how it’s expressed, the value judgement placed upon it by the narrative, etc., etc. Character can dictate a lot, but at the end of the day, I get to step back and look at the piece as a whole (and probably say “it’s terrible, burn it”, and then let someone talk me down from the ledge). The characters don’t get quite so final a say.

  2. Happy Halloween, all ye Roundtable folks! More about that black cat with attitude on my book cover later. I think tone is how authors place the reader in the desired setting, mood, and genre though the author’s or character’s voice. Picture your fingers poised above piano keys (computer keyboard ) to strike the first chord, from which you can move into to jazz, ragtime, a symphony. . . or a dirge.

    As far as author or character driving attitude and tone, the author certainly has to set it up, but then the character has the option to take over.

    I find using multi-viewpoint characters continually refreshes the storyline and surprises readers and author. In my Midnight Louie series, the four main human characters—two women, two men; two pros, two amateur crime-solvers—have different genre attitudes: police procedural, traditional humorous mystery and international thriller. So the storyline can veer from humor to tragedy. By letting each character’s attitude set the tone for his or her history and “genre”, I discover more and more about them as I’m writing. Getting lost in the character’s “attitude” on the page is my most creative time in writing. I want “me” out of it.

    I also wanted to unite the different characters and tones. Enter a running first-person noir-style commentary in “cattitude”. This is a case of utter author-character link. Hard-boiled alley cat Midnight Louie’s irreverent critique of human foibles also develops a hidden storyline only he and the readers know and feeds the ex-editorial writer and SF-fantasy novelist in me.

    A short demonstration of how versatile an opening tone can be: Two men talk.

    They met at midnight behind the Seven-11 store.
    “Did you get it?’
    Did anybody see you?

    You might find this minimalist, somehow ominous, toneless dialogue in Hemingway. Or in action thrillers. All business, no decorative prose. The “it” could be a gun. A bomb. Or . . . a bubble-making machine.

    Yes, with an unexpected twist, you could then segue into a humorist Jean Shepherd-style hilarious family tale of two dads going to absurd and dangerous lengths to beg, borrow, or steal the gizmo as a surprise for a kids’ birthday party.

    Setting, and then changing attitude and tone, is a way to keep readers, and the author, involved. And nothing happens in stories without characters being involved.

  3. I think this is a really interesting question. I suppose it comes down partly to if you think an author is in control all the time of the novel they are making. I know I’m not- the story can take off by itself! But in saying that, I hope I am keeping a grasp on the direction I’m wanting to go in. In my book, ‘A Chaser On The Rocks,’ tone and the effect of the character on this, is an area I thought about a lot. The novel is a story within a story and the main character actually creates and writes about the other main character. It was an interesting experience, to explore how a character I was creating was creating another character at the same time. I suppose what I think about tone is that at the end of the day, it comes down to the author really. For example, a main character could be very melancholic, but the story could be very funny and lively, if that is how the author uses that character. It can also be a problem when readers presume that the voice of the character is that of the author- I wouldn’t want people to think I’m too much like my main character! So, I think that the character has a big effect on tone, but it really is down to the author- what do you all think??

  4. Hi everyone! So great to be with all of you.

    For me, tone very much reflects the story that’s being told. It’s dependent on a number of criteria, including the genre I’m writing, the characters, setting, and overall story. I think there’s an inherent understanding on the part of the reader, depending on what they’re reading, that they can expect a certain “feel” when the story begins.

    One of my learning curves with writing my first romantic suspense was learning this lesson. That I had to establish from the first page the type of book I was writing (reader expectation and all). From word choice, to the way my characters speak (both in what and how they say it), this was completely different from the straight contemporary romance I also write. There’s an underlying sense of urgency in a suspense and thriller, one that keeps the readers’ pulses racing as they flip the pages; as opposed to other, gentler more emotional reads that might make the heart pound for an entirely different reason.

    I agree with what Carole said in her comment, that being able to get into different characters’ heads during the story really helps a writer stretch how the story is being told. It’s also a good way to remind myself as the author, that not all my characters view the same situation in the same way and that, of course, lends to the all important conflict, both internal and external.

  5. Thanks Big Thrill for giving me the chance to air my views in public!

    Tone is all about the right choice of words, sentence structure and word order. Set these carefully, and you set the tone you’re looking for. Whether it’s anger, arrogance, disbelief or detachment. In fiction, tone is primarily about the attitude of the viewpoint character. If the book’s written in the first person, then it’s about the narrator’s attitude to the reader.

    You need to be consistent in the words you choose for a character. Words that suit their personality. But words change depending on the situations they’re in. Let’s say you have a character who is normally verbose. When faced with a dangerous or frightening situation, you may give them abrupt, short phrases, to set the tone of the moment.

    Tone changes, depending on the POV character. In contrasting chapters, you may play an event from the POV of two different characters. Changing the tone will reflect the characters’ differing attitudes to the event. It will deepen the reader’s understanding of the characters’ ways of looking at the world.

    A master at creating and changing tone is William Boyd. I strongly recommend checking out his books, to see how he paints rich pictures of his characters’ attitudes to the situations he throws at them.

  6. Another key aspect I think is the choice of narration. A third person story can often more distinctly convey that the author is directing the tone. A first person novel can appear as if the character is leading the narrative and tone. I think that if it comes across like that, then the writer has successfully made it seem that way.

  7. Thanks so much for inviting me to the Roundtable. What a great question, too.

    For me, tone is totally related to the character’s life and attitude, not the author.

    I am the author of standalone novels of modern gothic suspense, a middle-boiled police procedural series, a lighthearted historical series set in the Klondike Gold Rush, novellas for adult literacy featuring an RCMP sergeant working in some of the world’s toughest places, AND now I’m writing pure cozies.

    I am only one person, but all those books have totally different tone, and that tone is created by the nature of the characters.

    Obviously the mood is very different between More than Sorrow, about an international journalist recovering from a traumatic brain injury suffered in an IED explosion in Afghanistan, and We Wish You A Murderous Christmas, in which the protagonist is the owner of Mrs. Claus’s Treasures in Rudolph, New York.

    Think of it in movie terms. More than Sorrow and my other standalones are shot in dark tones. Blacks and whites, plenty of mist and clouds. It might be a bright sunny day on an Ontario farm, but something dark lurks just over the horizon. The police procedurals are sepia as personal tragedies strike families and the cops struggle to do the right thing.

    The cozy series, on the other hand, are primary colours. Everything bright and cheerful. Except for the dead guy on the living room floor, of course.

  8. I’m not one of those souls who claim that the characters dictate a book’s tone and tempo. I think the writer dictates EVERYTHING. My attitude has always set the tone for anything I’m working on…and when I have a bad attitude because life has dumped something awful at my doorstep…I work on a chapter that lets me have a dark, dreary, hopeless tone. I stay away from upbeat stuff then, because I can’t force the characters to be effectively and convincingly upbeat if I’m not. My attitude trickles from my heart into my fingers and across the keyboard. However, if my spirits are in the clouds because great things are happening, I work on anything I like…grim and gritty, light and fluffy, thoughtful and introspective…in a good mood, I can tackle anything.

    I thoroughly outline books for more than a few reasons. But one of those reasons is for dark days. Bad mood days are specifically for unfortunate scenes. I can be pretty brutal to my protagonists on those days. I can jump ahead in my book and work on “downer scenes” that reflect my present attitude. I fill in the intervening chapters when I’m in a better mood. Doesn’t mean I’m schizophrenic…just means I’m a writer who takes this particular approach. And it doesn’t mean I have great mood swings—but I do use the change in mood to my advantage.

    I had some dark days when I wrote my novel Pockets of Darkness, nominated for an ITW award this past summer. The dark chapters came easy when I was in a bummer. I was more emotionally connected to the characters that were going through some real rough stuff.

  9. Such a fascinating question, right? Because..hmm.

    The first thing I thought: The reader should never know my attitude. My goal is to make the book so seamless, and so of itself, that my existence as the author should be invisible.

    And we know this, correct, when we write? Because (if we’re lucky!) we’re in a different world when we write. Channeling the secrets and decision-making and motivation of the character. So if the character is sinister or melancholy or vengeful, that’s what needs to come through. But we can write August while in the midst of the December snows. We can write murders on our birthdays. Who we are and where we are shouldn’t matter.

    So tone–tone to me is the aura of the story, how noir is different from cozy and you can tell that from the first sentence –is the complete package of how the reader will feel while they’re in the midst of the book. Think about how Barbra Streisand sings”Happy Days are here again”–she takes that bouncy cute song and makes it a sarcastic ironic complaint. The composer meant one thing–but she’s changed the tone.

    Which comes first-the story or the tone?

    1. Your last question is something I’ve given a lot of thought to as I look ahead at the projects I want to work on next. Carole gave a good example above of how the story can change depending on the tone with which it’s presented- or the tone can set the read up for a fall or a laugh when the story bucks what the reader might expect from the established tone.

      Do you remember (does anyone remember?) a movie that came out a few years ago called YOUR HIGHNESS? It was a ridiculous stoner comedy that marketed itself to great effect by presenting the viewing audience with what looked like a somewhat trite D&D/High Fantasy movie, then twisted the tone with the arrival of a villain who used rather colorful colloquial expletives. The movie itself didn’t really interest me, but that switch did.

      So now I look at some of the story ideas I have and find myself wondering- how can I tell these in ways I think are interesting or funny without undercutting the actual setting or experience for the reader? In From The Cold and the other novels in the CASTOFFS series that are planned will remain fairly straightforward- that’s what the story calls for- but I’m exciting to find the right project to really play with the tone and the setting and story, and a reader’s expectation going in.

  10. The tone of a novel is definitely linked to the author’s attitude and plan for his or her book. No matter what genre you write, the type of story sets the tone. Characters are the actors. They perform the story and are integral to telling it. For example, thrillers are taut, tense stressful stories often with a lot of action. Yet it’s the characters that make the story come alive through their thoughts and actions. But it also possible to have silly eccentric characters in stories that have raw action and tense drama. There has to be someway at times to relieve the tension either . Shakespeare did it in his plays. There was always some sort of comic relief in his dramas.

  11. Like everyone else, I’m delighted to be here and to be discussing such an interesting topic. I’m going to side with Jean, though I love Hank’s writing– I think the author controls the tone.

    I can’t write jokes, but I do seem to have a knack for observing the world and noting the strange and funny things around me. I keep a running list of T-shirt slogans and bumper stickers and I’m always on the lookout for wordplay as well. For example, one of the baristas at the Starbucks where I write is named Yesenia. One day I heard another barista call her “Yes,” and I immediately thought—what if she had a twin sister named Noemi? They’d be Yes and No.

    That’s the kind of humor that makes its way into almost everything I write. So for me, tone comes from my own voice, not so much from the character or situation. I have a new thriller coming out this month from Diversion Books, and Tim Hallinan was kind enough to give me a blurb, in which he wrote, “One of the funniest first chapters I ever read.”

    In this case, a lot of the tone comes from the protagonist’s self-deprecating humor, which is in part a response to the grim stuff he sees as a newly-minted FBI special agent, and his own wonder at the way an openly gay accountant has ended up a crime-fighter.

  12. Hank is so right about the conditions under which we write that might be opposite to what we’re living. I was once sitting on my deck in the summer sun writing a scene set in winter, and I had a question for my police contact. I opened the email and stared with “Happy New Year”

    1. This is why I so often write about hot climates! Though in all seriousness my series set in Pennsylvania does have books that take place in winter. I have to make sure our air conditioning is set really low and do my best to remember what it was like to live with snow and ice.

      1. Most of In From The Cold takes place in New York, in winter, and a substantial portion of the book was written in Los Angeles which, winter or not, is pretty antithetical to Manhattan in December. Having lived in NYC for some time, and having regularly visited family there since infancy, it wasn’t too hard to conjure up the requisite memories. I did find digging into historical photo archives helpful, though- looking at old black and white pictures of the city (the novel is set in ’57-’58) actually helped me tap into a different reserve of vocabulary to describe both the city and the way the city feels in winter than what I might normally have reached for.

  13. Agreed,Vicki! When I was writing THE WRONG GIRL, it was dead summer–but in the book, it was a blizzard! I had to put a post it on my computer that said: IT’S COLD!

    Hey, dear Neil! And thank you! But you don’t think you can write about an unhappy person if you’re happy? (And Yes and No-that’s too funny.) (Maybe they have a sister May?)

    1. Hank’s question returns us to the issue of the writer’s mood when writing. I do choose the project to work on based on my emotional state– if I’m happy, or want to be happy, I’ll work on a romance. If I’m angry I’m more likely to work on a mystery and get all that angst out with the characters.

      And hey, I cheer up when I come to the end, no matter what kind of book I’m writing.

  14. Wow! We have quite a discussion this week. Tone, Mood, and Style are to some people confusing concepts easily interchangeable. They are however doorways for your readers to interpret your writing and how they feel while they are reading it. The tone of your characters or narrator can be the whole array of emotions and situations: serious, comical, cynical. Tone lends shape and life to a piece of literature because it creates a mood and provides insight on the personalities and dispositions of characters. In the hands of a good writer who changes, evolves, and mixes the tones throughout the story it can be magic.

  15. Neil talked about humour and I said the characters set the tone, not the author. I have an example of what I mean happening right now. My cozies are (I hope) funny. I’ve tried to go for the humour in the Year Round Christmas series and the forthcoming Sherlock Holmes Bookshop series . I am writing a proposal for a new cozy series and it’s turning out to be not at all funny. Maybe it will be okay as it is (I certainly hope so), but try as I might the characters and the setting are not giving me any laughs.

    1. That’s a really interesting point Vicki. Sure, the writer IS all the characters. But once they’re created, it certainly feels like they take on lives of their own. When I dreamed up Dominic and Jonathan, the two main protagonists in The Necessary Deaths, I never thought they would become as real to me as they have done.

      If you want them to live and react in a certain way, you have to invent a credible backstory for them.

      To get humour in your next piece, maybe you could ponder their backstories. Find out why they’re humourless, and change that aspect of their former lives. I’ve worked with an actor friend of mine on fleshing out characters before now. It’s incredibly helpful.

  16. What a great question. And…no easy answer is there? I think tone is individual to the story. An erotic fantasy would of course have different tone from a horror story. Right? But is that tone individual to the writer or the book? How often do we come across a writer attempting to jump genres who continues with their terse, laconic style when attempting to break into epic fantasy? It will take a huge effort to fill those five hundred to seven hundred pages with short sentences!
    Does the writer then limit themselves to a few genres or do they adjust their tone to the chosen genre?
    I think it depends on the ability of the writer to restrain themselves or let their words run amuck. The same as a Dressage rider controls every breath while a Cross Country rider goes all out, taking chance after chance after…hold on, let me grab my breath!

  17. HI again all… regarding the story..I’ve found no matter what outline or plan I use, the story often ends up a bit different from what I originally planned. It takes on a life of its own as do the characters; but the characters are reacting to the situations I put them in. But being the writer, I do control the tone to fit the story. It’s the setting, the description, the action-the essence of the story itself.

    1. Hey David…I AGREE. I outline so carefully, like with my current book. And I use about one half to two-thirds of it. As I write, the character feels like she wants to do something different. Yeah, I know I’m in charge. Yeah, I’m setting the tone…but I go with the flow and let something else happen. I think I get a better book that way.

  18. Outline? Outline? That’s got to be another whole discussion…and that one will go on forever.

    In wiring my new book, in which a good guy just turned into being a bad guy and how did that happen?–I’m just try to keep my brain in the world of the book. Contemporary procedural, for instance, or investigative thriller .There’s got to be suspense, and constant forward progress, and characters with secrets and important (to them, even) motives to keep them.

    I try not not let my personal feelings–I mean, how I’m feeling at the time I’m writing–completely out of the book. The book has take me away from me.

  19. Yes, outlines are an entire different matter..mine keep changing as I write and as the story takes on a life of its own. But the tone I do try and control through actions, scenes, and dialogue.

  20. I saw a note about outlines here. I wrote only one novel without an outline…and it took me friggin’ forever. Another book I did a bare-minimum outline…and it took a long time. I’ve learned–that for me–if I do a chapter-by-chapter outline, even if I deviate from it, I work faster.

    I set goals…one chapter a day. And if I’ve outlined that chapter, I am able to better push myself. This go-round I’m trying something a little different. I’m outlining on 3 x 5 cards sitting on the couch watching football games. I think my outline–one chapter per card front and back–is a little better than when I’m at the computer. I dunno. I’m gonna try it again and see if it still feels that way.

    This is a good discussion.

  21. Such interesting comments on the writer’s mood! Said after some scary days with a very sick kitten. Luckily, I’m in post-production now. Some catch-up: because I don’t outline, I can’t look ahead to anticipate writing sections that mirror my moods. And, after starting as a newspaper reporter out of college, I had to write on deadline for years. So, in fiction, I lean on the characters to set the mood for me, which may reflect my theater major and acting days. I’m am really character-driven. I bury myself inside them. They are waiting dormant in the wings for me and when I sit down to push them out on the stage again. (And every character from my 63 novels is like that too, characters from play scripts waiting to be dusted off again and enacted.) In fact, I plan to add new entries to some of my really old high fantasy and SF thrillers.

    With four main characters in the Midnight Louie series whose situations are always changing, I just have to start a “French scene”, a dialogue between two characters. Mine all have issues and are pursuing secret courses some of the others would be unhappy about, so when they start talking, I will spot threads of tension in the dialogue I can dial up to complicate the plot for a character not present, but who is due for screen time, or for one of the characters later.
    I write by starting with the “Three C’s”: concept (or genre), characters and conflict.
    Another aspect that makes it possible to avoid outlining, is that the conflicts were “baked in”–new trendy political phrase–from the beginning. Within the characters themselves as well–like an ex-priest who’s come to Vegas to hunt down his abusive stepfather…and then what?–as well as with others. There are also parallel detection plot lines among amateurs and pros that are always getting tangled.
    And there are always the first-furperson Midnight Louie narrations to stir the plot pot as well as for him to shake his head at “what fools these mortals be”. Not
    that he is a paragon himself. I use his bits to both reflect the current tone and expand on it and the plot, or to change it up with comic relief, or a poignant observation, or a ninja cat action scene. Think of tangling with a really mad 20-pound alley cat, all claws out.
    On outlining, I will outline ahead a bit if/when I hit the two-thirds mark and need the plot threads to settle down and come together.

  22. Great discussion, everyone. I am always amazed at how many different ways we writers go about our craft. I long ago learned that nothing is “wrong”.

  23. Vicki, that is so true. So many ways to get the book written and constantly explore different techniques. We writers duke it out alone on the keyboard and the pages, but we’re influenced by all we’ve read in our lives and every writing conversation we’ve had.

    Hank, the only thing I love more than when a character turns from “good” to “bad”, is when one turns from bad to good, or at least semi-decent, as happened in my last book. That becomes a lovely plot changer, maybe a lot more work, but with a much better outcome.

    What’s important to hang on to is to make each a new book a challenge in some way. I’m planning on blending two series and am assessing the great opportunities. . . and risks, for me and for the readers who might not welcome the change. Nowadays, we get much more direct reader feedback and that can be good and not-so-good.

    That’s where the writer retaining the tone, or various tones, the writer has made part of her/his voice helps bridge the gap. Great hearing from all of you. Lots to think about trying.

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