This week, it’s my pleasure to host author, Laura Elvebak.
Laura studied writing at UCLA, USC, Rice University, and Beyond Baroque in Venice, California. After taking a directing class in Houston, she co-wrote, directed and acted in a one-act play. She optioned three screenplays to a local production company, and co-wrote a script for the 48 Hour Film Project.
She is the author of the Niki Alexander mysteries, Less Dead, Lost Witness and A Matter of Revenge. Niki Alexander is an ex-cop turned counselor for a teen shelter. Her standalone, The Flawed Dance, takes place in Philadelphia in the late sixties, about a young woman fleeing from an abusive lover and hides in the demimonde world of go-go bars and mobsters. Laura is a member of Mystery Writers of America, Sisters-In-Crime, The International Thriller Writers, and The Final Twist Writers and has a presence on Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Good Reads, and Amazon Author Central.
How Emotion Can Improve Your Book
One of my favorite TV shows is The Voice. I’ve watched every season since the beginning. I used to get so frustrated when the singer I thought was the most talented didn’t win. After last season, I tried to think of a reason why that particular contestant winner was chosen and not my first choice.
The answer finally came to me. The audience and the voters at home responded to the contestant’s story, not the range and quality of his voice, although that is important. But it is the performer who leaves his audience with goosebumps and tears who wins in the end.
This is true of any creative work whether it be a song, a movie, or a painting. It certainly applies to books. What stories do you remember long after you’ve read them? What made them a classic or a best seller? They had to touch your heart.
The trick now is to discover how to make your books memorable. I always look at the characters. What makes them stand out? He could be courageous in spite of a physical or mental deformity. She could be tenacious despite tremendous obstacles. He could be willing to lose his life to save someone else. We respond to a great love story, or a major sacrifice, or winning despite all odds. But only if we care about the people.
I write the Niki Alexander mysteries. People argue about what is more important, the characters or the plot. It think it’s both, but the scale leans toward the characters. To me, they drive the plot by setting a goal worth risking their life to reach. I want to know why they choose to go down certain roads and what they will do when the road is blocked. What spurs them into action? In other words, what motivates them? You want your readers to care if your protagonist completes his journey. To accomplish this, the author must care.
Through three books in the series, Niki Alexander has become as familiar to me as my alter ego. I know her that well. However, before I wrote the first words, I needed to know who she was. That doesn’t mean I listed every nuance in voice, walk, what she ate for breakfast, what color were her eyes and hair, etc. These are important to note at some time, so her description doesn’t deviate from book to book, but can be written down in a notebook as necessary.
What I need to know is how they were raised. In a loving home or brought up in foster care? What values do they live by? Are they religious or an atheist? What wounds and secrets formed or changed their lives? What’s the darkest part of them they won’t reveal to anyone? What do they fear the most? What do they think of themselves? What do others think about them?
Some of these characteristics I won’t know at first until they reveal themselves to me by their actions, reactions, and decisions. One thing I do is have my main character write about herself in her own words. I want to be in her skin, to feel what she is feeling, react as she would. If the writer feels the emotion, so will the reader.
I do the same with my antagonists and victims. They had a life. They loved, hated, believed in something so important to them that they fought or died for it. This is the emotional engine that propels the plot.
Here is an excerpt from, A Matter of Revenge:
In the evening haze under a full moon, the pink house in River Oaks, Houston’s wealthiest neighborhood, loomed like a castle among the massive oaks. Bushes shaped like gargoyles lined the stairs leading to the burgundy double doors. Eleven-year-old Jayme Rockland had once seen gargoyles in a scary movie. She was sure the monsters were snarling at her as she inched forward. Better not to look at them. Curtis Ray might read her fear and send her away.
He gave a nervous cough, and then covered it by scowling at the house. She knew him well enough to know he’d rather die than show fear. He told everyone he was thirteen, but she knew better. He’d been only one grade ahead of her, not two, when his folks died and he got sent away. But she let him say whatever. Friends stuck together no matter what.
“This be the right place,” he announced in a low tone.
She glanced at him, catching the slight tremor in his voice. Who was he trying to convince? For the first time since they’d left the streets of Montrose, doubt crept in like the ugly cockroaches in Granny’s house. Her mom once said fear was as contagious as the flu. Now she knew what that meant. What if they were on the wrong street? What if someone waited for them on the other side of the door?
“Why you whispering?” Her voice quivered. “You said nobody would be home.” To hide the itch of fear crawling on her skin, she laughed. Didn’t help. She stared at the house and sucked in air. “You sure he’s gone?”
“He’s supposed to be out of town.” He didn’t sound so sure.
“Yeah, well, you know supposing don’t mean nothing.” She picked up a stone from the ground and tossed it into the grass.
“Owner’s ain’t here,” he said in a firm voice. “Nobody’s here. What’s the matter? You scared?”
“Not.” She imagined the castle’s ghosts peering at her from the windows. “Just saying.”
“Come on, we’re going around back. Hurry.”
She skipped to catch up. “You sure you know what you’re doing?”
“Yeah, now stop asking stupid questions.”
She followed him around the side of the house and through an unlocked iron gate. Her eyes widened when a gigantic pool came into sight. Holy crap! And a tennis court? Their home town could fit in this man’s backyard. She reached into her pocket and took out the cell phone Curtis Ray had given her and pressed the camera app. Pointed, focused and clicked.
He jerked his head toward the sound, yanked her hand down, and snapped her out of her stardust moment. “Not yet,” he whispered.
He led her to a small tool shed by the main house and opened the door. She peered in and recoiled at the darkness, the smell of gasoline and pesticides. Dirt scattered the floor. She imagined creatures, hidden in the corner, waiting to pounce. Rats, maybe. Spiders or snakes, even. She wanted to stay outside, but if he could pretend to be unafraid, so could she.
He took a pen light from his pocket and shined the light around the room. He aimed at a flower pot in the corner. Kneeling next to it, he put his hand inside. He closed his eyes.
What was he doing? She listened for sounds, the scratching of animals or the buzz of insects, but all remained quiet. She turned her attention back to Curtis Ray and watched him pull his hand out of the pot. Empty. He dipped into a second pot next to it. This time he came up with a piece of paper wrapped around a key. He tucked it in his pocket, stood, and turned off the pen light. He motioned to the door and they stepped out under the dwindling light of a darkening blue-gray sky.
He acted like she wasn’t there. She had to quicken her steps to keep up with him. To her surprise, they arrived at the back door. The key fit into the lock and the door opened.
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