Dennis Coslett

I am a writer and novelist. Welcome to my blog and website. Here, you can learn what is going on in my life and in my writing career.

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Thursday, July 20, 2017

She caught sight of herself in a (suspiciously convenient) mirror . . .

Today, I want to write about what I consider one of the biggest cliches in fiction: the heroine (or possibly hero,but I'm going to use one pronoun for the sake of consistency) catches sight of herself in a mirror, revealing her white-blonde hair, delft-blue eyes, and large chest.

Really?

The average home does not have so many mirrors that the heroine should be accidentally seeing herself in one. She might have one in her bedroom, and almost certainly has one in her bathroom, but that should be it. Where are these mirrors she's catching sight of herself in?

And a place of business should have even fewer mirrors. Some bars have them, some stores, maybe locker rooms and public bathrooms. But, frankly, there just aren't that many opportunities to catch sight of yourself in a mirror as you go about your daily life, especially by accident, as the commonly used phrasing of this cliche suggests.

Yes, I get  it: the writer wants us to know what his heroine looks like, and knows that it is rather awkward to interrupt the action and just shoehorn a description in, especially in a first-person manuscript, where the heroine simply wouldn't talk about herself that way.

So, the writer falls back on the cliche of the heroine just catching sight of herself in a conveniently placed mirror.

Your heroine can stay away from mirrors. There are ways to deal with this issue of describing a character's looks without relying on the mirror cliche.

First, she can deliberately seek out the mirror, and spend some time primping and preening, admiring her eyes, hair, and figure. This works if you want to portray her as vain, even narcisisstic, about her looks, but might not otherwise.

Another way to describe her is by writing a plot-relevant scene in which the heroine describes herself to someone else. For example, suppose our heroine is a private investigator, who is trying to meet a witness so she can interview him and find out what he knows about her case. She might be trying to arrange to meet him at a bar or a restaurant. He wants to know who to look for. She could reply, "I'm five-seven. I have white-blonde hair, blue eyes, and, um, rather a curvy figure."

Another way to describe your heroine is to break her description up throughout the manuscript and make it related to the character's thoughts.

For example: She put on her favorite blouse and best suit, thinking as she did about how hard it was to find clothes that fit her big breasts and hour-glass hips without modification. She'd learned at an early age how to sew and tailor her clothes to make them fit her figure. She just wished she didn't have to do the same thing every time she bought a blouse.

Then, later in the book, you might write: She put a hat on. She had to wear a hat more or less everywhere she went. Her white-blonde hair could be a problem, as it was rather easily noticeable. Her blue eyes weren't such a problem, but her hair was so distinctive that she'd given thought to dying it dark brown no more than one occasion.

Another way to get the description into the story, one that  would work especially well in first-person, but is still good in third-person, would be to have another character describe your heroine.

For example, she meets a witness, who is a young man. He mgiht smile or leer and say, "Do all private detectives have such wonderful hair and eyes, and such beautiful boobs?"

Now, the heroine can tell the reader that she has blue eyes and white-blond hair and an ample chest without the information seeming to come from out of nowhere. This also has the advantage of helping to establish some of the character traits of the witness.

Or, you could simply not worry about describing your heroine. The reader will provide his own mental image of her as he goes, and might even be put out if your description does not agree with his.

One caveat is to not wait too long to describe your characters, especially the main characters. I once read more than 100 pages of a horror novel before learning that one of the main characters was a blonde. I had been imagining a brunette, and now, suddenly, I had to change my mental image of the character. If your heroine is blonde, whether my  white-blonde example or a more common strawberry blonde, or if she is a redhead, tell us sooner rather than later. Just don't do it in an unnatural way.

There you have it: ways to describe your character without having to rely on one of the biggest cliches there is.

11:36 am cdt          Comments

Sunday, April 16, 2017

Seeing it through your eyes ... or mine ... or his and hers

I thought I'd say a few words about point of view.

One of the most important decisions a writer can make is deciding what point of view to tell a story in. As a quick reminder, there are three widely recognized points of view. They are:

First person -- I did this

Second Person -- You did this

Third person -- He or she did this

I will repeat what I said earlier: one of the most important decisions a writer can make is the selection of the proper point of view for a story.

Some writers are very good at first person. Lawrence Block, for example, has written a great many novels in first person, and I am happy to read any one of them.

Sometimes, the decision will be made for you. Private eye fiction, for example, is predominantly, alhtough not exclusively, written in first person. A sprawling, multi-generational story will almost certainly require third person.iha

I have told stories from both first and third person points of view. Taylor Made, False Witness, and The Body of the Crime, are all first person. Jane Doe, Striking Out, Dad's Legacy, Homecoming, and Trophies are all third person. Jane Doe and Striking Out are from mulitple points view, the others are from a more limited point of view, that of one character.

And sometimes a story won't work in a certain point of view. For example, I have read several first-person stories in which the protagonist is killed at the end of the story, or, more accurately, is in a situation in which death is inevitable. I personally don't think this works. First person implies that the hero of the story survived and is telling you about something that happened to them some time ago, some days or weeks or months or years in the past.

So, when I read a first person story where the hero/heroine dies, I think, "How are you telling me this when you are dead?"

I say this because of my own experiences writing Designated Angel. The earliest version of the story was in third person, and I thought it went nowhere. I simply didn't like what I had.

Then one day, I thought, why not  change to first person? So I did, rewriting the entire manuscript that I had from the point of view of my hero. I could do this because I didn't feel the need to tell the story from any other point of view. That, and the decision to combine two stories into one, allowed me to come up with a story I am happy with.

So, what is the takeway? If you are not satisfied with a story, one of the ways you can attempt to salvage it is to at least consider changing yourpoint of view.

3:56 pm cdt          Comments

Sunday, April 2, 2017

Two into one

I recently finished the first draft of a new story, Designated Angel. I like this story enough that I will more than likely try to submit this story to one or more of the major magazines before I think about independent publication. I would like to see this story get wider circulation, and it would help me to build my following if I have publication in a major mystery magazine in my resume.

The process of writing Designated Angel also allows me to talk about an aspect of writing that played an important part in getting this story finished, and that is the willingness and ability to combine two stories into one.

Designated Angel started out as an outline for a story called Guardian Angel. I put a little work in on the story, but didn't do much with it becasue it simply didn't work. According to the outline, a character had to commit a nasty deed, but there as absolutely no reason for her to do so, except possibly misogyny. So I put the story aside after writing only a few pages.

In my notes, I had a story idea in which a cop helps a former Marine to get even with the man who killed someone close to him. The law couldn't touch this killer, and the cop and the Marine both knew it, so the cop gives the Marine the information he would need to take care of the perp himself.

The problem with this story is that it wasn't really a complete story, just an idea for an incident. I read it over, realized this, then thought, "It would make a good ending for Guardian Angel, if I change the actions of one main female character.

It did so. I outlined the combined story, using the original story as the basis for most of the new verison, changing the actions of the one character -- which, among other things, made a great deal more sense -- and using the second idea as the ending. This gave me a complete story that is better than the original story, and uses an idea that I would never have written otherwise.

The rest was relatively easy. I knew where I wanted the story to go, and all I had to do was write it. Now, the first draft is finished and I'm going to let it sit for a few days while I work on other things.

The lesson from this, I think is, even if a story idea of yours isn't workable, don't be afraid to combine it with other ideas and stories, and make whatever changes are necessary. The result might be something good.

2:54 pm cdt          Comments

Saturday, March 18, 2017

Too Long

So much for my resolve to post more often. I knew I had gone a while without posting, but I didn't realize I had gone this long.

I am still working on Old Wounds, and a short story, the original Guardian Angel, now re-titled Designated Angel. I am also doing the test scoring gig that I have done each of the last several summers. I am trying to fit my writing work in and around that schedule. I am also still investigating the possibility of creating a Patreon page.

Unfortunately, it has been difficult to find the motivation to get much done. My mother, who seemed to be in good health, died suddenly almost a month ago at age 86, and I am still adjusting to the realities of her being gone.

Among other things, I have to keep an eye on my father, widowed at 87 after more than 59 years of marriage, and I have new responsibilities around the house.

To sum it all up: I am trying to keep writing, but it is slow going.

1:01 pm cdt          Comments

Sunday, January 22, 2017

Still hard at work

This week I shall continue with the revision of Old Wounds. I read through it already, and now I plan to read through it again, making notes as I go, and incorporating my sublplot. I also want to extract character names and descriptions so that I can make character sketches, as characterization is something I am always weak in.

The problem is one of length. I have 33000 words, which is nowhere near enough for a novel. I need 50000 - 55000, which is still short for a novel, but I think the PI genre can get away with it, as some of the classic books of the genre are not doorstoppers.

Adding the subplot should give me 5000 - 7000 words, but I will still need to expand the novel to the proper length without padding it out. If I have to, I will go chapter by chapter, adding description, characterization, and the necessary depth a  novel demands.

And as if that's not enough, I also have at least four short stories in the works. I can't seem to commit to any one. I bounce back and forth from one to the other without pulling the trigger on any of them. I want to put out quality work, and am making an effort to do better, which means taking the time to do things right.

However, I also want to get things done and published, and the slow deliberate approach makes this difficult.

I may have to work on one project at a time until it is finished, from first draft to publishing, then move on to the next. That way, I could get things finished and published and continue building my audience and you, dear reader, would have the pleasure of buying and reading my latest story or novel in a much more timely fashion.

But, as I have said before many times, at least I have plenty to work on. I'd rather have too many ideas than not enough.

5:35 pm cst          Comments

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About me: I have been writing since the early 1980s, ever since discovering a passion for writing during my senior year in High School. My completed writings include novels, short stories, and newspaper articles. I have completed four novels in that time, and have partially completed two others. I have had little success in finding an agent or a publisher for any of my novels, and have recently taken my efforts online. During the years that I have been writing, I have also served my country as a member of the United States Army's Judge Advocate General's Corps. In the last five years, I have been deployed to Army bases in Iraq, Kansas, and Virginia.

Look for my novel Taylor Made, available from Amazon.com and BarnesandNoble.com. taylor_made_banner.jpg