Sunday, September 23, 2018

Keeping the Excitement Alive by Brenda Chapman

Sept 24: CRAFT: Everything’s been done. And “they” say Shakespeare wrote every plot. How do you keep your stories new and original? What do you bring to them that makes them fresh?

I sometimes think it would have been easier to be a writer a few hundred years ago when books were not as numerous as they are now. Think of all the untold stories waiting to be penned! As for Shakespeare writing every plot, he actually took a lot of his plotlines from Holinshed's Chronicles, something I was surprised to learn when studying his work at Carleton University — but the trick was in putting his own stamp on the stories told before him. For me, this truly is the key to keeping stories fresh and original” bringing one’s own essence, perspective, imagination, language, humour, je ne said crois into the story-telling.

I’ve kept my writing fresh by writing for different audiences. I started with short crime fiction stories that were published in a few magazines and an anthology (When Boomers Go Bad) while also writing a YA series that turned into four books — the Jennifer Bannon mysteries. Then, I tried my hand at writing a standalone mystery, In Winter’s Grip, followed by an older teen coming of age novel, Second Chances. My readers were becoming confused but I was enjoying the challenges and keeping myself amused. Yet this isn't the best way to build an audience. I finally settled on writing the Stonechild and Rouleau police procedural series of seven books for Dundurn. To guarantee that boredom didn't have a chance to set in, however, I’ve also been writing a series of novellas for Grass Roots Press – a series featuring PI Anna Sweet who has an office with her partner Jada Price in Ottawa’s Hintonburg and solves murders all over the city.

So, for me, the first rule of keeping things fresh has been to write for different audiences and to continuously experiment.

I also believe that the more interesting people you spend time with and the more open you are to new experiences, the more you’ll bring to your writing. This includes reading widely, savoring new vocabulary and writing styles, and keeping an open mind about ideas even if they’re sometimes outside your wheelhouse or uncomfortable to contemplate. Every new experience and idea become part of the treasure trove that feeds into a writer’s work.

I’ve been reading crime fiction since I was a kid tucking into Enid Blyton’s The Famous Five and The Secret Seven books. I read crime fiction all through university and throughout my adult life, never tiring of the genre. Sure the basic story arc is the similar for crime fiction: murder/crime, clues, red herrings, suspense, another crime, big reveal, order restored, but the characters and their interactions always change, the settings can be familiar or exotic, the writing style is personal to the author, the social content is a reflection of the time. I think it would be difficult not to be original!

Over the years, I’ve written in both first and third person and made up fictional towns as well as used real locations. I’ve set my books in each of the four seasons, had killers and victims in both genders and employed a variety of murder weapons. As my two current series wrap up, I’m already contemplating my next writing adventure. Thriller? Standalone? Series? Short story? The creative possibilities really are endless ….


Facebook: BrendaChapmanAuthor


Dietrich Kalteis said...

I agree the trick is putting your own stamp on stories and to keep trying something new.

Susan C Shea said...

Sometimes, it feels as though we writers are dancing on hot coals: "Keep moving!"

7 Criminal Minds said...

We need a like button for comments - thanks Dietrich and Susan!

catriona said...

How did you do that frame-breaking thing with the book jacket? I'm very impressed. I don't know if it was an intertextual reference to freshness or not, but I couldn't have done it. And I agree about wishing we were in earlier times. One of the reasons I loved linguistics was that no one really knew much about how the infant brain acquires language or how adults comprehend it. It was like being a biologist back when you could just draw a picture of someone's insides full of little men and say "prove otherwise".

7 Criminal Minds said...

Hi Catriona - I believe the publisher sent that book jacket to me, but it was a long time ago so not sure how they did it. Earlier times had a lot going for them :-)