Friday, September 27, 2013

Friday's How He Does it with Richard Brawer

Janet asked interesting questions about character development and plot development. Here are my answers using my novel The Nano Experiment as an example.

How do you create your characters? Do your characters come before the plot?

My characters come with my plots. I need a story first before I can think about creating characters.

The Nano Experiment was developed from a screen play my daughter wrote. Her plot was about a wrongly convicted man who escapes death row and battles to prove his innocence. Despite being a lawyer in the entertainment business, she could not find a production company to produce her movie. I said, “Let me write it as a book with a female lead because most movies have a male lead with a woman backup yet many woman actors are looking for a good leading role.

Now I had a plot and a protagonist which leads me to Janet’s next questions.

Do you know how the story will end in a general or a specific way?  Do you sketch your plot or do you let the characters develop the route to the end?

There are no direct answers to these questions. Yes, before I begin writing I have to know how the story will end. I need a target to write toward. However, writing is not a tutorial. There is no step one, step two etc.

The more I read the script, the more I realized my daughter’s ending would not work with the type of endings I liked for my novels. My endings are satisfying for the reader, but they are not Cinderella endings.

I cannot tell you the ending because it will ruin the story. However, I can tell you what one reviewer said. “The resolution is realistic, with even the winner paying a heavy price for struggling.”

 At this point I discarded the script and began to develop my own story.

To create my ending I had to create a story line. While I am creating a story line I am also creating the secondary characters. I had the basic ending. I wanted my character, whom I named Eileen, exonerated. But how did I get there? I began asking questions.

How did Eileen get on death row in the first place?
How did she escape from death row?
Where did she go after her escape?
Who would be chasing her?
How did she prove she was innocent of first degree murder?
And the most important question; What are Eileen’s CONFLICTS?

There can be no story without a conflicted main character. The anticipation as to how Eileen will resolve her conflicts is what keeps the reader turning the pages. In addition, the more the conflicts and how Eileen gets out of them, the more depth she will have.

The outward conflict is obvious. Eileen must prove her innocence. However, it is inner conflicts that I feel will be the most interesting to the reader. Creating the first inner conflict led me to the answer to the first question and a dynamic opening chapter.

Here is a synopsis of the first chapter:

At fifteen, Eileen Robinson lives in an ideal, middle class African-American family in Houston, Texas.  When her father is murdered, an innocent victim in a drive by shooting, her sheltered life spirals downward into gloom.  Her once stay-at-home mother is forced to go to work cleaning offices at night.  Instead of enjoying her carefree teenage years hanging with her friends, Eileen is relegated to babysitting her two younger sisters. One night she sneaks out on them. Trying to cook something, they die in a fire.  Tormented and wanting to kill herself, Eileen runs away from home.  Befriended by a drug dealer, she moves in with him.  At twenty-one she is a single mother of two.

The last sentence in the first chapter is: Thomas was a good man. I couldn’t understand why the Lord had let my life turn out so well, until they sent Thomas to prison for twenty-five years.

Eileen is now set up for her destruction. Chapters 2,3 and 4 send Eileen to the execution chamber where at age 32 she is executed. Or is she?

Where Eileen went after her escape is why the book is titled The Nano Experiment. Needless to say the experiment, which is actually a nanomedicine experiment, is an important part of the story. It leads to the answers to the other questions and also embroils her in her second inner conflict.

(Note: You may at this point wonder if you can follow a detail like nanomedicine. This review tells me I made it interesting and easy for a layperson to understand. “The author’s inclusion of the concept of nanomedicine in the plot is articulate and intriguing.”)

One major factor missing from my daughter’s script was a “love” interest. It is very rare that books or movies only have one gender in the story. While Eileen is involved in the nanomedicine experiment she meets a charming young man who is a serial killer. She knows he is a serial killer but she still starts an affair with him because she feels she is also a killer―her sisters’ deaths.  How she gets out of the affair and finally resolves her issue with her sisters’ deaths is part of the ending.

So now I have my ending and my main characters and a brief outline to my story from the answers to my questions. However, that is the only outlining I do. I do not want to bog myself down with a strict sequence of events. Twists and turns I didn’t think about will arise as Eileen moves toward her goal of exoneration.

Those unexpected scenes also help me add additional depth to both Eileen and the supporting characters which I guess I achieved because another reviewer said, “Don't go in expecting to have stereotypes filled, because that is the one thing you won't experience…The characters are uncomfortably realistic.”

I believe they are realistic because of the CONFLICTS I created for them.

Do you choose settings you know or do you have books of settings and plans of houses sitting around?

I don’t “have books of settings.” I am personally familiar with the major settings for my novels although some research is needed when I take my characters to an unfamiliar place. The travel sections of newspapers are great sources to learn about unfamiliar settings. Also area specific maps can helped me move the character around.

Where do you do your research? On line or from books?

My research for The Nano Experiment was done online. Eileen is incarcerated in Texas. I had to research Texas’ prison system, death row and lethal injection.

My daughter had her character uncover the DNA that set him free. I thought, that was so droll. Every crime story on TV was using DNA and so are many books. I was searching for something different as well as educational to the reader. Just because this story was a thriller didn’t mean it couldn’t be educational too.

When I read an article in the newspaper about nanomedicine, I thought what a great idea. However, the article was very general and I am not a doctor so I had to do extensive research. Everything I needed was on the internet.

Also there are many internet writing groups that can help with research. For example, I belong to a Yahoo group, crime scene writers (there are no spaces between words if you are searching Yahoo for this group) where you can ask experts on crime scenes, police procedure etc. There are many other groups on Yahoo and Goodreads that can help with research. And of course there are the search engines, Google, Ask, Bing etc.

Are you a draft writer or do you revise as you go along and why?

I am a draft writer. I try to get the story on paper as fast as possible because the story is running around in my head and I want to get it out as quickly. I say paper because I write long hand then type into my computer. Transposing from paper to print is my first edit. Then I print out the book and continue my rewrites.

I hope my experiences have helped you in your writing. To read the book jacket, excerpts and full reviews of The Nano Experiment and all my novels please visit my website:

Richard Brawer writes mysteries, historical fiction and suspense novels. He lives in New Jersey with his wife, Ruth, and has two daughters and two granddaughters.

Note: The Nano Experiment was originally published as Beyond Guilty by a wonderful mid-size independent press, L & L Dreamspell. Sadly one of the partners passed away and the other could not continue without her life-long friend. She closed the publisher returning the rights to their authors. This was sorrowful news for L & L Dreamspell’s 100 authors because the ladies that ran the publisher were wonderful people and highly professional. Thus Beyond Guilty was no longer available in any format.

For some strange reason Amazon never takes a book off its website regardless of whether the book is out of print or the publisher is out of business. To avoid confusion when searching Amazon for my books and finding that Beyond Guilty is no longer available to purchase, I changed the title and cover to The Nano Experiment.

The Nano Experiment is available for 99 cents on KINDLE and any e-reader, Computer, Apple or Android device that has a KINDLE APP, or any TABLET that can access KINDLE books for 99 cents. Here is the link.



1 comment:

Sandy said...

Richard, I think your post is very helpful. I don't like to lock myself in with my characters journey either.

It sounds like a great story.