Creating Characters: Their Actions Drive the Plot!

April 25, 2013 by · Leave a Comment 

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IMG_4304Next time you look at a row of books on a shelf, think of how the authors of these novels had to figure out what was going to happen in these stories to keep you turning the pages—in other words:  the plot.

When I was in the process of planning out my next novel, That Summer in Cornwall, which is a stand-alone sequel to A Cottage by the Sea (a book I’d written a decade before), I remembered the words of a very experienced storyteller that once said, “What do your characters want, and what are they willing to do to get it?”photo-7

After going the distance on six 100,000-word-plus novels, I finally get it:  doing something to get what a person wants implies action…and action and conflict are elements that drive a plot.

It’s not that complicated, when you think about it, but figuring out what “they” are willing to do to get what they want requires imagination, for we all know that people will do all sorts of things—either admirable or despicable–to get what they want.  It’s the author’s job to figure what a character would do, depending on—well—their character…what sorts of folks they are.  (We can take up the all-important “biographical sketch” many authors write, early on, in another blog post here…)

Image-20-199x300Meredith Champlin, the heroine in blue jeans and Wellington boots, basically wants to re-boot her life. With her service dog, Holly, trotting at her side, she escapes a dead-end relationship with a charming but alcoholic rodeo rider, along with her grueling job as a pediatric emergency room nurse at a children’s hospital in Wyoming to spend a few months at the “Money Pit” belonging to her cousin who has married an impecunious British landowner with a castle and an estate that is reeling from the current economic crisis.Finding-the-Right-Dog-Obedience-2

 

 

 

 

Added to that, Meredith, who ran a pet therapy program at her hospital, wants to help raise much needed cash by founding the Barton Hall Canine Obedience Academy, to say nothing of trying to turn her computer-addicted, eleven-year-old “Beverly Hills Brat” legal ward–whose mother has just died in a plane crash–into a decent human being.

And what does the hero want?

13980_10151339222221781_863939389_nSimple.  To be left in peace–far from the woman who betrayed him before he departed for Afghanistan as a member of the Royal Army’s bomb squadron—and to avoid his mother who lives in a Cornish village near the castle, a woman who virtually abandoned him and his two brothers when they were young.  Now a newly-minted veterinarian and large farm animal manager, the only living creature he likes and trusts besides his employers is his Border Collie, T-Rex, who is his partner on the local Cornwall Search and Rescue Team.Image 8

And what do the canines want?  To stay as close together as possible, which is how the two protagonists in That Summer in Cornwall meet in the first place!

See how this works?  Ask what the main characters seek, and the rest practically takes care of itself!

Ciji at work in Portofino Office 4-07

 

The hard part, of course, comes when the author has to start typing….

 

Rescue Dogs and the Making of a Subplot

February 13, 2013 by · Leave a Comment 

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Image 14Like many millions on our planet, I love animals and have had a cat or a dog in my world virtually all my life.   My current pooches, seen here around Christmastime, are two Cavalier King Charles Spaniels: Ensign Aubrey and Charlock (a.k.a Cholly Knickerbocker).  They prove to me each day that dogs teach us our best lessons about noble behavior and unconditional love.9-11RobCimaHarley9-14-01

Around the time I was noodling about the plot for my stand-alone contemporary sequel to  the “time-slip” novel I wrote nearly fifteen years ago, A Cottage by the Sea–Hurricane Issac was bearing down on the Gulf Coast.  One day last August, I did an Internet search to see if an amazing group based in Ojai near Santa Barbara called the Search Dog Foundation would be sending dog/handler teams as first responders, an assignment they have shouldered for many of the cataclysmic events this past decade: 9/11; the Oklahoma City bombing; hurricanes Katrina, Sandy, and the earthquake in Haiti, and even traveling as far as Japan after the earthquake and tsunami in 2011.

WilmaTeams11-09EliotCrowleyI began to drill down deeper on their amazing website and learned more about their fantastic work of rescuing dogs languishing in shelters (where many unadopted animals, sadly, are ultimately put to death) and then training these lucky canines survivors to be part of search-and-rescue teams all over the United States.  The Search Dog Foundation, the brain child of the amazing Wilma Melville (on left, red jacket), is in the process of building a $14 million dollar K9 training “ranch” where firefighters and police officers are brought together with their newly-graduated “partners.”  As I gazed at their intriguing picture gallery on the site—I had a major epiphany!Image 15

The new book would return to central Cornwall where a craggy, windswept coastline, woods and moors often lured “day trippers” to this glorious part of Britain into dangerous situations requiring all out search and rescue efforts.  Did first responders in the UK use dogs on their search-and-rescue teams, I wondered?

Image 12On my first Google look-see, up popped all volunteer “Cornwall Search and Rescue Team”—and the stellar men and women who employ air-scenting dogs to help find missing persons who may have fallen off a cliff or down one of the many abandoned tin or copper mines in the area, or have wandered into trouble on the rough terrain of the many moors.

As I dug further into this subject, a sub-plot unfolded effortlessly:  that of stories about these wonderful people who bring others to safety in cooperation with official “rescue” organizations and institutions such as the Royal Air Force, H.M. Coastguard, and the local constabularies of Devon and Cornwall that coordinate both military and civilian enterprises engaged in search-and-rescue work.  Hey, even Prince William is a part of this world!Image 13

And then another brainwave!  Why couldn’t the hero be a veteran in the dog bomb-sniffing squad, late of the British forces in Afghanistan?  I remembered seeing an image of a TDH (tall, dark and handsome) fellow in a Ralph Lauren ad who was the perfect “model” for Sebastian Pryce, a mysterious figure that returns to Cornwall with a newly-trained search dog—and some secrets of his own.1004_MBlackL_LP_EN-FR-02

He suddenly appears at Barton Hall, a shabby-chic castle on a remote cliff near the village of Mevagissey, with the novice T-Rex, a Border Collie who very inappropriately attempts to have his way with a female dog on the estate belonging to an American woman who just stepped out of a battered Land Rover!

Image 18Suddenly the “search dog subplot” became key to the entire novel, That Summer in Cornwall about this same American who is stunned to learn that she is now the legal guardian of a child she’s never met.  At the urging of the child’s Anglo-American aunt (Lady Blythe Barton-Teague, heroine of the first novel), Meredith Champlin and her eleven-year-old “Beverly Hills Brat” decamp for Cornwall for the summer and—IMG_6723

Are you surprised I felt the need to return to the enchanting land of my Ware ancestors to refresh the research?  The workings of a novelist’s mind are mysterious, indeed…