Friday, April 28, 2017

How Many Characters Are Too Many?


Will using too many make readers lose interest?

Some critics complained that my first novel had too many characters. Even a good friend, who loved the story, told me she had to take character notes as she was reading to keep all of them straight. So when I wrote my next book, I used a lot fewer characters to make sure that particular complaint wouldn’t happen again. Guess what? There were reviewers who said even that book had too many. Every reader has his own tolerance level.
How important is it for authors to worry about having too many characters?
I write and read suspense. As a reader, I have to agree that sometimes the use of large numbers of characters gets confusing. But it’s  hard to write good suspense or a good thriller with just a few characters. Remember The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo trilogy? Yikes! If there were ever books requiring the reader to take notes, those were the ones. A few of the names were even spelled very similarly. And that series was on the NYT bestseller list for years.
            So what makes a tolerable character list for readers? And why will readers accept dozens from some authors yet complain about too many from authors with 10 or twelve? Readers—we want to hear from you!
            Here are some ways to keep your reader abreast of your characters:
1.     Do keep characters’ names different. Avoid names that sound alike, look alike or even begin with the same letter.
2.     If possible, introduce characters one at a time, with scenes in between the introductions. There’s nothing harder to follow than getting hit with an entire team of law personnel, for example, at the same time.
3.     Try not to switch points-of-view within a scene. This is a basic “rule” of writing style, however, I’ve seen some famous writers breaking it when doing dialogue between two main characters. Unless you’re in their league, stay away from it. It’s difficult to do it effectively without confusing the reader.
4.     Find creative ways to remind the reader of who a character is and how he fits into the story when he hasn’t been mentioned for a while. Keep in mind every reader won’t be reading the book straight through and will need to have his or her memory refreshed.
5.     Always be sure each character is necessary to your story. Characters, like words, need to be cut if not relevant to the plot line.

Dear Readers,
I hope you are enjoying our early spring. The ice went out early here in NW Wisconsin and the temperature has been above normal. The boats are out on the lake, the trees are budding, and the eagles are circling. Summer will be here soon.
For the last three months I’ve been recovering from hip surgery and have been doing a lot of reading, which has inspired me to repeat this blog on numbers of characters in a book, so my apologies to anyone who remembers it. But, of course, most valuable advice bears repeating.
Have a wonderful week,

Wednesday, March 1, 2017



March is the month of four-leaf clovers, little green leprechauns, green beer, and the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow. We are all Irish on St. Patrick’s Day, and we all hope to be showered with that famous luck of the Irish.
         The word luck, beaten and bastardized, gets tossed around like a day-old doughnut whenever Indie authors discuss success (or lack thereof) of their book sales.
         The first time I ran a KDP free book promotion, and placed my suspense eBook, She’s Not There, free on, I only had 8,202 downloads at the end of my two days. This result was disappointing compared to those of an friend, who had 26,000 for her book using the same promotion.
When I asked her about it, she said that her success was a matter of luck, due the fact that a popular eBook site noticed her promotion and highlighted it for their readers. I know firsthand that her success is not all due to luck. She is a devoted marketer and spends every available moment working to maintain her books’ sales momentum. Me, I’m addicted to things like playing bridge, reading, and watching soap operas; my marketing ethic is not nearly as fierce!
         Here is a universal truth:
Luck is more likely to happen to those who go after it.
No one wants to hear that. We would all prefer to cling to magical thinking: I’ll get rich when I win the lottery, the perfect man will come knocking at my door, a stroke of fate will send my book sales through the roof.
         It ain’t gonna happen!

Secrets of Lucky People

1.    They believe they will be successful. Research shows that if you believer you’ll succeed, your odds of hitting a lucky streak go up. There is no magic involved—expectancy is a real driver of results. Expecting something as opposed to wanting or hoping for it, will affect your decision–making and you’ll put in more of an effort than you normally would have. Find ways to stay positive and expect success—it works!

2.    They Notice What Others Miss.
a.    Lucky people are more open to random opportunities. They notice chance situations and act on them. They are flexible in their thinking, and it’s that relaxed, open attitude that allows them to see what others don’t.
b.    Keep your eyes open for opportunities—they’re out there!

3.    They Say “Yes”
a.    Lucky people do not remain passive. Instead, they seize opportunities as they come without endless second-guessing.
b.    When chance encounters occur, don’t over-think them, act on them!

4.    They Switch Things Up
a.     Lucky people increase their chances of getting opportunities by meeting new people and trying new things. Luck won’t come looking for you or call you on your Smartphone.
b.    The more you put yourself out there, and try new things, the more likely it is you will find luck.

5.    They Practice Bouncing Back 
a.     Lucky people don’t let one failure sidetrack their road to success. When you let a bad break get you down, you close the door on new situations that could lead to a lucky break. Closely linked to the first trait, expecting the best, bouncing back means you will have a greater chance of success with each failure, because you’ll be trying more often.
b.    Regard every bad break as an opportunity to find the right course for you!

Dear Readers,
         So many of us, myself included, wait for that magical break that will mean success for our writing. But magical thinking delays success. Practice these habits of lucky people and reap the rewards.
Happy St. Patrick’s Day,
Note: I seldom repeat a blog, but this one on luck has been so popular that I repeat it every March when everyone's thinking bout the luck of the Irish.

Sunday, January 22, 2017

Don't Turn Out the Lights - A review

When I was working on my first novel, one of my earliest bits of writing advice was never kill off or injure a pet because most people were pet lovers and doing so would put them off.

This advice came back to me in the very opening pages of Don’t Turn Out the Lights.

The prologue, which the author termed an Overture, was such an extreme example of this, that the scene haunted me for days. A man out in a severe snowstorm, aided by his devoted dog, comes across a cabin where (an extremely gory scene) he finds a mutilated woman’s body, still warm. He decides he has to take her corpse to his car and leaves the cabin with her body. Back in the storm he discovers that a pack of wolves are waiting to devour him. He believes that the only way to make it to the car with the body, is to sacrifice his dog to the wolves and he commands the dog to attack the wolf pack. If that isn’t bad enough, the author describes the sounds.

I would have stopped reading right then, but the author quickly covered up the scene by telling the reader it was a dream. Too late. The disgust was already stuck in my mind.

After that opening, the book became quite interesting, so I kept reading, foolishly, as it turned out. In a later scene, an intruder injures a woman’s dog so badly that his leg has a bone sticking out. Rather than take him to a vet, Christine calls her boyfriend, who she no longer trusts, and asks him to call his friend who is a vet. When he refuses and hangs up on her, she forgets all about the injured dog and goes to work the next day without pursuing the poor thing’s injuries. Hard to believe, since she lives in a big city, that there wouldn’t have been an emergency vet service available.

I rarely do reviews on books I don’t finish, but these two scenes took me so far out of the story—which could have been good without them—that I put the book aside for something better that didn’t describe cruelty to animals. Unfortunate, because otherwise the book had an interesting plot.

My advice to other readers is to avoid this book unless you don’t care for animals or can tolerate reading about their abuse