Friday, September 27, 2013

Don't Short Change Your Secondary Characters

Secondary characters should not the focus of your story, but they make the difference between a great novel and a ho hum one. Shakespeare knew this when he gave us great secondary characters like Bottom in a Midsummer Night's Dream. Bottom isn't the focus of the story, but his antics are a welcome relief from the tension between Oberon and Titania.

Secondary characters can add comic relief, or give background color. They buy the reader into your story because they make it real. Major characters even the great tragic heroes don't live in a vacuum. Hamlet needed Polonius.

Sometimes writing a character driven piece, the author can forget that the protagonist isn't the only character in the world. I recently reviewed a book, Bellman and Black by Diane Setterfield. The writing is good, but the plot is thin, and the major character fills the story to the exclusion of everyone else. William, the major character is a self-centered workaholic. That's fine, but the other characters were flat. They made their appearances, spoke their required lines and moved off stage. I felt the lack of more complex characters made the story shallow. I wanted at least one other character to be other than a foil for William.

On the other hand, I'm reading Queen Sugar by Natalie Baszile. This book is also a character study. There's more plot, but the real difference is the secondary characters. Charlotte, the main character has a family full of people with individual traits that help to show us the environment in a small southern town. Although you follow the main character, it's always fun when one of the secondary characters like Miss Honey, Charlotte's very determined grandmother, tries to take control of the action.

I'm not trying to encourage you to let the secondary characters take over, but making them real people with identifiable traits lends fulness to your story. Also, readers can become attached to secondary characters. One way to keep them reading is to give glimpses of their favorite characters.

Make your secondary characters come alive. They can make the difference between an unforgettable novel and one your reader puts down before it's half finished.  

Monday, August 26, 2013

The Ending – Good or Bad?

The ending is one of the most important parts of your story because it leaves the reader either wanting more of your fiction, or deciding to avoid it in the future. So an easy answer to the question of what makes a good ending is that it leaves the reader satisfied. There are several types of endings that don't do that:
  • The solution to the mystery comes as a total surprise at the end because it has not been foreshadowed. I recently reviewed a book like that A Dying Fall by Elly Griffiths. The setting was interesting, but the main character raced about wringing her hands and in the end had nothing to do with the solution which involved characters with a very minor role in the story.
  • The ending doesn't resolve the issue. In How to be a Good Wife by Emma Chapman the second half of the story builds up tension about whether Marta is the victim of a plot, or mad. Unfortunately, the ending keeps us guessing.
  • The ending is obvious from the beginning. In some ways this is less serious than the other two problems because sometimes you read a book, particularly a romance, knowing the lovers will get together, but it's an attractive setting, you like the characters and it's good escapist literature.

I have found several things that make a good ending. One is a twist at the end that leaves the reader saying “Why didn't I see that?” This only works if the information is there but cleverly disguised so that it comes as a surprise, but the reader doesn't feel cheated because they could have guessed. A good ending is also one where the characters show some growth, or understanding of the condition of their lives. I enjoy a book where I feel that the characters are going on with a better chance for happiness then they had before the story began.

So endings shouldn't be cop-outs, or shocks. The ending should be a resolution that pulls the threads together and leaves the reader feeling satisfied. It's a laudable goal, but not as easy as it seems from all the bad endings I've seen in the books I review. Still, it's worth trying for.

Saturday, June 29, 2013

The Long Middle

You've worked hard on your novel. The opening is a block buster. You know how the story will be resolved, but now you're faced with the long slog through the middle. It's been my experience gleaned from reviewing books, that this is where many stories fade.

There's lots of advice on how to attack the middle. Have a minor climax so you build up to a plot point before the slide into the ending and the major climax. This is good advice, but how do you get there. Some authors view the middle as a place for long conversations between the characters. The search for answers, particularly in a mystery, becomes a leisurely stroll. The investigators revisit old hypotheses and discuss them at length in an effort to decide what to do next. At some point, readers start turning pages wondering when something is going to happen.

On the other hand, some novels get so caught up in action that you almost have another story building up in the middle. I read one recently where the initial chapters focused was on horse racing, then action veered to drug smuggling, and finally ended with murder and a psychotic love triangle. I'm exaggerating a bit, but too much action can move the story away from the plot line, introduce new characters, and give the book a chaotic feel.

How do you handle this? In the first place, I recommend forgetting about word count. Sometimes I think the author gets carried away trying to get to the magical sixty thousand words so the book is a novel. (Anything less is a novella or short story.) If you understand your characters and their story, the length is a function of the interaction between their goals and the endgame. You don't have to, and shouldn't, pad the text with description, too much off topic conversation, and attention to subplots.

Readers like to get into the groove. They want to be presented with solutions to the plot puzzles as you go along. No one wants to wander around in an unfocused middle trying to figure out what happened to the driving force in the story.

It may not be easy to solve your problems with the middle. Sometimes there really isn't enough action to carry the story through the doldrums, but careful attention to character and an outline of plot points and the scenes that lead up to them should solve some of the problems.  

Saturday, June 1, 2013

The Pitfalls of a Great Opening

A great opening is supposed to hook the reader, snag the editor, and send writers on their way to fame and fortune. It's good advice, but what about the rest of the book?

I'm a book reviewer. In some ways it's like being an editor. You get the chance to see a lot of books and sometimes you're able to select the books to review on the basis of the first few pages. When I open the book, I'm on the lookout for interesting characters and a plot with lots of tension and conflict. Setting is important, but it's the icing on the cake.

So I open the book, read the first few pages. I love it. It has everything I'm looking for including an unusual setting that I'd like to know more about. I read about the first third of the book, if I'm lucky, and things start to fall apart. The characters engage in more reflection than action, the plot begins to drift, and now it's a chore to pick up the book and read the rest. The ending is often worse. There is a plot resolution, but no twist to make it interesting. Even worse a character crawls out of the woodwork to solve the problem.

Of course, all books are not this way, but too many are. I wonder if as writers we're taking the advice of editors and writing teachers too much to heart. Yes, you need a terrific opening, but if the opening is the best thing about the novel, you run the risk of leaving the reader, or worse the reviewer, disappointed. I am hopeful that with self-publishing authors will begin to look beyond the great opening to have a complete novel that doesn't disappoint.  

Monday, April 15, 2013

Are Lower eBook Prices Making You Rethink Your Writing Career?

Prices for ebooks have been steadily declining over the past year. Some of this is due to the publishers' settlement with Amazon. Although this affects books by the major publishers the fallout affects prices for self-published books, too. If you self-publish, you can set the price for any amount you want with certain minor restrictions. However, if best sellers are selling for $7.00 and some as low as $.99 it doesn't make sense to price yourself out of the market.

If you want to make money, you have to follow the price trends. This means most self-published books should be priced no higher than $3.99, unless you have a niche market that guarantees sales. The problem is that if you price your books between $3.99 and $.99 you have to sell a lot of books to make any money at all. Unfortunately, although there are some best-selling self-published authors, most of us are not in that category.

Most self-published authors don't make much money from their books even with higher prices, so the question is why do you write. In today's market, more of us can become published authors, but very few of us will become rich. For me, this issue is: how much do you love writing? If it's something you have to do to make yourself happy, it's easy. You keep writing no matter what the prices are and even whether you get published. If you want fame and fortune, in today's market you may be better off trying to get on Survivor. For me, I'll keep writing. I treasure the people who buy my books, and I will keep trying to do my best for them . . . no matter what the price, or how much money I make. It's the psychic rewards that are important.

Tuesday, March 5, 2013

Meet Alison Treat, Author of One Traveler

Alison Treat was raised in Connecticut and Pennsylvania. After graduating from King's College with a Bachelor of Arts in English Literature, she wrote for newspapers and worked in the behavioral health field. She lives with her husband and two children in Northeastern Pennsylvania, with an occasional lengthy excursion into 19th Century America. One Traveler is her first novel. 

I asked Alison some questions about here experience writing One Traveler:

1.Why did you decide to write Traveler?
    I was a teenager and had just read Gone with the Wind by Margaret Mitchell. I wanted to tell a story about the Civil War from a “northern” angle. Over the years, I worked on other projects, but I always returned to One Traveler. The work wouldn’t let me go. Of course it has morphed into something very different from what it was when I began at the age of fifteen! The book deals much more with the Underground Railroad than the Civil War.
2.What kind of research did you do for the book?
    I read everything I could get my hands on about the Civil War and the Underground Railroad. I traveled to Sidney’s hometown of Roswell, Georgia, where I toured old homes and absorbed the ambience. I also spent a lot of time at the Luzerne County Historical Society, looking at maps of Wilkes-Barre and reading microfilm issues of newspapers from 1860. And of course, as I revised the book, the internet was invaluable—supplying information on period dress, allowing me to search the pages of a cookbook from 1865, and even showing me how to load an Enfield Rifle Musket.
3.Who was your favorite character and why?
    It would have to be Rachel White, the Yankee girl who captures Sid’s heart. She is spirited and strong . . . and I think she became that way as I revised the book. I originally pictured her this way, but somehow readers saw her as a weaker character. I changed some events and those changes brought out her inner beauty and feisty attitude.
4.How long did it take you to write the book? How much revision did you do? Any tips for other authors when taking on an historical novel?
    I’ve already hinted at how long it took. Twenty years! But this was not twenty years of constant work on the novel. I went to college, got married, had children, and worked on other writing projects during this time. I’m sure I revised it ten times or more. My writing and the work itself changed so much over those years that it’s hardly the same book.
My advice to authors taking on an historical novel would be to keep careful records. And don’t assume that you’ve already checked out historical facts. I found myself so caught up in the process of creating that I made things up and later on I couldn’t remember if I’d researched them or not. I would have saved some time if I’d highlighted those questionable sections and made a note to research them.
5.How did you find a publisher?
    God and my husband worked together on this one! I had decided to go to a publishing workshop on the day of my daughter’s 5th birthday party. Well, that day came and of course I thought I had too much to do. I told my husband there was no way I could go. He proceeded to push me out the door and tell me everything would be fine! So I went, and the workshop was led by Lee Sebastiani of Avventura Press. On a whim, I told her about my book and she loved it!
6.What's your writing schedule? Do you have any tips for beginning writers?
    As a busy mother, this is difficult. I don’t believe in robbing myself of sleep or my husband and children of my presence in order to write. It’s all about balance, though, because I know I cannot be a good mother or wife if I don’t make time to write. At this point, I dedicate one day and one evening a week to writing. Sometimes life interferes with this, but for the most part I am able to use this time well. The most important tip I have is to use the time you have to write. Don’t wait for inspiration. It will come if you are faithful about doing your creative work.

Blurb for One Traveler:

In the spring of 1860, seventeen-year-old Sidney Judson loses his parents in a carriage accident. Although he thought of  himself as a grown man before their deaths, now he cannot bear to stay at the home he shared with them. He  leaves Roswell, Georgia to journey north to his father’s hometown in Pennsylvania. He stays with his aunt and uncle, soon discovering that they are members of the Underground Railroad. While Sidney is facing the past his father tried to forget and coming to terms with his own role in his  parents’ deaths, his entire belief system is challenged by the community around him. His attraction to the winsome Rachel further complicates his situation as her inner person far outshines that of his sweetheart in Georgia. The closer he grows to his northern family, the more he wishes he'd never promised to return to the south. 

Sidney elbowed his way towards the courthouse where the marshals led the fugitives. As they reached the courthouse steps, one of the Negroes broke away from the deputy that held him. He took off running straight towards the crowd, as though he expected the people to part and make a pathway for his escape.
Shouts came from the group of people behind Sid.
Some cheered. “He’s escaping! Run! Run for your life!”
Others clamored, “Stop him! Don’t let him get away!”

As the fugitive bolted by the front of the crowd, Sidney burst towards him and knocked him to the ground. The man was strong. He fought hard. But someone was helping Sid and together the two of them wrestled the darky until he lay face down on the ground. His taut muscles relaxed. Sid kneeled on his legs while the marshal tied his hands behind his back. Panting, Sid looked up to see who had come to his aid. Joshua Smith was holding the runaway’s shoulders to the ground. He winked at Sid.
We stopped this nigger in his tracks, eh partner?”
Sid’s stomach turned. He stood up and the marshal helped the fugitive to his feet.
Wilson!” he said to one of the deputies. “You hold this one.”
The deputy complied and the marshal turned to Sid. “I’m Marshal Jacob Yost.”
Sid shook his hand. “Sidney Judson.”
On behalf of the United States Government, I’d like to thank you for your assistance.”
Sid nodded. “My pleasure, sir.”
Marshal Yost went to Joshua then. Sid turned his back on the runaways and stole a cautious glance towards the crowd. He’d seen them around town, but most he hadn’t met. Then he saw Bill Gildersleeve, towards the rear. Their eyes met and Mr. Gildersleeve shook his head with a frown. Sid looked away, searching the other faces. Some turned to leave. Mr. White was nowhere in sight. Rachel stood in the center of the square, her hat hanging behind her windblown head.
A hand clapped him on the shoulder. It was Joshua.
I knew having a southerner in town would come in handy,” he said.
Sid swallowed. “Uh... thanks. Thanks for your help.”
The marshals led the bound fugitives into the courthouse. Joshua left with the remnants of the crowd. But Sid stood by the courthouse, his hat in his hand, wondering what he had just done.
He wandered next door and sat on a wooden bench by the public office. He stared down at his hat. Dark spots appeared in the dust on the street below as sweat dripped from his forehead. What had possessed him? Loyalty to the law? He ran his fingers through the thickness of his hair. 

In time, the officials came out of the courthouse with the fugitives and led them towards the marshal’s rig, waiting by the office. Just before the darkies were put into the carriage, the one Sid had wrestled broke free again and began running desperately toward Main Street, his hands still tethered behind his back.
Stop!” One of the deputies yelled, drawing his handgun. “Stop! Or I’ll shoot!”
He kept running. He did not see Sid as he ran by him. The deputy fired. The black man fell, writhing in pain, holding his leg with both hands. Sid rose from the bench. The deputy ran over to the black man. Sidney began to follow. The Negro groaned. Blood covered his hands as he held his leg.
I’ll teach you to run away from a U.S. Marshal!” the deputy pointed his gun at the pitiful figure.
Sidney felt as though he were watching something from a dream. He saw the deputy’s hand as his index finger squeezed the trigger. A shot rang out, echoing on the buildings around the Square. The Negro’s body jerked as the bullet hit his chest. He fell back, his eyes meeting Sid’s for a split-second before they glazed over. A cold fist seemed to hit Sid in the stomach. He gasped.
There was no call for that,” he said.

Sidney turned and looked at Marshal Yost, standing by the rig.
Damn you, Wilson!” he called. “You’re going to catch some flack for that.”
He put the remaining Negro in the rig with the other deputy. Then he strode over to Wilson, who stood silent by the body.

I ought to take away your badge—at least for a while.” He shook his head. “Go into the courthouse and get the Sheriff.”
Wilson nodded and started toward the courthouse.
Sidney turned his back on them. He walked fast towards Market Street, taking big gulps of fresh air. But as soon as he thought his stomach was settling, guilt washed over him again. He was responsible for another death.

Review - Five Stars:

Romance, a Moral Dilemma, a Family Secret

Heartbroken after the death of his parents, Sid leaves his home in Georgia and travels north to Pennsylvania to be with his aunt and uncle. On the eve of the Civil War, he's leaving behind his sweetheart, Catherine, and his whole way of life. In Wilkes Barre, Pennsylvania, he's exposed to his aunt and uncle's involvement in the Underground Railroad. Helping people is good, but this is in direct conflict with the law. He misses Catherine, but there are other girls in the north who challenge his allegiance to his almost fiancée. He is also faced with the mystery of why his father ran away from Wilkes Barre. Was it is Southern identification, or something else?

I enjoyed this novel. Sid is a sympathetic character. His life is in upheaval. His ideals and the underlying story of his life are being shaken to the foundations. His struggle is something anyone can relate to. The other characters are equally well drawn. We can understand his aunt and uncle's worries about how he will act when he learns about their involvement with the Underground Railroad and their delight at having family back in the north.

The historical perspective is accurate, except in one instance where the author indicates she took license with the facts to improve the drama. I recommend reading the historical notes at the end of the book for additional information on the period.

This is an excellent book for both young adults and for adults interested in the Civil War era. 

Thursday, February 14, 2013

Winner of The Yellow Diamond Caper

Thanks to everyone who visited my blog. The first bloghop was great fun!!

The winner of the copy of The Yellow Diamond Caper is:  kittyb78.

I've sent you an email, kittyb78. Congratulations!

Sunday, February 10, 2013

A Priceless Yellow Diamond, Romance and Mystery in Las Vegas

Welcome to Nancy Famolari's Place. “Yellow Diamond Caper” is my sixth novel, but it's a new setting for me me. Las Vegas always seems to mean romance and adventure, so this book takes you to Las Vegas.
If you're interested in how The Yellow Diamond Caper was written, checkout the post ( on this blog. The book is available from Amazon.

Free Book:

I'm giving away a free copy of Yellow Diamond Caper, if you leave a comment on this post. I will put the names of those who comment in a hat and have my husband pick the winner. I will announce the winner on a post on this site. I will contact the winner directly if you leave an email address. The choice is a signed paperback copy of the book, or an ebook


Kaylyn is convinced her husband, Alex, is having an affair with Marcia, his assistant. Straightening up the bedroom, Kaylyn shakes out his pants, and a huge yellow diamond falls out. It's almost their anniversary. It must be her present. She tries it on, but it won't come off. She's already late. She and Alex are due at a party. Hiding the diamond in her palm, she hopes no one will notice, but at the party, Bruce, Marcia's husband, sees the ring and immediately recognizes it as one he designed for his wife. Kaylyn is crushed. Her fears about the affair are confirmed. Leaving the party, she sees a brochure for Fantasy Romance. Why not? Furious, she takes off for a week in Las Vegas, but someone is trying to make her leave. Did the yellow diamond follow her?


     Navy blue suit pants lay crumpled on the bedroom floor where Alex tossed them the night before. Kaylyn sighed and stooped to pick them up. Why couldn’t husbands hang up anything? When he came from work, Alex tossed his clothes at the chair; when he missed, which was frequently, he left them on the floor. Then he wondered why they were wrinkled. She grasped the pants by the cuffs, aligned the seams, and gave a vigorous shake to find the creases. Something fell out of the pocket, hit the Chinese rug and bounced onto the hardwood floor under the dresser with a musical clink. He’d probably left his lucky silver dollar in his pocket again.
     She shoved back the wisps of dark hair escaping from her pony tail. She was already running late. Now she’d have to crawl around on the floor searching for the coin.
She dropped to her knees. Her cheek touched the floor as she bent over to peer under the dresser. Something that looked like a piece of rock had rolled into the back corner. He must have gotten a new lucky piece. Gingerly, she thrust her hand under the dresser and felt around on the polished boards. Alex would be furious if he couldn’t find one of his precious possessions. She sighed. She was going to be late getting dressed for the evening, and he would be furious anyway. Tonight was his big night, the announcement of his promotion. He’d warned her to be on time.
     She raked her fingers across the floor, encountering only a few dust bunnies. Ugh, she should do a better job of cleaning. Trying one last time to reach the object, she lay flat on her stomach and pushed her hand as far back as she could. Her fingers touched something smooth and hard. She pulled it toward her and closed her hand over it. It felt like a ring. Sitting back on her heels, she opened her hand. A huge oval diamond, the color of summer sun, radiated sparkles of light. Kaylyn gasped. She’d never seen such a gorgeous ring. Triangular white diamonds flanked the yellow diamond setting it off to perfection.
     Her breath caught in her throat. What was this expensive ring doing in Alex’s pocket? She frowned then a smile crept across her face. She gazed at the plain gold band on her finger. She’d always wanted a diamond engagement ring. Their anniversary was this month. This must be her present. It wasn’t in a box, but . . .
The ring cut into her palm as she hugged it to her heart. He wanted to surprise her, perhaps hide the ring and watch her excitement when she discovered it. She ached to try it on.
Holding her breath, she slid the ring on her finger. It stuck at the knuckle, but she pushed it over. Twisting her hand back and forth, she delighted in the fiery stabs of color. She’d never seen anything so beautiful. He did love her.
     A powerful engine roared to a stop outside. Kaylyn gasped. It was Alex’s Porsche. She should have been ready by now. Desperately, she twisted the yellow diamond. It wouldn’t come off.  

Meet Nancy Famolari:

 Nancy Famolari splits her time between her farm in the Endless Mountains of Pennsylvania and a smaller farm near Ocala, Florida. She and her husband love riding their Paso Finos in the Endless Mountains and in the Goethe Forest near Ocala. She is the author of the Montbleu Murder series. The Endless Mountains, a lovely rural area with many small towns dating from the early 1800s provides background for the novels in this series. She also writes romance novels about her experiences racing, breed ina and training standardbred horses for harness racing. For more information visit her site.

Sunday, January 13, 2013

Turning a Short Story into a Novel

One way to get an idea for a novel is to resurrect a short story with good characters and an intriguing plot and take it further. I did this recently, and after a struggle, I was pleased with the result.

The short story was one of the first I'd written. A stay-at-home wife worries that her husband is having an affair with his administrative assistant. When wedding rings fall out of his pocket, she thinks they're her anniversary present, it means he loves her. But they belong to his administrative assistant. She finds this out in the middle of a party. Believing that this is confirmation of the affair, she turns and walks out on him. I like this short story. It showed a woman who had been subservient to her husband, and lost her own identity in the process, getting her spunk back.

The first transition into a novel was a romance novelette of approximately 12,000 words. The woman takes walking away from her husband one step further and flies to Las Vegas for a Fantasy Romance weekend. She meets an eligible man, becomes friendly with one of the other women, and is asked to fill in for the wedding planner who has just had a baby. Of course, her husband shows up trying to get her to go home, but now she's more sure of herself and won't do exactly what he asks.

The novelette was all right, but it didn't have much vitality. I still liked the main character and I particularly liked the new characters I invented for the Las Vegas scenes. I put the novelette away for awhile and then decided to expand it once more to a full 60,000+ word novel.

Typically, I write romantic suspense so I brought in a mystery. Now the woman finds a huge yellow diamond ring in her husband's pocket. When she gets to Las Vegas, the diamond turns up in suspicious circumstances, and there's a mystery to solve as well as a wedding to plan.

The lessons I drew from the following are:

  • If you have strong characters you like, don't give up on them just because the short story or novelette doesn't quite work.
  • When you expand into a novel, use as much of the plot as makes sense. This may mean throwing out some of your favorite scenes, but they may no longer be relevant in the longer work.
  • Do a careful job of expanding the plot. This isn't as easy as it seems. It took me at least ten tries to make the ending mesh with the beginning. I'm finally happy with it.

Turning a short story into a novel isn't necessarily quick or easy, but it can be rewarding, if you're able to save the lives of some of your favorite characters.

The Yellow Diamond Caper is now available from Amazon.