How To Build Conflict Using Myers-Briggs Personality Types

by Debbie Burke

@burke_writer

In recent TKZ posts, Myers-Briggs has been mentioned by John Gilstrap and TKZ regular Eric Beversluis. Kathryn Lilley also talked about Myers-Briggs in this post from 2015.

Which brings me to today’s discussion about how authors can use this personality test to build characters and foment conflict.

Image purchased from Shutterstock by Debbie Burke

Have you ever met someone and instantly disliked them for no apparent reason?

Conversely, have you ever “clicked” with a stranger and didn’t know why?

Have you ever been fired from a job or had to leave because of “personality conflicts”?

Have you ended a relationship or been dumped because of different values?

Do you have a hard time figuring out the needs, desires, and priorities (or lack thereof) of some people?

Do people sometimes act in ways you can’t understand or justify?

How about your characters? Do they struggle with the above issues?

If so, that’s great because conflict is the mainstay of fiction.

Myers-Briggs (MB) is a tool that can help writers answer these questions.

What is Myers-Briggs?

Katharine Briggs and Isabel Myers-Briggs
Wikimedia Commons

In 1923, the mother/daughter team of Katharine Cook Briggs (1875-1968) and Isabel Briggs Myers (1897-1980) became interested in the study of personality types based on research by Swiss psychiatrist Carl Jung (1875-1961). The two women developed the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator test that classifies the different ways people function in life.

Their purpose was to help people make career and personal choices that best suited their individual personalities. The test has been widely used by psychologists and industry to put people in the right jobs based on their particular traits, as well as to improve communication between vastly different personalities.

In other words, to solve problems.

However, in fiction, writers want to create problems for their characters.

If you understand why certain MB personality types clash with other types, you can use that knowledge to increase tension among your characters.

With the MB test, let’s dig a little deeper into reasons why you instantly dislike a person or can’t understand why they act the way they do. Then we’ll extrapolate those reasons into opportunities to create conflict among characters.

What are the MB components?

Introvert/Extravert (I or E)

Are you shy among strangers? Do you prefer to be alone in an interior world of thoughts and ideas? If so, you may be an introvert (I).

Are you outgoing and like large groups of people? Are you interested in what’s happening in the big, wide world around you? If so, you’re likely an extravert (E).

What happens if you take “I,” a shy character who avoids conflict at all costs, and force him/her to interact with “E,” a bold, boisterous character who loves to scrap?

Intuitive/Sensing (N or S)

Do you draw conclusions based on hunches? Do you look below the surface to determine what is going on? If so, you’re probably intuitive (N).

Do you use your five senses (sight, hearing, smell, taste, and touch) to observe the world around you? Do you like facts and figures? You might be sensing (S).

Take “S,” a detective with the attitude if-I-can’t-see-it-it-doesn’t-exist. Add “N,” an intuitive who plays hunches and follows his/her gut instinct. Partner those two up and watch the fireworks.

Thinking/Feeling (T or F)

Are you logical and fact-oriented? You’re probably thinking (T).

Are you in touch with emotions and driven by them? You’re probably feeling (F).

Arrange a date between “T,” a logical, analytical woman, and “F,” a warm-fuzzy metrosexual. Lots of problems for that romance.

Judging/Perceiving (J or P)

Are you decisive and want things settled, organized, and clearly defined? Probably judging (J).

Do you prefer to take things as they come, remaining open to new opportunities? Probably perceiving (P).

The Odd Couple is the classic example of conflict between “J” and “P”. Felix demands neatness and precision while Oscar thrives on disorder and chaos. Remember this scene: “It’s not spaghetti, it’s linguine.”

Sixteen Variations:

The combinations of the above characteristics yield sixteen variations of personality types. If you’re not already familiar with MB types, here is a link that describes each one: https://www.myersbriggs.org/my-mbti-personality-type/mbti-basics/the-16-mbti-types.htm

Pitting Opposites Against Each Other:

If you instantly dislike someone when you first meet them, their four dominant traits may be the opposite of your four dominant traits. This doesn’t mean they’re right or wrong; they’re simply different ways in which you perceive the world around you.

Here are a few examples to build personality differences into fictional conflict.

An extravert “E” can’t understand why the introvert “I” wants to stay home rather than go out partying. “I” is sick and tired of being pressured to mingle with other people when s/he would much rather read a book.

A sensing “S” doesn’t see why an intuitive “N” doesn’t act on facts that are as plain as the nose on your face. “N” trusts flashes of insight from the subconscious and thinks “S” is hopelessly unimaginative and dull.

A thinking “T” has no patience for a feeling “F” who always gets upset over the stupidest things. “F” is constantly frustrated by “T” who never understands his/her feelings.

A judging “J” is fed up with that loosey-goosey perceiver “P” who never plans ahead and flops haphazardly from one activity to another. “P” is annoyed that “J” is so rigid, inflexible, and set in his/her habits.

Characters who are too much alike can also mean trouble:

If characters share the same traits, they may lack balance and believe that is the only way to be.

For instance, judgmental J extremists convince their followers to condemn anyone who doesn’t share their beliefs. This manifestation brought Hitler to power.

Feeling F characters can go overboard emotionally. Because of intense feelings, poor Romeo and Juliet both end up dead.

Wikimedia Commons

Characters can also be defined by their lack of a trait. A classic example is Star Trek’s Mr. Spock, an extreme “T” for whom logic is the supreme law. Whenever he was confronted by another character’s emotional “F” reaction, his response was: “That’s illogical.” 

Personality traits run along a continuum. Some traits are well-developed and dominant; others are more subtle. Our job as writers is to combine dominant and subtle variations into unique characters who are not stereotypes.

The opposite qualities may be fairly equally developed in the same personality. For instance, when I took the MB as a teenager, the result was INTP but T and F scores were almost equal, meaning I possessed an analytical, logical mindset (my husband would dispute that!) but was also highly emotional (that, he agrees with!).

My Intuition N was well developed while my Sensing S scored low. That explains why I rarely notice someone’s eye color, clothes, or shoes, yet I know the depths of their fears and secrets.

Underdeveloped S makes me a lousy eyewitness. What was the bank robber wearing? Huh? What did the getaway car look like? I dunno.

 

Dominant traits can change with time and experience, giving your characters an opportunity to transform themselves.

As a child, I was extremely introverted and shy. Due to career requirements, my extraverted side developed because I had to deal with people. Now, I’m no longer paralyzed with dread at a party. In fact, I thoroughly enjoy meeting new people at writers’ gatherings and book festivals.

Not surprisingly, many writers fall into INFJ or INFP, a pattern Tom Kuegler explores in this article on medium.com.

 

Try guessing the traits of your mate and your children; that obnoxious neighbor you don’t get along with; your annoying boss.

You might gain insight into why they act the way they do.

Then put your characters through the MB personality type test and use their traits to increase conflict among them. 

~~~

Now it’s your turn, TKZers.

Using MB traits, which category does your favorite fictional character fall into?

Who is the most memorable (not necessarily likable) character you can think of? Can you guess their category?

How do their traits cause conflict with other characters?

~~~

 

In Debbie Burke’s thriller, Instrument of the Devil, find out how the attraction between two INFP characters means trouble, while an ENTJ causes further complications.

Instrument of the Devil is on sale for $.99 during April. Here’s the link.

 

 

 

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A Kill Zone Exclusive – The Show & Tell Book – Guest Photographer William Greiner

Jordan Dane
@JordanDane

I am so happy to have photographer William Greiner as my guest today. I am one of the lucky authors who had an opportunity to contribute to his book – Show & Tell – a beautiful hardbound book that combines his photographs with short stories from authors with names you will recognize. The book comes from UL Press (University of Louisiana at Lafayette Press) and is available now at this LINK

Below is the page image of the photo I wrote about in my story – On Her Special Day. I wanted you to see the fine quality of this book. I’ve ordered some for Christmas gifts and can’t wait to read what the other authors wrote. Welcome, William!

Show & Tell-show and tell, show & tell, william greiner
Cover – Show & Tell
photo (2)
On Her Special Day by Jordan Dane

So why is a book titled SHOW & TELL being blogged about on The Kill Zone?

First, the premise was to give a group of fiction writers (In this case 28 in total, including 6 TKZ writers), a photograph without any information about the image and ask each to make up a story about that image. The resulting stories are fascinating, entertaining and thrilling.

John Ramsey Miller, John Gilstrap, Joe Moore, Jordan Dane, Joe Hartlaub and James Scott Bell, amongst others, apply their writing skills to bring a story to every image.

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“A Blur of Motion” by John Ramsey Miller

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“The Touch” by John Gilstrap

The idea for this book came to me many years ago after doing a print trade with another photographer. In conversation, it somehow became apparent that this other photographer had a complete different take and understanding of my photograph than what it meant to me. It made me realize we all bring our own notions, expectations and experiences to what we view.

To see what your favorite TKZ author sees & tells, order SHOW & TELL from UL Press, hardbound, 28 photographs accompanied by 28 stories, 183 pages, $35. To order: click this LINK.


William Greiner is a photographer and artist, living in Baton Rouge , LA. For more on our guest, click HERE.

For Discussion: Have you ever seen a photograph that inspired you to write about it? Tell us about it.

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Success at Last

I bring you news of success, of dream achievement, of goal fulfillment. It’s not about me this time, but that’s okay. I will continue to plug away, old and feeble as I may be, until I either succeed (see below) or go face down on a keyboard, with my final words being psfdfkdadlfbldfbk. No, this week the fortune that comes from persistence and hard work was achieved by two people of my acquaintance: my friend John Gilstrap, and my younger daughter Annalisa.
Let me tell you about my friend first. John is a Kill Zone blogger emeritus, gone but hardly forgotten. John’s literary career over the course of ten extremely well written novels has waxed and waned, and is now very much waxing again, indeed. He had an itch to do just a bit more, however; and do it, he did. Yesterday John announced that for the first time a short story of his is being published in The Strand, the venerable mystery magazine which you should be reading issue to issue if you are not already. The name of the story is “In the After” and will be published in the Feb-May issue. Please join me in a tip of the hat and a toast of the beverage of your choice to John. It is John who on this very blog stated that “If failure is not an option, success is guaranteed.” Congratulations, John. We’re looking forward to reading that story.
Now we come to my daughter, who, by the way, quickly became sick of me quoting John’s truism to her when the going got rough. I think she feels differently now. Earlier this week, with less than an hour’s notice (lesson to be learned: check your e-mail hourly), Annalisa auditioned for a feature role in a production to be presented in a month or so by Shadowbox Live, the largest community theater in the United States. I asked her how she thought she did when she was finished.

 “I think it went fine,” she said. “I had to sing a song that I’d never heard before, but I thought I did okay.”

“Do you remember what the song was?” I asked.

“Oh yeah,” she said. Annalisa then proceeded to favor me with a flawless rendition of the first verse of “Reach Out (I’ll Be There)” by the Four Tops. I rendered it less flawless by attempting to harmonize with her. It was never one of my favorite songs — I preferred the Stax/Volt sound to Motown — anyone who listened to mid-1960s radio has that tune firmly ensconced in their memory. And now Annalisa does, as well.  A day later, she got the good news: she won the part. She’s been walking on air since. It was her dream to at some point be in a professional theater production and now she is on her way. Not bad for a fifteen year old high school sophomore whose prior acting experience consists of two high school plays, a high school performance review, work as an extra in a stage production and pretending that she doesn’t know me when I do the helicopter thing around a potential suitor. She sure doesn’t get it from me. I can perform for film, but I can’t do live theater acting. I’m okay in front of a digital camera, where I can forget lines or direction, but in front of a live audience?! Nope. So congratulations to Annalisa. May this be the first professional performance of many.

So my question to you is: what would success be to you, right now? For me…it would be to have a novel published and then adapted for film, where, in turn, I would have at least a supporting role. You? Yes, you. Step right up and tell us. Please.
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Don’t Read Your Reviews

by Michelle Gagnon

As part of Thrillerfest one year, they gave a special award (if a piece of fossilized poop can be considered an award) to our very own John Gilstrap (even though he’s no longer officially part of this blog, he’ll always be the Friday guy to me). The award was for the Worst Amazon Review, and he won for this little nugget (no pun intended): “The glue boogers in the binding were more captivating than Gilstrap’s torpid prose.”

I know this is going to sound counter-intuitive, and for many authors, nearly impossible, but here’s my advice: don’t read your reviews, ever. Turn off that Google alert. Skip the Amazon reviews section. Ignore your GoodReads ratings. And if you must know what a blogger or traditional media reviewer is saying about your book, enlist someone you trust to skim the contents and give you the highlights.

This applies not only to negative reviews, but positive ones. Because here’s the thing. As we all know, a reader’s opinion of a book is enormously subjective. The way they approach a story can vary at different points in their lives, or even their day. They read things into it that you might never have intended–and they’re all going to have vastly different opinions about what worked and what didn’t. I’m always startled when I get feedback from beta readers–everyone always manages to come up with different favorite sections, and least favorites. So when taking their advice, I usually try to find the commonalities, the issues everyone zeroed in on. In the end, much of what they say is taken with a serious grain of salt.

The same applies to reviewers, naturally. Maybe Marilyn Stasio ate a bad oyster before reading your book, and the nausea she felt skewed her experience. Maybe the Kirkus reviewer was going through a divorce, so the way that you depicted a couple falling apart resonated too strongly with him (or not strongly enough). I know that for my last book, several reviewers felt the plot was tremendous, but the character development was weak. Others loved the characters, but the story left them cold. When writing a review, even when you loved the book, there’s an irresistible inclination to find something to pick at. That‘s what many of us were taught to do in school; otherwise it doesn’t feel like we’ve done the review justice.

As writers, we already have enough voices in our heads. Resist the temptation to let new ones in. This is particularly critical if you’re writing a series; if one reader hated your protagonist, do you really want that small seed of doubt planted in your head? Do you want to be swayed by Merlin57 if he declares that you should be the next winner of the fossilized poop award? 

Even when a review is entirely positive, there are drawbacks. Say a particular reader took a shine to a relatively minor character, and hopes to see more of her in the next installment. Should that be factored into your writing process? I say no, not if that wasn’t part of your initial vision for the narrative.

It’s a challenge not to dive into the fray–especially since, with all the blogs out there, there are potentially dozens of opinions on your prose just waiting to be perused. But avoid the temptation; don’t dive into the rabbit hole. If your book is amassing lots of great reviews and accolades, you’ll hear about it from your editor, agent, and friends. But knowing precisely what’s being said can be detrimental.

*side note: I’d also advise against doing a Google Search for fossilized poop. Trust me on this one.

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Ugly Babies

By PJ Parrish
If you could go back and change things, would you?
Not your life. Your first book. That thing that burst from your heart and took flight and lifted you up there with it, making you feel on top of the world.
Until, maybe, you went back and read it again.
Did you still love it? Or did you see its little warts and uneven gait? Did it seem to maybe need a little grooming or a good flea-dip? If you had the chance, would you try to clean it up so it would be more…adoptable?
Our first book was DARK OF THE MOON. It’s a good story that we’re proud of. It got some great blurbs and reviews. But it got one bad review from Kirkus, which is the Life cereal of the publishing world. (“Give it to Mikey, he hates everything!”). Here is part of what Kirkus said:
“Clumsy prose, stereotyped people and a first novelist who has to learn that in plotting the twist is better than the wrench.”
I’ve submitted this review every year to Thrillerfest’s worst review contest but I keep losing to folks like John Gilstrap. The prize is fossilized poop. I really want that damn award.
Here’s the thing: We own the eBook rights to DARK OF THE MOON so my sister Kelly and I started formatting it for Kindle et al. As we were going along, we realized we could tweak things here and there if we wanted. So we started tweaking.
Then we realized it needed more than a tweak. It needed a full-bore heavy-muscle pipe refitting with one of those giant wrenches you see hairy men with butt cracks carrying out of Home Depot.
Here’s the second thing: As good as our freshman book is, it contains transgressions that now, twelve books later, we teach would-be writers in our workshops not to do.
It has heart but no head. That means we wrote with great passion, especially for our hero Louis, but we didn’t have complete control over our craft. What were our sins exactly?
STRUCTURE: We switched point of view in mid scenes. Our transitions between chapters had continuity lapses. We had too many unnecessary scenes “on camera” often showing things we had already covered. And our timeline was confusing. We now keep detailed chronologies and use big story boards to keep track of each “day” in our plot. See picture above of Kelly employing our two vital writing tools –- Post-Its and wine. 
CHARACTER: We veered into stereotypes, an easy thing to do when writing about the Deep South, and we used clunky dialect. Our fictitious Blackpool was also a one-dimensional character. Even the rattiest place on earth has something redeeming about it. We chose not to see it.
THEME: This might have been our biggest sin. We now believe that every good book has a theme, an underground railroad on which your plot progresses. Without a theme, you have nothing to say. Although we were writing about the effect of a 30-year-old lynching on a small southern town, we didn’t really connect this plot to the larger question of what this meant for our hero.
We didn’t ask ourselves the most important question we now ask of every character we create: What does Louis want? It wasn’t that he wanted to identify the lynching victim. It wasn’t even that he wanted to bring the murderers to justice. We didn’t realize that what Louis really wanted was to find his sense of home (and “home” meant his identity as a biracial man). Now this theme colors everything Louis does and every book we write.
So if this book is so awful, why are we putting it out in eBook?
It’s still a good book and readers like it. They forgive us our sins. But for now, we have put it aside and are readying our second book DEAD OF WINTER for eBook. See, we learned a lot by the time we started that one, just as parents learn a lot about babies by the time their second one comes along. DEAD OF WINTER must have been okay. It was an Edgar finalist.
But our first born? I remain undecided, reluctant to send this homely thing out into the world a second time. But my sister, who holds the book much closer to her heart than her writing brain, is not so sure about permanently closing the DOM yellow folder. It is, after all, the story that started a series and career, but also changed our relationship as sisters.
And when something is that special, as writers it’s had to let it just lay unloved and unread by our loyal readers. So, I am sure, one day when we are between books and novellas and conferences, Kelly will convince me to reopen DARK OF THE MOON and together, we will begin the necessary surgery. Maybe with a scalpel instead of a wrench.

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Cleveland, City of Lights

When we last met  two weeks ago I was in New Orleans. In the interim I returned home for a couple of days, put out some fires, and then travelled up I-71 North for two hours to attend  Bouchercon 2012 in Cleveland. Bouchercon is an assembly of mystery writers and fans of same, so, like, how could I not go, with it being so close and all?
I was glad I did. If I had stayed home for three days, I would have done nothing but work. I worked at Bouchercon, too, but also 1) reconnected with friends I had not seen for a few years; 2) made some new friends; 3) became better friends with some folks; 4) reconnected with a guy that I worked with some forty years ago; 5) took award-winning author Kelli Stanley and British crime journalists Ali Karim and Mike Stotter — three of the finest folks you will find on this earth —to Mike the Hatter in Broadview Heights, where they each and all found lids that looked wonderful on them; 5) visited the Rock ‘n’ Roll Hall of Fame; 6) had breakfast with my editor and BFF Carol Fitzgerald, and three members of the original Bookachino internet chat room from way back when the internet was in its cradle; and 7) was the target of  an attack by a drunken troll in the men’s room of a theme restaurant near the host hotel. And how was your weekend?

I have to tell you though that one of the best parts of Bouchercon was beginning it and ending it with fellow Killzoner Jordan Dane. If Jordan ever raffles off a dinner with herself, buy up the tickets. She is wonderful company. We had dinner with author Bev Irwin Wednesday night, before the conference really got rolling, and Jordan is unbelievably funny. She was even funnier after dinner, when I was back in my hotel room, and she began texting observations about this, that and the other to me. Hilarious. And yes, Jordan, you can borrow my gun any time you want; just leave me a bullet so that I can take a shot as well.

Saturday night I was blessed by joining Jordan for dinner once again. I found myself seated with about ten million dollars’ worth of talent in the form of Jordan, Rick Mofina, Linda Castillo, and Julie Kramer. It was a celebration of wonderful news for Rick and Linda: they announced their engagement that evening. Just kidding. What was their news, really? Rick that morning had just received the news that his wonderful new novel, THEY DISAPPEARED, entered the Canadian book lists at Number Two. He learned of this from Linwood Barclay, whose own book, TRUST YOUR EYES, remains at Number One on Canada’s list. There is excellent taste up north, all the way around. As for Linda, her Kate Buckholder series, set in the Ohio Amish country about an hour’s drive from me, is on track to be a television series. Linda, if you hear that the producers are looking about for someone to play a rotund English, please tell them that Sweet Joseph is available.

Seeing Wonderful Jordan, however, was not my only encounter with Kill Zone participants. San Francisco’s Michelle Gagnon was in the house for the William Morrow party. Michelle, besides being an incredible wordsmith, has a fashion sense that any and all would envy. I don’t know anything about such matters, but she somehow always seems dressed to the nines without even trying. Everyone gravitates toward her, and rightfully so. It was wonderful to see her again and to get to spend a little time with her. And what conference would be a conference without Kill Zone alumnus John Gilstrap? John, who is always worth being seeing with and listening to, was in the “Cool Kids Corner,” outside of the hotel with the smokers, even though he doesn’t smoke. I was privileged to spend some quality time with him and Matthew Clemens and get several updates and down dates on the state of the industry. I also hear that Kill Zoner Boyd Morrison was in the House, but somehow failed to meet up with him. Boyd, you evaded me this time, but your luck will not last forever.
There’s more, of course, but that should be more than enough to persuade you to attend Bouchercon the next time it’s in your area. It will be in Albany, NY in 2013; Long Beach, CA in 2014; and Raleigh, NC in 2015. You gotta go. And if you do, say hey.


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Crime Fiction Rocks at 2012 Bouchercon Mystery Conference!

by Jordan Dane
@JordanDane

I’ll be attending one of my favorite conferences is coming up on Oct 4-7, 2012 in Cleveland, Ohio. Bouchercon is a world mystery convention that has been taking place annually since 1970. It’s open to anyone and is a place for fans, authors and publishing industry professionals to gather and celebrate their love of the mystery genre. It is named for a famed mystery critic Anthony Boucher. During the convention there are panels, discussions and interviews with authors and people from the mystery community covering all parts of the genre. There are signing events for people to meet their favorite authors face-to-face and get books signed. Bouchercon also has the Anthony Awards which are also named after Anthony Boucher. These are voted on by the attendees and given out during the convention. For more, click HERE. Guests of honor for 2012 include: Elizabeth George, Robin Cook, Mary Higgins Clark, Les Roberts, Librarian Doris Ann Norris, and toastmaster John Connolly.

Fellow TKZer Michelle Gagnon and I will be on a YA panel for the first time. I’m really looking forward to that. If you are attending, I’d love to meet you. Please confirm any of these times with the final program.

 
12:15 – 1:05 PM Thurs, Oct 4, 2012
Grand Ballroom B
The Popularity of YA Books panel – How do authors appeal to young readers and keep them interested in reading? Book signing will be held in the dealer room following the panel. Joining Jordan will be Michelle Gagnon, Joelle Charboneau, Bev Irwin, and moderated by Keir Graff.


I’ll be on another fun panel featuring romantic suspense with Heather Graham, Lori Armstrong, C. J. Lyons, with Monette Michaels as moderator. We may have a mystery guest to round out our group. We’re still waiting to hear. Stay tuned.
 

3:50-4:40 PM, Friday, Oct 5, 2012
Location: TBA
“I used to love her, but I had to kill her” Guns & Roses Panel – Moderated by author Monette Michaels, stellar panelists Heather Graham, Lori Armstrong, C. J. Lyons, and Jordan Dane will discuss romance in thrillers. Hallmark doesn’t make a card for “I’d take a bullet for you, honey” but our panel of bestselling authors share their titillating secrets on how they spice up their thrillers with Guns & Roses. (Door prizes and giveaways for those in attendance. Grand prize is a NOOK color e-reader for one lucky winner.)

Prior to this panel, Mike Bursaw will host a “Booze & Broads” signing event at the Mystery Mike’s booth in the dealer Book Room for the authors. Alcoholic libations will be served, a shot at a time.

HERE is the attendees list for 2012, but I understand TKZ’s Joe Hartlaub and Michelle Gagnon will be in attendance (as well as another TKZ veteran, John Gilstrap) so I hope to finally meet them all over a cool beverage.
 
Anyone else going to Bouchercon this year? TKZers—have you ever been? I’d love to hear from you.

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Which Book to Read — or Write — Next?
I’m like a cat when it comes to books or music: whatever I have immediately at hand is never quite what I want. It’s a ridiculous predicament to be in, particularly when you have a collection/accumulation of either/or which exceeds five hundred or so, but it is what it is. There is Pandora for music so that if, for but one example, you like Guided by Voices but aren’t necessarily in the mood for it you can find something close to it. For books, there is now a website that will get you close to what you want to read next. It’s called Whichbook —  http://www.whichbook.net/ — and it’s not perfect, at least not yet, but it’s pretty cool.
Okay, most of you have stopped reading this and clicked on the link, and that’s fine, I understand. For both of you who are still with me, however, let me give you a brief one and back on how the site works. You will find a menu running down the left side of the home page consisting of a series of fields, each of which contains two antonyms (those would be opposite words, for those of you who started school after 1978), such as “Happy/ Sad,”  “Safe/Disturbing,” “Expected/Unpredictable,” and “Optimistic/Bleak.” Click on one and John Gilstrap will come out to your house and mow your lawn for a month. Oops. Wrong website. Let’s try again. Ahem. Click on a field and a red cursor pops up which you can set closer to one word or another. You can do that for up to four word pairs; then click on “Go” field and you get a list of books that match the qualities you input. Using the fields I mentioned above, I chose “Sad,” “Disturbing,” “Unpredictable,” and “Bleak,” pressed “Go,” looked up, and Courtney Love was in my office, pointing a shotgun at me. Just kidding. I got a list of about fifteen books which were recommended to me, with reviews, summaries, excerpts, and links to Amazon to buy them. I had never heard of many of them, which is fine. That might be just what you want with a site like this. I found it passing strange, however, that something like The Road by Cormac McCarthy wasn’t listed. But Whichbook has that covered too. There is a suggestion page — more on that in a minute — and a page which lists the authors featured on Whichbook .  You can also go to another page where you can make selections based on character, plot and setting, which is nicely done (though not perfect) as well.
This looks to be a great tool for readers. However, it has the potential to be a great tool for writers and already-published authors as well. For authors…I see no problem with suggesting your own books for inclusion, or having your spouse, significant other, or even both of them doing that for you. For writers, Whichbook is a quick tool for framing the underpinnings of your basic plot. Go to the character, plot and setting page. After due deliberation, you have decided that your  next potential bestseller is about a mixed race, bi-sexual female between the ages of 26 and 50 who succeeds against the odds in a tale set in Ohio, who becomes involved in a violent, disturbing, and unpredictable series of situations with lots of sex. Okay. Maybe using Whichbook’s search engine to begin your next project is  a little like using a hammer for a screwdriver.  At the very least, however, Whichbook will get you thinking about what you want to read next. And for authors? Whichbook has the potential to be yet another tool to get your book in front of that ever-elusive reading public. 
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It’s No Longer an Either/Or Publishing World and Other Notes from ThrillerFest


Last week I had the honor of being the first author to final for an International Thriller Writers Award for a self-published work, One More Lie. ITW has been forward thinking in this new era, recognizing that the future is now and a thrilling story works no matter what the delivery system.
Although I didn’t take home the top prize, it was cool to be there (along with former blogmate John Gilstrap and others) and to be confirmed in this: it’s no longer an either/or publishing world, but a both/and and why-the-heck not?

Mrs. B and I had our usual wonderful time in New York, where I used to pound the boards as an actor. We had dinner with my agent, Donald Maass, at a nice bistro in the Meatpacking District (really hopping these days). We talked about the craft, natch, and something Don said in passing I had to write down (this happens a lot when you listen to The Man): “Backstory is not just for plot motivation, but deep character need.”
Chew on that one for awhile.
Dear wife and I saw a hysterical Broadway show, One Man, Two Guvnors.It’s hard to describe, but suffice to say the Tony Award winning lead, James Corden, is a comedic genius.
Also saw about two hours of the amazing 24-hour film on time called The Clock.
And I got to teach at CraftFest. The room was packed! Then I realized Lee Child was teaching right after me….still, a good time was had by all.
The most interesting talk at the Fest, for me at least, came from Jamie Raab, senior vice president and publisher at Grand Central Publishing. Some notes:
Ms. Raab stated that, of course, the industry is in flux. Mass market paperbacks, for instance, are in steep decline as a category. Ms. Raab did not see any way for that format to come back to what it once was. Just what this means to the industry is not known at this time (like so many other things!)
Hardcovers, too, are heading south, simply because they have to be priced too high to cover costs of production. But, as we all know, prices are trending downward as more and more ebooks become available at consumer-friendly price points. Consumers are getting used to certain levels, and there’s no way to fight that. Consumers are co-regents with content in the marketplace.
Ms. Raab spoke about the thrillers she’s read over the years that were “game changers.” Not merely good books or great reads, but books that did something so amazingly original or compelling they actually changed the way the books after them were done.
The titles she mentioned:
Marathon Man by William Goldman
Presumed Innocent by Scott Turow
The Firm by John Grisham
Rosemary’s Baby by Ira Levin
Absolute Power by David Baldacci
The Silence of the Lambs by Thomas Harris
Each of these titles did something “more.” Marathon Man, for example, had one utterly unforgettable scene. You all know what it is. If you’ve ever been to the dentist, that is.
Absolute Power begins with another unforgettable moment, a burglar hiding himself in a swanky house, witnesses the murder of a young woman by the President of the United States. That scene, and book, changed the course of political thrillers.
So here is what you ought to consider as you write: what are you doing that is “more” than what you’ve read before? What is it about the idea, the scenes, the characters, the plot itself that comes from the deepest part of you?
Here’s the nice thing, as Leonard Bishop once put it. “If you boldly risk writing a novel that might be acclaimed as great, and fail, you could succeed in writing a book that is splendid.”
Splendid isn’t a bad place to be.
Are you reaching for “more” in your writing? 

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Reader Friday: Where do YOU write?

Last Friday we shared some pix of where the TKZ bloggers write. This week, it’s your turn. A number of readers responded to our request with some great photos of their writing spaces. Here we go!


Basil Sands:

Basil is a self-described “on the go, write-where-you-can” kind of guy.

“I have three primary butt parking spots where my literary juices tend to spike highest,” he says. 

I vote for #2, the comfy, cozy chair.

John Gilstrap:
Blogger Emeritus John Gilstrap sent in a view of his office as you come in from the front door. I have to say, John’s writing space comes closest to my ideal vision of a bestselling author’s writing space!

Mike Dennis:

OK, forget the office–just look at Mike Dennis’s place (I think it’s hidden behind the palm trees). It must be great to work in paradise! 

And here’s his office…
Mike Jecks
Mike from the UK accused us of cleaning up our desks for our photos last week. Guilty as charged, Mike! He included a photo of his office and canine muses.

“As you can see, British writers don’t tidy up the desk before wandering off to pointlessly take photos, even leaving both dogs in the shot to prove we’re not idly ambling around the lanes instead of working,” he said, with lovable British sarcasm. “No. We’re sitting indoors pretending to concentrate on the next book, while actually taking photos of the ‘workspace’ instead. Work displacement activities are a wonderful thing! Hope you like the way I took one photo, didn’t like it, so took a second while leaving the first on the screen … yeah, I forgot.” 

Oh, and the second dog? If you look under the desk, you’ll spot a nose.




Zoe Sharp:

Zoe gets her creative juices flowing in an unlikely spot–her car. 

“I get a lot of productive work done in the car on motorway journeys,” she says.

Seriously, Zoe? Be careful doing that in Southern California–they hand out tickets here for texting and using a cell phone, much less tapping out the Next Great American Novel! 

Michael Harling:

Michael is shown working in his office.  


“This is me, our dining table and, yes, that is my permanent ‘office.’  It is where I work when I am not writing on the bus or a train,” he says.


I’m a dining room table writer too, Michael. Thanks for sharing!


Richard Mabry:

Richard Mabry sent us a photo of his office from his iPhone. Very cool! 

Mark Terry:

“My office used to be in the basement… and my youngest son wanted to move down there so I switched with him,” Mark says. “I rather liked the solar system hanging from the ceiling, so I left it up.” 

The acoustic guitar provides an additional outlet for creative expression.
 

Terri Coop:
Terri describes her office as “very much my cocoon.”

“This is my little corner of the world where I write and run my business,” she says. “It is in a free-standing apartment built inside my warehouse. I rescued the desks and wall mount cabinets from the alley behind an insurance agency (there is another on just like it to the left holding all my graphic design printers). Then I decorated the office around the desks.”

I love the HOPE sign on top of the cabinet. Every writer needs one of these!

Thank you! 
Sending out a big thanks to everyone who shared their pictures and stories about their writing spots this week. Hope we didn’t overlook anyone. Please share your story today in the Comments!

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