If you haven’t watched Justified, check it out. It’s a goldmine for writers. The FX series is based on Elmore Leonard’s short story, Fire in the Hole, and three books, including Raylan. In fact, all the actors wore wrist bands that read WWED — What Would Elmore Do?— to stay true to the creator’s vision.
Elmore Leonard worked on the show till his death in 2013.
The series follows Raylan Givens, a U.S. Marshal, played by Timothy Olyphant, who returns to his hometown of Kentucky to take on the local criminal element. Boyd Crowder, an old friend, proves to be his toughest nemesis. Raylan may be the hero, but Boyd, the villain, steals almost every scene. Boyd is calm, funny, and deadly. The back-and-forth between Boyd and Raylan is absolutely mesmerizing. Elmore Leonard did a masterful job of creating these two characters.
I’m not sure if we mere mortals could pull off such a memorable character like Boyd, but he sure is inspiring. Aside from Leonard’s expert characterization, the remarkable talent of Walton Goggins never lets you see the full picture as clearly as you think you do. Just when you’ve figured Boyd out, he switches sides and teams up with Raylan to bring down a bad guy.
Writing Tip: The best villains have at least one endearing characteristic.
To Elmore Leonard’s credit, Raylon also blurs the line between hero and anti-hero.
Writing Tip: The best heroes are flawed.
Fun fact: Walton Goggins only signed on for the pilot episode, in which Boyd was supposed to die, but Elmore Leonard wanted to explore the character in more depth. The rest, as they say, is history.
Boyd Crowder’s Characterization
Rap sheet: Silver-tongued bank robber turned low-level Kentucky kingpin with higher aspirations and an occasional religious “born again” streak.
Superpower: Nobody who knows this many 50c words has fewer compunctions about stabbing you in the back. Nobody likely to stab you in the back knows this many 50c words.
Kryptonite: He’s desperately in love with his former sister-in-law.
Writing Tip: When crafting characters think outside the box.
What makes Boyd truly stand out is his poetic dialogue, which we’ll get to in a sec. First, let’s look at a few of his one-liners.
Arguing with a man who has renounced reason is like giving medicine to the dead.
I believe you dictate the river of fate through your own actions.
I’ve learned to think without arguing with myself.
A man who speaks out both sides of his mouth deserves to have it permanently shut.
I’ve been accused of bein’ a lot of things. Inarticulate ain’t one of ’em.
He’s right! I should probably note: Until you’re as famous as Elmore Leonard, attempting the following dialogue in your WIP might not work. 😉
Boyd: Well, well, well… I hesitate to ask what brings us the pleasure of this divine coincidence that we find ourselves crossing paths this fine spring morning.
Translation: What are you doing here?
Boyd: I fear, my brother, I am in a quandary as to your inner thoughts and the impact of said ruminations on your future actions in this here hollow.
Translation: What’s up?
Boyd: Mr. Augustine, seeing as how Drew Thompson’s already in the Marshalls’ custody, why you’re cutting off the tail of my cousin and offering him up is opaque to me.
Translation: What do you want?
Boyd: I fear that within my belly stirs the emanations of desire for a product that sates the ache within.
Translation: I’m hungry.
Boyd: Well, my darling, being a lowly omnivore like yourself, I shall choose from this glorious list of animal flesh—the edible prize that men have hunted and killed for centuries, incidentally—a rounded flesh of cow, slipped within a doughy mattress, saddled with cheddar.
Translation: I’ll have a cheeseburger.
Boyd: Be that as it may, I sense within me a growing, nagging torpor that seeks a temporary hibernation in a solitary area for comfort and slumber.
Translation: I’m going to bed.
Make no mistake. Boyd is a dangerous guy. Check out one of the best murder speeches ever written.
That’s a rap, folks! May 2021 be your most successful year yet.
Have you watched Justified or read Fire in the Hole?
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In Part 1, I talked about physiological differences in the way males and females are hard wired.
Note: Much of the information in these posts comes from workshops by Eileen Dreyer from a RWA conference, and Tracy Montoya’s presentation at a Southern Lights Conference.
This time, I’ll discuss some of the social differences between men and women. Again, these differences are based on physiological differences in the brain, but there are always going to be individual differences. There’s a basic framework, but there are also individual modifications to the finished product. Think of all those apartment complexes, or housing developments with virtually identical houses. Eventually, the owners put their own touches into their homes giving them some individuality. However, some of the broad, sweeping generalizations we make about men and women does have a basis in the differences in the way their brains work.
In Social Situations:
Men are goal oriented.
Women are community builders.
Men are the lone hunters.
Women are communal.
Men are problem solvers. Women are problem sharers.
A woman will come home from a day at work and complain about something that happened. To a women, sharing troubles is a friendship ritual. To a man, talking about a problem is asking for advice. Thus, the man will offer suggestions as to how to fix it. The woman really doesn’t want his help, she just wants to vent. Men consider talking about a problem a step down in the hierarchy.
Men are likely to explore an idea through argument. Women will shut down, because they want to keep connections open.
Montoya mentioned a study where two men were brought into a room with two chairs facing the front, and told to wait until they were called for an interview. The men sat and talked. When the subjects were two women, the first thing they did was move the chairs so they faced each other.
This ingrained wiring leads to frequent “discussions” where the woman accuses the man of not listening to her when she’s talking to him because he’s not looking at her.
Men define themselves by achievements.
Woman define themselves by relationships.
In the workplace, our hard-wired brains still see the differences between male and female behaviors. Perhaps the reason men don’t see women as “equals” in the workplace is because they simply can’t. They’re perceived as too emotional to be authority figures. Their wiring does make them emotional. But that doesn’t mean they can’t make the necessary decisions. But a woman is more likely to say, “We’re going to talk about “the” rules,” which is ingrained in the nurturing wiring, whereas a man would say, “We’re going to talk about “my” rules,” which fits his hierarchical wiring. Women soften statements, men give orders.
Men and women have different approaches to problem solving.
Men are linear thinkers.
Women think in clusters.
Women churn things over until the problem is solved
Men are emotionally divorced from problem solving.
Women are emotionally involved in the process.
Men are solitary.
Women are communal.
Men give space.
Women wants a hug.
Men want answers.
Women want support.
For men, help means failure.
Women want to help.
I hope these posts have provided a little insight you can apply when writing characters outside the familiarity of your own gender. If they shed a little light on your own personal relationships, consider that a bonus.
All right, TKZers. The floor is open for discussion.
Last week’s post by Elaine Viets reminded me that the different ways (clichés or not) we describe men and women might have some basis in how we’re hard wired. The following post is based on workshop presentations by Eileen Dreyer and Tracy Montoya.
As a writer of romantic suspense, one genre expectation is that stories are told from both the hero and heroine’s points of view. Writing characters outside one’s gender—and this isn’t restricted to the romance genre, or to major characters—is a challenge. As the title of this blog points out, men aren’t women with chest hair. There are some hard-wired differences, and understanding them can make characters ring true for readers.
Although we know that someone with the XX chromosome set is female, and the males are XY, it’s not ‘either-or’. During gestation, at about the 6-8 week point, the fetus undergoes a ‘hormone wash’, which may be highly loaded with estrogen or testosterone. This overlays brain development and influences brain function. So, there’s really a continuum of sexuality.
And – all of these points are generalizations. There will always be exceptions. Don’t shoot the messenger. I’m sharing my workshop notes here.
There are definite differences in brain structure in males and females. Differences are noted at 26 weeks of pregnancy. The brain develops differently in males before sex hormones are produced, so part of the sex differences in the brain is genetic.
Now, cutting to the chase: Humans started out a long, long time ago. Changes in the brain are nowhere near catching up. So, we’re basically hard-wired to survive, but not in this century. Traveling back to the days of early man…
Males are hard-wired as hunters. They have better long range directional skills. They’ve got a better spatial sense. They focus on single tasks, on procreation, they focus on things.
Females are hard-wired as protectors of the nest. They’re communal, have more finely tuned sensory skills, are multi-taskers. They’re non-verbal communicators. They can process and integrate input faster.
Some differences (and remember, these are generalizations)
The male resting brain is 30% active.
The female resting brain is 90% active. (So, yeah, it’s hard for us to ‘shut down’)
The male brain is logical.
The female brain is emotive.
The male brain is left hemisphere dominant, with the exception of the spatial area.
The female brain is more multi-hemisphere, with a thicker Corpus Callosum.
When men speak, only one site is active. (Right—they talk OR listen.)
When women speak, both the hearing and speech centers are active.
The hard wiring is evidenced at a very early age. Little girls want to fit in. Little boys like to be the boss. As women, we grow up wanting to be part of the group and don’t like to make waves, whereas for men, it’s about the hierarchy. Girls share secrets, like to connect. Boys want to be higher up the ladder and use language to one-up each other. If that doesn’t work, they may resort to physical means.
Which is why men don’t ask for directions — it puts them ‘one step under’ the person they’re asking for help. And it helps explain why men don’t apologize. That also puts them in a subservient role. Or if they do, it’s more like, “I’m sorry if you feel that way…”
These observations are built around our culture and our language, and are broad generalizations. Patterns, not rules. Regional background, age, and birth order also play a part.
Here’s a real life example of how little boys play the game. Three little boys in a car. One says, “We’re going to Disneyland for four days.” Boy #2 says, “We’re going to Disneyland for FIVE days.” Boy #3 says, “We’re MOVING to Disneyland.” The driver was the father of Boy #3. He was about to step in and admonish his son for lying, but his passenger, Deborah Tannen, a professor of linguistics, stopped him. She explained that they’d just established the pecking order, and his son came out on top. The boys all knew it was a verbal battle, and they knew nobody was moving to Disneyland.
And, on a lighter note (with apologies for the poor video quality):
I’m pleased to announce that my upcoming Mystery Romance, Heather’s Chase, is now available for preorder at most e-book channels.Note: in honor of my daughter, I’m sharing royalties with the National Multiple Sclerosis Society.
(If you’d like to see some of the pictures I took on my trip, many of which appear as settings in the book, click on the book title above and scroll down to “Special Features.”)
Terry Odell is an award-winning author of Mystery and Romantic Suspense, although she prefers to think of them all as “Mysteries with Relationships.” Follow her on Facebook andTwitter.
When I began plotting my second paranormal mystery, Bubba Done It, I knew one thing for sure. All the suspects had the nickname of Bubba. Other than that, I didn’t have a clue.
Before I could cast men in the suspect roles, I considered my setting and the types of characters I needed. I’m familiar with the setting as I use a fictional locale that’s similar to where I live in coastal Georgia. We have townies and imports. We have people with plenty and people with nothing. We have blacks, whites, Hispanics, Asians, even Native Americans. We have a stalled economy and our share of foreclosures.
All of the top suspects needed a motive to kill the banker. Some motives I considered were previous criminal record, financial trouble, and love.
The sheriff immediately adds four Bubbas to his suspect list. Since seafood is the main industry around here, it would be good to have a fisherman Bubba. I also wanted someone who’d moved to the county as a retiree, someone who didn’t quite get locals or their customs. That worked. Two Bubbas down, two to go.
Drugs are a universal problem in today’s world. I decided upon a Bubba with a bad track record as a crackhead, but who had allegedly reformed into an evangelist.
Lastly, I wanted to ensure my sleuth Baxley Powell had a definite call to action. She’d taken the heat in Book 1 as the top suspect, so for Book 2, I found a patsy in her brother-in-law. Why would he want to kill the banker? Baxley knew her Bubba was a dreamer who often needed money for get-rich-quick ventures. Baxley and her husband had bailed Bubba Powell out of financial scrapes for years.
With her husband dead, the task of saving Bubba fell to Baxley. She’s certain he couldn’t have done it.
Or at least she feels that way at first. With each layer of story revealed, she discovers more reasons for the Bubbas to have killed the banker. Her challenge is to sort through the evidence, in this world and the next, to finger the killer.
Populate your suspect list with characters fitting to your setting and situation.
Give the suspects motives to kill your victim.
Layer the suspects’ relationship with the victim to create complex characters.
Make sure the sleuth has a clear call to action.
Southern author Maggie Toussaint is published in mystery, romantic suspense, and science fiction (writing as Rigel Carson). The third book in her Cleopatra Jones mystery series recently won the Silver Falchion Award, while her romances have won the National Readers’ Choice Award and the EPIC eBook Award for Romantic Suspense. Her latest mystery is a book two of her paranormal cozy series about a psychic sleuth, Bubba Done It.
Welcome to guest author Joanna Campbell Slan. Joanna is the creator of three mystery series and winner of the Daphne du Maurier Award for Literary Excellence. She has been a television talk show host, an adjunct professor of public relations, a sought-after motivational speaker, and a corporate speechwriter.
There’s an old adage: “Tell me who you love and I’ll tell you who you are.” It’s a great test to apply to our characters. Ask yourself, “Who or what does my character love?”
What Characters Are Driven to Do
Love is not only powerful; it also makes fools out of most of us. As authors we can use this primal drive to explain situations that would otherwise seem absurd.
Think back to Gone with the Wind. In the book, it’s Scarlett’s love for Tara that compels her to marry one unsuitable man after another. It’s her love of family that sends this fragile flower out into the fields to work like a common laborer. And her love of Ashley Wilkes forces her to remain beside his wife, Melanie, even as the Yankees approach.
Love Causes Conflicts of All Sizes
We all know the story of Romeo and Juliet, but love for life’s small pleasures can also cause our characters problems. Kiki Lowenstein loves food. Especially desserts. In many of my Kiki books, this amateur sleuth’s attention gets side-tracked when someone waves a particularly luscious treat under her nose. In one book, a nasty crafter ruins Kiki’s artwork while Kiki is too busy eating a gingerbread cupcake to keep an eye on her materials.
Telling Versus Showing
Of course, it’s not enough to tell our readers that our character loves someone or something. We have to show this emotion in practice. One way is by forcing our characters to make tough choices. When Cara Mia Delgatto adopts a Chihuahua with a broken leg, she doesn’t need one more complication in her life. However, she’s willing to adjust her world to accommodate the ailing pup because he’s a rescue dog, and Cara is all about second chances.
How our characters spend their time is another way we show what they value. If a character doesn’t spend time with his children, readers might assume they aren’t an important part of that character’s life. However, if a tattered family photo falls out of the character’s wallet as he pulls out a dollar bill, we have to believe his children matter, but something keeps him away from them.
Characters can demonstrate their love by their reactions. Perhaps your character’s voice changes when he’s talking to his wife. Or maybe your protagonist gets teary-eyed when coming across a man’s jacket in her closet. These responses show the reader a powerful emotion at work.
The next time you create a character, ask yourself who or what this particular player loves. Make a list. Using what you learn will help you build a more realistic, well-rounded character that readers will relate to.
Joanna Campbell Slan is the national bestselling and award-winning award of twenty-books, both fiction and non-fiction. She has taught writing at Illinois State University, to executives at large corporations, and through Internet courses. She currently writes two mystery series.
Contest Alert! Enter May 7– 21 to win a signed copy of bestselling author Joanna Campbell Slan’s historical mystery, Death of a Dowager, and a $15 FANDANGO gift card to enjoy a movie this summer. http://nancyjcohen.com/fun-stuff/contest/
When developing your characters, you’ll want to give them internal conflicts as well as external ones. What do we mean by this? The internal conflict is an emotional struggle that inhibits your protagonist from moving on. He could have trouble taking the next step to get a job promotion, making a commitment to his girlfriend, or deepening his relationship with his estranged father. Often something in his past has caused this crisis of confidence, and he can’t see his way past it. Adding these internal conflicts gives your characters added depth. It’s not only about fighting the bad guys. It’s also about fighting one’s inner demons. For examples, look at popular movies and TV shows that have captured your attention. Take notes on what bothers each of the characters. Here are some examples:
Claire is forced to hide her knowledge in a land ruled by superstition.
Jamie is torn between his gentler instincts for Claire and his cultural expectations of a husband’s role in marriage.
Claire is torn between her love for two men.
Claire wants to go home but that means leaving Jamie.
The main character wrestles with guilt and grief over his daughter’s death while trying to prevent Armageddon. The bad guys exploit this weakness by luring him with a woman who resembles the dead girl.
Lord of the Rings
Son seeks approval and recognition from father who favors his brother.
Man struggles against the pull of corruption.
Woman wants to fight in a world that belongs to man.
Woman loves man who loves another woman.
Woman must give up her station in life (or special power) to be with the man she loves.
Man fears he will succumb to the same weakness as his father. (This also applies to Luke Skywalker in Star Wars. He fears turning to the dark side like his father.)
Man blames father for the death of his brother. He’s unable to forgive.
Female hero has had to work hard to prove herself. This means hiding her vulnerability.
A man who traded sex for secrets discovers he’s responsible for the world’s destruction.
A woman who is dying from cancer is forced to take charge.
It helps in determining a character’s internal conflict if you examine their past history. What happened to motivate their present behavior? What is inhibiting them from emotional growth? How will your character overcome this hang-up? Layer in your motivation, and you’ll have a richer story.