This evening almost 30 people filled the Den to hear author Richard Barre
speak about Growing Great Characters. He gave a short presentation, then
fielded many good questions, staying well past the end of the formal hour. :-)
Mr. Barre had a ton of good, practical, and heartfelt advice to share with
us. The room stayed full the whole time, and several visitors participated as
10/6/03 6:57:56 PM Opening "Chat Log 10/6/03"
HOST WPLC Lyric: Richard Barre was born in Los Angeles and raised in
California. He is the author of The Innocents (winner of the Shamus Award for best
first P.I. novel), Bearing Secrets, The Ghosts of Morning, Blackheart
Highway, The Star, Burning Moon, Bethany (second in the Christmas story series, due
out in October),
HOST WPLC Lyric: Echo Bay (his first stand-alone non-series novel, due out
April 2004), and Wind on the River (third in the Christmas story series, due
for release October 2004).
BarreS: Great. Shall I expound?
HOST WPLC Lyric: Prior to writing crime fiction and short stories, he was
a copywriter and creative director at his own advertising agency and wrote
and edited travel publications. Currently, in addition to writing, he is the
associate publisher at the newly revitalized Capra Press in Santa Barbara,
where he lives with his wife, Susan.
HOST WPLC Lyric: hope I didn't miss a line there, Rich. ;-)
HOST WPLC Lyric: If I did feel free to jump in and correct things!
HOST WPLC Lyric: Tonight's session will be in protocol
HOST WPLC Lyric: For those who are unfamiliar with protocol, please type a
? for questions and a ! for comments THEN WAIT to be called upon. We are
maintaining a queue, once we start calling for questions, not before
BarreS: Will do, but I couldn't ask for more, except Our greatest living
HOST WPLC Dee R: Rich, you might want to add color to your font! Makes you
stand out more
HOST WPLC Lyric: we may also call upon a few comments before we go on to
the next question provided they are on the same topic as the question just asked
HOST WPLC Lyric: yes, Rich, please add color and bold your font, only the
hosts and the guest should do so, however
HOST WPLC Lyric: Welcome everyone
AWeiss4338: Hi everyone
BarreS: Shall I start expounding?
HOST WPLC Lyric: btw, just caught your comment Rich, according to Cyndia,
that particular laud is already in your file
HOST WPLC Dee R: Yes...expound away! lol
HOST WPLC Lyric: world's greatest author. LOL
BarreS: As I see it, People read because they want to find out what happens
next. Thats the story.
BarreS: But the reason they care about what happens next is because of the
BarreS: Nobody spends time with characters they dont bond with. Spenser,
Elvis Cole, Kinsey Millhone, Philip Marlowe, Dave Robicheaux, Sherlock Holmes:
BarreS: From characters comes allscenes, conflict, action, moral dilemma.
BarreS: As their creator, give them their due: who they are in life or death;
what drives them, what they want; what shaped them.
BarreS: Without interesting characters, who cares?
BarreS: Recently I finished a book whose villains were basically bowling pins
for the hero (who wasnt much himself) to knock down, cardboard cutouts. Read
another by that author? No thanks.
BarreS: characters are everywhere: Observe, combine, play with them, but
always find their heart.
BarreS: Get inside them, i.e. what do they burn to do, what made them the way
BarreS: For instance, in James Ellroys Black Dahlia, the lead character
basically falls in love with Elizabeth Short,
BarreS: the murdered woman, in no small part because he identifies with her.
Because of who he is.
BarreS: My character, Hardesty, came to life for me in two pulses: 1) his
longtime passion for surfing, that loner metaphor, and 2) the death of his son
in a surfing accident Hardesty blames himself for. In essence, his opportunity
BarreS: Whew...how about some questions
HOST WPLC Lyric: Michael ga
BarreS: Well might you ask...
Werewolfsevn: What would you recommend to enhance antagonist characters
who, in a mystery, remain in the shadows for a great deal of the book?
Audii69: are all your novels about murder?
HOST WPLC Lyric: Audii we are in protocol, please wait to be called upon
BarreS: Get inside their heads the same way as your protagonists. A tip here:
before I start, I bio my main characters.
HOST WPLC Lyric: Ejbarrosse please be ready with your question next and
then Audii be ready. Wait until I call upon you
BarreS: For instance, In Bearing Secrets, my second. I came to the conclusion
that my main villian suffered from polio
BarreS: as a kid on a poor farm. His father had to make a decision: save the
crops and the family, or buy medicine for his son. Living with THAT is what
helped shape his character and us understand him.
BarreS: Audi: all my novels are because that is what drives crime novels. A
crime that serious that has to be made right.
HOST WPLC Dee R: ?
HOST WPLC Lyric: David please ga and post your question
BarreS: Sorry, David
Cyncity 1: ?
BarreS: Fire away
Dhewco: is it better to give an extensive physical description of the
character at first intro or should you build it along and along ga
BarreS: Tease with your descriptive. Nobody can take it all in one lump. Or
wants it that way. For example, in my first
BarreS: I described a character, a priest as having clear polish on his
manicured nails, something to give one pause at the
BarreS: circles in which he travels. He thereby forms an ambivalent swirl
HOST WPLC Lyric: Donna please be ready to post your question as soon as
Rich types ga
BarreS: This reflects the character he is, the outer casting light on the
HOST WPLC Dee R: What do you include in the bio? How in depth do you
go...written pages or just in your mind?
HOST WPLC Lyric: We will then take questions from Cyncity and Michael,
HOST WPLC Dee R: ga
BarreS: I go until I form an empathy in my mind. Note that I don't need an
entire physical description, The important
BarreS: first step are influences: geographic, educational, upbringing.
What's happened to him/her in life. And it
HOST WPLC Lyric: Cyn be ready to post as soon as Rich types ga
BarreS: doesn't need to be more than a paragraph or two, more if you get
going. And it can always be added to.
Cyncity 1: You write women very well...do you have trouble getting into the
head of another gender? If so, how do you overcome it?/ga
BarreS: Any help there?
HOST WPLC Dee R: thanks
HOST WPLC Dee R: yes...it helps me focus
BarreS: Thirty-five years fo being married to the same woman helps. That on
top of my naturally warm and wonderful
HOST WPLC Lyric: lol
BarreS: self. Richt, Susan...dear?...
HOST WPLC Lyric: is susan here?
HOST WPLC Dee R: do you have a clone available? LOL
KTCopsey: good evening
HOST WPLC Lyric: if so welcome! and thanks for sharing your husband with
HOST WPLC Lyric: just tell us if it's true
BarreS: She's lurking, you know. Talk to me later if you want the real story.
Just kidding, dear...
HOST WPLC Lyric: before we go on to the next question, Rich
HOST WPLC Lyric: do you have more you wish to post?
Cyncity 1: Susan is always at his side...in every way.../ga
HOST WPLC Lyric: lucky man
HOST WPLC Lyric: Michael please be ready
BarreS: I have the Susan in question right here. Just don't ask her what it's
like living with a writer
HOST WPLC Lyric: Do you have more text to post, Rich or should Michael ask
BarreS: Hi Cyn and everyone...Susan here.
HOST WPLC Lyric: Michael, please ga
Werewolfsevn: How do you deal with a protagonist who does things that the
audience would not likely sympathize with (ex: rough people up for money,
cheats on the woman he loves, etc...) and how do you know when you've gone too far?
HOST WPLC Dee R: Hi Susan
HOST WPLC Lyric: Gee, all of us in W2P wonder which character that is,
BarreS: Same way you know in life. The prot has to be someone you wish to
spend time with. Villains also, but for a different reason. You have to feel that
the prot may not survive. That maintains the tension. I've read books where
the villains are simply bowling pins for the prot.
HOST WPLC Dee R: ?
BarreS: Who wants to spend time with bowling pins. A crime novel has to have
Werewolfsevn: Thank you
HOST WPLC Lyric: Andrea, please ga
AWeiss4338: How do you go about making each character different from one
BarreS: Good thing about writing crime novels you don't have to have done all
those things...just write as if you have.
HOST WPLC Lyric: lol
BarreS: Good question. Be conscious of casting, meaning physical descriptions
and backgrounds. Movies are a good tipoff
BarreS: Some characters confuse by being too similar.
Cyncity 1: ?
HOST WPLC Lyric: Bev, please be ready to post as soon as Rich types ga
BarreS: Imagine them different, with different things to accomplish and
you'll have it. Names also tell tales. I recall one book where it took me 300 pages
to get just the right name. Each morning I'd play the name game, change them
until the next morning. Finally, I had it. Phone books, movie scrawls...all
are fair game.
HOST WPLC Lyric: Then Donna, Diane and Cyn
HOST WPLC Sushi: ?
Lightningbug1957: Have you ever had a character not do what you expected
(plotted) him/her to do and, if so, can you give an example?
AWeiss4338: Thanks! ga
BarreS: Sure, AWeiss, good ques. Each book I've written starting with The
Innocents. That's why I don't like to outline. Characters need space to surprise
you and you say not according
HOST WPLC Lyric: Donna please be ready to post as soon as Rich types ga
BarreS: to outline. Let them talk to you (play what it...). I mean what's the
worst by going with it. So you backtrack...
BarreS: so what. Maybe one will burn down the house like one of mine did in
my third book, Ghosts of morning. Man was I nervous about that.
HOST WPLC Lyric: lol, we've all been there, Rich!
BarreS: But I found (and still find) it was extremely logical.
HOST WPLC Lyric: Bev, it just means that you've finally written enough for
it to finally happen -- have a character take over your book!
BarreS: Books, characters should make you nervous. Otherwise you're not out
there on the edge where you need to be.
BarreS: You did know that, didn't you?
HOST WPLC Lyric: Donna, please post your question
HOST WPLC Dee R: I once got a story back with the note that they felt the
protag was there only to be killed...how do you avoid this type of trap. Not
to have a one note character, when in fact, he was there to be killed?
HOST WPLC Lyric: lol
HOST WPLC Lyric: Diane please be ready to post when Rich types ga
BarreS: Same answer as before. Know the character. Make the reader know the
character. The if he/she buys it, there'll be a collective gasp and you'll be a
hero. See, crime
BarreS: novels are all about surprise.
DianeFarr: Q about that feeling that "the prot may not survive." That
interests me, because obviously the prot always survives. But we all want to suspend
disbelief and "buy into" the suspense when reading or watching movies. My q
DianeFarr: how does one accomplish that when writing in 1st person? Have you
ever tried that, a la Sue Grafton and her ilk? If so, how did you accomplish
it? thanks ga
BarreS: I write in third and cheat toward first because I love its immediacy.
But third lets me get into my various character's heads. I want you to feel
their fear, etc. firsthand.
HOST WPLC Lyric: Cyn please be ready as soon as Diane is done.
BarreS: The closer you can bring a reader to the character, the more the
reader will fear for that character. Simply because they care.
DianeFarr: so the immediacy of 1st person makes up for the supposed lack of
that vital q ("Does the prot survive?") -?
BarreS: The less the menace the villain brings, the fewer readers you'll
HOST WPLC Lyric: Cyn ga and post
Cyncity 1: Other than your continuing characters, Doc Whitney stands out in
my mind even after many years...How hard was he to create? It seemed
effortless, he was just there, perfect/ga
BarreS: I want always in the back of a reader's mind the fear that the prot
is in real danger. That's the essence of it.
DianeFarr: that makes sense, thanks
BarreS: Thanks, Cyn. For those who don't yet know Doc Whitney is a character
in Blackheart Highway, a badly
BarreS: bruised musician who goes to prison for the murder of his family, a
murder he doesn't remember.
BarreS: I needed him to be an appropriate foil for Hardesty, yet move in the
direction of the two men siding up to solve the murder.
HOST WPLC Lyric: Paul, please be ready to post your question as soon as
Rich types ga
BarreS: And because he is something of a secondary prot, I also built in a
shock/surprise. Which also surprised me, if you get the point.
HOST WPLC Lyric: The queue is closed, final questions will be from Paul,
Audi, Katrina, and Michael. After the chat is formally over, Rich is welcome
to stay and answer questions informally
Cyncity 1: lol...yep...thanks/
BarreS: See, the author spends a year with these things, so it's vital that
the characters call him to play. Just as the story does.
BarreS: Anything there for you, or should I ramble on. Point is these things
have to be just as fun for the writer because the writer has to make them fun
HOST WPLC Lyric: paul ga
HOST WPLC Sushi: How do you settle on appropriate names? Ever been tempted
to name a baddie after someone you don't like? ga
BarreS: Sure. Sue Grafton maintins she got into mysteries so she could murder
her ex-husband...on paper that is. Usually its best to seek another plane,
that of the name being appropriate.
HOST WPLC Sushi: LOL
BarreS: That said, I spend considerable time on names because they need (for
me at least) to reflect a character's traits and purpose.
HOST WPLC Sushi: and not get sued, of course g/a
HOST WPLC Lyric: Audi please be ready to post when Rich types ga
BarreS: That, too. In my second book, Bearing Secrets, my main antog was a
lawyer named Kuhlman. My editor got nervous and asked me to rename. Whereas I
like Stillman, I still miss Kuhlman, and yes it was as close as I could come to
Kuhnsler, a character about whom I held strong opinions.. ga
HOST WPLC Lyric: We have about five minutes left, so if Rich will bear
with us, we will get the last few questions answered
Audii69: generally readers like some level of predictability
(agree/disagree), should you include clues when backtracking?
HOST WPLC Lyric: Katrina please be ready after audi
BrownDvs: wb Char
BarreS: Clues are only fair. Actually it's called "playing fair." Just space
them because as much as you think you're ahead of the reader, forget it,
they're right up or just passed you.
RBOZO55: Sorry, kept getting booted and couldn't get back in.
BarreS: What I try and do is give them the solution they think I'm building
toward, then surprise them at the end. Sometimes it actually works...
HOST WPLC Lyric: Katrina, ga
BarreS: I'm game if there are more...
KatrinaW2P: I've heard that you shouldn't change a character's name once it's
set, but you've said that sometimes you don't know a character's names for
hundreds of pages. How can you develop a character enough to write about him/her
KatrinaW2P: ...that critical tag, a name? Or were you saying that sometimes
you write 300 pages of bio before you know the character's name?
Sunan21: Thanks Rich, have to go, great chat
HOST WPLC Lyric: No problem Katrina. Michael be ready with the last
BarreS: Reason is, I know the character, whether they're strong or weal,
ruthless or passive, victim or killer. See, I know what my character's character
was. That always comes before the name.
BarreS: On looking back, much as it frustrated me, that process was a luxury.
HOST WPLC Sushi: Orchestra conductor named Biff, truck driver named
Werewolfsevn: This is off topic, but the book I'm writing is a detective/PI
novel. Can you recommend some really good research sources on private
investigators for both background and specific questions? ga
HOST WPLC Lyric: Sorry Jack the queue is closed
Jackatbrun: Which comes first: the story or the characters?
HOST WPLC Lyric: last question was Michaels
BarreS: Sure, play against type.
TrounceM13: Mr. Barre, thank you so much for taking the time. We appreciate
Audii69: As a rookie, this chatting business is "aight." Good night all.
HOST WPLC Lyric: dion we will thank Rich as soon as he is done with
BrownDvs: Goodnight all
HOST WPLC Lyric: everyone please hold goodnights until we're out of
HOST WPLC Dee R: Night, Audi...and thanks for being patient and waiting
for your turn to come up on question
BarreS: Good question, Michael. Story and characters are the heart and
lungs...neither exists without the other. I've actually started a book with only a
title, others with a single opening incident. A writer should be able to handle
fear if a character and a reader are asked to. And these things scare me. See
I never know the end. Try that on.
HOST WPLC Lyric: after we are done perhaps Rich will stay and answer a few
HOST WPLC Sushi: Anyone interested in our group here, you may email me for
HOST WPLC Sushi: We WERE going to welcome Nancy/MzD, and now she has
logged off! She is our newest member
HOST WPLC Lyric: Michael wanted to know about research re detectives
HOST WPLC Lyric: We will do it next session Paul
BarreS: Point is, fear, anxiety are something you live with. Means you're
alive and breathing life into the characters.
BarreS: I've found just about anybody will talk to you about anything, from
the cops on down. Long as they're approached with respect.
BarreS: Anyone else?
HOST WPLC Lyric: Rich we want to thank you for coming tonight
BarreS: Hope I didn't wear you all out. Been great being here.
HOST WPLC Lyric: it was very informative
HOST WPLC Dee R: Rich, it was a great session. I learned alot tonight
KatrinaW2P: Very interesting discussion. Thanks so much!
BarreS: Any time...
HOST WPLC Lyric: perhaps you will stay and answer the last few questions
BarreS: Of course...ga.
HOST WPLC Lyric: and thanks to Cyn for asking Rich to speak to our group
HOST WPLC Lyric: :::: applause::::::::
Cyncity 1: yeah Rich and Susan!
HOST WPLC Sushi: Thanks Rich!!!!!!! and Cyndia
BarreS: Problem obviously is to get him to shut up.
Deluge7: Good talk, Rich. I you don't know the ending your story is still
alive, still growing.
Cyncity 1: The first Barre book I read was Bearing Secrets...I was amazed by
it, and then I met him...probably looked like a guppy, staring in awe
Braguine: I liked Ghosts in the Morning--when the fire occured I wondered
how you came out with it it really rounded up the lady's character
HOST WPLC Dee R: Rich, you know you were a good speaker, we started with a
crowd, and ended with a crowd! LOL
BarreS: Scares the s... out of me every time, but there you are, my lot in
BarreS: That's life...
HOST WPLC Lyric: Rich would you please mention your upcoming book
HOST WPLC Lyric: and when it will be released?
BarreS: I write Christmas stories a la Rod Serling. The second, Bethany, will
be out this month in time for Christmas.
Werewolfsevn: Goodnight everyone.
BarreS: Next hardcover novel, a stand-alone, will be out next March. It's
name is Echo Bay. Meanwhile the trade paperback
KatrinaW2P: Cool, Rich. We'll look for it/them.
BarreS: of Burning Moon (Hardesty 5) will be out in Feb.
KatrinaW2P: G'night for now, everybody (and thanks again, Rich!).
TsGameName: Thank you again for sharing so much of your time with us
HOST WPLC Dee R: night all...and thanks, Rich. Hope to be talking to you
HOST WPLC Lyric: Well, goodnight everyone. You are all welcome to stay
and chat with Rich as long as he wishes
BarreS: Thanks, all. See you soon. Bouchercon, maybe, the big mystery
convention in Las Vegas October 16-20.
HOST WPLC Lyric: See you all next Monday when we will be critiquing a
chapter from Kathi Smith's Goodnight series
Dhewco: thanks BarreS
HOST WPLC Lyric: bye everyone! Will you be at Malice, Rich?
HOST WPLC Sushi: Thanks again. :-)
SarahStNy: Rich....how long from when you started writing until you sold
your first novel?
BarreS: Won't be at Malice, alas. Maybe Mayhem in the Midlands. Then again, I
do have a full-time job.
HOST WPLC Lyric: okay, will look for you at the bookstore, then
HOST WPLC Lyric: bye all
BarreS: Sarah: 5 years. Sue Grafton said it would take that long and it did.
I sent her a book.
BarreS: I mean she said it in a general sense at a panel I attended with her
on it. Some irony, because everything I did was designed to cheat that
SarahStNy: 4-5 years seems to be standard though
BarreS: Right. Point is, you need to treat it a something big, then you will.
TsGameName: and to think I was just trying to find suggestions on names for
two lesbians and I got allllllllll of this other great stuff instead! LOL
Cyncity 1: Rich...was Innocents your first or your first published?
SarahStNy: it takes a long time just to learn all the mechanics
Braguine: :-P Hmm, I am a year behind schedule
BarreS: Best advice I ever heard re writing was "Write Anyway." When I'm
goping I write 7 days. Yopu see what I mean about serious...
BarreS: Freudian slip. I meant when I'm going...
Cyncity 1: lol
HOST WPLC Sushi: any W2P member still logging, here?
TsGameName: you're allowed Rich
HOST WPLC Sushi: I have to run
BarreS: If that's it then, I'll say thanks and good night. You've been
Harterone: HI paul. how was session?
Braguine: thanks Rich
SarahStNy: thank you Rich
HOST WPLC Sushi: Hi Hart
HOST WPLC Sushi: I have to run -- another meeting
HOST WPLC Sushi: g'nite, all
10/6/03 8:15:13 PM Closing "Chat Log 10/6/03"