Q&A with James Scott Bell
As promised, here are the answers to your questions for Author James Scott Bell.
Vicki asked: I'm reading "Try Dying," and enjoying it very much. I've noticed several instances where Tyler, main character-lawyer-turned private eye, sometimes speaks in "gut-rot' cliches, like, "belly up the bar," and others. Yet, many times I've stopped to reread sentences that are
beautifully original--so, I'm thinking the cliche-speak is for characterization. I guess to be blunt, how do you get away with the cliche's? (by the way, they are entertaining.)
JSB: They're only cliches if you don't know you're doing it. And yes, whatever the character says is purposeful. In fact, you've got to avoid cliches like the plague.
Dayle asked: My manuscript is set in South Louisiana. The characters are native to the region and sometimes use Cajun terms. The narrative also contains words unique to the area.
The editor for the House considering my work says I need to explain these terms to the reader.
The problem is: my characters would have no reason to think about the explanations. How do I do this without violating character p.o.v.? Is this an acceptable violation? What about explaining pronunciations?
JSB: This is always a challenge, but here are a couple of suggestions.
First, your goal is not to recreate real life speech. It is to suggestit, enough to have the readers accept it, but it must serve your story.
Second, there's usually a way to get the meaning clear through action or a response. For instance, the character tells someone, in Cajun, to shoot the accordian player. The next thing we see is the guy shoot the accordian player. It's evident.
Or the character on the receiving end can puzzle it out. "He knew the Cajun meant something that had to do with shooting, and with an accordian player. But could he really mean shoot him?"
And so on. I wouldn't stop the story to explain terms. I'd find ways to make it clear naturally, or cut it.
Cathy asked: Thanks for a great interview! It is like an addendum to your wonderful Plot & Structure text. :-) (Keeping my autographed copy close!)
I do have a question for you. Do you have any tricks or tried & true methods for upping the suspense in a chapter that might not be suspenseful enough? To add that suspenseful flavor? Send those prickles up the neck or make the reader worry about what's to come?
I'd love to hear how you handle that problem. :-) Thanks so much.
JSB: Suspense means NOT RESOLVING things. So first, is there information in the chapter you can withhold? Can you have the characters doing things that are strange because they have secrets not yet revealed?
Can you up the stakes for any of the characters in the scene? Can you give them a hotter interest in the goings on?
Look inside. Can you up the inner conflicts in any of the characters?
If all else fails, follow the old Raymon Chandler trick. Just bring in a guy with a gun.
Dineen asked: I have a question. Jim, what do you consider to be key elements to creating a three dimensional villain?
JSB: Great question! Because this is something many beginning writers don't do.
First, justify his behavior in his OWN MIND. IOW, bad guys don't think they're bad. They think they have a reason.
Second, find at least one sympathy factor from his past that explains why he does what he does. Not that it excuses him, but it explains him.
Third, give him inner conflict. He's in a battle of some sort, even though he chooses the wrong path.
Finally, you can consider making him/her charming in some way. So many of the great Hitchcock villains were like that.
Thank you for joining us. And thanks for the great answers!