Character Origins: Ocha

Ocha enters the stage unnamed on page 66 of the epic spy-thriller saga Gypsy Spy: The Cold War Files. She is the soothing angel of mercy calming Carlos after a fitful nightmare.  Her first words to him are heartfelt, but wide of the mark.

“You’re safe now,” she said.

I have shared sketches of her before, which you can read about here. But where did she come from? Like any good character with real flesh and bone, her seeds were sown in the soil of real life.

The first chase sticks with you. I knew boys growing up who suffered through the cootie phase of childhood, that time in life when the opposite sex is scary, dangerously different, and carries of unknown pathogens best avoided. They suffered. I chased.

Charlie Brown had the Little Red-Hair Girl. For me, it was Rosa Agost, an ash-blond Spanish girl with a substantial infusion of the Swiss in her bloodline. We never sat in class together because the grade school I attended in Castellón de la Plana was segregated. The girls had their own side and the nuns. The boys had the maestros with the heavy hands and serious brows.

Getting near the girls during recess required boldness, creativity, and a certain level of recklessness. The heavy-handed men who taught the boys were once boys themselves. Our machinations seldom, if ever, fooled them. Kick the soccer ball hard enough on the playground and it might land on the girls’ side. Someone has to get it, right? Why play by the school yard wall when the middle ground offered such a better view? Stay on your side, boys, or meet the hand!

Rosa captured my attention when I was seven. Maybe it was the hair. Or the smile. Or the eyes. I chased. She ran. Sometimes we all ran and she watched. Her method of choosing the lucky one to be designated her boyfriend was to throw her sandal as far as she could. The boys had to race for it, to the victor the spoils of the coveted title of her novio.

Gypsy dance

Rosa was her given name, but she went by Ocha, the feminine form of the Spanish word for eight. Not only was she born on August 8th, her surname was Agost, one vowel shy of the Spanish name for August.

Children of the mind, the characters that populate the stories of writers, are chimeras of those we meet and observe in life. We capture the qualities that captured us—the smooth lines and the odd angles, the tangled emotions and sincere feelings, the triumphs and the tragedies—and cob them together into someone else, fictional but true.

When we run out of time, because writing is never finished, we stamp our disclaimer under the copyright:

This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents either are the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously, and any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, business establishments, events, or locales is entirely coincidental.

Yep, entirely coincidental. Happy birthday, Ocha!

Meme Monday – Leoppard Hunt

Tracking down an assassin can prove hazardous to one’s health. Gavin Leoppard was content to disappear. But someone decided to dig the bones out of his closet. The hunters become the hunted in Valley of Wolves, the next chapter in the Gypsy Spy saga. Follow the blog for sample scenes and publication updates.

The Cover Story Con

Intelligence officers may use a dozen or more different alias names during a career.[1] Gavin Leoppard’s career is far from over, even though he’s already been buried once. Known to some as Carlos, to others as Javier, and to a select few as Drom, he assumes cover identities with the skill of a con man. In a pinch, he may even resort to the truth for the most unbelievable cover story of all.

This scene is from Chapter 14 of Valley of Wolves, the next chapter in the Gypsy Spy saga. Follow the blog for progress updates, pre-publication previews, and publication news.

The first book in the Gypsy Spy saga, Gypsy Spy: The Cold War Files, is available on Amazon.

[1] Wallace, Melton, & Schlesinger, Spycraft: The Secret History of the CIA’s Spytechs, from Communism to Al-Qaeda, Plume, New York, 2009, p. 381.

The Replicant

“Use it or lose it” is the axiom for all degrading skills. Climbing is an essential surreptitious entry skill. Gaining it, practicing it, and using it all come with risk. Some risk more than most. To keep his family safe, the Gypsy spy must risk his own life and limb.

This scene is from Chapter 2 of Valley of Wolves, the next chapter in the Gypsy Spy saga. Follow the blog for progress updates, pre-publication previews, and publication news.

The first book in the Gypsy Spy saga, Gypsy Spy: The Cold War Files, is available on Amazon.

 

Internal Dialogue – Roman or Italics?

I am a font freak and a typeset tyrant. This penchant bled into me from my earliest years. My father was a printer. I am a printer’s son. Dad always had a magnifying loop in his pocket. Reading the morning paper for him was more than just getting the news. He admired the layout and examined with his loop the mix of dots that made the pictures. His trade and passion informed me that writing was as much a visual art as it was a literary one.

A painting is more than splashes of color on canvas. The artists’ choices of media—oil vs. watercolor, sponge vs. brush, heavy stroke vs. light touch—influence how their inner vision comes out to the world. In similar fashion, writing is more than splashes of words on paper. Poetry was my main form of creative writing when I was young. Working out the centering of my text on a fresh sheet of paper rolled into my typewriter was as much a part of the poetry as the stanzas themselves, particularly if I chose to break from the convention of left aligned text for visual subtext to the lines of rhyme.

I like rules. They serve readers and help to keep us on the same page. Standard formatting options takes the guess work out for readers. They come to our work with a trust in the rules. A period ends a sentence. An indent indicates a new paragraph. Quotation marks show dialogue. The rules allow them to hear our voice much like a musician following the composer’s notes across the staves can hear the music. This understanding brings me to the subject at hand, internal dialogue.

Internal dialogue can serve many functions in our fiction, such as:[1]

  • Establishing your characters and their uniqueness.
  • Revealing things below the surface: pains, secrets, hope, fears …
  • Creating and developing suspense.
  • Revealing character motivation.
  • Rendering reflection.

Two main conventions used to prevail for internal dialogue in fiction and they each had their particular function and strength. The first is straightforward and easily understood. For instance, the point-of-view character is at a rendezvous waiting for her paramour. It is nearly an hour past their meeting time and he hasn’t shown. Wherever could he be, she thought.

This method mirrors regular dialogue in that it uses “he/she thought” much as we use “he/she said” in regular dialogue. “Terrible traffic, dear,” he said. “Sorry I’m late.” (I know. I just let all the tension out of the scene. But wait, internal dialogue can save us yet.)

Traffic, on a Thursday afternoon? Not likely. What has he been up to? “I was beginning to worry about you,” she said.

Using italics for internal dialogue is the second main convention that used to be in favor. It has the benefit of allowing us to discard the “she thought” attribution while at the same time signaling to the reader that they are seeing something different and important. If the convention is understood and accepted, the reader moves seamlessly from the narrator’s voice to inside the characters head.

As I mentioned above, I like rules. Following them exhibits a certain level of professionalism and avoids unnecessary confusion for the reader. I recently shared some of my work in progress with a local writer’s critique group. The piece had a snippet of internal dialogue in italics. Note the critic’s comment.

Italics

Italics? Okay, I thought (no pun intended) the rule was to write in italics any internal dialogue that didn’t have an attribution. The critique group begged to differ. I like the convention for the reasons listed above. Leaving internal dialogue in roman type without attribution gives no aid to the reader, forcing her to figure out its source based on context. What is a writer to do?

Well, this writer turned to a trusted resource, Writer’s Digest. I got doses of Writer’s Digest with my mother’s milk, so they should know, right? Barnes & Noble, here I come! Browsing the shelves of that beloved store, I found the following beauty.

Dialogue

A guide to thinking in fiction was just what the doctor ordered. Sadly, only one chapter dealt specifically with this topic. Its author, Elizabeth Sims, had this to say about the format of internal dialogue:

“As for format, the only rule is to avoid quotation marks, single or double, as they’re associated with spoken-aloud dialogue and confuse the reader. It used to be the convention to put inner thoughts in italics … Now the trend seems to be to keep everything in roman text, the idea being that italics are intrusive and unnecessary.”[2]

I would describe italics for inner thoughts as alertive, not intrusive. The slight mental jarring brought about through a change of type puts the reader on alert that they are hearing directly from the character’s mind. What do you think? Writers and readers, give a writer a helping hand. Let me know in the comments your thoughts on the subject and your preference. It may save me hours of formatting later and future readers will thank you.

[1] “Understanding Internal Dialogue” by Elizabeth Sims, Crafting Dynamic Dialogue: The Complete Guide to Speaking, Conversing, Arguing, and Thinking in Fiction, The Editors of Writer’s Digest, Writer’s Digest Books, Cincinnati, 2016, p. 254-255.
[2] Ibid., p. 255.

Creative Motivation in Teaser Trailers

Writers, have you ever dreamt of seeing your book turned into a movie? For me, building book trailers is a way of getting a taste of that dream. Though used primarily as a marketing tool, book trailers can provide much more for the author and his or her fans.

As a writer, crafting a book trailer stokes my creative fires. When frustrated or challenged in the composition process, providing Gypsy Spy fans—both present and future—with the thank you of a visual treat of a book they spend time and money on keeps me going.

This trailer is for my next novel in the Gypsy Spy saga, Valley of Wolves. The novel itself is still a work in progress. The trailer is as much a teaser for its future audience as it is a prompter for me to keep going to finish line.

 

 

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