Thursday, January 23, 2014

Taking Chances ... by Karen Brees

I took a chance with The Esposito Caper. It was definitely out of my comfort zone in regards to the language one of my characters uses. But characters are just that. They’re people and they will insist on acting like themselves, no matter what you try to do as the author to make them into proper people. Let me explain.

My first heroine, Katrin Nissen, was a professor of Botany who also happened to be an OSS Agent in WWII. Her biggest expletive, as I recall, was “diddly squat”. Yep. A real barn burner there. Fast forward to today and the new book, The Esposito Caper. There are similarities, of course: Bad Guys. In the first book, these were the Nazis. In the second, the Mafia. You could probably write an entire book comparing them, and I’m fairly certain none of them spoke the Queen’s English when they were incensed, irate, or speaking in general terms. However, their language wasn’t important to my plot. And therein lies the answer to why Carla says what she says in her own inimitable way.

In the Caper, Carla Catalano is an exotic dancer with aspirations of opening a ballet studio with 100K she’s boosted from the mob. She’s blue collar tough, street smart, and has dreams of a better future. But her language is going to differ dramatically from Katrin’s. It has to, if the book is going to work.

What to do? She was her own person. So, I took a deep breath, asked my dearly departed mother to forgive me, and plunged ahead with the dialogue. I have to tell you, it was oddly liberating. Carla uses words I sure don’t use, but it’s the only path to verisimilitude. Language, like eyes, is a mirror into the soul.

Carla wants to be high class, and the book chronicles her journey along this path. In a sense the Caper is a story of second chances and redemption - not only for Carla but for Gino and Francesca. Not so sure about Morrie – he’s a tough nut to crack and I still don’t know how he does what he does.

I still feel obligated to warn people about Chapter Two. This is where Carla enters the story. I don’t know why I feel I must do this, but I do. It’s out of my comfort zone. As writers, however, if we stay in our comfort zone, nothing happens. Zip. Zilch. Nada. Rien. And in The Esposito Caper, a lot happens. Art heists, murder, love, and revenge. It was a fun book to write.

Now I’m considering a murder mystery set in Port Townsend, WA, during the late 19th century. I seem to jump around a bit in the historical whirlpool. How will these characters speak? Well, they’ll have to be true to their times, their stations in life, and their level of education and/or moral development, I guess. One thing I do know. Characters drive plot. You can have the greatest idea in the world, but if your characters aren’t real to you, they won’t be real to anyone else.

Thanks, Patricia, for having me on your blog.


Karen, thanks so much for being here. I faced a similar situation with one of my manuscripts. My bad guys need their mouths washed out with soap. It makes me nervous about getting that book in the hands of readers, but as you said, you have to be true to your characters, and my bad guys are bad to the bone.

You can learn more about Karen and her books on her website.  There’s a synopsis of The Esposito Caper on the home page, along with a book trailer. You can also find her on Facebook and Twitter.


Alex J. Cavanaugh said...

If I were writing something set in today's times, I'd have to use stronger language. Probably why I don't, because it would be difficult for me to do that.

KK Brees said...

One of my friends says, "You can have sex, but not write it, and you can write murder, but not do it." I know what she means, although there are many, many writers our age who write sex. I think it's reflective of our age and the times we were brought up in.

Karen Walker said...

Hello Patricia and Karen, wow, I seem to have lost touch with you since Dani's blogging class. So nice to see you again. I would be uncomfortable writing extremely foul language, but could probably do it. A steamy sex scene, however, would push me over an edge.

Julie Luek said...

I admire writers who stretch outside their comfort zone and do it well-- definitely an art to the use of language!

Margot Kinberg said...

Pat - Thanks for hosting Karen.

Karen - Thanks for sharing your writing experience. I think it can really help a writer grow to try something a little out of the 'comfort zone.' It's often really difficult to do, but it adds (I think) freshness to the writing. I respect that you did that.

KK Brees said...

A glass of wine before I began helped.

Patricia Stoltey said...

Karen, I'm so glad you submitted this post for your guest appearance. I've done the same thing with my novel, Dead Wrong, by using really awful language when writing from my bad guys' POV. I like to say I was channeling my inner bad guy, and I'll admit I had a bit of fun with it because I'd never act or talk that way in real life....well, most of the time. Now, however, I'm worried about what my mom will think. :D

M. K. Theodoratus said...

Does use of expletives decrease with age?

Maybe I never absorbed the mores of a proper lady, but I remember my mouth being much more harsh than it is now.

As for characters, in my opinion, characters must do what characters must do to seem three-dimensional.

KK Brees said...

Maybe it's because we've had a lifetime to increase our vocabulary and don't need to resort to expletives.

Susan Gourley/Kelley said...

Since I write science fiction and fantasy, I kind of make up my own curses and they're pretty mild. I don't mind reading a contemporary book that has some bad words in but like you've said, it has to fit the character.

KK Brees said...

That's why so many modern films are turnoffs. When the characters are so limited that they must constantly curse to explain themselves, it's boring.

Helen Hollick said...

A very interesting post - thank you. (Bought on Kindle - looks a good read!) I had the same dilemma for the main character in my Sea witch Voyages he's a pirate, and pirates were rough, tough people - but I wanted readers to like him. It would make the story so unbelievable for my Jesamiah Acorne to be in a tight situation and merely say 'oh bother' so I decided on 'fok' and 'fokken' which gave the right flavour of a swear word especially for the period (early 1700's) Very occasionally I use the more familiar 'f' word in _really_ tight situations, and there are a few bl**dys and bu**ers - but again, he's a pirate! What does annoy me is swearing for the sake of it and swearing in historical fiction set in Anglo Saxon England - the worst Anglo Saxon words were things like 'God's Breath' and 'God's Blood'. The f* word was unknown back then!
I did get a reprimanding e-mail from a reader regarding my 1066 Battle of Hastings novel (Harold the King - UK title / I am the Chosen King US title) as a character called a Norman a 'whoreson'. Given that this was during the height of England's most important battle, I would think this was quite a mild word.... considering! :-)

Helen Hollick said...

p.s. have also shared to Facebook & Twitter