SHARON ERVIN

 
JENN: I’m excited to have Sharon Ervin to interview this week. I’m sure you’ll enjoy this.
 
SHARON: Thanks, Jennifer, for allowing me to share a valuable lesson I learned in a critique group.
 
THE LESSON:
 
CHARACTERS AND CRITICISM
 
In old cowboy movies, the good guys wore white hats, the bad guys, black. Heroes smiled, villains didn’t. It was easy to tell who was who.  Regular human beings are not so easy to evaluate, so neither should characters be.
 
At one time a disgusted district attorney answered my oft-repeated complaint by ordering me––a newspaper reporter––to tell him if and when I ever met one of the alleged criminals filtering through his office who I thought was guilty.
 
One day, it happened. The scowling guy’s hairline was low over his forehead, almost to his eyebrows. He sat sullen in his shackles (bound wrists and ankles), and would neither look at nor speak to me, the only other person in the room.  I was studying him when, to my surprise, his shoulders began to shake and crocodile tears leaked down his unshaven face. “My daddy said someday they’d find me dead in some alley behind some bar,” he muttered.
 
When he looked up at me, that low forehead sported a big knot, and an angry line of stitches.
 
“My best friend hit me over the head with a two-by-four,” he said. “I was nearly dead already before he shot me.”
With that he dissolved into noisy sobs. I walked out and left him alone with his grief.
 
The point is: even bad guys can arouse sympathy sometimes. And the good ones can transgress. If people behave that way, believable characters probably should, too.
 
Years ago, I was pretty pleased with my work in progress. Everybody in my Texas critique group said they loved it…except Randy. A grown man, Randy pointed his index finger at his tonsils and pretended to gag every time it was my turn to read. I assumed the usual: Randy was “eat up with jealousy.”
 
Finally, one evening, I bristled and braced him. What didn’t he like? 
 
“Your stupid heroine.”
 
“What?”
 
“She’s too damn perfect,” he said. “She’s so sweet, she makes me sick.”
 
To be fair, Randy had a pretty perfect little wife. How could my heroine’s perfection be his complaint?
 
“She’s saccharine,” he said. “I cannot stand her. She’s nothing like a real woman. She needs flaws.”
 
FLAWS? Flaws? If my heroine’s being perfect was what annoyed him, I could fix that. I am no stranger to imperfections. Easy-peasy.
It didn’t take much to alter her. I made her a little untidy, and sometimes irritatingly sure of herself. With tiny changes, I made her astute powers of observation annoying, especially when she bragged. On the other hand, I gave her no clue as to what her unusual discoveries meant.
 
The hero got some revising, too. He got natty about his clothing, and began being perpetually late. Although he could arrange clues into meaningful forms, he missed obvious details, not good for a cop.
 
With the changes, Randy became tolerant. Not only that, others in the group liked the characters better, too. Randy and the group weren’t the only ones. Already satisfied with my little fictional family, I got positively revved.
 
No more good guys pompously parading in their white hats through my prose. No more unsubtle evildoers. 
My favorite characters now have warts and my bad guys display an occasional halo. I enjoy them all more for their unique, sometimes surprising foibles. And my readers do, too.
 




About SHARON ERVIN

The once-perfect Jancy Dewhurst is the now-flawed protagonist in all three of Sharon Ervin’s hardcover mystery series from Five Star/Cengage: THE RIBBON MURDERS, MURDER ABOARD THE CHOCTAW GAMBLER, and CANDLESTICKS.
 
Sooner born, Ervin has a degree in journalism from the University of Oklahoma. Once a newspaper reporter, she now works in her husband and son’s law office half-days, gleaning material and characters for more novels. She is married to McAlester, Oklahoma attorney Bill Ervin and has four grown children.
 
Website address: sharonervin.com
 
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9 Responses to “SHARON ERVIN”

  1. jenndicamillo Says:

    I love the interviews I’ve been posting lately. Lots of good solid (and easy to follow) writer’s advice. Thanks, Sharon, for coming to share with my readers.

  2. MarilynMeredith (@MarilynMeredith) Says:

    Hi, Sharon, this was a great interview and I loved the excerpt! Another book for my TBR pile.

    Marilyn

  3. Beth Anderson Says:

    This one was especially good and relevant, I think, re making the heroine not so perfect, etc. Very well written and explained. Great work, both of you!

  4. Vivian Zabel Says:

    Oh, perfection is the fodder for fairy tales, and we did outgrow them a long time ago, even if we wish we hadn’t. I don’t think I’d know how to write about a perfect person. I’ve never met one face to face. *grin*

    Thanks for the lesson, Sharon, and thanks for sharing her post with us, Jennifer.

  5. Marja McGraw Says:

    Excellent post, Sharon. You listened and you made it real. That’s a good lesson for all of us, in more ways that one. Thank you for sharing.

    Marja

  6. Anne K. Albert Says:

    Wonderful advice, Sharon. Characters that are believable walk off the page!

  7. Seniorsleuth@aol.com Says:

    Very good article and advice, Sharon. I hope a lot of fledgling writers have also read this piece.

  8. sharonervin Says:

    You fellow bloggers make me feel smart. For me, that’s BAD. You know what “goeth before a fall.” Thank you, anyway, you mischievous, lovely bunch.

  9. Jackie king Says:

    Sharon, Great advice. Thanks for passing this along.
    Best,
    Jackie

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