Thursday, April 28, 2011

Author Pat Bertram

Pat Bertram has written four character and story driven novels: Light Bringer, her latest, Daughter Am I, More Deaths Than One, and A Spark of Heavenly Fire, all available from Second Wind Publishing. Although she’s a native of Colorado, you don’t have to go there to find her. She’s all over the Internet - Facebook, Gather, GoodReads, Library Thing, MySpace, Squidoo, Twitter … and here today on Straight From Hel.

Welcome Pat Bertram.

Defining Moments

Like her real-life counterpart, a character’s story begins with a gleam in her parents’ eye and ends with her death. The story we tell is but a fraction of that life, and where we choose to begin and where we choose to end defines the story. If we begin with a crime and end with a resolution of that crime, we have a mystery. If we begin with a girl meeting a boy or a woman meeting a man and end with happily ever after, we have a romance. If we chronicle the rise and fall of the character’s fortunes, we could have a tragedy, a family drama, or any number of stories.

The illusion of story is such that, whatever the genre, by the end of the book readers know the character as well as they know themselves and their friends. Readers know, or think they know, everything in the character’s life that brought her to crisis, and readers know, or think they know, how everything in the character’s life will work out after the story problem is resolved. By giving readers the essence of the character, we give them the means to continue the story long after the book is closed.

How do we work this sleight of hand? By showing the character in action and in relationships. By defining the character through decisions in moments of crisis.

In the prologue of Light Bringer, my speculative fiction thriller, Helen comes home from working a double shift at the hospital to find a baby on her doorstep. She shows her nurturing characteristics by taking care of the child. She shows the beginning of a metamorphosis from staid nurse to loving mother by putting off calling the authorities so she can enjoy the child bit longer. But what really defines her is how she acts in a moment of crisis. The baby, a magical child, or at least a precocious one, tells her they have to leave, that her invisible playmate says they are after her (the baby) and when they find her, they will kill Helen. Helen doesn’t hesitate. She packs up her car and her life and escapes with the baby.

Helen’s decision is a defining moment. If you come to understand everything and everyone involved in such a moment, whether it is something that happens in your life or your character’s life, you will understand a greater truth. In the case of Light Bringer, Helen’s decision defines not only her own character, but also the character of the baby, the character of the invisible playmate, and perhaps even the story itself. It is through such defining moments that we can create a character so real readers believe they know more about the character than was ever written.

This is a discussion rather than a how-to since both experienced writers and writers with a feel for story automatically include defining moments. The main reason for an awareness of defining moments is it gives you a different way of looking at a character you’re having trouble bringing to life. Best of all, you never have to explain the moment, never even have to call it a defining moment. Just write it. Readers’ minds will do the rest because that’s where characters come alive -- in the imagination of readers.

Thank you Pat.

You can find Light Bringer on Amazon. And, in addition to all the places I listed at the beginning of this post, you can find Pat Bertram on her blog and her website.

I know some of you are going to ask if Pat’s “Helen” character is, in reality, me. The answer is no, although I am a “light bringer” since every morning the sun waits until I rise before it does. Kidding aside, I really liked Pat’s talk about the defining moment in each protagonist’s life. I can tell you exactly where my protagonist’s moment is in the book I’m working on now. Does your protagonist have a defining moment?


  1. Helen, everyone knows you're a light bringer! :)
    This sounds like a great book. I like how Pat succinctly puts the definition of defining moments.

  2. Hmmm, if you're a 'light bringer' because the sun waits for you, I wonder what that makes me ... because the sun is long up when I rise ... a 'light wait'? ... aaannnyyyway, yes my protagonist has a defining moment too ... but the enlightenment is quickly lost in the clutter of his tiny cranium.

  3. That's interesting Christopher. He sees the light, but doesn't realize it.

    Laura, I used to be a night person, but have had to adjust to my husband who is an early riser.

  4. Wow, what a fabulous post. It has helped me very much, since I am working on my first piece of fiction, to think in terms of defining moments. Thanks, Helen and Pat.

  5. Hi Karen. Defining moments can define the character.

  6. Another great post. Food for thought. Looking forward to seeing you tomorrow at the conference.

  7. Thank you for having me as a guest on your blog, Helen. It's an honor to be here.

    Thank you all for stopping by to comment. "Defining moments" has always interested me since there were a few such moments in my life. I thought that if I could understand everything that happened to bring me to that moment, then I would understand my life. Still working on that!

  8. I meant the conference on Saturday, Helen, not tomorrow duh!!!

    Pat, you've got me thinking about "defining moments." Posts that make us think are great (even if I don't know what day it is).


  9. Interesting post. Now I realized that I have actually character stories without even knowing >:)

    Cold As Heaven

  10. Hello! hope you good.I just want to say this is a great post.Really nice of you sharing it up here.Am staying in touch for more.Keep it up.
    Meanwhile plz do check my blog on freeing your mind read it,follow,be inspired and comment to improve my works too.Have a wonderful day.

  11. I know Pat from another Yahoo! Group. Good to see you again. My characters have defining moments that take place during life and death struggles. Religious epiphonies are one of my favorites.

  12. Hi Ann! Yes, I'll be looking for you. Totally understandable that you would confuse me with the royal wedding (dates, I mean).

    My current WIP definitely has a defining moment.

  13. Great post, Pst. Got me thinking about defining moments in my own writing. Think I wrote one this afternoon. And there's that other one ... Look forward to getting to know your blog, Helen. Cheers, all!

  14. I'm so glad my commentary on defining moments has helped. Characters are everything to a story -- without them there is no story -- so anything we can do to make them more real is a step in the right direction.

    Best of luck with your writing, everyone!

  15. As always an excellent interview. My protagonist definitey has a defining moment - actually, it's the defining moment of the whole story! But it's a quiet moment.
    Judy, South Africa

  16. Pat has a way of explaining things and makes it sound so easy, lol!

    I love the thought of defining moments.

    I'm looking forward to reading Light Bringer!

    Sia McKye's Thoughts...OVER COFFEE

  17. My current manuscript does have a defining moment. It actually opens the story. I'd say that it's the pivotal moment, but there are a few others that follow throughout the story, and those ones further illuminate what type of person she is.

  18. Sounds like a great book. Thanks for bringing her to our attention!


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