Five Things That Don’t Happen in Fiction (But Do In Real Life)

Before my co-author and I began writing novels I had no idea that characters live under strict guidelines we don’t observe in real life. True, they can be glittering vampires (What’s up with that, anyway? Part of the deal for eternal life was no more sunshine, or poof! But that’s a subject for another day). Or they can live in world overrun by zombies, or filled with angry teenagers forced to fight to the death on national television. But here are some rules writers and their characters can’t break.

1.) Identical or Similar Names

Don’t know about you, but even with the first name Melanie, I find myself in situations involving other Melanies. A few weeks ago, my co-author Andrea and I were asked to play tennis in a group with another Melanie and Andrea. Figuring out who was coming and who wasn’t was a bit tricky. But in noveland, similar names are a no no. You can’t even have multiples of the ubiquitous Kayla/Kaitlyn/Katie, although any kindergarten teacher will tell you that there’s always at least three of them in any  group. The exception being if similar names are used as a plot device, i.e., one Katie gets another Katie’s texts by mistake, and ends up on the run from international terrorists. And, okay, I realize this is a terrible example because no one with a cute name like Katie would ever do anything more deadly than photobomb.

2.) Out of character behavior

In noveland, characters may grow and develop over time, but within an expected arc. I’ve had editors tell me to change a phrase because “Bethany wouldn’t say that, it isn’t consistent with her character.” I don’t know about you, but I’ve seen mild mannered women go full metal bitch on a bad day. Conversely, the people I loathe most in the world will sometimes annoy me by doing nice things. In fiction, if a bad guy commits a selfless act, he is virtually guaranteed to die a couple of paragraphs after redeeming himself. Lengthy deathbed monologue optional.

3.) Excessive use of cellphones and other devices

One of my theories on the current popularity of dystopian and historical settings in all genres is that it gets rid of the blasted phone, not to mention iPod, iPad, laptop and monster TV with seven million channels. Of course characters in some novels use cell phones, but not in the maniacal, obsessive way real people do. That’s because it would be boring as hell to read about someone snapchatting and Instagramming her life away (maybe we need to think about that).

4.) Wardrobe repetition

In noveland, every everyone seems to have access to Kim Kardashian’s closet or the equivalent. The exception, of course, is when clothing is an indication of a disturbing character trait or the end of civilization. Crazed killers might wear the same jeans and shirt repeatedly, as would someone on the verge of a breakdown. Zombie fighters in a world where there is no running water, electricity or J. Crew may also have wardrobe issues. But the rest are expected to undergo multiple wardrobe changes, and each and every outfit must say something about who that character is. I have to applaud fictional characters, who are rarely seen shopping or doing laundry, yet manage to come up with clothes that are not only clean, but expressive. Personally, I spend a lot of time in yoga pants.

5.) Paying bills, voting or paying taxes

If I weren’t ready to give up real life and live in a book for the clothes (see above), I’d do it just to avoid all civic and personal responsibility. When was the last time a character returned to his home to find his electricity had been cut off because he’d been too damn busy tracking down a kidnapped girl or saving the world to pay the power company? Never going to happen. Magical elves take care of all these mundane details even in books where there are no magical elves. But that’s okay. Who wants a detective hot on the trail of a psychotic killer to turn to his partner and say, “Damn, man, I forgot it was April 15. You’re going to have to handle this while I go wait in line to mail my return.”


Queen of the Court $.99

book_cover_V4Get Queen of the Court for just $.99 for Kindle September 14-18.

If you enjoy social satire, you’ll love this tale of an ex-stripper, Shana Lee Jones, who bails out a bankrupt country club and, to the horror of members, makes it the stage for her own reality show. You won’t find another novel featuring outlaw bikers, Wiccans, socialites, country club tennis, Ponzi schemes, politics, the paranormal and even, possibly, murder. It’s the perfect way to stretch summer beach reading into fall. Give yourself a reason to laugh this September.

Which One of You Is the Stripper?

My co-author Andrea and I get some pretty interesting questions from readers. Many of these queries are thoughtful, and allow us to reflect on our work in ways that otherwise might not have been possible. Others are just funny as [insert favorite expletive here]. And so…
1.) Which one of you is the stripper?

It’s Andrea. Just kidding. Despite the fact that our protagonist in Queen of the Court, Shana Jones, is a former stripper, this detail is not drawn from our life experiences. It’s a common misconception that a novel’s central character is always the writer in disguise. This may be true in some cases, but J.K. Rowling (I am always picking on her – just fanatically jealous of her millions) is not a wizard, Arthur Golden (Memoirs of a Geisha) was never a geisha, female or Japanese and so on. So no ex-strippers here, but we are willing to develop a pole dancing routine if it will get our book made into a movie.

2.) Are there any characters in your book who aren’t human?

One could argue that Lavinia Winter and her daughter Allie Beech lack the range of emotion to be considered fully human. But the audience member at a book signing who asked this question really wanted to know if Queen of the Court had any cats as characters. The answer is yes, including a colony of feral cats and an old battered Tom who saves….oh, wait, spoiler. Anyway, yes, we have cats, and we are animal lovers and pet owners. But we would like to assure everyone we are not “cat ladies” and have no intention of dying alone in a stuffy apartment surrounded by an excess of felines. Unless, of course, it will get our book made into a movie.

3.) Is your book based on actual people, places and events?

I quote our front matter here: “This book is a work of fiction. Characters, organizations, events and incidents are the product of the authors’ imagination. Any resemblance to actual persons and places is entirely coincidental.”

4.) So are the people who think Belle Vista is really their country club mad at you? [Asked by a reader who didn’t quite believe the answer to question 4.]

Yes! We hear this all the time! Interestingly, people we have never met regularly claim they are in the book (most seem to think they are Allie Beech). There are also those who proclaim publicly that they refuse to read the book, because they know we’re making fun of them and they think it is mean. Which is interesting, because if you haven’t read the book, how can you know we are making fun of you?

A couple of points here. First, we played country club tennis, so we’re making fun of ourselves. Second, it’s country club tennis. We are not poking fun at starving children or Mother Teresa. Third, if you really believe you are one of the characters in Queen of the Court, you have bigger problems than being one of the characters in Queen of the Court. Read the book and you’ll see what we mean.

We are frankly hoping that the once percent grows a set before our sequel comes out, because all this whining is giving us headaches. One final comment: Stop calling us mean. We prefer the term “bitches”.

Melanie Howard and Andrea Leidolf are authors of the social satire Queen of the Court and Merrywood, a mystery scheduled for publication this summer.

Queen of the Court is available in paperback and for Kindle on