Sunday, December 9, 2018

Writing is Like Painting a Beautiful Picture


Like a fine painting, an author adds layers of details through each subsequent draft.


When the first draft of the third Caitlyn Jamison mystery was complete, I converted the manuscript into 6 x 9 format – the same size the finished book will be. The benefit of size conversion is to see how the paragraphs look on the page, check for widows and orphans, see how dialogue appears, and to have an accurate final page count. It allows the author to read like a "reader," and not like a "writer."


Reading a 6 x 9 format allows for better layering. Like a fine painting, an author adds layers of details through each subsequent draft. And like a painting, each layer of detail and description makes the book fuller, richer, more vibrant.

This process allows the author to better know the characters, which can create problems if that character doesn’t turn out how the author originally intended. In Fatal Dose, as I added layers to the story, some characters demanded different roles. And too, with this third in the series, The Death of Cassie White, one character was only a means to an end. But as I layer on the "colors" of the story, I need to develop this character more fully. 

So for an author who loves the writing process, this is all in a day’s work.

Thursday, November 8, 2018

Writing Handout with things I learned along the way


Writing hints and stuff I learned along the way
© Mary Maki 2018

From where do ideas come? Anywhere – Newspaper/magazine articles, Television/Radio shows, trending social issues, life experiences, and your imagination.

What are you passionate about? What’s your story really about? What’s at stake for each character?

Decisions:
Genre (Where will your book be placed in a bookstore or library?), setting, characters, plot line (s), and timeframe. Will you be a plotter or pantser or both?

Character Development
Elizabeth George’s book On Writing, states, “Story is Character.” Give them flaws; have them doubt themselves. Let them grow and change by the end of the book. Write a bio for each character. You need to know everything about the characters—physical attributes (hair and eye color, height, weight, age, etc.) mental condition, family background, and occupation. Think of character analysis as physical, psychological and sociological. Once you have created a bio for your main characters you will know how they will respond in different situations. Secondary characters are just as important to develop. They should be strong. Avoid stereotypes. Don’t be surprised when characters take over.

Scenes – Think three-act play – When setting up your story think of it in three parts, beginning when you set up the action, middle when the action peaks, and end when story lines are brought to fruition. Within the acts are the scenes where the action takes place. Every scene has to move the story forward.

Point of View
Point of view is the distance between your characters and your readers.
First Person is the most intimate point of view and will draw readers emotionally into our character’s experience. “I” pronoun is used.
Second Person is even more intimate because readers get into the characters’ thoughts. It is used to draw readers in close. “You” pronoun is used.
Third Person is recognized by the use of “she” or “he.” This point of view is divided into two forms: Omniscient and limited. Third person limited is the most practical as it sticks to one character’s point of view at a time.
** The challenge is to not mix and match point of view so that the readers don’t get confused as to who is talking. One POV per scene.

Dialogue
Dialogue moves the story forward, sets the tone, creates tension, and a sense of time and place. It provides information and action. Dialogue reflects the speaker, their vocabulary, and speech patterns.

Pacing
“Pacing is the heartbeat of your story. It’s the rhythm that keeps your narrative on track, scene after scene.”[1]
Think of your story as having hills and valleys. As you ramp up the tension with conflicts, you also need to provide readers relief from that stress. [This could be when your subplot comes in.] Paragraphs should be kept short with various sentence lengths. Paragraphs should not bog down in the middle. When forming sentences watch for excess baggage, i.e. information not needed. Look for unnecessary words and phrases, and get rid of them. Make every word work!

Editing – Listen to the Music
Read out loud: That’s where the music comes in. Writing is not only visual. “The words you write make sounds, and when the sounds satisfy the reader’s ear, your writing works.”  The combination of correct words and length in a sentence creates a sound that will please a reader’s ear. When reading your manuscript aloud, you will hear the sour notes.

Publishing – Main Stream (Traditional) or Self-Publish – Or don’t publish at all– It’s a personal choice
Mainstream Publishing
You will need an agent. Check the library’s edition of The Writer’s Market for agents accepting queries in your genre. Read the instructions carefully. What kind of books does the agency represent? Follow directions to the letter. Learn how to write query letters. (How to Write Attention-grabbing Query & Cover Letters, by John Wood, 808.02 Wo) Be ready to accept rejection and most of all keep trying. When an agent accepts your manuscript, he/she will shop your book to publishing houses. If one of them buys the book, you will then face contract negotiations. You may need to hire a lawyer to protect your interests. Your book will be put in the queue and you may wait a year or more to publication.

Self-Publishing with CreateSpace
CreateSpace is an excellent option for self-publishing. The site offers easy step-by-step instructions for loading the manuscript and cover. It provides excellent customer service, shows the royalty structure, and distribution options. CreateSpace’s internal review process alerts the author to issues that might effect publication. [Set up a separate bank account for royalties to be deposited.] Downside: It is up to you to have a perfect manuscript and cover art. If you don’t have qualified beta readers, hire an editor.

Marketing – That other hat to wear
Whether you mainstream publish or self publish, you will have to do your own marketing. This is where social media is important. Author website, blog, LinkedIn, email contacts of family/friends, guest blogs, book festivals, craft fairs, newspaper articles, library author tables/presentations. Wherever you can get your name and books out to connect with readers.

My Writing Toolbox
Bell, James Scott, Plot and Structure. Writers Digest Books, Cincinnati, Ohio, 2004.
George, Elizabeth, Write Away. Harper Collins, New York, NY, 2004.
King, Stephen, On Writing; A memoir of the Craft. Scribner, New York, 2000.
Mills, Elizabeth Shown, Evidence Explained; Citing history sources form artifacts to cyberspace.
     Genealogical Publishing Company, Baltimore, MD, 2009.
Munier, Paula, Plot Perfect.  Writer’s Digest Books, Cincinnati, Ohio, 2014.
Munier, Paula, Writing with Quiet Hands. Writer’s Digest Books, Cincinnati, Ohio, 2015.
Provost, Gary, Make Your Words Work. Writers Digest Books, Cincinnati, Ohio, 1990.
Roberts, Gillian, You Can Write a Mystery. Writers Digest Books, Cincinnati, Ohio, 1999.
Rosenfeld, Jordan, Make a Scene. Writers Digest Books, Cincinnati, Ohio, 2017.
Writer’s Digest – Subscribe to get all the latest information on the writing process.


[1] Pereira, Gabriela. “Climax and Conclusion,” Writer’s Digest, October 2016, p. 54.

Writing Mysteries


 When I read the fall quarterly CRRL @YourLibrary publication this summer, I realized I was scheduled to make a presentation on writing mysteries to each of the library's three Inklings Writing Groups. And I was only to happy to do this. The handout follows below, but I told them that although it is critical to keep learning the craft of writing, sometimes rules need to be broken. Writing is first and foremost about YOUR creativity.  

The question I am often asked is: "What's the difference between a mystery and thriller?" The question should be: "What the difference between a mystery, suspense and thriller?"

At the recent CRRL Writers Conference, Traci Hunter Abramson described the differences with the bomb comparison: 
Mystery - The bomb has gone off - protagonist has to find out who done it
Suspense - Reader knows about bomb; protagonist doesn't
Thriller - Lost of bombs; lots of action

I told the group to put the word "usually" in front of everything I say, because sometimes our stories don't exactly fit the mold.

Mystery is a genre of fiction usually involving a mysterious death or a crime to be solved. Often with a closed circle of suspects, each suspect is usually provided with a credible motive and a reasonable opportunity for committing the crime.

Mystery Subgenres:

Traditional: A mystery must have certain elements to be considered a mystery.  Essentially, a mystery will have a puzzle or secret, or layers of puzzles or secrets, a setting that fits the type of book, a sound motive, red herrings, and clues. Most traditionally accepted mysteries have a murder. This is the element that compels people to keep reading. (Think Agatha Christie)

Cozy: Traditional cozies are light, sometimes humorous, slow paced (as compared to the other categories), the murder (usually quite civilized) and sex happen off scene, and the solving of the crime is a battle of wits between the reluctant amateur sleuth and the villain. The setting is most often in a small town or community and the sub-characters are quirky and fun. The sleuth falls into the mystery by accident or circumstance and uses common sense/gray cells to solve the crime. Usually first person. (Think Janet Evanovich)

Detective:

Hard Boiled
The hard boiled mystery is a detective story with attitude and action. It’s a tough mystery that takes place in a city or urban setting. It’s gritty. It’s violent. The blood and violence (and sex) takes place on screen. Usually the detective is a professional who’s been hired to investigate. Usually first person with a bare-bones or abrupt narrative style. This is not your emotional mystery. (Think Raymond Chandler or Michael Connelly)

Soft Boiled
The soft boiled mystery falls somewhere between the hard boiled and the cozy. It’s not as violent as the hard boiled, but can have more on scene than the cozy. Many soft boiled mysteries have humorous elements. The detective can be a professional or amateur. Misa’s Lola Cruz Mystery Series is an example of soft boiled. Janet Evanovich is also soft boiled (with some caper thrown in).

Police Procedural
The detective/sleuth in a police procedural is almost always a law enforcement agent of some sort. The details of the mystery plot are the focus, as opposed to the heavier character development of the other categories. The term police procedural is used because the procedures are detailed and accurate. Rules must be followed and crime details are key. (Think PD James and Tony Hillerman)

Think hard about the kind of details, POV, setting, level of violence in your book and how to categorize it. Not every book fits neatly into a category, but you should be able to see it in one of these categories (even if you have to push or shove a little bit!). Just a caveat, things that aren’t easily marketable–meaning your agent or editor doesn’t know how to explain what it is–are less likely to sell. If you can categorize your book, in general, all the better.
http://misaramirez.com/for-writers/types-of-mysteries/

In a thriller, "who done it" is usually known to the reader, and often times to the main character. The goal is not to solve a mystery, but rather to catch a criminal, or stop a crime from being committed. A thriller is a mystery that de-emphasizes cerebration, and emphasizes action and suspense. The protagonist is in danger from the outset.

Subgenres: Legal, Medical

Suspense: the main character may become aware of danger only gradually. In a mystery, the reader is exposed to the same information as the detective, but in a suspense story, the reader is aware of things unknown to the protagonist. The reader sees the bad guy plant the bomb, and then suffers the suspense of wondering when or if it will explode. Suspense gives a feeling of pleasurable uncertainty.

Mysteries have the same basic elements as all prose
Characters
Setting
Plot/storyline/your reason for writing
Suspense/Action/ What’s at stake/Hold readers’ attention/
Hook the reader on the first page

Character Rules:
Character bios – protagonist and supporting characters (not too many)
Each character should have a role
Mirror characters – the protagonist needs someone to talk to, bounce ideas off of
Avoid stereotypes
Be ready for your characters to take over and change the story

Develop your protagonist:
What crime (or bad thing) has been committed and needs to be solved.
Who is he/she? Why does your protagonist care about the crime? Make it personal.
What is your protagonist’s problem, goal, need, desire?
What are his/her motives for solving the crime and what resources will he/she need?
What obstacles stand in his/her way? Develop a crisis point.
Show readers something your protagonist wants, and then threaten it.
Build tension. Get into each character’s head. How would they react in any situation?
How will your characters change by the end of the book?

Mechanics:
Point of view (POV)
Dialogue – keep crisp, clear
Plotter or Pantser? Do you plan ahead, outline, or just write and see what happens?
What is this story about? What do I want this story to be about? Keep asking that question.
Red herrings – suspects/clues/misdirection – but play fair
Pacing – give your readers a break! After a fast-pace chapter, slow it down
Research – Readers are smart, and will catch any little detail you’ve gotten wrong
Editing – make every word work

Closure
Think of your story as a three act play – setting the stage, climax, tying up plot lines
How will the story end? Write the ending first.

My Writing Toolbox

George, Elizabeth, Write Away. Harper Collins, New York, NY, 2004.
King, Stephen, On Writing; A memoir of the Craft. Scribner, New York, 2000.
Lamott, Anne, Bird by Bird. Anchor Books, New York, 1994.
Mills, Elizabeth Shown, Evidence Explained; Citing history sources form artifacts to cyberspace. Genealogical Publishing Company, Baltimore, MD, 2009.
Munier, Paula, Plot Perfect.  Writer’s Digest Books, Cincinnati, Ohio, 2014.
Munier, Paula, Writing with Quiet Hands. Writer’s Digest Books, Cincinnati, Ohio, 2015.
Provost, Gary, Make Your Words Work. Writers Digest Books, Cincinnati, Ohio, 1990.
Roberts, Gillian, You Can Write a Mystery. Writers Digest Books, Cincinnati, Ohio, 1999.
Stone, Todd A., Novelist’s Boot Camp; 101 Ways to take your book from Boring to Bestseller. Writer’s Digest Books, Cincinnati, Ohio, 2006.
The Chicago Manual of Style, The University of Chicago Press, Chicago, IL. 14th Edition, 1993.
Writer’s Digest – Subscribe to get all the latest information on writing process, finding agents, best websites, and unlimited how-to’s for writing.  [http://subscriptions.writersdigest.com/Writers-Digest/Magazine]
Dictionary and Thesaurus

Monday, October 8, 2018

Description


For the October Fiction Writing Critique Group meeting at the Howell Branch Library, I prepared this handout, thanks to great articles from Writers Digest and Jane Friedman's blog.  I also wanted folks to get started thinking about NANOWRIMO. And to encourage them to plan their own writing goal for the month of November.
NANOWRIMO – th.jpg Do It Your Way th.jpg

·      NANOWRIMO begins 1 November 2018 – one month, 50,000 words (1,167/day)
·      Our writing goals don’t always fit the mold
·      Make a writing commitment and then make a plan
·      Set your own/reasonable goals
·      Partner with a friend
·      Utilize the library’s NANOWRIMO space – days and times will be announced
·      As a Fiction Critique Group let’s state and track our progress
·      Why wait? Start now!

Description
Showing rather than telling is part of the magic that you have to work as a writer. In fact, it’s one of the most vital parts. Your reader has to make his way through your story or novel and then finally come away from it with a sense of characters and settings.

Example: “The city suffered significant damage in the blast.” [Too cold, too distant, too all-inclusive]
Instead: “Among the ruins, the reflection of the sun on the pieces of broken glass on the road was so strong that it was difficult to hold your head up as you walked. The smell of death was a little fainter than the day before, but the places where houses had collapsed into tile-covered heaps stank vilely and were covered with great, black swarms of flies.”

In To Kill a Mockingbird, never does Scout say her father is a good man. But throughout the novel, we know it; at the end, one of the strongest images is his goodness.

If your character is a fireman – you could say, “His job was exciting.” Or, you could say, “His heart rate elevated when his truck approached a fire.”

Balancing Act: * Your fiction has to be a balanced blend of both show and tell.*

Keep description short; get specific. “It was a beautiful sunset,” says nothing.
Describe a person through another character’s eyes;
Sprinkle description throughout the story;
Utilize the senses – sight, smell, touch, sound, taste
Setting is character; [Louise Penny’s Three Pines; Jan Karon’s Mitford] The truer your setting, the more believable will be the fictional world you invite your reader to enter. Setting can also set the mood or tone of your story, time period of your story.

“Readers’ love writing that brings the world in your head to life in theirs.” [Elizabeth Sims/WD Jan 2013]

* When describing people, stay away from hair and eye color, as well as height and weight. Many writers make the mistake of describing their characters like the people in a police blotter. Think, instead, about the way you might describe your friends. Do you know the height and weight of your friends? Do you ever think about their eye color? These features are not as interesting as other, more complex descriptors. Consider your characters' gestures, the shape of their facial features, their gait, their dimples, their scars, the way they laugh, the quality of their teeth, their stance, their fashion sense, their odor, their vocal tone, and so on.

*Think in terms of "telling details": details that let the reader see your characters while also revealing something about their minds. In this way, your descriptions can do double duty: giving the reader a physical picture while also showing an inner, mental trait. If a woman has unkempt, flyaway hair, that lets the reader see her, and it also reveals something about the character's sense of self and level of vanity. If a man has rimless, tinted glasses and a dry, taut mouth, that lets the reader see him, and it also reveals a lot about the character's personality.

*Each new scene in a story should have at least one paragraph of description to clarify where the characters are and who is present. This should happen fairly early in the scene. Whenever your readers are unsure about the physical logistics of the story, they will be unable to fully suspend their disbelief and dive in; they will be too busy trying to figure out what's going on. You never want your readers to be unsure about who, what, when, and where. Give us the situation right away. Tell us who is in the room. Locate your story in a distinct place and time.

*Too much description can bog down a story, but not enough can have the opposite effect, making the characters seem weightless and detached from reality. However, this is something to think about only during the process of revision. You should not worry about it while actively writing something new. When it comes to description, finding the right balance will take time, space, and the clarity of mind that comes from editing a finished piece, not creating a new one. While you're actively writing, don't worry about whether you're using too much or too little description. Feel free to try things and make mistakes. When in doubt, write more description than you think you'll need. You can always take things out afterward. [Abbi Geni/Jane Friedman blog 3 June 2016]

Monday, September 17, 2018

Caitlyn and Emilie – an update



It has been a busy summer, and I can’t believe it has been three months since I posted a blog.  I have been posting a few blogs and Caitlyn Jamison news on my website: memaki.com

The third Caitlyn Jamison mystery, set in Virginia’s beautiful Northern Neck region has given me some challenges. I’ve been back and forth with the plot line (s). Basically, I had too many plot lines, too many characters, and the story was not working. I’ve had to cut back on plot and characters, making all the tweaks, and simplifying the story so that it is more powerful and now moving along.

To make matters worse, I recently added a new first chapter, a prologue of sorts, which prompted another round of chapter shifts. As in my first two books, I am dealing with my characters' personalities and their desire to run the show.

I recently read 20 Master Plots by Ronald B. Tobias and he describes what authors experience as they develop their stories. My favorite quote from the book is: “Once characters take on lives of their own, they become difficult to control. They may not share your sense of plot. They may have their own agenda and leave you astounded by their imprudence. They defy you. They taunt you.” Boy, did he hit the nail on the head.

While I’ve been working on the next Caitlyn Jamison mystery, another book idea emerged. The protagonist is named Emilie, and she has been quite persistent. She does not want to wait to have her voice and opinions heard. So last weekend I started her story that will be set in Savannah, Georgia, one of our favorite places to visit. I won’t say any more about the story line now, because knowing character development, she might change everything that I had in mind. I hope in a month or so I can report on how Emilie is progressing.

In the meantime, I’m getting ready for NANOWRIMO - my way - again this year. What will you be writing?

Sunday, July 1, 2018

Anatomy Lesson


I’ve been putting a lot of thought into what I would cover in my first Fiction Writing Critique group that will meet one month from now. There is so much information to share on writing the question is, where do I begin?



It occurred to me I should start out with an anatomy lesson. The first question is: what's your genre? Is it romance, mystery, cozy mystery, thriller, sci-fi, fantasy, or literature? Maybe they don’t know yet, but I think it’s helpful to have a genre roadmap. And that roadmap should include geographically where the action takes place. If the story is sci-fi and another world is developed, that world has to have rules. Know what those are.



Stories are made up of scenes. I recently read an informative blog by Rebecca Monterusso on Jane Friedman’s site. The blog is titled: “What does it mean to write a scene that works?” Rebecca states that a book is made up of multiple scenes. It’s the time when the character is pulled out of their comfort zone. Scenes are the basic building blocks of the story and together they build the novel.



Which brings me to pacing. No matter what genre you are writing, some tension, stress, force for change has to happen. Pacing means keeping paragraphs tight, chapters of varying lengths. If the tension is too high, readers will need a chapter with a slower pace for some relief.



Character development has to be done first. Who is the protagonist? Their mirror character? Supporting characters? A writer needs to understand the characters, their physical characteristics, their emotions, psychological profile, and their history. If the writer knows their characters, he/she will know how they will react in various situations.



What is the plot line (s) of the story? How will your character work through the situation?  And how will it be resolved? If more than one plot line will they connect at the end or resolve separately?



I also want to cover formatting. I’m a visual person. When I’m writing I need to have the manuscript look like a book. I format when I start – for a 6 x 9 trade paperback, which my books are, the perfect margins for publishing through CreateSpace are: Left: .8; Right .8; Top .95; Bottom .8; Header and Footer at 1.0.  I also number chapters as I go – although this is sometimes time consuming when I’m moving chapters around, I find it is helpful to find my place when I return to the manuscript. I also page down with each chapter, keeping everything consistent – four returns from the top with chapter number centered on that fourth line. Then two returns before first line of text, with that line starting on the third return. The first line of text for each chapter is aligned on the left margin, with following chapters indented one quarter inch. I’ve trained myself to this consistent formatting which saves me a lot of time and effort at the end.

And we haven't even gotten to dialogue . . . that's for another session.



Everyone writes differently, but I hope these guidelines will be helpful to the critique group.


Thursday, May 24, 2018

The Uninvited Corpse



It’s always exciting when a new mystery series is introduced. It is even more exciting when the book is written by one of your friends, and she has a three-book deal with a major publisher. That is what Debra Sennefelder has accomplished. The Uninvited Corpse, the first book in her Food Blogger Mystery Series, was published in April.

Her protagonist, Hope Early, is a foodie. She loves to cook, she loves to bake. She loves to take photos of her recipes, and then write about her cooking experiences. She also has a strong sense of justice, especially when her sister is accused of murder. Although Hope is warned several times to stay out of the investigation, those warnings fall on deaf ears. She is determined to find the truth—who killed realtor Peaches McCoy?

Some of Hope's favorite recipes are included at the end of the book. Ethan's Crisp Chocolate Chip Cookies anyone?

Debra’s second book in this series, The Hidden Corpse, will be available in April 2019. The Uninvited Corpse can be found on Amazon.

Thursday, May 10, 2018

Author Presentation at Celebrate


Getting ready for the presentation
Last Sunday I gave an author talk to Celebrate Virginia’s mystery book group, the Page Turner’s. They in turn invited the community, which resulted in a wonderful turnout. Now, I’m not so na├»ve to think they were all coming just to hear me! Members of Page Turner’s provided Finger Lakes wine, crackers and cheese as accompaniments to my talk. 

 
 After a brief background introduction, I shared information on what is involved in writing – anything. The number one ingredient is passion. Whatever they are writing, they need to be passionate about their subject. That will make the writing fun, and readers will sense it. What do you wish to accomplish? What is the story really about? And this question will come up multiple times throughout the development of the work. Because the characters will change, the plot will change. To keep yourself on track, you have to keep asking – what is this story about?

I then went into decisions an author has to make: Genre, main characters, plot line (s), time frame, setting, and will you be a plotter (outlining) or pantser (just write and see where it goes)?

I shared some funny stories about how my some of characters took over, and the results of their demands. And when you type “the end” it isn’t. You need to have beta readers, and you need to edit, edit, edit. (But know when to stop.)

Listen to the music of your works, I told them. If the words and sentence structure are correct, the words will be like music to your ears. If not, then a sour note will be evident.

I finished by explaining the latest in the publishing world, why I chose to self publish, and the marketing process. Yes, you have to have a social media presence.

I think everyone had a great time – at least they told me so – and I think I gave readers a better understanding of how books come about.

Monday, April 30, 2018

Finger Lakes Book Tour


Lansing New York Community Library
After a book is written, edited, and then published, an author has to prepare to market their book. Actually this preparation should have begun months earlier with the development of a social media presence alerting readers a book is coming and providing teasers to keep readers on the edge of their seats while they wait for publication.

An important step in marketing is meeting readers, and that is done through bookstore appearances and signings and presentations at various venues, such as book groups and libraries. I met a lot of readers this past week when I gave a forty-minute Keynote presentation at four rural Upstate New York libraries. It was wonderful to be greeted by so many readers and to be able to share my writing journey with them. I answered a variety of questions about the writing and publishing process. One of the attendees was about ten years old and when I asked her at the end of my presentation if it was helpful, she said, “Yes. I’m just thinking about what I have written.” I told her there were handouts at the back with a list of things I have learned, and I hope she was able to grab one.

Creative poster at the Ulysses Philomathic Library - "with a candlestick"

An important part of my tour was my hubby who drove me around and was responsible for getting the laptop hooked up to each library’s projector (we brought our own projector just in case), and my sister-in-law who listened to the same presentation four nights in a row (I suggested she bring a book after the first night – she did not – she enjoyed listening and learning a little more each evening). She set up the book table and sold them before and after the event. That was a godsend as it freed me up to answer questions, talk with people, and sign their books. My sister-in-law intended to keep track of the number of books sold, but she quickly learned that they go so fast, there was no way she could do that, talk to people, and make change.

Engaging with the Lansing Library attendees
 A week before the tour I contacted each library director to confirm day and time, A/V requirements, whether there was a screen (or blank wall for projection), and whether I would be allowed to sell books. Normally an author donates a book to each library where the presentation is given, but in this case, I had already donated several of each to the Finger Lakes Library System.

I returned home energized about the next Caitlyn Jamison mystery. I know there are many readers waiting.

Saturday, March 31, 2018

Learning the craft of writing - A Writer’s Journal


In a recent Writers Digest interview Kristin Hannah stated she probably does more than ten drafts of her books. She also shared the fact that she had worked on one book for over two years and ended up throwing it away. These revelations startled me, a beginning writer, but the comments were also comforting. This craft of writing is a long and challenging journey. But one of great joy and satisfaction when you can make the words work. When you are able to share a part of yourself, your passions, your ideas.

To capture my ideas, passions, and helpful hints I keep a writer’s journal for each book. The first page has a working title and some plot ideas. Since this is the second Caitlyn Jamison mystery, I have bios on the main characters. The supporting cast will be developed as I go along. The second page has the publishing stats of the first book, i.e. margins, pagination, author price (I learned the more pages in the book the lower the royalty-Fatal Dose is about 40 pages longer than Unexpected Death, so my royalty for Fatal Dose is about 40 cents less.) I also jot down the ISBN number of each book and the number of pages in each.

On the following pages I continue to jot down plot ideas, and introduce characters. Plots change as the characters are developed, so my “Idea” entries change as the book progresses. I also make note of reminders as to scenes, plot structure, use of senses (2 or 3 in each scene), and a constant reminder: What is this story really about? Why should readers keep reading?

While working on the third book, I am busy marketing the first two. Those venues with contact information is captured in my journal. Also captured are books with citations that I use for research.

When I get well into the story I start tracking my word count. I keep a listing of each day’s progress with notes on what needs to be done.

When I get stuck, I review the notes in my journal. It is a way to see how my thought processes have changed as the book matures.

Sunday, February 25, 2018

The Dreaded Middle

It has been a long time since I posted on this blog, which means I have been working hard on my third Caitlyn Jamison mystery! My new website: memaki.com also has a blog, plus a short blog called "Caitlyn's News," in which I keep readers informed about what she is up to as her new adventure progresses. So, counting my genealogy blog, GrowingupinWillowCreek.blotspot.com, I now have three blogs, "Caitlyn's News" and a website to keep fresh, in addition to making progress on the third book. Whew!

Last week I hit the dreaded middle of my new book (working title: The Missing Waterman). Actually I was over halfway when I came to a screeching halt. I spent several days (and nights) wondering where I had gone awry. I liked the plot lines, and I liked the characters, so why couldn't I make the story go forward?

The answer came to me in the middle of the night: the story sequence was in the wrong order. The way I decided to fix that was to start over. Yes, with 0 word count. I started a new document in which I copied chapters from the original document, but placed them in a different order. I took pieces of chapters and put them where they worked better. I've left the fluff behind, and now have a work-in-progress that flows much better and the prose is tighter.

Utilizing the advice from the book, Make a Scene, I will go through those new chapters to make sure they fit the criteria. I then will put each chapter through WritingProAid, a software product that is an incredible editing tool. I want to make sure my base is solid before I go much further with the story. 

And that is the life of a writer. Always learning, always trying new ways to come up with an enjoyable story. May your writing give you much joy.


Saturday, January 6, 2018

Scenes Provide the Framework



I am reading Make a Scene by Jordan Rosenfeld, a book I highly recommend for every writer. It is a whole new way for me to look at and evaluate the scenes in my book. I had just started the first chapter when I grabbed my writer’s journal to take notes on how I should reorganize my text. The book is that good.

Ms Rosenfeld begins by defining the functions of a scene as “…the essential DNA of story: They are the individual ‘cells’ of information that shape the essence of the story …” From that overall description, she delves deep into the core elements of writing scenes, and then describes the various scene types.

She outlines the most important questions for each scene:
“Where are my characters in the plot? Where did I leave them in the last scene and what are they doing now? *What is the most important piece of information that needs to be revealed in this scene? *What is my protagonist’s goal for this scene? *How will that goal be achieved or thwarted?”

My writer’s journal notes from the first few chapters of Make a Scene instructed me to flesh out the undesirable character, Vince Russell, mentioned in the first chapter. The book reminded me there are always two sides, and I should tell Mr. Russell’s side of the story. He, too, has hopes and needs. Vince now has his own chapter, when before, he had a paragraph buried in the first chapter.

I realized I had stereotyped some of my characters. That’s wrong, and I have now reworked those scenes to better reflect the people and their culture.

I had not described the setting enough, and I find that is an ongoing process. It is part of the process where I have to slow down, delve deep into my characters and where they are in order to describe the setting they are in. This is not easy for me, but I’m working on it. Yesterday I enjoyed creating the town of Ingram and I hope my readers will enjoy it as well.

Keeping in mind the advice Ms. Rosenfeld provides in her book, I am crafting each scene launch carefully and strategically, and asking myself, what is each character’s role? By following this recipe, I have already reworked the first couple of chapters, and am looking forward to reshaping and fleshing out the later chapters.

Tuesday, January 2, 2018

A Story Needs Passion


Sydney, my muse and advisor
An article by Deb Caletti in the latest Writers Digest caught my attention. In fact, I stopped reading and put the magazine down. The article gave me pause.

She said the first thing she asks her students before embarking on a writing project is to write down – What’s the point? As writers we learn about developing characters, plot, POV, pacing, dialogue, and the importance of editing, but the most important element is, in her words, “your own deep and personal connection to what’s on the page.” And that is when I realized that what I have developed so far in my third book is a story, but not a passion.

Ms. Caletti goes on to say, “The most important thing you can do, truly, is write the book that stirs your heart and disturbs your soul.”

I had to reevaluate what I was passionate about in my third mystery. The first two books had issues I was passionate about, and there were times when I couldn’t type fast enough. The passion and energy flowed out of me at such a fast rate my fingers couldn’t keep up. But not this time. And I thank Ms. Caletti for reminding me that feeling the story is of upmost importance.

I realized that what I am most passionate about is delving into each character, getting to know them, and to see how they react in various situations. I am also passionate about how Caitlyn deals with the cold case she becomes passionate about at a time of high stress in her job and family.

Is there more? The article prompted me to talk things over with my muse, Sydney. I asked her that all-important question—what am I passionate about? We came up with several more things, and I have to figure out how to work them into the story.