Elizabeth: It’s a Mystery

mystery

Kay recently posted her thoughts about murder mysteries as a genre and included some tips from writer Dana Stabenow.  That post was very timely because I am in the midst of writing a mystery of my own.

I’ve been a fan of mysteries for almost as long as I’ve been a reader.  Nancy Drew, the Hardy Boys, and Judy Bolton were just some of the crime-solvers populating my early bookshelves. They were later followed by Sherlock Holmes, Roderick Allyen, Armand Gamache, and a host of others.

Although my early mystery reading featured amateur sleuths, I’ve found over time that I’ve lost interest in the “I just stumbled on a crime and am going to solve it” stories—especially when they involve people getting in the way of the police or putting themselves in danger from dumb decisions.  I also avoid the “thriller” end of the spectrum. I want to be entertained when I read mysteries, but I don’t want to be put through the emotional wringer along the way.

My current mystery WIP can best be described as a tangled mess.  It was triggered from a set of our Friday Writing Sprint Random Words, which means some things developed in a rather arbitrary way, based on the words that were incorporated.  I had a clear idea about how the story would unfold, who the suspect was, and how the crime was committed from the start, but then . . . I managed to completely write myself into a corner. 

Cue the re-write! Continue reading

Jeanne: Making Choices

This morning I attempted, for the eleventieth time, to watch a romcom on Netflix. That seems like a simple enough task, but I found myself scrolling through menu after menu of movies and TV shows, weighing the way-too-many choices on offer. After a half-hour of roaming through myriad options, my husband emerged from his man-cave and suggested we watch the SNL episode we recorded the night before and my window of opportunity closed.

If I have a criticism about the way life is today versus the way it was when I was a younger (and I’m a Boomer, so you know I have opinions on that topic) it’s exactly this: life has become so overwhelmed with options that the act of making a choice eats up more time than the advantages of one selection over another justifies.

In the movie Wonderboys, Michael Douglas plays Grady Tripp, an English professor ten years on from his bestselling novel. The literary world is waiting for a follow-up, but no one, including his agent (Robert Downey, Jr.), has seen any sign of a new manuscript. Everyone assumes he has writer’s block.

Late in the movie, Tripp shows his star student Hannah (Katie Holmes) what he’s been working on all this time–a stack of manuscript pages approximately three feet high. After reading all 2500 pages, Hannah delivers her verdict:

You know how in class you’re always telling us that writers make choices? Even though your book is really beautiful–I mean, amazingly beautiful–it’s at times very detailed. You know, with the genealogies of everyone’s horses and the dental records. And I could be wrong but It reads in places like you really didn’t make any choices. At all.

Michael Chabon, Wonderboys, 2000

I’m having a similar problem with my current work-in-progress. I finally finished a first draft of The Demon Wore Stilettos but as I make my second draft revisions, I’m confronted with Too Many Choices. I think I need a method of prioritization. Options include:

  1. SIMPLIFY. Given that I have a history of throwing way too much unrelated stuff into my stories, simplify might be a good revision watchword.
  2. JOY. Taking a page from Marie Kondo’s book and trimming out things that don’t give me (and therefore probably won’t give my reader) joy, might also work.
  3. THEME–Now that I’m on my second draft, examining the theme(s) of the book and sticking with those could be a good guiding principle.

Of course, you can see what’s happening here. I’m not only having problems making choices, but problems making a choice on how to make choices. When I worked in IT, we used to call this “analysis paralysis”–when you get so caught up in the potential issues of a project that you don’t make forward progress.

Suggestions for working my way out of this morass welcome!

Kay: Quiz for Y’All—Romantic Conflict

image via sleepcity.com

I’ve been working through the revision suggestions a development editor gave me for the third book of My Eternal Trilogy, and I’m stumped on one point. She says that there’s no conflict between my two main characters, and I have to write it in there.

She’s right about the first part. My characters have no interpersonal conflict. Trouble, yes. Conflict, no.

I don’t disagree about the importance of conflict, but I’m not convinced that the enormous amount of work I’d need to do to create a conflict between my hero and heroine and then resolve it is necessary or even desirable. Here’s my thinking.

Continue reading

Jeanne: Selling the Unsympathetic Heroine

One of the toughest sells–possibly the toughest sell–in the romance world is the unsympathetic heroine. By “unsympathetic” I don’t mean a heroine who lacks sympathy for the other characters–although she may. I’m referring to the literary definition of sympathetic: A sympathetic character is a fictional character in a story whom the writer expects the reader to identify with and care about, if not admire. (Wikipedia)

When I began work on The Demon Wore Stilettos, my upcoming novel about an author who sells her soul to Satan to make the New York Times bestseller list, I wanted to give her a possible way out, so I devised a clause in her deal with the devil that says if she performs an act of total altruism between the time she signs the contract and the day her soul falls due, she’s off the hook. (You will be unsurprised to learn that Hell has a very narrow definition of what constitutes altruism.)

This setup means the external plot arc is about Megan’s efforts to do something Hell deems perfectly selfless. Logically, this means her internal character arc is along learning to be less self-centered.

Continue reading

Kay: Learning Curve(ball)

I’m closing in on finishing a trilogy I’ve been working on for some time. Book 1 is out; this is the cover. Book 2 is at the copy editor, due back at the end of April. I’m still revising Book 3 before it goes to copy edit.

My goal is to make these books as light-hearted as possible. I want them to be the literary equivalent of meringue—a whisper of sweetness on the tongue. I want them to be funny. I want every single person and animal—even the villains—to have a happy ending. I want these books to make readers feel better even if they read them on their worst days.

Book 1 went fine, but Book 2 was a killer. I had difficult personal issues going on at the time I wrote it, and when I went back to it for revisions, it did not read like meringue. It read like day-old oatmeal—heavy, dry, and lumpy. Totally unappetizing. I complained about it on this forum, but I will save you a dreary whine by not posting the link. Continue reading

Kay: Out with the Old

One of my plans for the new year is to resurrect the finished manuscripts sitting on my hard drive and see if I can revise them into suitable shape for publication. The likeliest candidate for this treatment is the first manuscript I wrote. Years ago a well-known publishing company put it into a cycle of “accept with revisions/accept/on hold/accept with revisions” for two years before my editor moved on and it was finally rejected by her replacement. That’s traditional publishing for you! Today, thanks to indie publishing, I can revise it the way I want and publish it myself.

Progress. Continue reading

Elizabeth: Check this out

Four Exercises for Better Revision by Kay KepplerToday’s originally planned post has been interrupted by a long work-day, a homework assignment that had to be completed by 11:59PM, a book that I was half-way through reading, and the need for at least a few hours of sleep.

Fortunately, Kay had an excellent post about the topic of revisions over at Writer’s Fun Zone that seemed perfect to share.  Here’s a little preview:

Writing a novel—putting words on the page—leaves your work only half-done. You still need to revise it to make it as tight and as polished as you can. Even if you think it’s ready for the big time, try these four exercises to examine your manuscript with fresh eyes and spot areas that could be improved.

To read the full post, head on over to the Writer’s Fun Zone.

Kay: Revision—Harder Than It Seems

photo by DoubleDebtSingleWoman.com

I’ve been in the throes of revision for some time (and will be for some time to come). Recently, I was stuck on something my development editor told me to do: shorten the first three chapters by combining them in two. When I looked at the material, I saw she was right that the chapters were too long, and I deleted without qualms about 3,000 words—one-third of the material the editor thought needed to go. But how to combine the chapters? What else had to be cut? I didn’t see a way.

Enter Jilly. She read the pages and offered some great suggestions. When I looked at her comments, all I could think was, why didn’t I see that?

Revision is hard, maybe harder than writing the first draft. Continue reading

Justine: Copy Editing Challenges You Can Easily Overcome: Apostrophes

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Cartoon by What the Duck.

Author by day, copy editor by night. That’s me. To keep myself occupied in the evenings (I’m not much for watching television) and to help pay for my book cover habit, I take copy editing jobs from select writers. In my former life, I had a ten-year career as a technical writer. Combine all of this experience and one starts to notice particular consistent misuses of various grammar guidelines (I don’t like the word “rules,” because there are some rules made to be broken).

Over the next several posts, I’m going to lay out a few basic guidelines, abuses, and misunderstandings of grammar in the hopes that you, fair writer, will learn them and will put them to good use. If you’re paying for copy editing, this will not only make your copy editor love you more (trust me, it will), but it will reduce the time it takes your copy editor to work through your manuscript.

Disclaimer: I use the Chicago Manual of Style as my “bible” for anything grammar- or copy editing-related. There are other style manuals which may offer differing views. Continue reading

Kay: Keeping It Fresh Forever

Photo by Leonardo Quatrocchi from Pexels

My long-term project (probably years long, the way I’m going) is to read all the books on the bookshelves in my office and then afterwards, move them, and eventually the shelves, out of the house. I’m going to need the space for other things.

The first book I assigned myself was a Virago Modern Classics reprint. These are books by female authors, originally published at other houses, some from many decades previously. Virago has published its Modern Classics imprint since the 1970s, and the [many] books I own are all from this period. So far, they’ve been rather hit-or-miss in terms of how well they’ve held up to #MeToo and #TimesUp sensibilities. Continue reading