Facets of a Muse

Examining the guiding genius of writers everywhere


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The countdown begins

The calendar says July. Seriously? What happened to June? In a week, the summer will be half over.

If we’re into July, that means the reunion with my Writing Sisters is coming up. I can’t wait!

Wait, I’ve got to get 20 pages ready to send around before the reunion. Hoo boy.

One of my fellow bloggers asked about my writing sisters (B, has the baby arrived yet?), and I’ve mentioned them before, so I’ll give y’all a brief history of my fantabulous WS and some ideas on how you can find your own awesome writing group.

It was a dark and stormy night… Er, wait, wrong story. Give me a minute *shuffles papers* Here it is.

It was June, 2012. I’d learned (through my Writers’ Digest subscription, I think) about a writing retreat in Madison, WI, a six-and-a-half hour drive–super close when considering most writing retreats are in the Pacific Northwest, or out East, or someplace like Italy or Iceland (that one’s on my wish list ๐Ÿ˜€ ). I was at the point in my writing journey where I felt ready for something intense, like a week of writing by a lake. I’d heard wonderful things about the novel Master Class at Write-By-The-Lake, so I closed my eyes and jumped in.

There were only six slots, and the instructor had to accept you. Gulp. She did (woo-hoo!). We started slow, as people do when meeting strangers for the first time, and especially when we’re all writers, and the point of the class is to critique each other’s work so we could improve it.

We had different genres (YA, mystery, women’s historical, SF/dystopian), and had taken different journeys to get to where we were. But we clicked. And to seal the deal, one of our classmates invited us over for dinner one evening.

The Writing Sisters were born. Not with the name, not yet, but we had a bond. We had stories to share. And we had fellow writers to encourage us, critique our work, and offer ideas.

After our week was up, we kept in touch. We reunited the following spring at the Writers’ Institute in Madison. And afterward, we started our annual reunion tradition. Every year since that week of writing by the lake we’ve gotten together, even if some couldn’t make it. We’ve had sisters move away and return. We’ve adopted a new sister who fits into the group like she was in our Master Class with the rest of us.

Of the seven of us (not counting our mentor), three have published novels (two through publishing houses, one self-published), one has an agent shopping a manuscript, and three are within spitting distance of getting books published. Our beloved mentor continues to guide us, challenge us, and encourage us.

We’ve become more than a writing group. We’ve become good friends.

I promised some ideas on how you can try to find your own “writing sisters” (or brothers, or whatever). The most important step (in my opinion) is to get out of the house (yes, I know we’re all introverts, but you can do it). Go to conferences, classes, or writing retreats. Meet other writers face to face.ย Talk to them (Yes, I know, the whole introvert thing. Take a deep breath and do it anyway. They’re just as anxious about it as you are.). You can meet other writers to bond with online, but somehow meeting in person seems more “real”.

You won’t always “click” with the writers you meet. In fact, you might cross paths with some you can’t stand to be around. The important thing is to try. Be open and welcoming.

Regular writers’ groups are a good place to meet other writers, but sometimes there isn’t a group near you that “feels” comfortable. I highly recommend going to writing conferences. They are great opportunities not only to learn more about the craft, but also to spend more than an hour or two with fellow writers. Often there are critique group sign-ups with the added benefit of meeting other writers who may end up in your group.

If you can attend a writing retreat, do it. Not only for the time you can focus on actual writing, but for the time you will spend with other writers. A learning/teaching retreat, as opposed to one that offers only time and space to write, encourages you to get to know fellow writers and get a “feel” for how you get along.

At some point, you will run across other writers you can form bonds with. It might be just one or two, or it might be half a dozen. You might meet in real life at the local coffee shop, or you might never see each other in the flesh. In any case, finding one or more writers you can collaborate with, bounce ideas off of, or learn from is valuable.

Another weekend of butt-in-chair-staring-at-the-computer-screen. I think I’ve got a few things figured out, though, so I’m hoping–no, planning more productivity this weekend than I’ve had lately. Bonus: the kids are staying with my SIL until Sunday night. Woo-hoo!

Have a great weekend, and WRITE!


23 Comments

Now for something different

liebster2nd

Hiya, gang! I’ve been meaning to do this post for-ev-er, since Annika Perry over at her writing blog nominated me for a Liebster Award–um, wow, last year. *bows head in shame* I think the universe is trying to tell me something, because Mae Clair over at her site also nominated me.

Okay, okay, I’m listening. ๐Ÿ˜€ Thank you both for the nominations–sorry it took me so long, Annika.

Annika is across the pond, and has a wonderful site where she shares not only writing tidbits, but pictures of her travels. She just shared her walk-through of the Beth Chatto Gardens. Beautiful!

Mae also has a great site where she shares advice, writing news, and some of the research for her books (Mothman, anyone?) She’s also one of the authors over at Story Empire, where the authors post articles all about writing; lately they’ve had some great information about promotional stuff like media kits and newsletters.

For the Liebster Award, the rules are:

  1. Acknowledge the blog who nominated you and display the award.
  2. Answer the 11 questions the blogger gives you.
  3. Give 11 random facts about yourself.
  4. Nominate 11 blogs.
  5. Notify those blogs of the nomination.
  6. Give them 11 questions to answer.

Since both Annika and Mae nominated me, it’s only fair I answer questions from them both. So, onward!

Questions from Annika Perry:

Why did you start your blog?
Honestly, I started my blog because that’s one of the pieces of a writer’s platform. It took me a few months to really settle into it. Now I’m thinking of ways to refine it into more of an author’s website.

How do you deal with a setback at work/rejection letter etc?
I remind myself persistence is the key. I also remind myself that writing is subjective, just like any other art form. What one (or many) agents don’t like, there will be one that will love it. The trick is sticking with it long enough to find that one.

How do you celebrate a success?
Happy dance! Whoop it up! graphics-snoopy-360370 And have some really good chocolate and wine.

Whatโ€™s the one crazy activity/thing you wish youโ€™d tried but never dared?
Hang gliding. I’ve always wanted to feel what it’s like to soar like birds do. Maybe some day!

Which of your posts has got the most views? Can you post a link to it
My post on rough drafts got the most views (besides my boring About page).

If you could go anywhere in the world, where would that be?
Hmm. There’s a lot of places I’d like to go: Ireland and the UK, Australia, New Zealand, Iceland, Scandinavia, Vancouver, I could go on ๐Ÿ˜€ I’d love to go back to Salzburg for the chocolate and Bavaria for the Alps!

What advice would you give your younger self?
I’d tell myself to write more, and take more writing classes sooner. And invest in Microsoft and Apple. I remember all the stock splits in the 80s and 90s; I’d be sitting pretty good by now!

What is one of your most embarrassing moment?
My best friend and I were taking a turn as DJs at a high school dance, announcing the songs as we played them (this was back before CDs and MP3s), and I mispronounced INXS (in-excess, not I-N-X-S). Over a loud speaker. I was promptly corrected by everyone on the dance floor.

Whatโ€™s your favourite drink? (Alcoholic or non-alcoholic) Craft beer, especially from New Glarus Brewery in Wisconsin. Moon Man and Spotted Cow.

If you could travel into the past, which era would you go to and why?
I think it’d be interesting to go back to talk to Leonardo da Vinci. Not that those days in Europe were all that spectacular, but he’d be a cool person to talk to.

What is your most favourite (clean) joke?
You’re assuming I can remember any jokes I’ve been told! Oh, wait, here’s one: What did one cannibal say to the other cannibal after they ate a clown? Did that taste funny to you? (See what I mean? I can’t remember the good ones ๐Ÿ˜€ )

Questions from Mae Clair:

Youโ€™ve been given a working time machine. What era of history would you visit?
See my answer to Annika’s almost very same question ๐Ÿ˜‰

What is your totem animal? (Inspired by a post I recently saw on Jan Sikesโ€™ blog).
I like to think my totem animal would be a cougar: solitary, mysterious, and hangs out in the woods. Observes quietly. And it’s a cat. I’m a cat person ๐Ÿ™‚

What was the first story you wrote?
Hmm. The first one I really remember writing was for an English class. We had to write a story where you wake up one morning and look in the mirror. What do you see? I was deep into Anne McCaffery’s Pern books (and my English teacher liked her as well), so even though the assignment was for a 2-3 page story, I wrote what would now be considered a “fanfic”: I woke up as a Pernese dragon. Ten pages later, my teacher told me it was enough, I could stop.

Beach or mountains?
Oh boy. I have to choose? Tropical tourist-free, sugar-sand beach. Or log cabin in the heavily-wooded mountains near a lake. (can you tell I’ve thought about these for a while? ๐Ÿ˜€ )

What is your favorite time of year?
Fall, because of the wonderful colors. Spring because winter is over and everything is turning green again.

Name someone from history you find intriguing.
Leonardo da Vinci. Nikola Tesla. Ben Franklin.

What is your favorite fairy tale?
The Bremen Town Musicians.

When was the last time you played a game of chess?
Back when the kids were younger. I think my son was in 5th or 6th grade. He’ll be a sophomore in college this fall.

If you could travel to any city or country in the world, where would you go?
See my answer for Annika’s almost-identical question ๐Ÿ™‚

Name your favorite cartoon when you were a kid.
Loony Tunes–Bugs Bunny and the gang. I still remember the Barber of Seville routine with Bugs and Elmer Fudd. And I loved the Road Runner. And Taz. Gotta like Taz. And Marvin the Martian. And Foghorn Leghorn. And…

What mythical creature do you wish actually existed?
Dragons. The nice ones, though, not the ones that scorch everything. Nice ones like the Pernese dragons (or firelizards!). Or Toothless. 8-26-2016 10-00-50 AM

Whew! I’m done with the questions. Now for eleven random facts about me:

  1. I love Calvin and Hobbes. Every winter I think about recreating one of his snowman projects.
  2. I’m a cat person. I like dogs, but I’d much rather have a cat curl in my lap than a dog. I secretly want a Maine Coon, because they’re big, and having a bobcat or cougar for a pet is not the right thing to do with a wild animal. But it’d be soooo cool to have a pet cougar! (too big for a lap cat, though)
  3. My favorite flowers are lilacs and irises.
  4. No one will ever call me graceful. Ever. I’m clumsy.
  5. I haven’t worn dresses or skirts since I had kids, except once. My sister made me a bridesmaid in her wedding so I’d have to wear a dress.
  6. When I go for walks, I like to be able to identify plants along the way, especially flowers and weeds. I’ll take pictures of flowers, then look them up.
  7. I have a day job, but I’m also a substitute librarian for our town library.
  8. Favorite ice cream: mint chocolate chip
  9. Favorite TV show: Supernatural. It’s the one show nobody better interrupt while I’m watching, which is why we Tivo it. And Dean.
  10. Least favorite color for rooms: yellow (including orange). Every house hubs and I have ever had came with a yellow kitchen. Ugh!
  11. Caffeine- and alcohol-free cheer-me-up (besides Calvin and Hobbes): Jeff Dunham’s Spark of Insanity. The opening bit, before he pulls out the puppets. And Walter. And Peanut.

Okay, 11 questions for nominees (and I’m taking some from Mae’s and Annika’s nominators):

  1. Do you have a pet? If so, what is it?
  2. Favorite TV show?
  3. What is one of your pet peeves?
  4. Do you have a favorite author? Who and which of their books is your favorite?
  5. Do you read books only once, or more than once?
  6. If you won the lottery, what is the very first thing you would spend money on?
  7. What was the best advice a writing mentor or teacher ever gave you?
  8. Did you play any sports in high school? If so, which ones?
  9. You’re going to a deserted island for a month. What three things will you take?
  10. If you were a crayon, what color would you be?
  11. What is the most recent movie you’ve seen?

Okay, now for nominees. I’ll just toss out a few:

Betsy Kerekes at parentingisfunny

Diane at ladieswholunchreviews

Michelle Cook at puttingmyfeetinthedirt

Jacqui Murray at worddreams

Marquessa Matthews at simplymarquessa

There are so many great writer blogs out there, it’s just too hard to make a short list. Get out there. Explore!

Next week I’ll be back to my regularly-scheduled program. Have a great weekend!


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Reflect, Regroup

I cross off two more publishers on my white board. That leaves five actively reviewing my manuscript, with another five still in radio-silence. The publisher I’m really hoping to score is still on the active list. Now to find a four-leaf clover I can wish on–wait, that’s a falling star.

I should be writing some profound post on, well, writing. I finished and revised my synopsis (whew!) and promotional plan for my agent to send off to the publisher that asked for them. A synopsis I’ve done before, but this was my first promo plan (aka marketing plan). In my promo plan I listed my audience (adult mystery readers who like a little romance, suspense, and aviation), my street team (my fan-tab-u-lous writing sisters), the usual suspects (readings/signings at local libraries, bookstores, etc), and my web presence (blog, FB author page, Goodreads, Twitter, blog tours, etc).

I realized a few things as I put the plan together. First, I need to develop my “brand”. I’m looking at the websites of authors I know and the way they’ve branded themselves. I mean, I know my brand needs to work for me as an author, not for a particular book I’ve written, so I’ll need to do some serious brainstorming. It’s just that I could be writing instead (and procrastinating on the whole “branding” thing).

Second, so much of the promo stuff depends on having an actual book to release. You know, so I’ve got cover art, a release date, something to put in my newsletter (which is another thing I need to put together, along with every other first-time-published or waiting-to-be-published novelist, it seems). Hell, a title (because you know no matter what you call the book, the publisher may change it, especially when you think you have the perfect title). So, pretty tough to jump in early without more.

Third, I need to get more involved with local mystery writer organizations like the Twin Cities chapter of Sisters In Crime, as in attend a few meetings at the very least (one meeting a month seems reasonable, but I wish it wasn’t in Minneapolis; I’m not big on city driving). In the same vein, I should probably spend some time at Once Upon a Crime, an independent bookstore in Minneapolis known for supporting local mystery writers.

There’s probably a few more places like that where I should probably start showing up, so when it’s my turn, they sorta know me. And that doesn’t include all the other venues, like libraries, other writer/reader events, B&N, etc.

Hoo boy. Again the fleeting thought: What the hell have I gotten myself into? Do I really want to do this? I mean, REALLY want to do this? Because this is a LOT of work that isn’t actually writing. Somewhere in the back of my head I knew there was a lot more to building readership than shouting out to all my FB friends (and I don’t have all that many) and blog followers. Seeing the list on paper makes it more real. And more scary.

Then I think about how much I’ve put into this journey, or how long I’ve been on this journey. I spoke with an old high school classmate this week, whom I haven’t talked to for almost 20 years (no, following on FB does not count as “talking”). We talked a little about my book (I’d asked her to beta-read for me since she’s an English teacher, but she had other things going on at the time), and she reminded me about the books I wrote in elementary school.

*head slap* Oh, yeah. That’s right. Holy crap. That’s what, a really long time ๐Ÿ˜ฎ

I have to keep going, because if I don’t, it’d be like climbing to the way top of the highest and longest slide in the world, looking down at the run, and climbing back down. Remember when you did that as a kid, got to the top of the slide, got scared, and climbed back down? Because once you jump on and let go of the ladder handles, there’s no turning back or getting off except by putting your sneakers flat against the slippery part to stop–with the possibility of tumbling head over teakettle to the bottom–and climb off.

Persistence. That’s the difference between so many writers who don’t get there, and those that do. I’m sure you know writers who have an enviable way with words, but who stopped trying or don’t try to go beyond creative fiction assignments or lovely blog posts. Then there are the writers who struggle, read every book on writing they can get, attend conferences, andย practice. They stack up enough rejections to wallpaper a room. Still, they write another book. And another.

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They keep going, because they can’t stop. Won’t stop. The writer starts getting positive responses. Agents request the full manuscript. And one day an agent sends an email critiquing the writer’s full manuscript, requests a revise and resubmit, and suggests the writer call if she wants to talk about the manuscript. And on that call the writer discusses the agent’s notes, suggests changes, and gets energized. They discuss a timetable for revisions. The agent compliments the writer on her professionalism.

The agent says she wants to rep the book.

The writer does a happy dance! Then gets to work doing the revisions the agent requested.

Hmm, I guess this post was sort of about writing after all. I spent last weekend working on my synopsis and promo plan, so this weekend is time to dig into the second draft of my WIP. Finally getting back to the things that started this whole wild ride: those stories that keep tumbling around in my head, mucking up the works until I get them out (that’s how I justify the CRS (Can’t Remember Shi*) ๐Ÿ˜€ )

For my US friends, have a wonderful, safe Memorial Day weekend.

And WRITE!


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Write what you know, or do a good fake-out

Write what you know. How often have you heard that advice?

Pfft. All. The. Time.

Which is all well and good if you’re writing about making chocolate chip cookies (not cheating, mind you, actually measuring the ingredients and mixing them together) or driving in a snowstorm, or checking out of a big-box store behind the person who is cleaning the pennies out of their little coin purse.

But what if:

  • You’ve never ridden a dragon.
  • You’ve never ridden a horse.
  • You’ve never fired a gun.
  • You’ve never seen the Grand Canyon.
  • You’ve never cast a spell of invisibility.
  • You’ve never changed into a wolf/tiger/bear/bird of prey/swan/vampire/gargoyle/(I could go on).
  • You’ve never lost a brother.
  • You’ve never been stalked.
  • Someone has never tried to kill you.

Granted, some things you can realistically do. Never fired a gun? Go to your local gun shop, gun range, or contact a sportsman’s club and ask for the experience. Never ridden a horse? I’m sure most horse owners wouldn’t mind helping you out, especially if you offer to muck out the stable or pay them in return.

Some of those experiences can be translated into others. Never ridden a dragon? How different do you suppose that is from riding a horse? Never seen the Grand Canyon? Um, okay, pictures or Google Earth don’t do it justice compared to seeing it in person, but you could probably give it a good go.

Sometimes you can find other people who have had an experience you want to write about. Talk to that person, get them to describe everything from physical sensations (including any tastes or smells) to emotional sensations.

Psst, it’s called research.

But what if you haven’t experienced something, and you don’t know anyone who has? What if it’s something you cannot experience, like, ever? Time-travel. Casting spells. Shape-shifting. Or maybe something you could experience but probably shouldn’t, like falling five stories from a building or driving a car off a cliff.

Remember all those hours of make-believe when you were a kid? You didn’t know it then, but you were practicing for the times when you need to pretend. Not just in real life, because face it, we’ve all been there with the fake genuine smile and feigned interest when your relative starts telling that story yet again.

We go into that pretend state when we write things that we really don’t know. The deeper we can imagine the experience, and the more we can extrapolate from what we have experienced first-hand, the more realistic our writing will be.

The character in my latest WIP lost her big brother. I’m the oldest in my family, so I never had a big brother, nor have I lost a sibling. How could I write about her grief and guilt?

I have lost a parent. I know grief. But guilt? Hmm. I’ve gone through guilt with other things, like not offering to help the young mother in church struggling to control her three kids after her husband died. I should’ve offered to hold the fussy baby so she could deal with her other two children.

Even though I’ve never experienced loss like my character, I can use what I do know. I can remember the grief and guilt and translate it into my character. Actors do the same sort of thing. Our goal as writers is to bring our readers through the same experience as our characters.

We fake it good.

It’s worth it. The better you can fake it, the deeper the reader is pulled into the character’s experience. That translates to a better reader experience, which ultimately translates to more readers, because they tell their friends how good the story is.

How do you know you’ve written a good fake-out? When a beta reader tells you you’ve nailed something the reader actually experienced. Or when you go to book clubs and the readers relay their own similar experiences (this happens a lot with Ceone Fenn and her book, To Reap the Finest Wheat).

Like actors, we need to “get into character”. Some writers actually take acting classes to help them learn to do just that. Guess what? It means more well-rounded characters and more realistic scenes.

Our goal is to suck the reader into the story so they don’t want to surface until the end. We want them to cry, gasp, laugh, and dance for joy with our characters. Use what you know to imagine what you haven’t experienced.

Make-believe. It does a writer good.

Have a great weekend, everyone!


28 Comments

Another step–with cheers!

There’s something about working toward a goal, whether it’s running a 5k, remodeling a room, practicing meditation, or traveling to the states you haven’t visited yet. Sometimes the road to get there is long and full of potholes and detours.

Sometimes you can actively move toward the goal, like training to run a marathon. Sometimes you prepare for a goal, like saving up for travel or remodeling.

In the writing world, it seems all these come into play. We practice writing. We train by reading about writing and taking classes on writing. We go to writing conferences. We practice some more. We ease into the hot spring with short stories or flash fiction, with entries into contests, with blog posts and guest posts.

We learn about the business, what it takes, the best paths to get to where we want to be. We read. A lot. We align ourselves with other writers, better writers, and writing teachers so we can improve beyond what we think we can do. We accept the challenge of becoming a published writer.

We fall down. We slip a few rungs backward. When you’re a writer, you get up, dust off your pen and notebook, and try again. We feel like we can’t move forward, that nothing we do seems to move us toward that elusive goal many of us seek: to be published.

And then, you see hope. A glimmer here, a shine there. You get partial requests for your manuscript. You place in a contest. You get personal rejections instead of form rejections. You get requests for the full manuscript.

Then you get a request for a revise and resubmit. It might come with specific feedback, or it might have general ideas of where you can take the story. Maybe the agent is open to discussing the feedback. You speak with the agent about where to take the story. You revise with the feedback you received in mind.

Then you resubmit. Sometimes a rejection follows, but sometimes you get more feedback about the story. Sometimes you have another phone discussion.

And then you receive the contract, the offer of representation for the story you created.

Another step closer to seeing your book in print.

I’m excited to announce I have signed with a literary agent to represent my mystery novel.

I have a literary agent.

OMG.

I know what happens next. I know that once I finish my latest revisions, I’ll need to work on stuff like a marketing plan, a cover blurb, and a bio. I’ll probably have to redo my synopsis. When a publisher picks it up, I’ll have more revisions, more planning, more to do.

This being an author stuff is a lot of work.

And I thought writing the book was tough. Actually, writing the draft isn’t so hard. It’s the revising that comes afterward that really takes work and up-close-and-personal time with the Muse.

The key, though, is persistence. You have to keep going, keep learning, keep reading, keep writing. Keep moving forward.

Have a great weekend, everyone!


13 Comments

Anatomy of a Mystery

Sounds like I know what I’m doing, doesn’t it?

Ha! Fooled you!

The idea for this post came as I drove to work this morning pondering again how to strengthen my revised outline for my next WIP. Right now, I’m writing mystery (as opposed to fantasy, my other main genre). In general, and specifically for mysteries, I’ve received guidance from my wonderful writing sisters.

You gals have no idea how much I appreciate your help!

There are a few things I’ve learned about writing, and writing mysteries in particular:

  • Deadlines. There should be some time limit the protagonists are up against, whether it’s a bodily threat or some other threat. It could be anything from the killer striking again to Uncle Buck getting full possession of the estate or the wedding that can’t be rescheduled.
  • Dead bodies. My very first draft of the WIP I’m now working on had no dead bodies. There were threats, and a deadline, but no dead guys/gals. Yeah–no. It’s like a prerequisite. If there’s no dead bodies, it’s less a full-out adult-level mystery and more Encyclopedia Brown or the Three Investigators. Enjoyed those stories, but I don’t write MG or YA, where dead bodies are discouraged (real life is violent enough). Even cozy mysteries have dead bodies.
  • Chapter Hooks. Remember that book you started and couldn’t put down? The one where you had to read just one more chapter? Then just one more? Then there’s only a couple chapters left. Then your alarm clock goes off and you realize you stayed up all night reading. I remember the first book where I really noticed that: Wizard’s First Rule by Terry Goodkind. Yes, it’s a fantasy, but I had to keep reading because at the end of (just about) every chapter there was a question I needed to find the answer to. So, especially with a mystery, the more chapters you can end with a question that lures the reader to keep going, the better.
  • Stakes. In the very first draft of the manuscript I recently completed, the plot involved the main character’s BFF from high school. My writing sisters straightened me out. “Best Friend” isn’t close enough to the main character. Family is better. The main character should be tied to the mystery through a family relation of some sort (at least in the first book of many, if there is more than one). Why? Because the main character has a greater stake in the outcome if it involves family. So, I adjusted. The main character is now tied to the mystery via her brother. This also allowed me to add the additional threat of putting suspicion on the main character, which also jacks up the stakes. The deeper the crime/mystery affects the main character (higher stakes) the more tension you can create, and the more the reader cares if the main character succeeds.
  • Twists. Wow, didn’t see that coming, did you? This kinda goes without saying. Red herrings, false accusations, and soft alibis all contribute to misdirection. In my opinion, Agatha Christie was a master at this. I could never figure out who did it until the culprit was revealed at the end, then I would trace back to find the little clues she dropped along the way. And it always seemed like the innocuous detail was the clincher. This isn’t limited to mysteries, either. I’m sure there are romances out there where the “other woman (or man)” is someone the protagonist least expects. Or fantasies where one of the biggest allies turns out to be a major enemy (LOTR: Saruman, anyone?)

As I work on re-re-re-revising my WIP outline, I’m trying to keep all these things in mind so I can (hopefully) avoid yet another major plot revision.

Dead body? Yep. Died about 70 years ago, ruled accidental, but was it?

Deadline? Yep. My MC has a window in which to solve the mystery, and if she blows the deadline, she loses, like, a six-figure inheritance and a nice chunk of farmland with a house and everything.

Chapter hooks? That’ll come when I redo the draft. Again. Sigh.

Stakes? I’m trying to raise them as much as possible. I think I’ve got a pretty good handle on them. It’s another instance of family being central to the mystery.

Twists? Ooo, I’ve got a lot of opportunities for misdirection. The trick will be to keep the misdirection believable without giving away too much too early.

And there you have it. And just because you aren’t writing mysteries doesn’t mean you’re out of the woods. All of these (except the dead body) can be applied to almost any genre. You’ll also notice I left out conflict. That goes without saying. All stories need some sort of conflict, and if you’re a writer, you know that.

I’m almost done with my outline, and I’m aiming to start re-drafting this weekend. Besides, with the arctic cold and the snowstorm tomorrow, it’ll be perfect weather to stay inside and write. How about you?

 


12 Comments

Can’t Do It Alone, or How Betas Rock

I’m talking writing, here. Fiction writing, to be exact, though even non-fiction writing benefits from multiple sets of eyes reviewing everything from sentence structure to fact-checking. You write alone, but critique partners or groups are key in helping you build a solid story.

I’ve been working on my revise and resubmit for the past couple months, and sent my manuscript off to a few beta readers. I’ve gotten feedback from almost all of them now, which gave me the idea for this post.

Beta readers are like the tasting panel for your book. You’ve done the research, mixed and remixed and revised the recipe until you think it tastes pretty good. You’ve let other people sample the brew, maybe even worked in the kitchen with them, and they’ve offered suggestions and advice that improved the flavor, color, and texture of your creation.

Refining the recipe is a necessary step. You’ve done that, and you could release the new and improved product into the wild and wait for people to try it, and hopefully love it.

Better, though, to toss the finished recipe off to a test panel made up of people who just like a good-tasting product, and people who have discerning taste–maybe super-tasters–who can tell whether you used old seasonings, or if the cow that gave the milk grazed in a grassy pasture or munched on hay. The panel can tell you there’s too much nutmeg, not enough vanilla, or just enough cinnamon. They’re the ones who will recommend more marshmallows, or less chocolate, or melting the butter instead of softening it.

They’re the ones that help you make those last-minute tweaks before you submit your creation to the judges.

My beta readers ranged from a fellow writer (in a different genre) to a retired school administrator to a couple of mindful readers. By selecting different types of readers, you get a better picture of how the story might be received by an audience.

Feedback. It does a story good!

I’ve gotten detailed feedback from my betas–some more detailed than others, of course–all useful. All valuable. My betas noted things I totally missed, like lakes are frozen in the winter in MN (don’t ask ๐Ÿ™‚ –total brain cramp on that one), and if you mention something significant early in the story that affects one of the main characters, that something should probably play a bigger role in the story later on.

As the writer, you’re too close to the story to see these types of details. Someone who has never read the story has a better chance of seeing those bits and pieces that could make or break a reader’s enjoyment of the work. Beta readers are a resource all writers should utilize, but especially writers of longer works. There’s more opportunity in longer pieces to miss things, leave holes, or overdo bits.

Finding good beta readers might be tough, and might alienate you from those friends for a long time, but people like teachers, fellow writers, and avid readers (of something more than graphic novels or Harlequin romances) can point out what works, what doesn’t, and what can be improved.

I have a couple weeks to revise my WIP before I send it off. Then cross my fingers that the agent will like my changes.

To my beta readers: THANKย  YOU!! *applause* *fireworks* You provided me with valuable feedback and great suggestions. I can’t tell you how much I appreciate you spending the time not only reading my story, but writing up your notes for me.

Write on!