Facets of a Muse

Examining the guiding genius of writers everywhere


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When characters change their story #amwriting #amreading

Holy crap! It’s almost March?! Wow! Either I haven’t been paying much attention (likely) or time has been flying (eh, not as likely). I’ve been working on my rural MN mystery project while I let Book 2 steep a bit. I figure I’ll give it another week before I tackle the next revision; I’m aiming to turn it in to my writing teacher by the end of March.

Really.

Anyway, I’ve been tinkering with the rural MN mystery for a few years, off and on between spits and starts with Book 2. I think it’s a neat story, and I’m trying out a few new-to-me techniques, like dual timelines and first-person POV (first person isn’t new to me, but I haven’t used it outside of a few short stories way back in the day).

I’ve had my main characters put together for a while. I know their histories, their motivations, and all that good stuff. I know where they came from, what they do for a living, and their favorite flavor of ice cream … okay, maybe not that last one, but you get it.

Secondary characters are a little different. There are secondary characters and secondary characters. Maybe minor characters is a better term. Yeah, let’s go with that. I still know the backgrounds of secondary characters; I suppose they would be called the supporting cast in a movie. Those are the ones with a history of some sort with the main characters.

Minor characters are the ones that pop in and out of the story because someone needs to be there. In my book, Murder in Plane Sight, I needed someone to take my main character to a place where she would cross paths with a secondary character. My main character, Sierra, had no reason to be anywhere the secondary character was.

To remedy this, I looked at Sierra’s background. Aha! She has a younger sister. Her sister’s sole purpose in the story is to make sure Sierra is someplace in particular. Voila! Minor character (for now), and she’s just the way I imagined her.

In the rural MN mystery, my main character is digging for information. There are two minor characters she talks to, kinda like witnesses. They both started out as “man on the street” characters who appear once, do their job, and exit – stage left.

I wrote a scene with the first minor character, and it went as expected. Five minutes (book time) of questions, and the minor character is finished. Bye, have a nice life.

Okay, on to the next scene. I had a similar vision for the MC’s conversation with this minor character: ask a few questions, go their separate ways.

Yeah, not so much. The character is a guy in his mid- to late-twenties, a cook in a nursing home who people claim looks a lot like a young Steve McQueen. In my mind, he was a “good neighbor”, willing to mow your lawn while you go on vacation or stop on the side of the road to help you change that flat tire. A “Minnesota Nice” kind of guy. Easy going. Pleasant. Just, nice.

He must have decided “nice” was overrated, because by the end of the scene, I had a new suspect/possible bad guy. How the hell did that happen? I swear he was nothing but a guy all the little old ladies love because he’s handsome and charming.

On the bright side (because there’s always a reason a writer’s subconscious does stuff like this, right?), I now have another someone who could have done the crime. I don’t know his background yet, so he may have a motive I haven’t discovered. Besides, who wouldn’t want to see more of a young Steve McQueen look-alike?

One more week to explore this story before I go back to Book 2 and revision round #4. Oh, almost forgot:

If you have some time next weekend, join me at the Deep Valley Book Festival’s “Cabin Fever” event! I’m on panels at 10a (CT) and 1p (CT). It’s fun, it’s authors, and it’s FREE! No driving required (or pants, if that’s your thing 😉 )

It feels like spring here, at least until it snows tomorrow. Sigh. The equinox is in three weeks–yippee! I’m starting my seeds and dreaming of fresh green grass and new leaves (when I’m not thinking about Book 2, that is 🙂 )

Happy Writing!

Wake me when it’s spring


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Can’t do serious when it’s this cold #mnwinter #polarvortex

So, it sounds like the whole country is enjoying the Arctic blast this weekend (hey, we’ve been “enjoying” this since last weekend, so no sympathy from this direction). Our daily highs the past couple days and for the next few days will be single digits BELOW 0 degrees F. And don’t get me started on the lows (-20 degrees F). Then again, we live way farther south than International Falls, so I guess I can’t complain too much, because they are ten to twenty degrees colder than we are.

BTW, that’s not wind chill. The weather wonks are saying -20 to -35 wind chills this weekend. Yep, stayin’ in for sure. Just another day in paradise–if you’re a polar bear. And yes, it’s tradition in MN to complain about the weather …

So, to lighten things up, I collected a few reflections on, you guessed it, cold weather.

On the bright side, we are kitten-sitting this weekend! And Zoey is tolerating the kittens more this time. She’ll even stay in the same room with them now.

Cold outside is just one more excuse to stay in and write.

Stay warm, everyone! Keep writing!

Wake me when it warms up!


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Revision Round Three – Revelations #amwriting #amrevising

Image by congerdesign from Pixabay

Last week I mused (heh, no, not that Muse 🙂 ) about story structure, how I saw the structure in the book I finished reading, and how it made me think about the structure of my own project, creatively called “Book 2”.

I am “old fashioned” in the sense that I prefer to review/revise on paper (and no, I’m not THAT old, or fashionable). I think it has to do with screen time (a full-time job as a tech writer means 8 hrs a day in front of a computer screen to begin with), as well as the whole effect of writing “longhand”. Reading on paper is different than reading on a screen. So I printed out my draft and worked through it page by page, scene by scene, with the recent refresh of story structure in mind.

Of course, plot tweaks make their way into my notes, as do questions about motives and characters, all par for the course during revisions. Refining characters means making sure their goals and their obstacles make sense. Sometimes their motivations change. Case in point: my primary antagonist started out with greed as a motivation. Now, after two revisions and the question of “What’s in it for her?”, her motivation has shifted from greed to more of a public service. In other words, I remembered something I heard or read about antagonists, namely villians: they are the heroes of their own stories.

Wow.

That adds another dimension to that character. There were hints of it already in the story, but when my subconscious finally got around to shouting the reminder, things fell into place around that character. Switching over to the protagonist, the question shifts to: What does she have to lose? As we writers know, the more the protagonist has to lose, the more the reader will root for them, right? This resulted in more notes about her story goals and the “what ifs” that go into the things that prevent her from reaching those goals.

Then, since it’s a mystery, not only do there have to be clues, there have to be false clues and enough suspects so the reader doesn’t figure things out too quickly. We like to call these “red herrings”, even though herring is more gray and white and tastes really good pickled, especially with saltine crackers 🙂 . After I listed my suspects, I realized I didn’t have enough red in my herring, so a note to add a false lead or three.

Getting back to the story structure itself, in the middle part of the story, there should be a black moment or an “all is lost” moment, where it looks like the obstacles in the character’s way seem too big to conquer. In the book I read, it was a point (and I realized this later, when my writer’s subconscious slapped me up the side of the head and yelled in my ear) when the main character stopped moving toward the resolution of the main mystery thread of the story.

As I went through my draft, I realized that even though there is moment where it looks like it’s going to be a LOT harder for the character to reach her goal, it wasn’t dark enough or difficult enough for her to continue. Note to self: figure out what would make her stop moving toward her goal.

And all these notes on how to make the story better were spawned, in part, by reading that book and seeing how the story was structured. It reminded me of all those things my writing teacher has been saying. I think sometimes it takes us a while (at least it takes me a while 🙂 ) to see how the story should work.

Getting back to revising, fleshing things out, and refining the story. Sometimes, especially with this book, I wish I could skip all the false starts and get to the bare skeleton of the story sooner, so I can put that energy toward refining the story, but I’ve learned that for me, it’s the way my subconscious writer brain tells my conscious writer brain which direction to go. Either that, or my Muse is working some seriously-annoying Muse magic to try to teach me something. Or he’s just being annoying. I wouldn’t put either past him.

Now, back to revising!


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Story structure skeletons #amwriting #amreading

I’ve been reading a bit more these past few months, something I’ve been doing less of over the past year (since we all know how busy we were last year–NOT 😐 ). As a writer, I’ve caught myself noticing more lately how stories are structured. I probably always noticed, just not noticed. Know what I mean?

My preferred reading genres follow what I like to write (or is it what I write follows what I like to read?) Anyhow, I gravitate toward mysteries, suspense/thrillers, and urban fantasy. There’s always the occasional non-fiction book, whether craft-related or maybe research for a book.

In any case, lately I’ve noticed some things in the books I’ve read that remind me of my writing classes, specifically the things my writing teacher still says in my head regarding the structure of a story, which hits upon the basics of fiction: inciting incident, midpoint reversal/crisis, and climax/resolution, preferably with a twist and/or big reveal. The “things to pay attention to” between the beginning, the middle, and the end might vary, but it seems those three anchors remain no matter what craft book or class I’ve had.

Some lessons use the three-act structure, some the 7-plot point structure, some the hero’s journey, some try to “save the cat”:

and there’s probably a hundred more variations on the idea, but those core tenets are the ones I hear repeated in my mind when I’m “outlining” (i.e. writing a timeline) or revising. All the different interpretations of story structure follow the same basic path. Try doing a search for “story structure” and just look at the images that come back.

I just finished another book that made me think of this structure in particular, because of the character arc, which followed the story arc: inciting incident, midpoint reversal/black moment/point of no return, revelation/climax, resolution.

As writers, I think we learn from every novel or story we read, maybe not always consciously, but subconsciously. As I read this latest book (if you must know, it was Anne Frasier’s The Body Reader), my writer brain noted the structure:

  • This is what started it all, shaped the character. This will determine how the character approaches life.
  • Dead body? Okay, who is it and whodunit? Off we go.
  • This is–wait, what? OMG, seriously? No way. She can’t … I can’t believe she’s going along with this.
  • Oh, whew! Good, she’s gotten back on track. Sort of. Oh, that’s such a bad idea. Don’t do it!
  • Ha! I knew he was involved. Wait, oh …
  • Holy crap! No way!
  • Uh oh …
  • Whew! Saved! Now, where’s …
  • Oh crap! C’mon, get him!
  • Yeah! Got him!
  • Now what? Oh, good. Sigh of relief.
  • What’s the next book?

Which, I realized as I progressed through the story, was the classic structure, the skeleton of the stories I’ve read and really enjoyed. I thought about some of the other books I’ve read recently. Even urban fantasy books follow the structure, though granted, the obstacles in the way of the main character(s) tend to be way more intimidating than in a regular story (I mean, which would be worse, going up against the bad guy pointing a gun at you, or facing a titan with near god-like powers to fry you where you stand and all you got for Christmas was a skull with a spirit and a carved wooden staff (Harry Dresden, in case you were wondering)).

Which, of course, encouraged me to taked a closer look at my current project, Book 2. Inciting incident, check. Rising tension, check. Black moment? Sort of. Note to self: work on that. Climax? Yeah, that works. Maybe there should be another incident. Tension? Yes, but could be better. Hmm. Add this to jack up tension. Higher stakes. What about this? What if …

Bottom line, reading allows us to see how other authors drape their stories on the skeleton of story structure and utilize it to keep the reader’s interest. It reminds me to pay attention to my own work to make sure I’m taking advantage of a proven formula. So even though I’m not writing, I’m still learning. Yep, I’m going with that.

Now to get back into Revision Round #3. May you all have a creative week ahead!

Keep on Writing!

Aren’t you supposed to be writing?


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New Year, absent writer?

Image by Engin Akyurt from Pixabay

“Hello?”

My voice echoes in the dimness like a shout in the Sydney Opera House. Faded light from the foggy winter landscape outside strains to illuminate my writer’s empty office. I flip a switch. The dim retreats.

“Julie?”

Where the bloody hell is she? Since NaNo, she’s been writing every day, especially over the holidays. That is, until this week. I can hear her reasoning now: I took the whole week off between Christmas and New Year’s Day, plus the weekends, and we didn’t go anywhere because COVID. Now I’m back to work, so no, I’m not writing as much as I did the past couple weeks.

If she was here, I’d tell her she needs to write every day whether she’s on vacation or not. Once her vacation was over, her writing dropped off a cliff. Not a cliffhanger cliff, a writing cliff. And now she’s AWOL.

“Julie? Don’t make me send out the dragons.”

No answer.

Sigh. Her desk is empty. Messy, but empty. The recliners are empty. I check the little fridge. That’s empty, too? The wall-sized white board is not empty, thank goodness. Notes cover the surface in various colors. At least I know she’s planning to come back.

I open the back door of the office. Icy fog coats the naked trees in frost and filters the sunlight into a dull glow.

Bootprints lead from the office into the fog. “Julie!” Damn it.

What? You thought we come and go at our writer’s whim? You think writers have a little bell they ring to call up a muse every time they sit down to write? Ha! We know writers work better when they open themselves to us, not when they sit down and ask us to shove creative energy into them. Although that can work, we usually save that as a backup plan.

In my vast store of experience (and no, I’m not going to tell you how long I’ve been doing this gig), we get the best results when we hang out around our writer all the time. Not that we don’t take a break for a pub crawl or surf outing, but we’re like the cat that shows up wherever you are, too damn tenacious to shake.

A figure appears in the fog, trudging toward me. About fecking time. “Where have you been, love?”

She blows out a cloudy breath. “I have shit to do, and it’s cramping my writing time. And focus. And I haven’t even gotten to the cleaning. I needed to walk.”

“What shit to do?” I ask, challenging her. I know exactly what she’s doing. Procrasinating. Happens every time she goes back to work after a long vacation, even when she works from home.

She narrows her eyes before she rolls them. “You really need me to list the stuff?” She shoves past me into the office. “Which reminds me, I need to make a list.”

“There’s a list on the board, love.”

“A new list. One that includes redoing my website, catching up with blog reading–I’m so freaking far behind, and taxes. Gotta pay sales tax for the three books I sold last year. Sheesh. I’ll be glad when we can do in-person events again. This virtual stuff doesn’t foster that connection between writer and reader.”

“And the novella is on that list, right?” I ask. “Along with the editing of your police procedural and finishing the first draft of the rural mystery?”

She toes her boots loose and flips them off. “Yeah, but first Book 2. And damn it, I can’t fricking focus anymore.” She shuffles to the fridge.

“It’s empty. I checked.”

She sighs. “You know, this year at work we have to use up all our vacation by the end of the year, since we’ll be starting on our new parent company’s self-managed time off scheme next year. I think I’m going to spend some time at that little place with the cabins up toward Lake Mille Lacs. All by myself.”

“Alone?”

Another eye roll. “Gawd. You know what I mean. A whole week of nothing but you and me and writing. No TV, no garden, no work, no cleaning, no anything except writing. In the woods.”

“Sounds nice, love. Any pubs nearby?”

She groans. Or growls. I can’t tell. “I’ll be back.” She swings the office door open. “I’m going to get some water. And I need some help coming up with a good short story to submit. Maybe a ghost story. Has to be a mystery.” She leaves.

I think I’ll pop out to hunt down some nice lager. I have a feeling I’m going to need it.

Hey all, sorry I’ve been quiet; been trying to focus on writing and staying away from social media and news as much as possible. News bums me out (although I feel more hopeful now that Jan 20 is closer), and since hubs is a news junkie and has to have the TV on incessantly, I’ve been struggling a bit. On the bright side, weather’s been nice, so I’ve been walking. It’s great! Don’t knock the power of a good walk outside, preferably in the embrace of nature.

Happy Writing!