Facets of a Muse

Examining the guiding genius of writers everywhere


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Musing Mysteries, Part 2

Okay, so how many of you are ready to attend a writers’ conference? Let’s see hands. C’mon, don’t be shy. I’d love to meet you. Even though I’m giving you a sneak peek at my presentation, it’ll be way more fun in person. Really. Promise.
WI2018 Check out the UW-Madison Writers’ Institute. It’s an amazing three days (four if you count the extra presentations on Thursday) dedicated to writing. Whether you are practicing the craft (we’re always practicing, right?) or starting the quest toward publishing, the Writers’ Institute is a great opportunity to learn, meet other writers, and enrich your creative energies. Here’s a little view into the fun: Writers’ Institute Pathway to Publication.

Eight-ish weeks to go. I’m getting excited–I’ll get to see my Writing Sisters. Can’t wait!

“Are you about ready, love?” My Muse is leaning on my desk in my writing office. He checks his bare wrist as if he kept a Timex there.

“Why, you have an appointment?”

He straightens and crosses the office to the white board. “No, but you do. What’s next on your list of clues to writing mysteries?”

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I grab a marker and add another entry to the list on the board. “The clock is ticking. A deadline.”

“Okay. What’s your deadline in Book 2?”

Hmm. “My main characters are only in town for three days.” I hold up a hand. “Don’t. Just don’t. I know, I know, three days. How many impossible missions were accomplished in three days?” That has got to be the most common deadline ever. I mean, outside of Kiefer Sutherland’s famous twenty-four hour countdown.

My Muse sighs. “At least it made a little sense. These days a team of geniouses save the world in mere hours every week. In a one-hour show.”

Nothing like the regular usage of the deux ex machina plot device—the oh-my-gawd-how-lucky-that-theory-actually-came-through (a “magical” intervention of some thing) tropeto allow Team Scorpion to stop a tsunami, or prevent an underground explosion that would’ve destroyed L.A., or catch two kids who have to jump out of an airplane at precisely the same time to land in a net (that was a Valentine’s Day episode). Probably not the best example of working against a deadline.

“Anyway. l’ve got a three-day deadline. Next?”

“Doesn’t seem like your main character is in a whole lot of danger.”

I point to the previous entries. Characters and stakes. “We went over the stakes already. And the characters. And the threat to the main characters, remember? The drug boss. The teacher who helped the protagonist after the attack, and who is now suspected of murder.”

“Raise them.”

“Excuse me?”

He adds to the list. “How can you raise the stakes, love?”

Raise them? More? “You heard the part about the drug boss, right? And how she thinks my main character is involved with the victim who was stealing from her.”

“Yes, I remember.” He underlines the entry on the list. “What can you do to the story that will make the main character less likely to quit?”

Hmm. If the main character was related to the suspect, or the victim, that would increase the risk to the main character. That won’t work with this story. There is a connection between the suspect and the protagonist. And a connection between the suspect and the victim.

“The victim is the suspect’s son-in-law.” I call this ‘blood is thicker than water’, because a connection between relatives has more meaning than between strangers.

“Better. Can you do more?”

A connection between the antagonist and the protagonist, or the protagonist and the victim, or the victim and the suspect are solid ways to raise the stakes. So, how can I ratchet things up?

Aha. “The suspect’s son died in an accident, and he learns the victim was involved. Oh, did I mention the suspect and the victim are family–by marriage?”

“Good. Now use that.”

I am. The trick is going to be using that to increase the threat to the protagonist. I’ll have to noodle on that for a bit. Two more down: deadline and raising stakes even more.

In other news, Week 2 word total is 21,816, about 1500 words short of the 23,338 I should’ve hit. It’s been slow, but I’ve gotten past the inciting incident now, so the story should flow faster. I will say that writing 1 to 2 hours every night is helping charge my creative energies.

Keeping my Muse close doesn’t hurt either ๐Ÿ˜€

Have a great writing weekend!

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Musing Mysteries, Part 1

I finished erasing the wall-sized whiteboard in my writing office. There. A nice, shiny, white expanse all ready for me.

And I stare at the nice, shiny, white expanse. Without a plan.

Which is my problem. No plan. Well, rather, I have a half-baked plan, but that’s about as tasty as a pancake that’s been pulled off the griddle too soon. You know, when it still has a gooey center.

So here’s the dilemma. I need to work on Book 2–which I’ve sort of drafted already, but the plot needs serious work. I’ve had things tumbling about in my head, and some stuff’s fallen into place, but there’s still a lot of questions.

Sometimes I wonder if I’m thinking too hard about it at this redraft stage. Kinda like Rough Draft, take 2. Or is it take 3 now?

“Why did I know I’d find you staring at a blank slate?” My Muse steps up behind me. He must have come in the back door. He leans on me, resting an elbow on my shoulder, his hand hanging limp. “So, how do you want to do this, love?”

“Well …” Man, he’s a bit distracting, all six-foot-two inches of so-easy-on-the-eyes Aussie complete with a super-cozy, super-soft, super-fuzzy arctic fleece shirt in a blue that complements his eyes. I duck away from him before I succumb. “I’ve got my presentation for the Writers’ Institute in April. Ten Clues to Writing Mysteries. Let’s work through those. Might help me organize the plan.”

He sighs. “You’ve got half of those things figured out already. Focus on what is still fuzzy.”

I press my lips together to make sure I don’t say it out loud. You’re fuzzy. Wuzzy. I had to. C’mon, you thought it, too. ๐Ÿ™‚

He clears his throat and crosses his arms on his warm, fuzzy chest. “Julie.”

Busted. “Okay.” I grab a marker and start my list, in no particular order. Characters.

“You’ve got that figured out, right?”

“The protagonists, yeah, of course. This is book two. I know them.”

“Antagonist?”

“The cop that didn’t serve the restraining order right away.” He’s mentioned in the first book. “There’s still a lot of unresolved issues with the main character.”

My Muse waits. No foot-tapping yet. “And?”

“I’ve got secondary characters.”

“You need a stronger antagonist, love. You need more conflict with your main character.”

Yep. I know that. “Okay, so there are these brothers that are running …”

“Nope. Try again.”

Er. “There’s the drug boss that thinks the main character is in cahoots with the guy who was skimming from her. She wants her money, but my MC doesn’t know anything about it. Conflict and threat.”

He nods. “Okay, but there has to be more pressure on the antagonist. Is there something besides greed behind the threat?”

“Um…”

He takes a marker and adds a note. “Think about it. Next, what’s your protagonist’s motive? What’s the story goal?”

“Have you been talking to my writing mentor?”

“Focus, love.”

“Her goal is to make sure the man who helped her after the attack is cleared, so she needs to find out who killed the victim.”

“What are the stakes? What does she have to lose if she doesn’t figure it out?”

Dammit. Why did I think this was a good idea? “Her life. The bad guy thinks she was working with the victim, who skimmed from the pot.”

He adds it to the board. “Why does she have to figure this out?”

I know why he’s doing this. He’s walking me through the steps I haven’t thought enough about. (psst–I’m pretty sure he’s been talking to my writing mentor) “Because when she gets sucked into the mess, the man who encouraged her to keep going after the attack is the only suspect, and she has to clear his name. Payback for what he did for her.”

“Good.” He finishes the list. “One down.”

“Actually, that’s two. Character and stakes.”

He snaps the cap onto the marker. “Okay. Think about these for a bit, love. We’ll do some more next time.”

“Wait, what? Next time? Where do you think you’re going? I happen to know Mr. E is not available.”

He settles into one of the recliners, extends the footrest, and laces his fingers behind his head. “Let it simmer a bit. We’ll brainstorm in a few hours.”

I toss my marker onto the little shelf on the whiteboard. Well, okay then. I settle into the other recliner beside him. “You do know I’ve been brainstorming on this for a while. Like, weeks. Right?”

“And you’ve been spinning your wheels. Time to take this step by step.” He closes his eyes. “Think about the stakes. Think about what she risks by getting involved.”

“Did I mention she hated the victim because he was a buddy of the guy who tried to kill her?”

“Good. There’s a reason for her to not want to get involved, but she does because why?”

“Because of what the suspect did for her when she wanted to give up her dream.”

The corners of his mouth turn up in a grin. “Use that. Work on how that plays into the threat to your MC.”

Sometimes I wonder if I’m stuck because I’m trying to address everything I know the story needs before I get into the story. Overthinking it. It’s a first–well, a do-over first–draft, it’s supposed to be a mess because part of the process is working out the story.

So far, I’m doing my Feb NaNo on my rural mystery, and working out the wrinkles in Book 2, because my editor said I can send her the first 50 pages and a synopsis when it’s ready. It’s going to be a while. For those wondering about my NaNo progress, week 1 word count is 16,643.

I’ll walk through the other clues in my presentation over the next few weeks. Maybe this’ll help with Book 2. It should help. If nothing else, I can say I’m working on it, right?

Have a great writing weekend!


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Random Ramblings–SKOL Vikings!

We’re getting so close. Soooo close. And I’m sure everyone across the country (well, except for Philly (Eagles are going down!), Jacksonville (Jaguars), and New England (Patriots) is wondering what the fuss is about.

I never really get this excited about football, mostly because the Vikes usually choke by now. And they almost did so again last week (which I totally expected them to do because, well, that’s what they do) except for that unbelieveable, much-overplayed last catch and run to the end zone, now heralded as the Minnesota Miracle.

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You have to realize it’s been over 40 years since the Vikes have won the privilege of being in the Super Bowl. It’s been almost 10 years since they got this far in the playoffs. (For those who aren’t familiar with American football, we have two divisions: the AFC (American Football Conference) and the NFC (National Football Conference). Whoever wins the title of each conference gets to play in the Super Bowl. This weekend is the conference championship.)

And the Vikes, despite three four appearances in the Super Bowl (all over 40 years ago), have never won it.

So, yeah, pretty wild around here.

Which is exacerbated by all the “SKOL Vikings” fuss. The SKOL thing wasn’t really much of a thing until we moved into our new stadium. One of our news stations did a nice story on it:

I don’t do any “watching the game at the sports bar” stuff. Hubs and I watch the game from the comfort of our own home (and with the benefit of a DVR, fast-forward through all the boring parts (like commercials) and spend a grand total of, like, an hour or a little more watching a 3- to 4-hour game). Of course, that means we don’t start watching until the game is at least half over. Still, beats sitting through commercials and commentary.

Since my Muse seems to be scarce these days, I’m spending my pre-game time working on my presentation for the Writers’ Institute in April. What was I thinking? I’ve given presentations at work for work stuff, but this is different. I’m trying to figure out what format (no, not just talking about Powerpoint versus Keynote versus Prezi) to do this in. I’ve got notecards with talking points. It’s more a matter of how to go through the material without boring eager writers to death.

And no, stand-up comedy is not on the agenda ๐Ÿ˜‰

At least I’ve got one of my writing sisters with me on this. We’re co-presenting, so once I have something cobbled together, I’ll see if she’s got any suggestions. It’ll all work out.

It’s something I can work on that isn’t really affected by me being stuck in the mud on my WIP. That’s a whole ‘nother subject. It’s supposed to be nice out again today–above freezing–so I’m planning a long walk to get my head clear and the creative energy fired up.

Have a great weekend! Happy Writing!

 


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Once upon an author #JohnSandford

As you may know if you’ve been stopping by for the past few weeks, even though my first book isn’t due out until 2019, I’m starting to do more prep work for that period when I finally have a cover, something real I can use to stir up interest before the book comes out.

You know, the scary stuff like author signings and meeting people.

I went to my first author signing (not my own ๐Ÿ™‚ ) last night. One of my wonderful sister-in-laws offered to come with me; she’s wanted to go to a signing, and this was a great opportunity. I missed William Kent Kreuger this past August, but John Sandford is another Minnesota mystery/thriller writer whose name I’m familiar with. I’ve started reading Sandford’s first Virgil Flowers book, and I’ve got the first Lucas Davenport waiting. (yes, I know the Davenport series came first, but Sandford’s latest book is a Flowers novel).

There’s a small independent bookstore in Minneapolis that’s been around for decades. Their claim to fame is their support of local (read: Minnesota) mystery writers. Any MN mystery/thriller author knows about Once Upon a Crime.

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Disclaimer: I wanted to go in order to talk to the proprietor about setting up my own signing or maybe book launch. You know, ask how far in advance I’d need to contact them to schedule it. John Sandford was a bonus ๐Ÿ™‚

This area of Uptown is within blocks of a couple of Minneapolis’ lakes, namely Calhoun and Lake of the Isles. It’s also my sister-in-law’s old stomping grounds. She pointed out where she used to live, where her husband used to live when they were still dating, and the tennis courts and walking path she used to frequent–which we walked–around Lake of the Isles.

I’m glad she came along. Driving in that area was, well, interesting. The Lowry Hill area is made up of mansions, cool old houses that make you wonder what the original builders did for a living. If you like architecture of that sort, it’s a great place to go.

The streets were narrow. As in, if there are cars parked on both sides, which there were (and don’t get me started on how the hell people could actually parallel park like that), there was barely enough room for two cars to pass between them. More than once I thought my SIL (who drove) would scrape a layer of paint from her car.

The bookstore is cozy. As in the realitors version of “cozy” (you know, small). We got there about 10 minutes before John Sandford was scheduled to start, and it was standing room only. There must have been forty, maybe fifty people there; I couldn’t see around the corner in the store to know how many there were.

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All around the room above the bookshelves were those enlarged book covers left (and some signed) by mystery authors. And books! (well, duh, it’s a bookstore) Mystery/thriller/suspense books by everyone from C. J. Box to Jim Butcher (Harry Dresden) (huh? I was surprised by that one) to John Sandford. But no Patterson.

You heard me. No John Patterson books. Nope, don’t know why, but I suspect Patterson has so many that if they did carry his books, there wouldn’t be room for anyone else.

John showed up a little late, reminding us how horrendous the parking situation is in that area (I wondered if he found the parking spot reserved for him on the side of the building).

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He spoke a little about the new Virgil Flowers book just released, Deep Freeze, then opened the floor for questions. People had some great ones, including what his plans were for not only Flowers and Davenport, but some of his other side characters, like Kidd.

It was a great session. Sandford, 73, was candid and a joy to listen to. Hey, did you know Jonathan and Faye Kellerman live, like, four doors down from John and his wife? They get together regularly for dinners and such. And in case you were wondering, he expects his new house to be done by Christmas–2019. He did recommend Mick Herron in particular when someone asked what authors he reads (and he doesn’t read women authors much).

I enjoyed the evening, and learned a few things about both John Sandford (he used to deliver mail in Wayzata back in the day) and his fans, who asked interesting questions like who his favorite characters were and if it was easy to kill off a major supporting character. He said he was planning to kill Lucas’ wife off, and the whole room gasped. Then he said he just made it a really bad accident instead (because his publisher said he couldn’t kill her). The room let out a sigh of relief.

I’m planning to attend a few more signings there, and my SIL is game for more. If she hadn’t been there, I would’ve been a basket case driving in that area. The narrowness of the streets would’ve been my undoing (I mean, besides the one-ways and unfamiliarity with the area). I’m not claustophobic, but I’m not good when it comes to getting within inches (centimeters?) of parked cars. Yikes!

Rainy day today, so I’m planning to finish reading through my manuscript and starting the few revisions I noted. The manuscript is due on November 1, the day I’ll start NaNoWriMo this year. Hopefully that’ll kick me out my slump.

Have a great writing weekend!


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Write what you know?

Sounds like a great idea, right? If you write what you know, just think of all the research you don’t have to do. That’s more time you can spend actually writing. Then again, you miss all the fun of actual research (I mean, just think of the rabbit holes you can explore when you google “lethal food”). Disclaimer: No, I haven’t googled it yet, but I write mysteries, so I’ll get there ๐Ÿ˜‰ .

Not only do you get to skip out on a lot of research, you get to use all that special knowledge you’ve got stored in that gray matter of yours. It’s almost as good as bar trivia, right? I mean, if you find a substitute for drinking a shot every time you get a question wrong (just to keep the record straight, I’ve never personally played bar trivia, but I wouldn’t mind trying it ๐Ÿ˜€ )

Sounds like a plan. Heck, a lot of writers do it. Kathy Reichs’ Temperance Brennan is a forensic anthropologist, just like Kathy. John Grisham is a lawyer in the South, and he writes legal thrillers set in the South. Right now I’m reading a Jammer Davis book by Ward Larsen. Jammer is an ex-Air Force pilot and aviation accident investigator, just like … wait for it … Ward Larsen. The list goes on.

It’s a good way to make your characters sound authentic. And that’s the idea, right? Make the reader believe your character really knows what s/he is doing. If you are an investigative journalist and know the ins and outs of the business, including working for a television news station, your investigative journalist character will be authentic and believable, just like Hank Phillippi Ryan’s Charlotte McNally.

Since you’ve done the job, you can add extra details to ensure the reader believes in the character. And adding that tidbit to the blurb lends you some weight with readers. Think: well, this author is a third-degree black belt in jujitsu, so this book about a ninja should be pretty good.

But … (you knew this was coming ๐Ÿ™‚ )

There’s a line between authenticity and readability. If you worked as a chocolatier for ten years, and your main character is a chocolatier, you can have that character describe how to get the perfect temper for the chocolate. If you, a geologist writing a thriller, make your character a geologist,ย  that character can describe the aspects of drilling for oil, or searching for gold, or taking core samples in Antarctica.

And just as you’re describing how the change in strata means a volcanic eruption a couple million years ago produced a solid vein of gold rather than gold scattered through the rock, your reader is skipping ahead to where the bad guy has your main character lined up with the cross-hairs of the scope of his high-powered rifle.

See the dilemma? You want to include the details to prove you know what you’re talking about, but unless the reader is interested in geology, they don’t want to wade through that. If you want some examples of TMTI (too much technical information), read Kathy Reichs’ Temperance Brennan books.

dash8 smOkay, so how much do you take out so the reader won’t skip that part? Or, how much do you include to make sure the reader knows you know what you’re talking about? That’s where I’m at with my manuscript. After talking with my agent, and reviewing the somewhat-but-not-very-helpful feedback from the publishers who have passed, I’m tweaking my manuscript to remove even more of the TMTI bits, because we suspect that might be a big part of the reason they passed. If the editors stumble through those parts, it ruins the reading experience. In fact, the most recent publisher to pass said it was a really close decision. If there’d been a little bit less TMTI, would they have accepted it? Maybe. Maybe not. But it’s something.

For instance, my main character, who is an aircraft mechanic, is asked about the fire bottle for the auxiliary power unit (APU) in an airplane. Initially, she described it thus:

โ€œFire bottle. If thereโ€™s a fire in the APU, itโ€™ll blow. Thereโ€™s an explosive squib here,โ€ she pointed to a nodule on the bottle connected to a wire harness, โ€œthat ruptures the diaphragm and releases high-pressure suppressant.โ€ She indicated the line that carried the chemical extinguisher to the combustion chamber of the APU.

If you’re someone familiar with mechanical stuff, you can probably follow this pretty well. But if you have trouble doing more than pumping gas or airing up your tires, you’ll probably skim this. So, time to leave out more of the details:

โ€œFire bottle. If thereโ€™s a fire in the APU, itโ€™ll blow. Thereโ€™s an explosive squib here,โ€ she pointed to a nodule on the bottle connected to a wire harness, โ€œthat releases high-pressure suppressant.โ€

Why did I keep the detail about the squib and the wire harness? Because it’s relevant in one of the climax scenes. Which is smoother to read? The second one, I hope.

I’ve pulled a lot of the remaining technical details out (by this point far less then in earlier drafts), but it’s still a struggle of wanting to prove I know what I’m talking about (authenticity) and making it accessible to mostly non-mechanical readers (readability). After my guinea pigs–er, readers go through it, I’ll send it to my agent for the next round of submissions. Here’s hoping!

It’s been a short week–at least it seems like it. Had a nice day with relatives last week, and everyone (in-laws) got to meet my son’s girlfriend. Whew, it’s over! For all those who celebrate Easter, have a blessed holiday weekend. For everyone else, get writing!


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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?

 


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The Days After

Hope you all (in the US) enjoyed your Thanksgiving occasion without too much politicking, eating of yummy stuff, and shopping.

Ugh. Shopping. I’m an armchair shopper; you couldn’t pay me enough to battle the masses for in-store deals.

Well, okay, if I was getting a free shopping spree or something I’d manage.

I’ve got both Thanksgiving Day and the infamous “Black Friday” off of work as paid holidays (Yay!!) My son is home from college, my daughter has no school, and I didn’t have to cook for Turkey Day. I had two things that I wanted to takeย BF pricing advantage of.

There. Shopping done–for now. The kids haven’t gotten their lists together yet. I’ve got an extended weekend to catch up on stuff. I should clean… Um, I’m sure I have a reason to procrastinate on that.

Just before Turkey Day I sent my revised WIP to the agent who requested the revise and resubmit.

Hurry up and wait. And pray. And cross my fingers.

Now what? Dig into another book that needs revision? Which one? Another romantic mystery? My contemporary fantasy? Oh, I know. I need to come up with ideas for more books using my WIP characters (suggested by said agent).

I never thought about more adventures with those characters. My detective mystery, yes–I’ve got the next three books drafted. This one, though, not so much. Maybe I just haven’t gone that far yet; I’ve been focusing on polishing this installment.

I love the characters, and I love the setting and the premise, but I honestly never thought much beyond this book, though in the back of my mind I knew the possibility existed that I’d need to come up with something more for them.

No time like the present.

Sometimes stories start out as multiple episodes, like my detective series. But what if the story doesn’t start out that way? How do you come up with additional adventures for your characters?

Brainstorm! *sets up the brainstorming wall*

Yep. *looks around for colorful brain clouds amassing for a deluge* Uh-huh. *searches the horizon* O-kay. Any time, now.

I got nothin’.

Now what? You created the characters, breathed life into them, put them through conflicts and trials and heartache and, eventually, success of some sort. They survive to the end of the story, and you wish them good luck and move on to another story with other characters.

Except you need to go back to those characters, knock on their doors, and present them with a new itinerary.

Granted, nothing is for sure in this business, but it doesn’t hurt to be proactive. So, how does one go about creating more adventures for characters you love but just didn’t expect to spend more time with?

Everyone’s process is different. I know the appeal of my characters lies in their professions and the setting, so those are good places to start. My main protagonist works in the aviation industry, something I think people will want to read about, so I need to stick with that. Airports. Air shows. Air museums. Air guitars–er, maybe not. My other character is in law enforcement, so that falls naturally into a mystery.

My characters are developed, so I can shortcut that a bit, even though each adventure should encourage them to change a little. Now what? I need at least one dead body, multiple suspects, and a solid motive. The victim and/or the suspects and/or the culprit should have some sort of tie to the main characters. There needs to be conflict. My main characters have to be threatened somehow, have to have an “all hope is lost” moment, and need to come out on top in the end.

I cracked open a fresh notebook for the project, a two-subject one so I can use each section for a different story. And stared at the blank page.

So I started with the setting. I figured if I could at least give myself a starting point, I’d have something to work with. Then I added the big 6: Who, What, Where, When, How, and Why. Then started throwing ideas at the brainstorming wall.

p_20161126_073605_cr The more I tossed ideas around, the more that stuck to the wall as possibilities for the new story. I’m up to five pages of ideas, and the plot is starting to coalesce. I’ve got the tie to my main character, another source of conflict for the main character that leaked in from my WIP, and multiple suspects.

It’s starting to look a lot like a novel-in-the-making. Once I have the story figured out, I can do a rough outline, or (heaven forbid!) a synopsis (cue the spooky music and evil laughter).

Ugh.

Then I can dive into a first draft. I see another self-imposed NaNo month in my future. Maybe February.

How do you come up with “the further adventures of” for characters who didn’t start out starring in more than one book? Days of intense brainstorming? Afternoon walks through the woods? People-watching at the mall?

Enjoy your weekend, and get writing!