Facets of a Muse

Examining the guiding genius of writers everywhere


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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 take 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!


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Revise, Revisit, and Revamp

(Okay, I cheated on the title since revise and revamp are synonyms, but it’s the rule of threes I tell you 😀 )

I reach over for my coffee, a Kona blend from Hawaii with hints of white chocolate and macadamia nut. The current view from my writing office overlooks bird-of-paradise and hibiscus bushes outside at the feet of papaya trees. I can hear the faint rumble of a waterfall in the distance, behind the sounds of the stream burbling over rocks just outside.

My Muse enters without knocking, as usual. He’s still wearing the Vikings jersey, and well-worn (in every sense of the adjective) jeans. “What’s with the Hawaiian theme?”

“It’s been a good week.”

“Hawaiian good?” He picks up the mug I just set down and sniffs it before sipping. “Hawaiian coffee, too?”

“I figured I’d run with the theme for now.”

He wanders to the window. “You’re not slacking, are you?”

“I’m revising, you know that. Hell, you went all Indiana Jones on my ass and canceled your pub crawl to make sure I dug in.”

He turns from the window and smiles that crooked grin that melts a little something inside. “It worked. Besides, Mae’s got Mr. E on house arrest anyway while she works on book 3.”

I reach for my mug, and realize he’s still got it. I’m going to have to make another pot if he’s gonna bogart my coffee. “That’s my cup.”

“Get a different one. I haven’t had Kona for a while.” He sips my java as he wanders to the wall-sized white board. Frowns. “Where are the new threads?”

“I haven’t worked them through yet. I’m still not sure how to weave them in.”

He takes a marker. “If you’re going to go with the agent’s suggestions–and I strongly recommend it because they make sense–you need to reference the brother’s added thread here,” he makes a note on my timeline, “here, and here. If you work with your victim’s thread,” he takes a different colored marker, “you need to adjust here and here for sure. Probably here as well.” He scribbles something.

I join him at the board. “What on earth does that say?”

He peers at his handiwork, then wipes it off with the side of his fist and rewrites it. “Can you read it now?”

Revenge. “Really? That’s quite the trope. I was going to soften her a bit.”

“But if she’s thinking of payback for what happened …”

“How’s that better than blackmail?”

He finishes the coffee and heads to the coffeemaker for a refill. “It’s the personal connection that counts. Revenge requires it to be more personal. The closer the personal connection between the victim and the antagonist, the higher the stakes. That’s Mystery and Suspense 101. Bonus points if there’s a connection between the protagonist and the antagonist.”

I follow the thread. “I just cut five hundred words, and I still need to cut. How am I supposed to add these without bumping my word count back up? I’ll need to add a scene to make the brother’s thread change work.”

He rests an arm around my shoulders. “No, you won’t, love. Well, maybe. Depends on how you handle it.”

“Any suggestions?”

He squeezes my shoulders. “Lots. Let’s get started.”

Isn’t it funny/aggravating when a what-if question or suggestion makes you realize the story has to include that idea? Like a head-slapping “duh” moment?

Yeah, it’s like that.

Sigh. And after I’ve submitted it to agents. Ugh. At least I haven’t gone too far in the submission process quite yet. Small-ish changes, but they’ll round out a couple threads nicely.

Have a great weekend!

 


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Anticipation

Can you believe we’re halfway through summer already? No, not the actual astronomical summer (you know, like the solstices and equinoxes), the school’s out summer.

We’re halfway through July. O. M. G.

I feel like I missed a big chunk of it so far. Wait, I did. Two weeks’ worth after my surgery. Not to mention all the other busy stuff.

Ack!

Finally got the weeding finished (and of course I need to start over, but I’m tired). Started picking zucchini and green beans. Mmm! Fresh green beans from the garden trump frozen every time. Canned beans don’t even come close. And it’s early enough in the season that zucchini actually sounds good. (Yep, just wait a couple weeks 😮 )

I’d post pics, but I haven’t taken any since I beat the weeds back. I’ll try to post some next week. The corn is tassling, so we should have some in a week or so. Raspberries are ripening, but it seems like they do an every-other-year thing. Last year we had a bumper crop. This year, not so much. I’m not picking wild black raspberries this season, either. I made a couple batches of jelly with what I had frozen from last year, so we should be good for a bit. Besides, I really don’t want to be lunch for mosquitoes.

Made it two-thirds of the way through revising my WIP, and I should be able to finish this weekend. Whew! I’m behind, and the two weeks I was out of commission didn’t help. Now that I’ve caught up on weeding for a minute, I’m focusing on finishing.

The best thing coming up? Nope, not my sister’s visit next week, though I am looking forward to it. Nope, not the pool party family gathering the weekend after.

*Drumroll*

My writing sisters reunion retreat! Three weeks. *happy dance* Not only do I get to spend a few days with some crazy creative writers and good friends, but I get to focus on writing. All weekend. This year we’re having a plotting weekend. So. Much. Fun. There’s nothing quite like getting a bunch of writers together and helping each other with plotting new stories. We throw so many wild ideas out there, the brainstorming wall needs cleaning a couple times a day.

I’ve made some writer friends in the blog-o-sphere, and I was thinking about what it would be like to spend a day with them talking about plots, writing, and all the fun stuff that goes with those creative processes. Man, I think it’d be a hoot! We’re scattered across the country, many countries, but wouldn’t that be cool?

My point is, if you can gather with a couple writer friends for a weekend, just a girls/guys weekend where you do nothing but talk writing, do it. If you know a writer who lives fairly close, meet at a halfway point. There’s an energy that surrounds us creative folks that just seems to multiply when we get together.

Have a great weekend, everyone!

Wait. Almost forgot. I suppose you wanted an update on the orphans, right? Well, we found a new home for the pair. I put an ad in the local paper, and we got one call from a gentleman who wanted them both. He just got a kitten about the same age as the orphans, and wanted a buddy for him.

We dropped the kittens off last weekend. Now, before you worry about the sort of home our little foundlings are in now, let me tell you, we have no worries. The gentleman, in his late 70s or in his 80s, has a menagerie. Seriously. We drove up and saw a well-kept yard. Behind the house, a number of fenced areas housed chickens, ducks, turkeys, geese, peacocks, and at least one donkey.

This gentleman took the kittens from their box and cradled them in his arms before handing them off to a couple friends rocking on the porch, one petting the other kitten. An old collie kept an eye on everything.

Yep, I think they’ll like their new home.

Okay, you want a couple final doses of cuteness? Here you go.

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The inside scoop

I add another tweak to the sentence, hit “Save”, and stand to stretch. Gads, I’m going to have to print the whole manuscript out again. Writing longhand does have merits, but I’m not going to write a 90k-word book by hand. I find editing on paper is better for me. I can often catch things I miss otherwise, and it’s easier to check things pages or chapters back in hard copy.

Coffee’s empty, and I’m feeling the drag. I grab my cup and open the office door.

Holy crap! Have you ever pushed open the door to the ladies’ room at the exact same time someone inside is pulling it open to leave? Yeah, it was like that.

“Oh, I’m sorry. I just … Your Muse called and, um, I thought he’d be here. He said to go right in.” She loops a lock of dark brown hair with a stark white tress around an ear. “He isn’t, is he?”

Of course he isn’t. I’m sure he didn’t think twice about calling her to stop by, and then heading out to “run errands”. Setting me up is more like it. “Hi, Sierra. Nope, he isn’t here, but I’m sure that was his plan all along.” I step aside and invite her in. “Where’s Quinn?”

She blushes. Her mouth curls into a smile, like she’s remembering a private joke. “Working. Your Muse said he didn’t need to be here.”

Uh-huh. Of course he did. I offer her coffee, which she turns down because she works tonight. I fill my mug and grab a bottle of water for her before we settle down at the small table in my office. “Did he tell you why he wanted you to come?”

“Something about ramping up tension and you needing help.”

“I thought I was doing okay once I got the whole suspicion versus romantic atmosphere thing figured out. Apparently he doesn’t agree or he wouldn’t have called you. And wouldn’t you know it, he’s conveniently absent for our meeting.” That’s when I notice the far-away look on her face amid a fading flush. “Sooo, how did breakfast go this morning?”

Her face reddens like my son’s skin from golfing without sunscreen. “Good.” Her tone indicates “good” isn’t quite the word she’s thinking. I imagine “mind-blowing” is closer.

Sigh. I remember those days.

O-kay. She isn’t going to like this next part. Correction, Quinn isn’t going to like it. “Did you tell Quinn you work tonight?”

She becomes very interested in the ingredients on the bottle’s label. That’s what I thought; she’s much too cheery for things to have played out like I need them to.

“No.”

“You do realize you need to tell him.”

“I’ll leave him a note.”

“Yeah, no.  You remember the part where I said suspicion, right?”

She lifts her eyes to mine. The left one really is a little paler than the right. Matches the side her white tress is on. “What does that have to do with me? He knows I’m not involved. I just found the body.”

Not so much. “You need to tell him you’re going to work tonight so he can tell you what he … ” Dammit. I can’t tell her, it’ll ruin her reaction. “Never mind. We need to replay the breakfast scene, and you need to tell him before he leaves.”

“What do you mean by ‘replay’?” She sounds excited, like she gets to go to Disneyland all over again.

Man, I miss those days before kids, back when we had energy.

“I’ll take you back to the point where you make breakfast and Quinn’s getting ready for work.”

Her enthusiasm wanes. “Can’t you go back a little further?”

I feel my evil side peek out. Mwahahahaha. “Don’t need to.”

“Please? It’s only a couple hours.”

“I’m on too tight a deadline.” I think my horns are showing.

“Sorry I’m late.” My Muse makes his entrance, sliding his aviator sunglasses up onto his head. “What’d I miss?”

The scenes I’m working on have taken longer than I expected, but I think in the end it’ll be good. I’m at an emotional turning point for my main characters; hoping I’m up to the challenge!

Happy Mother’s Day to all those moms out there!

 

 

 

 

 

 


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When you need to say “Duh”

T-minus 4 days and counting until the Writers’ Institute in Madison, WI.

Four days.

So, here I am, on my lunch break working on my synopsis, when I stop in mid-thought.

Yes, it really was. I was like, but what about the climax? I’ve got two main events, and they’re both like, the climax, but I can’t …

*face-palm*

DUH!

Gawd, why didn’t I put this together earlier? OMG. Seriously.

And this after I’ve got my first 50 pages shined up pretty well.

We’re talking major brain fart here. No rainbows in sight. Or unicorns.

*enters writing office*

*breaks ‘in case of emergency’ glass*

*pushes big red button*

The neat thing about the phone on my writing desk is I can set ring tones (Hey, it’s my office). Guess which one I’ve got set for my Muse. I listen to the first few bars of “Holding Out for a Hero” before I answer.

“What’s the emergency?” he asks. “I’m kinda busy.” I hear cheering in the background.

“Busy? Sounds like you’re at a rugby match.”

Silence. “You were entertaining family this weekend, so I took some time off. What’s the emergency, love?”

“I need you here ASAP. I’ve got to revise the plot for my WIP tonight.”

“Again? I thought you were going to be Skyping tonight. You cleaned up the brainstorming wall before I left.”

“I will be Skyping, and then I’ll be revising. In other words, get your ass back here.”

More silence. “Ask nicely.”

Seriously? Fine. “Help me with my plot revision. Please.”

He sighs into the phone, like I’m a major inconvenience. He’s supposed to be on my schedule; it’s his job. “After this match. It just started, so it might be a while.”

“You know when I get home from work. I’ve got beer,” I add, just in case.

“I’ll see you later, love.” Click.

Does this ever happen to you? You think you’ve got the plot nailed down, and things seem to work, and then BAM! You realize you missed an obvious plot point. Or, in my case, a whole freaking thread. Actually, two threads that should be one.

Stupid brainstorms.

Happy Monday!


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The Brainstorming Wall

I step back and admire the wall. It’s an expanse that stretches the length of my writing office, but more. It’s bigger than it looks because it’s curved just enough to add a couple feet to the length.

So, what’s on my brainstorming wall? A fresh coat of ideas, put up this morning with the help of some close writing friends. (I actually started writing this post last night, but distractions abound.) I’m trying to sort out my notes, matching them with the colored splashes on the wall. Still looking for that juicy tomato–wait, there it is, under the alfredo splotch.

“What the hell, love?” My Muse appears beside me. “Were you finished with it? The old storm? I thought you were still working on the revision.”

I glance at him. He’s dressed down in black sweatpants and a faded UCLA sweatshirt. “Slumming today?”

He shoves his sleeves to his elbows and crosses his arms on his chest. “You’ve been doing well, young Padawan.”

“Um, yeah, don’t do that.”

“Do what?”

“Do ‘Star Wars’ lines. Your Australian accent just doesn’t work with the whole Ewan McGregor thing. Or Liam Neeson. Or whomever.”

He puts a hand over his heart. “That hurts.”

“Har, har. The draft of my WIP is based on the old storm. This here is for the next round of revision.”

He approaches the wall, then swipes a finger against a grape jelly splash. “What’s this one?”

“That’s the one for compressing the FAA investigation timeline. I think it’s a great idea. I just have to figure out how to work that in with how long the victim was dating her current boyfriend, not that it’ll matter in the big picture. It just ups the tension for the main character.”

“So, what you’re telling me is I’d better take my vacation now.” He licks the jelly off his finger.

Um, give me just a moment. *mental side trip*  Sigh. *fans face with hand*

“Why do you need to take a vacation? I’m working on my WIP every day. You haven’t had to kick my ass the past couple weeks. I thought you’d be enjoying this smooth run.”

“Oh, I am, love.” He wraps an arm around my shoulders and squeezes. “You’re doing great. Keep it up.”

If you have close writing friends, use them for sounding boards when you have a story idea or plot knot. I’m fortunate to have my writing sisters. They’ve been instrumental in the plot revisions for my WIP, and their suggestions have made the story far stronger than it started out to be.

Writing friends are also good for reality checks, simply because they’ve had different life experiences than you have. I have a stalker in my WIP. One of my writing sisters had some insight on stalkers/predators, and reminded me how someone would really behave if they had a stalker in their past.

Whew! Caught it before I got too far into revisions.

These days, technology allows us to keep in touch with people all over the globe. I’ve got writing friends I’ve never met in person, but whom I feel I could hang out with at a coffee house or library (well, maybe not library–might get too rowdy 😉 ) for an afternoon and talk writing.

Gotta get back to it. My Muse is starting to pace.

Write on!