Category Archives: always make it worse

Will the World End?

A long, long time ago, I bought a book by Donald Maas about how to write a bestseller.  WRITING THE BREAKOUT NOVEL.  His advice?  The higher the stakes, the higher the demand for your book.  I’m writing cozy mysteries, and a few people have told me I’d sell more if I wrote thrillers or suspense.   They might be right, but I’m an Agatha Christie fan, and I like what I like.

When I wrote urban fantasies, the entire plots hung on good vs. bad.  If the good guys didn’t win, all things horrible would break loose.  The world would end, as we know it.  Okay, in truth?  That was a lot of fun.  But then I wrote six romances, and the stakes changed.  If the guy didn’t win the girl, there wouldn’t be a happy ending.  Enough to make me sad, so those stakes worked for me, too.

If as a reader I come to truly love and care about a character, I want him to survive and to be happy.  I just finished readng WHAT ANGELS FEAR, and the stakes were high.  If Sebastian couldn’t find the real killer, he’d be blamed for a crime he didn’t commit and probably hang.  Did that make me turn the pages faster?  I got every bit as hooked by Catherine Bybee’s FOOL ME ONCE, because I got totally caught up by the characters.  Yes, there was a lot at stake.  Secrets needed to remain hidden.  Could Reece win Lori after she found out he was a P.I. who was tailing her for info?  Before he fell for her?

Every book has to have high stakes, one way or another.  Maas would say, the higher the better.  What happens if the protagonist fails?  How devastated will the reader be?  But there are all kinds of stakes.  Emotional.  Political.  Career.  Reputation.  Books are filled with little setbacks, chapter after chapter.  After all, we don’t want to make it too easy for the protagonist, do we?  We try to end each scene with the protagonist wanting more, feeling a little defeated, until the very end.

I read Caleb Carr’s book, THE ALIENIST, when it first came out.  I haven’t seen the TV series yet, but I want to.  His protagonist worked hard to catch a serial killer, using psychology to understand the murderer.  The stakes grew higher and higher, knowing that if the detective team didn’t catch him, someone else would die.  A ticking clock is a great way to add tension.

Mae Clair uses past events to heighten the stakes in her Point Pleasant series.   The Mothman rescued Caden Flynn, and the “monster” and Caden have a weird bond.  When strange sightings start again in Point Pleasant, the past and the present collide, and Caden knows he’ll be visitng the Mothman again.  Is he meant to save the cryptid or destroy him?  (If UFOs and the Mothman legend appeal to you, here’s a link:  https://www.amazon.com/Thousand-Yesteryears-Point-Pleasant-ebook/dp/B0138NHJ4A/ref=sr_1_3?ie=UTF8&qid=1517091001&sr=8-3&keywords=mae+clair

Whatever you’re writing, may your stakes be high enough to keep the reader turning the pages.  Happy Writing!

My webpage:  https://www.judithpostswritingmusings.com/

Author Facebook page:  https://www.facebook.com/JudiLynnwrites/

My Kensington page: (I need a new picture): http://www.kensingtonbooks.com/author.aspx/31751

Twitter:  @judypost

 

 

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Blog Tours

I signed up for another blog tour with Goddess Fish Promotions.  (They’re SO easy to work with!)  It started on Oct. 30th and it will end Nov. 10.  For the first tour, I did questions and answers at each stop.  This time, I chose to put up a different excerpt each time.   I don’t know if the tour will help me sell more books.  If it does, that’s wonderful.  If it gives me a few more reviews, even better!   But there are no guarantees.

What I love about the tours, though, are visitors’ comments.  Even just a “sounds like a good book” makes me happy.  “I like the excerpt” makes my day.  In SPECIAL DELIVERY, Karli is a travelling nurse.  My daughter is a travelling nurse, and adding that into the romance’s story line made it more fun to write.  One visitor commented that her sister was a travelling nurse, and it gave us something we could both relate to.

Once this book goes up on Nov. 7th, I’ll have a year before my mystery’s available, so I decided to write a romance, chapter by chapter, to post on my webpage in the meantime.  I have to admit, I had three brothers and an idea that just kept surfacing in my head, over and over again, that just didn’t want to go away.  I kept telling it to.  “No more romances for me,” I told it.  “Only think of new mysteries.”  But my brain doesn’t pay any more attention to me than my chihuahua does.  So I sat down and wrote the first chapter, and I really liked it.  I posted it, then sat down and wrote the second chapter.  I liked that, too.

I can “pants” it for one or two more chapters, and then every pore of me will crave some kind of assurance that I’ll have enough ideas and head in the right direction, so I’ll have to sit down and write plot points.  I have so many friends who are pantsers and write beautiful novels, but I just can’t do it.  I’ve tried.  (Don’t ask).  I’m already jotting down ideas for what can go wrong in this story.  And since I’m really posting a first draft–since I can’t give it to my critique partners to clean up first–I’m crossing my fingers and hoping for the best.

I’ve shared that I like to divide my novels into fourths when I plot.  But I recently saw K.M. Welland’s Nano outline to keep your story on track.  I’ve been writing a long time, but it still boggled my mind.  I’m thinking of giving it a try, even though I might skip a few steps along the way, so that I don’t scare my brain into a serious retreat.  I’m not sure if it will work for me to be this organized, but I’ll find out.  If it overwhelms me, I’ll go back to what I usually do.  And that’s the thing about writing.  There is no right or wrong way, and you can always regroup and rewrite.  Anyway, in case you like nailing every trigger point in your story, here’s her link:  https://www.helpingwritersbecomeauthors.com/novel-writing-checklist/  

If you’re trying to pound out 50,000 words this month for Nano, good luck!  If you’re like me, and Nano is the stuff of hiding under the bed, happy writing anyway.  Have a great November!

 

webpage:  http://www.judithpostswritingmusings.com/

author Facebook page:  https://www.facebook.com/JudiLynnwrites/?ref=aymt_homepage_panel

twitter:  @judypost

Sometimes, I don’t want angst

When I’m yapping to my friend and fellow writer, M. L. Rigdon, about my idea for a new book, and I rattle off a list of things that I can see happening in it, she always stops me and says, “That’s all well and good.  You love plotting.  But…”  And then she lists the sacred mantra of character development:  1. What does the character want?  2.  Why does she want it?  3.  What will she do to get it?  Mary Lou starts books with characters who tug at her.  I start books with ideas.  A good book needs both. No matter how you start, you have to end up with both.  And you have to find balance.

Mary Lou, who used to perform on stage, has no problem whipping up fully developed characters in her nimble, supple brain.  She has no trouble developing angst either.  After all, the ebb and flow of drama pulses in her veins.  Her Regencies (written as Julia Donner) drip with angst.  And wit.  And humor, thank God, to offset it.

For Julia Donner’s books:  https://www.amazon.com/s/ref=nb_sb_noss?url=search-alias%3Dstripbooks&field-keywords=julia+donner

One of my other fellow writer friends, Kyra Jacobs, writes contemporary romances, like me.  I like them, along with lots of other people.  I’d love to visit the Checkerberry Inn, but she’s partnered up all the hot men there in her three book series, so I’d only get to look and drool.  But her books are fun, fast reads with heartwarming characters that lift my mood.

For Kyrs’s books: https://www.amazon.com/Kyra-Jacobs/e/B00E5PIJ04/ref=dp_byline_cont_ebooks_1 

That’s what I tried for when I wrote my Mill Pond romances.  I wanted to create characters who hooked me and life challenges I could relate to.  So I think I balanced the characters–what do they want, why, and what will they do to get it–and the plot (all the things that get in their way), but I still get feedback occasionally that my romances don’t have enough angst.  Now, I know I”m never going to please everybody.  I also know that I purposely tried to write fun, light romances–quick “feel good” reads, because sometimes, that’s exactly what I want.  Sometimes, I get damned sick of baggage piled on top of baggage. That’s why I’m not very good at deep, literary novels.  I’ve had enough baggage in real life.  I sure don’t want to read about it.  But the first time I read that my books could use more angst, I tried to add some.  Let’s face it.  No one gets through Life with a free pass.  But I got the same comments on that book.

So, I thought I’d add more angst between my protagonist and her romantic interest.  And I think I did a better job on that.  But I got the same review on that book as the earlier ones and fewer stars.  Sigh.  I’m grateful for every review I get (okay, maybe not EVERY review.  There are some I could do without:)  And I even think maybe I have a glimmer of what the reviewer meant, because–and I know this sounds strange since I’ve never met her–but I like this reviewer.  I’ve learned, though, that what one person calls “angst” might not be what I would call “angst.”  And if I ever write another romance, I’d fiddle with my next theory, but now I’m off to try my hand at mysteries.  Kensington offered me a three-book deal, and I’m pretty happy about that.  But let’s hope they have enough angst. Because I don’t have a theory on that yet.  And I’ve noticed that my least favorite book in a favorite author’s series is the one where she was the most depressed.  Bigger sigh.  I still haven’t made up my mind, I guess.

How do you define angst?

For my romances:  https://www.amazon.com/Judi-Lynn/e/B01BKZDQ68/ref=sr_tc_2_0?qid=1501354126&sr=1-2-ent 

My webpage:  http://www.judithpostswritingmusings.com/

My author Facebook page:  https://www.facebook.com/JudiLynnwrites/?ref=aymt_homepage_panel

On Twitter:  @judypost

How Many Bodies does it take?

I’m working on a mystery.  I finally reached the third turning point (three-fourths through the book–and yes, I do construct my plots that way), and I’m heading into the last 80 pages.  This is when I look at my remaining plot points and pray that I have enough twists and turns to make it to the The End.  If not, a little creativity is in order.

Almost (there must be one out there that breaks the mold, but I can’t think of it) every mystery starts with a dead body.  A crime would work, too, but it’s not as common.  The body doesn’t have to be on page one.  It doesn’t even have to show up by page five.  But someone usually stumbles upon it by the end of chapter one.  Not always.  Mystery readers, especially for cozies or traditionals,  know that while they’re hanging out with the protagonist and getting to know her and the book’s setting, a dead body will show up eventually.  It’s worth the wait.

Martha Grimes, in her early books, grabbed her readers with a hook–a prologue. They’re frowned upon now, but I liked them.  Some nice, oblivious person would be walking along a street or locking her front door, and we KNEW she’d be dead by the end of the chapter.  A great way to build tension.  A lot of thriller writers use that technique–showing the victim in a way that we know they’re already doomed.  It works.  If you’re not writing a thriller, though, you have to space out victims more sparingly:)  You don’t off somebody whenever the pace slows down, so you have to come up with different devices to keep the tension high enough to turn pages.

The thing I loved about witing urban fantasy is that you could write a battle every time you wanted to up the tension.  Pitting your protagonist against someone who could kill her works really well.  I just finished reading Ilona Andrews’s MAGIC SHIFTS, and it was a FAST read because there was a battle in almost every chapter.  Lots of action.  I loved it, but that doesn’t fly in an amateur sleuth mystery.  Protags don’t wield swords or shoot magic.

What does work?  Having the sleuth at the wrong place at the wrong time.  Having her get nosy and digging through a desk that’s not hers when someone walks into the office.  I’m halfway through a mystery by an author who’s new to me:  A Cutthroat Business by Jenna Bennett.   I’m loving it so far!  First, her protagonist is a Southern Belle.  I haven’t read one of those since the last Sarah Booth Delaney cozy I read by Carolyn Haines. Bennett’s protagonist is a real estate agent…so, of course, she takes a client to a showing and finds a body in the last room they stop to view.  See?  The nice, bloody corpse comes at the end of the chapter. More fun that way!

Also, of course, the police show up and the client who wanted to see the house doesn’t seem to have any money, but he has done some prison time–and the protag knew him when they were growing up–a smartass, sexy ex-con. Bennett finds one clever way after another to keep her protag involved in the investigation.  Eventually, though, (and I hate to say this), another body is needed to boost the pace near the middle of the book.  Sacrifices must be made for every novel, and for mysteries, well…. someone must die.

I’m sorry to say (and my daughter wasn’t happy with me, because she fell in love with a certain character when she read the pages I’ve done so far), I had to kill off someone, too, for the second plot twist in my book.  And that made me wonder:  how many bodies does it take to keep a good book going?  In urban fantasy, you’re lucky.  Very rarely does one of the good guys have to die, and you can kill bad guys at random, on every other page if you want to.  In mysteries, though? Bodies are up for grabs.  Good guys die as often as not-so-good guys.  I’m thinking–and I haven’t researched this–that it takes at least two bodies to move a mystery plot.  The first body happens at the beginning of the book and somewhere later, the pacing and clues start to fizzle, and an author has to stick in another victim.

What do you think?  Can you think of a mystery that only has one victim and the entire plot goes from there?  Okay, maybe in a P.I., because usually the private eye gets beat up close to the time a second body would pop up in a traditional mystery.  LOL.  This is probably why it was so hard for me to write romances.  I couldn’t kill anybody:)

Jenna Bennett:  https://www.amazon.com/Savannah-Martin-Mysteries-Box-Set-ebook/dp/B00A6UMNRM/ref=sr_1_8?ie=UTF8&qid=1496516485&sr=8-8&keywords=jenna+bennett+savannah+martin+series+kindle+kindle

Ilona Andrews’s Magic Shifts:  https://www.amazon.com/Magic-Shifts-Kate-Daniels-Novel-ebook/dp/B00OQSF7GY/ref=sr_1_3?ie=UTF8&qid=1496517298&sr=8-3&keywords=ilona+andrews+kate+daniels+series

My webpage (with a new creepy short story):  http://www.judithpostswritingmusings.com/

Twitter: @judypost

My author Facebook page:  https://www.facebook.com/JudiLynnwrites/?ref=aymt_homepage_panel

 

 

Tension

Okay, I just read a blog post by James Scott Bell, and he explained very well what I’ve always felt, but in a vague–somewhat nonverbal–way.  And he made it SO clear.  Every book has to have tension, or no one would turn the pages.  It’s easy to point to the tension in a thriller or suspense novel.  The bad guy might kill someone or lots of someones if the hero doesn’t stop him.  Same for horror, only who knows who or what the villain might be.  In a mystery, a hero is trying to solve a crime and restore justice.  But what’s the tension in a romance?  Or a literary novel?

Bell says that conflict is best if there are “death stakes” for the protagonist/s.  But he divides death stakes into physical death, professional death, or psychological.  That makes so much sense!  In a romance, every time the hero and heroine can’t work things out, it builds tension.  If they can’t get together at the end of the book, they suffer psychological death–the death of happiness:  http://writershelpingwriters.net/2017/03/conflict-and-suspense-belong-in-every-kind-of-novel/?utm_content=buffer7ce91&utm_medium=social&utm_source=twitter.com&utm_campaign=buffer

Conflict drives a story, moves it forward.   And the stakes have to keep getting higher every time the reader turns a page.  That’s why there’s the old adage:  Things can always get worse.  They have to, or your story stalls.  During the set up, the author says what the protagonist wants, and he spends the rest of the book making sure he has to work harder and harder to get it.  Here’s a good link by Samantha Stone to build conflict:  http://www.creativewritingsoftware101.com/articles/how-to-create-conflict-in-your-story.php

I used different types of tension in my romances than I’ll need for my cozy mystery, but I still want a romance subplot, and I want to work hard at developing characters readers will care about.  I enjoyed writing Babet and Prosper so much for urban fantasy that I’d like to do something similar for my River Bluffs novels.  I want my characters and setting to be as fully formed as the mystery.  We’ll see how that goes:)

At my writers’ group last week, one of our members tried to decide what each of us needed to do to write a bestseller.  I give him credit.  He believes in all of us, bless him.  And I think we’re all good writers, too, but I have less faith in finding the “secret” that makes a book sell.  Lots of advice says that you need to write a “big” book.  The higher the stakes, the more readers you’ll attract.  That might be true.  I don’t know.  I think the heavens have to align and there’s a lot of luck involved.  And I found this article that sort of agrees with me.  http://www.huffingtonpost.com/peter-winkler/how-to-write-a-bestseller-formula_b_1542587.html

In the meantime, happy writing!

 

My webpage:  (a free snippet from SPICING THINGS UP–our March 21–and a free short mystery):  http://www.judithpostswritingmusings.com/

author Facebook page:  https://www.facebook.com/JudiLynnwrites/

twitter:  @judypost

 

 

 

 

 

 

Things Can Always Get Worse

I like to think of myself as a nice person.  True, I don’t mind killing people in my stories, but most of them deserve to die, and that’s part of tension and conflict, right?  We’ve all heard over and over again that things must always get worse for our poor protagonist.  If his victories come too easily, readers yawn.  Hell, newspapers are filled with dire events.  Fiction has to have more drama than fact, doesn’t it?  At least, we have to feel it more.

But I have to admit, I’m a little surprised at myself.  I’ve been working on the Mill Pond romance series.  The first book, because I wasn’t sure if I could write romance, has a healthy dose of humor.  It made me more comfortable with the boy/girl stuff.  I sort of fell in love with Harmony and Brody in the second romance, and I wanted Brody to be the brooding, not-so-silent type.  He has a way of saying what no girl wants to hear.  You have to remember, I fell madly in love with Natty Bumppo in middle school.   While my friends read romances, I read about pioneers.  These guys were a little overly reticent, way too practical.  They weren’t in touch with their feelings.  They’d rather keep their scalps.  Brody brought back memories of the strong, silent type who managed to say the wrong thing when they did finally open their lips.  A little too outspoken.

In the third romance, I wanted to push the envelope a little and have a heroine who wasn’t the standard pretty girl.  Paula’s a chef with tattoos, a stud, and two kids.  She’s smart, practical, but has terrible taste in men.  I tried to show how hard it is to juggle a career with motherhood and find time to meet Mr. Right.  Of course, with Paula, first, she falls for Mr. Why-in-the-world Would You Go There?  Not only did she need to meet somebody wonderful–which Chase is, she needed a true, honest friend to steer her in the right direction.  And that’s where Tyne came in.  He’s her hot fellow chef who has no problem speaking his mind and still charming you.  In my plot points, Tyne is a minor character, but when I wrote him, he leapt off the page for me.  It was as if he was born whole, like Athena, who stepped out of Zeus’s head in full armor.  I fell instantly in love with Tyne.  So do most women.  He has to fight them off.

So, why, in book four, do I give one of my all-time, favorite characters such a hard time?  That wasn’t my intention.  I started his book all happy and upbeat.  The thing about Tyne, though, is that he feels so REAL to me that when he hits the skids on his way to his big, black moment, I felt it.  And since I suffered for him, unfortunately for him, he felt it even more.  So did my poor husband.  When Tyne was unhappy, that made me unhappy, and you know the saying—happy wife, happy life.  For poor John, when I hit my gloomy chapters, the saying switched to unhappy wife, unhappy life.  That darn Tyne actually affected my moods.  That’s when  John goes to the hardware store:)

I’d like to say that when Daphne became so depressed, she couldn’t eat, the same happened to me.  I might lose weight that way.  But instead, I overcompensated and ate enough for both of us.  Don’t ask.  Anyway, I was a bit taken aback when I beat up one of my favorite characters more than I do most.  But no fear.  I’m writing romance.  A happy-ever-after is soon in the offing…after Tyne and Daphne suffer enough.

webpage:  http://www.judithpostswritingmusings.com/

Facebook:  https://www.facebook.com/JudithPostsurbanfantasy/

twitter:  @judypost