Just Do It

A little while ago, I tweeted that I’d hit 30,000 words in the book I’m working on, and going to the dentist began looking better than sitting down to write.  Finding the right words was like beating my head against the wall.

I’m now up to 37,000 words, and it’s amazing how much difference reaching the actual middle of the book can make.  Ideas are picking up again.  Every writer’s different, so someone out there must enjoy middles, but they’re work for me.

I have friends who are pantsers, and they often tell me that when words don’t flow for them, they know something’s wrong with their manuscript, so they let the story stew for a while to find out how to put it back on track.  I get that.  But I’m a plotter, and I fight with my story structure before I start writing.  So when I glare at my computer screen and curse whatever I’m working on, I know it’s just par for the course.

Now you’d think that wouldn’t happen when I have ideas for every chapter, wouldn’t you?  But the book still becomes a jumble in my head somewhere along the line.  Characters do things that aggravate me or don’t do what I expected them to or don’t turn out the way I wanted them to, and I pretty much don’t like the entire thing by then.  And I’ve learned from experience, the only thing that works for me when I reach this point is to just keep writing.  With my plot points, I know I’m not going in the wrong direction and I’m making headway, so even if the words stink and the characters are flat, I can go back and fix them…once I like them again.

My sad truth is that there are days I love writing, and there are days I’d rather toss my keyboard in a lake.  The good days BY FAR outweigh the bad, but to get to more good stuff, I have to glue fanny in chair and keep going.  This does NOT work for some of my friends.  Their stuff just keeps getting worse if their brain is telling them something’s wrong and they ignore it.  But for me, writing is as much of a discipline as a joy.  It’s like exercise.  If I stop, it’s hard to get started again.  So good or bad, it’s better for me to slog through it.

And it never gets easier.  I thought it would, but there are rhythms to my writing.  The first fourth of a book is exciting–introducing characters and new ideas.  The second fourth starts strong and fizzles as it goes until I feel like a tortoise trying to make it to the actual middle.  The third fourth picks up when the protagonist digs in and gets serious about meeting her challenge, but by the end of that fourth, I feel like I’ve run an obstacle course… and the course won.  When I finally reach the last fourth, it’s a race to the finish line.  I pick up speed as I go, and I might even like the book again.

I’ve gotten used to the love/hate relationship of each story, so when I loathe it, I know it’s temporary.  And I write on.  I understand the writers who start lots of stories and never finish them.  The sparkle wears off.  The writing becomes sweat equity.  But it’s part of writing a book.  So don’t give up.  Don’t despair.  Just keep at it.  And happy writing!

The Long Haul (first fourth done)

I finished writing the first fourth of the latest Jazzi Zanders cozy I’m working on (book 6).  Which means, the set-up of the book is in place.  The set-up always introduces the main character (Jazzi), and since this is a series, hopefully most readers have met her before.  But, again hopefully, some readers might be new to the series, so I try to introduce her in the middle of doing something with her husband, Ansel, to show their relationship and what they’re up to this time around without boring people who already know them.  Just enough information for new readers but not so much it’s repetitive from past books.  A balancing act.

Jazzi comes with a decent-sized cast of characters:  her mom and dad, her sister Olivia and her husband Thane, her cousin Jerod, whom she and Ansel work with flipping houses, and his wife Franny and their kids, along with Ansel’s brother Radley and his girlfriend Elspeth, Jerod’s mom and dad, and friends Walker and Didi and kids.  And then there’s Gran–with the gift of “sight” and her friend Samantha.  I know–a lot, so I try to introduce them a little at a time.  Impossible at the Sunday meal that Jazzi hosts every week to help keep her family in touch with each other.  They all play into the storylines of each book.  In this one, Olivia becomes a major player.  She owns a beauty shop with her mom, and when she bullies Jazzi into coming to the shop before it opens to get her hair cut and shaped, they find the shop’s new employee working on an early customer, even though no one’s given her a key to get inside.   Things go downhill from there, as I’m sure you can guess from my working title:  The Body in the Beauty Shop.

In the first few chapters of each book, I also try to introduce the new house project they’re working on for their flip.  This time, they’ve chosen a grand brick Colonial home in Wildwood Park, a pocket of distinguished old houses surrounded by busy streets.  It’s widow’s walk needs replaced, as does the railing on the balcony over the solarium.  And as usual, the kitchen and bathrooms need gutted and updated.  But other than that, it will be a quick fix.  I’ve started buying more home magazines and looking up pictures of rooms on Pinterest to get new ideas.

And then there’s the matter of a murder or two.  And in this book, I struggled to decide between two different cases and caved by going with both of them.  I’ve never done that before, but I wanted to bring Jazzi’s ex-fiancée back into the stories, AND I wanted to focus on Olivia.  So I have Jazzi trying to help two friends clear their names instead of one.  She just didn’t have enough to do getting ready for her family’s big Easter celebration, and a protagonist at loose ends is a sorry thing to read.

Anyway, the set-up for a new book is always fun to write.  It’s introducing characters, setting,  the story’s big question, and any minor characters we need to know.  It’s all things new.  But once I start on the second fourth of the book, which is now, where subplots start twisting around each other, people lie when asked questions, and everything gets complicated, the writing gets trickier.  And before I know it, I’ve reached the morass of the middle muddle.  Before I wade to the last fourth of the book when things start moving again, I usually end up mired in doubt and positive another book sounds lots more interesting.  But that’s all part of the writing process.  It’s just a matter of putting one word in front of another until I hit solid ground again.  But for now, I’m celebrating.  One-fourth of the book is done!

Why? For every book?

Some people turn on the spigot and words pour out.  They can reach over 100,000 words, then have to cut.

Not me.  My words are stingy, little boogers that make me work for every single one of them.

As always, for every book I write, when I reach the near end of the second middle (near 54,000 words), I look at my plot points and panic.  I just know I don’t have enough ideas and twists to reach 70,000+ words.  I think that EVERY time.  And guess where I am in Jazzi book 5 now?  Yup.  Almost 54,000 words.  And I’m worried.

I have more plot points, mind you.  More ideas.  More suspects and questions and clues.  But at this point, my writing momentum starts to fizzle.  I always start out strong.  The first fourth of every book is an adventure, introducing new characters, new subplots, a new murder to solve.  And then the middle muddle starts, but my middles are sort of divided in half.  The second fourth of the overall book leads to a new turning point.  And often–sadly–since I write mysteries, I end up with a second dead body at the middle of the book–a victim who changes the direction of the story, makes my protagonist rethink her original opinions.  It’s the third fourth of each book that slows me down.  It feels like pulling teeth to keep the momentum going, to keep interviewing one person after another and keep it interesting and keep subplots chugging along.

I’m almost to the last fourth of the story, and that’s when things start to pick up, when my story gathers speed and clues start coming together.  I’m almost there.  I can feel it.  And then the days of sitting fanny in chair and plodding and sweating will pay off.  By next Monday, I’ll be ready for my fingers to fly over the keyboard again.  Until then, well . . . I have a little more to go.

Wherever you are in your work, keep at it, and happy writing!

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

Plodding at Plotting

An idea kept tugging at me for a second mystery.  Actually, it was an idea a friend gave me, and I’ve been wanting to use it since Ralph shared it with me.  When I first decided that I’d like to write a “house flipper” mystery, I had no idea there were already some out there.  I always buy my favorite authors and I’ve looked at a few others–found Jenna Bennett’s Southern Belle mysteries and love them, but didn’t know she wrote a Do-It-Yourself series as Jennie Bentley until I stumbled on one.  I’d never watched Hallmark mysteries either until other friends recommended them.  And guess what?  There’s a fixer-upper house amateur detective on those, too.  It’s fun to see how other writers mix niches with murder.  Guess it just goes to show that every idea’s probably already been taken, so you just have to write what you want and put your own spin on it.

For my first mystery, I came up with a set-up, a few plot points for each fourth of my book, and an end.  Then I sort of winged it.  I like how it turned out, but I did a lot of rewrites.  This time, I want to take my time and have 40 steps to keep my story afloat. Our friend, Ralph, used to buy old houses and fix them up to rent.  He can answer any questions I have about house repairs.  I invited him for supper one night–yes, a bribe, and he knew it, so I had to spring for ribeyes–and he had lots of ideas that I would never have thought of.

He said that once, he worked on a house for a few months to divide it into an upstairs and downstairs apartment, and he watched an old man across the street leave his house at the same time every day, walk down the street, and return about an hour later with a grocery bag from the local butcher shop.  And then one day, the man didn’t didn’t leave, and Ralph worried about him.  He didn’t see the old man for the rest of the week, and he couldn’t believe how relieved he felt when someone dropped him off, along with a suitcase, and the old man returned to his usual routine.  That idea stuck with me.  So I played with it and came up with an idea for a mystery.  I’ve fiddled with that until I have a set-up for the first fourth of my new book.

I like to have a subplot for my books, too, so I’ve mapped out one for Ansel, the contractor who just moved in with my female protagonist, lucky girl.  And for the moment, that’s as far as I’ve gotten.  But it’s time that I zero in on the criminal.  What does he want?  And what makes it worth killing for?  How is he going to interact with my characters? Can you hear me rubbing my  hands together, plotting away?

Ideas aren’t tumbling out of my head, but that’s okay.  They’re stewing, and eventually, they’ll end up making a tasty whodunnit.

 

Happy Writing!

 

 

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

 

 

I really do have trouble with surprises

I’ve started work on my mystery.  I have 120 pages written so far.  And if you’ve read this blog very long, you know that I need plot points to hold my hand before I can cross a street.  I was feeling a little bit frisky this time, though.  I’m changing genres again.  I’ve written mysteries before.  If I wrote down the basic directions, the important clues and suspects, I should be fine, right?  I should have known better.

I plotted the heck out of romances.  They were new to me.  I always felt that I wouldn’t have enough to make it to the end and worried about soggy middles.  Romances, for me, are just as hard to write as urban fantasy or mysteries.  I’ve heard “important” writers bash romances.  I went to a writers’ conference years ago where one of the workshop leaders announced that anyone who wrote genre fiction was a hack writer.  Bull pucky. That kind of snobbery only works if you’ve never tried to write genre.

Mysteries?  They sort of have a built-in plot, right?  Someone trips over a body.  There are clues, suspects, witnesses, and red herrings, but not on every page.  I was hitting my points pretty well and  feeling good about it until I hit page 110 in the manuscript and realized I’d burned through half of my plot points.  I’d already reached the halway turning point for the book.  I was telling too much, too fast, too soon.  And that’s what happens to me when I don’t outline.

My pantser friends can write forty pages for one chapter and have to go back and cut to tighten things up.  They concentrate on description, feelings, and internal dialogue.  It comes naturally to them.  And that’s the difference between us.  Me?  I can fly through ten plot points in five chapters.   Then I have to go back and ADD the description, the thoughts and feelings.  I’m a plot driven person.

The reality came to me when my writers’ group went out after our last meeting.  I love our group.  We have a little bit of everything, and we all approach writing from different angles.  But then it occured to me, we approach LIFE differently, too.  I realized just how much I like structure when I was telling them that I have a “schedule” for cooking because it gives me a frame to hang my creativity on.  My schedule?  Saturdays, I cook beef/hamburger. Sundays, pork.  Mondays, ethnic.  Tuesdays, chicken.  Wednesdays, soup/salads/or sandwiches.  Thursdays, fish/seafood.  And Friday?  NO COOKING.  Now on Sundays, I might make pulled pork, smothered pork chops, ham, brats and sauerkraut, butterflied pork loin with a dried cranberry and chopped walnut filling. ANY kind of pork, but I make pork.  I bring the same approach to my writing.

I have plot points, but those points can be written any way I come up with.  I just need enough of them.  SO, I stopped work at page 110 of my mystery, and I sat down and wrote out 40 plot points, like I should have in the beginning, that included EVERYTHING that I wanted in my book–like character development, setting, and a romance subplot, along with a couple of other subplots.  Sigh.  There are writers who don’t need to do this.  I’m not one of them.   And then I went through my beginning pages again, and they’re much more balanced now.  I’m happy with them.

And what have I learned?  (Again).   There are pantsers who write wonderful books.  I’m not one of them.  I need structure to release my creativity.  And that’s okay.  That’s what works for me.  And if I rush or feel frisky and think I can skip that step?  Well…I can always do it later when I’ve hit a wall.