Category Archives: dividing books into fourths

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.

A busy April

Our daughter drove from Indianapolis to visit us yesterday.  Her birthday was March 28th, but she worked too much to celebrate it.  We wanted to do something special for her, so we made reservations at The Oyster Bar–a small, crowded, quaint bar known for its upscale, wonderful menu.  The bar is so small, it has tables on one side of the room and tables on the opposite side that are so close to each other, I had to turn my walker sideways to sidle through the center to our seats.  It’s a good thing my leg’s better now, but it was worth it.  The food was wonderful; the atmosphere was warm and friendly.

Holly’s staying with us again tonight, so I’m making Cajun shrimp fettucini for her for supper.  She’s a pasta lover.  We’re having a wonderful visit, and when she leaves tomorrow, it will be hard to get back in gear.  But I need to knuckle down and start cranking out pages.

It always feels like it takes forever to accumulate any pages when I start a new book.  I do character wheels and know the big stuff about the major players in my story before I start, but I learn their nuances as I go.  I need to listen to them, understand them.  I have a setting in mind, but I need to walk around in it, drive from one end of town to the other, before I can live there.  And I keep thinking of more details, so I have to go back and tinker with earlier scenes, fine-tuning them, before I can move on.

In the mystery I’m working on now, I want the grandma to be a bit senile.  Sometimes she lives in the present, sometimes she lives in the past.  I decided I could show that by what she calls my protagonist, Jazzi (a nickname for Jasmine).  When she hugs her and says, “Good to see you, Jazzi,” her mind is clear.  When she says, “You’ve always spoiled me, Sarah,” she’s talking to her dead sister and whatever she tells you is suspect.  That’s fun for a mystery.

I’m up to page 71 now, and the set up is beginning to fall into place.  I’ve introduced most of the characters who’ll inhabit the book.  My goal, always, is to finish the set-up by the first fourth of the book–in this case, at about 80 pages.  I’m almost there.  And then it’s time to dig for clues to solve the murder.  The vast middle lies ahead of me.

Our friends who moved to Carolina are stopping in Fort Wayne on their way to visit their son in Chicago on April 13.  By then, I’ll be pretty sick of pounding out pages, so it will be a nice change of pace to see them.  I’ve invited them and some of our mutual old friends to our house for supper that night.  It will be fun.  And that will lead right into Easter and ham and carrot cakes.  More fun.  So I’ll be ready to hit the keys again for the second half of April.  The girl who grew up across the street from us, who’s my daughter’s best friend, is coming to town on the last weekend of April, so we’ll get to see her, too.

April looks like a good month.  Hope it is for you, too.  And happy writing!

P.S.  I put up chapter 1 of Bruin’s Orphans on my webpage if you want to check it out.

http://www.judithpostswritingmusings.com/

The Big, Final Push

For loving writing so much, I sure complain a lot.  Maybe my nature?  I’m an optimist–but a grumbling optimist.  When I start a book, I fuss about how hard beginnings are.  I pull teeth over first chapters and how many times I rewrite them.  If I write short, punchy chapters to keep a pace brisk, then I worry that I’ll have enough plot points for each fourth of my book. If I use lots of dialogue, my words look like they’re swimming in white space.  Will I have a high enough word count no matter how many pages I type? Once I reach the middle, I brace myself for the muddle, for the sagging when all of my characters and subplots get bogged down.  When I push past that, will all of my subplots and foreshadowing come together in some kind of a cohesive whole?  Will I have a big enough ending?

After I thought about it, I decided every part of writing is hard, and I’m never actually sure if I’m getting it right.  Somewhere along the way, I lose energy.  I see more flaws than stellar moments.  That’s when ideas flood me for new books, books that look bright and shiny, books that would never tax me, that I’d fly through with no doubts–until I start working on them:)  I’m at that point now in my sixth Mill Pond romance.  I’ve reached over 200 pages (I know, just the set up for some fantasies:).  I’ve pushed off my last plot twist for another few pages, and I’ve written so much that I can’t tell if my timing, tension, and storyline are still on track.  BUT, I can see the light at the end of the tunnel. I’ve gone back and tweaked chapters as I plugged along, so the light brings me hope.  I can smell the finished manuscript.

Seventy more pages, and I should be able to breathe a sigh of relief.  Hope your writing’s coming together for you, too.  And Happy Writing!

I posted a few, short snippets on my webpage: http://www.judithpostswritingmusings.com/

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

If you’re a member of NetGalley, SPICING THINGS UP is available for review now: https://s2.netgalley.com/widget/redeem/105151_53734_1484342435587944a39d020_9781516101351_US

spicingthingsup

Twitter: @judypost