Category Archives: plotting

Not one, but two…making a mishmash of things

I’ve decided to write two series.  The Jazzi Zanders books are cozy mysteries.  The Muddy River books are supernatural/urban fantasy type mysteries.  I think I’d burn out writing just one type of genre over and over again.  I even have to switch up the types of books I read.  If I read cozies back to back to back, pretty soon I can practically chart the rhythm of the stories, etc.  So I like to jump around from one type of book to another.

Accordingly, if I can make it work–and it always sounds better in theory than in actuality–I want to take turns with my books.  I’ll write a Muddy River, then a Jazzi, then a Muddy River, etc. AND if all goes well–which it never does because life happens–I’ll still be able to meet Kensington’s deadlines.  The good news?  I’m self-publishing Muddy River, so if I screw up, I’M the one who determines when my next book has to come out.  And I can give myself wiggle room.  Hopefully.

I just turned in Jazzi 4, and I don’t have to turn in the outline for book 5 until July 15th. Even better, I don’t have to turn in the manuscript until Nov. 4.  So, I have time to squeeze in Muddy River 3 IF I don’t dawdle and I plant my fanny in chair and make myself write the words.  Even though it’s summer.  And even though I like to play in my flower beds and take the dog for walks and…well, I love to goof off more in the summer.  But the Jazzi books always take me longer to write.  They’re more involved with more different types of scenes.  The Muddy River stories go faster.  They’re shorter and they’re more direct.

That said, I’m MAKING myself write a plot point for every single chapter I mean to write for Muddy River 3.  And it’s a good thing.  The idea that bloomed in my head for this story felt brilliant and wonderful, but trying to make it stretch into 32 plot points has caused some serious cussing and stalking from my office to the kitchen, remembering that I haven’t organized my sock drawer and picked lint out of my bellybutton.  Uggh!!  I’ve made it to point 19, and I’ve kept things moving in the plot and more clues coming to light, but I still have 13 chapters to plot.  Making myself write them all can make me crazy, but I’d rather fight with them now than hit that spot in my story where I know I don’t have enough of anything to finish the book.

I’m lighting incense (not really) for inspiration and struggling with patience I don’t normally have, but I’m going to FINISH these things!  And then, I can write!  That’s where the real fun starts.  I even like rewrites because that’s when I pick up a drab leaden story and polish it to a brilliant shine.  (Or as close as I can get to that).

I might fuss about plot points, etc., but the only part of writing that I really dread is the final proof copies I have to read through for Kensington for the Jazzi books.  I don’t mind the initial edit copies, but that final proof–the one I just read and can’t change unless it’s to correct mistakes–is painful.  If I could duck out of that, I’d do it.  Because by that last proof of a galley, I’ve looked at the book so many times, the entire thing sounds like garbage to me.  And I see all the things I could have done better, but can’t fiddle with anymore.  Luckily, it’s a long time between returning that galley and the book actually being published.  If enough time has passed, I actually like the book again.  And I’m excited for readers to find it.

Alas, I have a LONG time before I’ll rewrite and rework Muddy River 3.  Right now, I just need to finish plotting it.  And then I need to WRITE 32 or more chapters… And then I need to polish it and send it to my critique partners….  And then I need to rewrite it again.  And then… thank the heavens, I’ll be ready to post it on Amazon and hope for the best:)

Wherever you are on your book or project, good luck.  And happy writing!

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I only think I’m prepared

I like to be organized.  Maybe a little too much.  We go to the grocery store twice a month these days.  Well, actually, HH only goes to pick up the groceries we’ve ordered online.  I always worry I won’t have enough (not that we’ve EVER run out) and that we have all of the ingredients I want for each meal, so I make out menus.  I plan our suppers for every night before we’ll order groceries again.  And when I scribble down each night’s meal, I list the ingredients we’ll need for it.

For example, for our last list, I served chicken piccata, buttered noodles, and green beans on Monday; BBQ ribs, mashed potatoes, and broccoli on Tuesday; salmon with fried rice and brussel sprouts on Wednesday; almond noodle bowls with ramen on Thursday; etc.  When I’m done, I know I’m prepared.  Even though there’s always something we run out of between each trip to the store–milk, juice, bread–those pesky everyday things.

The same holds true with my writing.  I’m so far from being a pantser, I’d probably break out in a rash if I just sat down and decided to wing it.  A lot of people can do it.  It’s not in my nature.  So I make a plot point for every chapter of my book.  I include the things that I think are important that I should cover.  And when I finish, in theory, I have enough plot twists, clues, interactions to have a novel.  For Muddy River One, it took 34 plot points to come up with 57,000 words.  This time, for whatever reason, I expected each chapter to be longer, more involved.  I wrote two or three different scenes for quite a few of them.  I had two subplots.  So I only listed 26 of them.  And guess what?  There’s no possible way I can reach my word count unless I come up with more.

So, I sat down tonight, after much fussing–my poor husband–and redid the last ten chapters of Muddy River Two.  It looks great on paper, and I should have enough, or at least, really close to enough to meet my goal, but who knows?  Every book is different.  The mystery’s rogue incubus is a lot more clever than I expected, and he’s a lot more ruthless, too.  Suspects that I thought Raven and Hester could question end up dead before they get there.  Now that blows a few nice scenes.  You can’t interrogate a person who’s been drained dry.  But even though I do my best to whip my characters into shape to obey me, they don’t always listen.  And if they don’t get too crazy, I’m willing to give them some leeway.  Then I need to stop somewhere in my writing and restructure the story.  Which I did.  And hopefully, it works.  It should this time:)

Plot Points make my brain hurt

I finished writing the supernatural mystery that I’ve been putting up, chapter by chapter, on my webpage.  It ended up being 56,000+ words, and I grew really attached to it.  So, I decided to leave it up for this week, and then I’m taking it down over the weekend.  I like it so much, I’m going to format it and buy a cover so that I can load it on Amazon for 99 cents.

I’ve already started Muddy River Two, though, and put up the first chapter today.  And now, because I shiver with fear if I don’t have plot points, I’m plotting the whole book out.  I knew what the first chapter would be and I had a vague idea for chapter 2, and then blank pages stared at me.  I hate blank pages.  But once I know what the book’s about, and where I want it to go, I need a roadmap to get there.  So I’ve been sitting in front of my computer, writing down ideas for one scene or chapter after another.  I didn’t number them this time, because invariably, when I’m actually writing the words to bring the scene to life, more ideas to come to me.  And then all of my carefully planned cause and effect gets littered with small side trips or scenes I never expected.  And that’s fine with me, as long as they fit in the story line.  And with plot points, I do know each mark the story has to hit.

The problem is, that actually writing out all of the plot points–for Muddy River One, I had 34 of them–just makes my brain tired.  I finish one point and then ask myself What Should Happen Next?  But I don’t want the expected.  I want something with a little twist I didn’t see coming or a little layer that shows characterization or relationships.   I want it to be like life.  Nothing ever goes exactly according to plan.

When plotting, I leave my office and walk to the coffee pot in the kitchen a lot more than normal.  I think of three ideas in a row and then my brain stalls out.  I eat more snacks than usual.  I’ve gained two pounds in the last two days.  My husband knows my routine.  He made Rice Krispie Treats this morning so that when I wandered into the kitchen, I’d find something fun.  Not the best thing for my diabetes, so I had to take more insulin today, too, but it was worth it:)  I whined on twitter, and my writer friend Kathy Palm sent me invisible cookies to help out.  They did.  Because after I mentally enjoyed them, I came up with my last three plot points.

Relief.  The book’s planned out, at least as much as it needs to be to make me feel secure enough to write it.  This time, things are going to get a little jiggly, because next week, I need to look through the entire fourth Jazzi and Ansel novel and write the last chapter.  And then, I have to plot points for Jazzi and Ansel book 5.  Groan.  For the cozy, I can take my time and only fiddle with a few plot points a day.  And while I’m plotting book 5 for J&A, I can be writing book 2 for Muddy River.  At least, that’s the idea.  It looks good on paper.  I’ll see if it works:)

No matter where you’re at on your WIP, good luck.  And happy writing!

Mysteries

In my first mystery, The Body in the Attic, I meant to write an Agatha Christie type murder where a body is found in the first chapter and then countless witnesses and suspects are introduced until the murder is solved.  That was my intent.  And I didn’t quite stick to it.  But I just finished reading Mary Angela’s A VERY MERRY MURDER.  She purposely structured her book to be like a Christie novel, and she pulled it off.  She even used a Christie story for her protagonist, Professor Emmeline Prather, to teach in her Crime and Passion English class–an elective class that focused on mysteries and romances.  Even better, Angela used the same murder technique for the current mystery that Christie used in hers.  If you’re a Christie fan, it was awesome!

Such attention to detail, alas, I didn’t manage.  I discovered poor Aunt Lynda’s body in the first chapter, yes, but then I introduced a subplot that intrigued me a little too much, and before long, another body was required to move the plot along.  Which, I have to admit, I was pretty happy with.  Which shows that even if you outline, like I do, the best laid plans can go awry.

In my second mystery, The Body in the Wetlands, bodies seemed to pile up without my even trying.  One murder leads to the next and the one after that until Jazzi and Ansel, along with Detective Gaff, finally catch the killer.  The moral of the story?  Try never to be in the wrong place at the wrong time.  And of course, there’s another dog in this story.  I grew quite fond of Cocoa, the chocolate Lab.

I’ve been reading quite a few mysteries lately, and back when I read Christie, the actual murder and puzzle are what made me turn the pages.  Don’t get me wrong.  I enjoyed Miss Marple and Poirot.  And Christie could draw a character in only a few brush strokes, so I “knew” them–what motivated them–but didn’t get to know them, if that makes any sense.  Lately, though, I’m every bit as interested in the characters in the story, who they are and what they’re doing, and I’m disappointed if they’re not filled out more.

I liked Mary Angela’s professor and how seriously she took teaching college students who often weren’t as motivated as she was.  I enjoyed the budding romance between Enmeline and Lenny, and I loved the widow who lived across the street and didn’t miss anything.  She was a whiz at baking and let Emmeline know her Christmas cookies were inferior.  All fun stuff that added layers to the story.

I guess, these days, I enjoy lots of different kinds of stories hung on a mystery plot.  The only time I’m disappointed is when the end of the mystery–how it’s solved and whodunnit–aren’t handled well.  After all, it’s a mystery, even if the murder only serves as a foundation to wrap other subplots around.  But I expect a murder, clues, red herrings, and a satisfying conclusion.  The rest is all extras.  I don’t want a murderer pulled out of a hat or for the clues to not add up.  Other than that, I go along for what I hope is a fun ride.  Whatever you’re reading now, I hope it keeps you turning pages and you’re happy you read it when you close the book.

And happy writing!

 

 

 

Not Enough

I got notes back from one of my critique partners.  More red than usual.  I wasn’t surprised.  I was trying to change an old–and not so wonderful–writing habit.   I’m more than happy to write:  She smiled.  He frowned.  And more times than should be humanly possible: He sighed.  A friend at writers’ club called me on it.  “We can do better than this, can’t we?”

Yes, yes, I can, but only if I work at it.  The problem?  My brain only seems capable of concentrating on so much.  In this book, I wanted to step up my tags and step up my pacing.  And as usual, things I normally do fairly well sagged a bit from neglect.  Not the end of the world.  Red ink circles show me what I need to fix.   Thank you, Mary Lou!

On my next book, my learning curve should go more smoothly.  The old and new should blend better.  AND, I should have enough ideas, witnesses, victims, and suspects to reach 70,000 words without panicking.  Plotting mysteries, for me, takes more than plotting romances.  Now, I know, I’m addicted to plotting when a lot  of my friends don’t even have to bother with it.  But for my mysteries, I’m not plotting enough.

I’m not sure why, but if I came up with 40 chapter ideas for the urban fantasies I wrote a long, long time ago as Judith Post, I could pound out 80,000 words if I wanted to, no problem.  Urban fantasy craves more description, battles that escalate the longer the book goes, and strong characters.  All things that demand words, so that word count grows organically.  It just happens.  It flows.

When I switched to writing romances as Judi Lynn, I used the same format–40 plot points, but this time, I only needed 70,000 words.  For romance, characters interacting with each other made up the majority of the words I used.  And 40 plot points morphed pretty well into 70,000 words for me.  The same hasn’t held true for mysteries.  I sang a sad dirge when I reached the end of this book’s first draft and was 10,000 words short.   I struggled to hit 70,000 words for my first mystery, too.

Now, I have friends who can cough up 100,000 words with no plot points with no problem.  And yes, I’m jealous.  They’re wonderful people, or I wouldn’t like them anymore.  But every writer’s different, and for me, starting a book with no plot points is like traveling across country with no maps or GPS.  I’d be lost all the time and take a winding, unusual route.  I might never reach my destination.

When I write mysteries, I’ve found that my chapters are shorter.  And I need more subplots.  I also need more suspects.  In this book, I introduced a perfect suspect and then didn’t do anything with him.  I gave him an alibi before I found the next body.  Shame on me.  When I figured out I’d made a mistake, I had to go back and add him in more scenes, and then, I had enough pages.  But going back and threading in scenes is a pain in the derriere, so I don’t want to do that again, if I can avoid it.  So, for my next mystery, I want to have 50 plot points before I forge ahead with the book.  And I want to list the victim/s, family members affected by the murder/s, witnesses, suspects, and anyone who might interfere with finding the killer.   And who knows?  Maybe I’ll end up with more words than I expected.  But at least, I’ll have plenty of material to work with.

Whatever you’re writing, and however you write, have fun with it!  I’ll be deep into editing this week.   Happiness is making words better!

My webpage (and I put up chapter 33):  https://www.judithpostswritingmusings.com/

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

Twitter”  @judypost     (I’d love to hear from you!)

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

Words and more words. Are they enough?

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You know how, when you don’t see someone’s kids, it comes as a shock when you hear how old they are?  In your mind, you picture them as four or five and then you find out they’re nine or ten.  At least, that happens to me.  My mind hangs on to the last time I saw them and doesn’t add nearly enough of the years that have passed.  For some reason, it must work the opposite for writing.  Friends always think I should be further along than I am.  Words don’t accumulate as fast as they should.  I plot and I plod.

I admit I’m lucky.  At least my friends ask about my writing.  They encourage it.  They often ask, “How’s the writing going?”  And they always expect me to have made great progress.  I expect it, too, but tortoises don’t impress.

I’m up to 50,000 words in my mystery.  I need at least 20,000 more.  And this is the time–in every manuscript–when I panic.  I look at my last remaining plot points, and I just KNOW that I don’t have enough ideas to meet my word count.  The worry and sense of foreboding almost always makes me go to bed, sure I’m doomed, and wake up the next morning with new ideas for scenes.   It happened three nights ago.  I fell asleep thinking about places to add another twist, a new turn, and woke up with a new character and clue.  (And yes, my husband’s used to my living with characters walking around in my head.  He takes it in stride.)

The new clue made me even happier than usual.  In my plot points–(which I need to give myself enough material to keep a book moving–and see what happened?–I’m still worried I have enough)–I was supposed to kill off Peyton–my cute, young pizza delivery guy.  (Hope you could follow that).  Except, I’ve gotten really attached to him.  I like him way more than I thought I would.  And I couldn’t do it.  I couldn’t kill him.  I thought readers might hate me.  I’d hate me.  So, you guessed it, the new character has to die.  Thankfully, we don’t really get to know her, so we aren’t too attached to her, but I needed a nice, sympathic victim.  And yes, I know that if I kill someone we all care about, the murder will have more impact.  But this time, I just couldn’t do it.

Anyway, I’ve added a few scenes to the last fourth of the book, and hopefully, they’ll push me over 70,000 words–the length my editor wants.   If not, I’ll panic again, and I’ll have to come up with more ideas.  But the thing is, this happens to me EVERY book.  You’d think I’d learn, but not so much.  And you know how every kid you have is different?  So what works for one doesn’t work for the next?  Well, so is every book.  One flows, one doesn’t; one loves wordy descriptions, one begs to be tighter, punchier.  Books have their own ideas of what they want.  And just like raising a kid, you as the author might have certain rules, but the books do their best to bend them.

What I have learned, though, is to trust myself and the process.  There’s a certain amount of faith in starting a book, a belief that when you reach a big, giant hole with only blank pages in front of you, you’ll be able to think of something to fill it.  And you will.  Trust yourself.  So, hope you have a good week.  And happy writing!

http://www.judithpostswritingmusings.com/

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

twitter:  @judypost