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!

 

 

 

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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

 

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!

 

 

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.

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

 

 

Fiddles!

I’ve started playing with plot points for my 6th romance.  I say playing because I’m still in the “Will this work?” phase.  And that’s exactly why I like tinkering with plot points in the first place.  I’m up to thirteen of them, and the whole damn story is sagging.   I mean, there are plenty of things going on, and they feel pretty interesting, but are they bringing the protagonist and her romantic interest together?  Not unless Karli would marry the one and only man who’s ever shown any interest her.  The chemistry, so far, is zippo.  And the main reason?  Keagan is about as exciting, so far, as white bread.  I’ve done a crappy job of bringing him to life.

The nice thing about doing plot points, for me, is that they show me what DOESN’T work, where the holes are, where the story peters out.  I started with an idea that really excited me.  I had characters who caught my attention and didn’t let go.  I still like the premise and both characters, but are they dancing to life on the page?  Not so much.  And they started out great…for about four or five chapters.  And then?  There wasn’t enough tension between them to keep me from yawning.  But the good news is, my plot points made that obvious.  I can fix it in the planning stage instead of the rewrite and weep stage when I’m sick and tired of the whole thing and want it done.

Once I hit chapter twelve, I could see I needed to up the conflict, too.  An easy fix.  I added another character who, hopefully, readers will love to hate.  I’ve just met him, and I’d already like to smack him with a two-by-four, which makes him perfect:)   I could also see that I needed to add more of a feel for Mill Pond into the mix.  Another easy fix.  After all, the residents of the little resort town love interfering in other peoples’ lives.  Oops, I mean they love to help and lend a hand.  Anyway, I’m up to plot point thirteen, and I’m so happy I bothered with them, because they’re going to save me a lot of work once I start putting words on the page.

I know plot points aren’t for everyone, but I blog about what I’m up to at the moment.  And on this particular day, I’m singing the praises of planning my books out. You have to find what works for you, but a few sign posts here and there can come in handy.  Whatever you come up with, have fun and happy writing!

Just sharing

I don’t know how many of you are writers, but I’m assuming most of you, since that’s what I yak about most of the time.  If you’ve read my blog for a while, you know I’m a plotter and would rather jump off a cliff into deep waters than write a book without an outline.  Pantsing for me feels like hacking my way through a jungle with a machete and no idea if I’m going in the right direction.  So today, when I read Kristen Lamb’s blog post about the dreaded synopsis, it was so well done that I wanted to share it with you.  Hope you enjoy it as much as I did:  https://warriorwriters.wordpress.com/2016/10/06/the-dreaded-synopsis-what-it-really-reveals-about-our-writing/

Inspiration comes from odd places

Almost every time I’m on a writing panel, and we open it to question and answer, someone asks, “Where do you get your ideas?”  I understand that question.  I’ve sat in front of my computer screen many a time wondering what the heck I’m going to write.  Worse, when I first started writing, I grabbed onto an idea that looked wonderful until I tried to make it into a story . . . and it couldn’t hold up to twenty, sixty, or three hundred pages.

The good news is, the longer you write, the more ideas you have and the more tricks you learn to weed the good ideas from the flash fiction variety.  Now, if I can’t think of a good set-up, three key turning points, and an ending, I know I’d better write something really short.  For the YA novel I’m posting, chapter by chapter, on my webpage, though, I knew I had a large enough cast of characters and a big enough concept to make a book.

When I was younger and hungry to dig deeper into beliefs and mythology, I took a Bible study class on Judas Iscariot.  The minister insisted that Judas never meant to betray Jesus. He only wanted to push Him into proving to the world that He was the Savior, that He had powers the rest of us didn’t and never will have.  According to our study book, Judas had Jesus arrested, sure that He’d pull out His powers and pizzazz the Roman soldiers to save Himself.  And when Jesus didn’t save Himself and let the soldiers crucify Him, Judas couldn’t live with his mistake, threw away his thirty pieces of silver, and hanged himself.

I’m not knowledgeable enough to know if I agree with that theory or not, but it did make me think.  And it gave me an idea for a story.  I read another article (because I’m a horoscope fan), that each disciple Jesus chose stood for a different horoscope sign.  Twelve signs, twelve disciples.  And that made me think of a coven.  Twelve witches led by one priestess.  What if each witch came from one sign of the zodiac?  And what if the priestess practiced only white magic, but a witch she’d started to train was more tempted by dark spells and turned the town against her?  Until finally, one of the “good” witches decided to force the priestess into proving herself.  And…  Well, one idea led to another, and soon I had enough plot points to write a book.

The ideas for the book came from a few random, different articles, but they came together to give me a solid plot after I asked myself a few “what ifs?” along the way.  What ifs, cause and effect–if my character does this, this will happen–, and characters’ motivations can tease your mind into filling in the blanks between story spaces.  Enjoy the process!  And happy writing.

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

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

Twitter:  @judypost