Category Archives: plotting

Finishing Up

I’ve mentioned before that I rewrite as I go when I work on a book.  This time, for the Lux novel I’m working on, I felt as though I’d written too lean.  I have a habit of doing that.  So before I reached the last chapters, I went back and polished everything I’d already done.  I added a character because I thought the story needed it.  And as always, I added more description and details.  Then I read the first chapter to my writers’ group on Wednesday, and they wanted even MORE description.  I must have REALLY written lean this time:)

The result is, I think I’ve made this book too short, but that’s how I’d planned it when I started out.  I intended to self-publish it on Amazon.  When I write a Muddy River, I purposely aim for about 60,000 words.  I’ve said many, many times that I’m a plotter.  I’m not only a plotter, I pretty much know how many plot points I need to get the number of words I want.

For a Muddy River book, I write out 30 plot points.  30 plot points usually equate to 60,000 words for me.  IF, which I don’t, I wrote chapters that were at least 10 pages, I’d end up with 300 pages and close to 70,000 words, but many of my chapters are much shorter, sometimes only 6-8 pages, so I need the 30 points to reach the word count I want.  And 30 always have worked on Hester, Raven, and their supernatural friends.  So, when I sat down to plot Lux, I made myself come up with 30 ideas and an extra one for good measure.  But I don’t have as many descriptions and as many characters in this mystery.  Hester and Raven meet friends at Derek’s bar to discuss what’s happening, and they travel back and forth to interview people in other towns.  That doesn’t happen with Lux, so I’m coming up short on words.  I had to come up with a few extra ideas.  I could have FORCED each chapter to be longer, but then the writing would FEEL forced.  This book has a fast pace I like.  Right now, I’m at 50,000 words with three more plot points before I finish the story and I still need to polish the chapter I worked on today.  That will add words.  It always does, but I’m not sure I’m going to able to summon even 60,000 before I write The End.  No problem if I still planned to self-publish.

BUT, I like this book so much, I’d really like to find a publisher for it.  Most publishers want at least 70,000 words for a  mystery, though, and there’s NO WAY I’m going to make that.  To come up with a book that length, I plot out 40-45 plot points and end up with about 35 chapters.  I just don’t have enough to make Lux a longer book, and the thing is, I really like it the way it is.  I don’t want to tear it apart and rework it to make it longer.  So I have a dilemma.

I’m not sure what I’m going to do.  I’ve always believed in sending in stories I believe in, with the idea that my agent or editor can always turn me down.  And if they do, then I can self-publish.  But my fearless critique partner, M.L. Rigdon, swears I write sparse enough, she can find lots of places for me to expand descriptions that will make the book better and the right length.  I’ve learned an important lesson, though.  The next time I write a Lux novel, I’ll need more plot points just because her books don’t have as many  “down” times or “soft” scenes that my other books have.  They move faster, so they need more ideas to fill them.

Toward that end, I came up with a list to fill out before I start plotting my next one.  It should give me more characters to choose from and more things to keep in mind: (and remember, this is for mysteries):

  1.  Who’s killed (the first victim), or what is the crime?
  2.   Why is the crime committed?
  3.   Who commits it?  List how and when he commits it.
  4.   Who are the suspects?  At least two.  Why are they suspects?  Any more?
  5.   Any witnesses?  Innocent bystanders?
  6.   What’s the ending?  (I always know the ending before I start a book).
  7.   Any special clues or red herrings?  Any alibis or fake alibis?  Accusations?  (I don’t always know these before I begin and have to fill them in later).
  8.   A subplot (something going on with a character besides solving the murder)
  9.   A second subplot (smaller)

I usually don’t bother with answering all of these questions, but I’m going to make myself for the next Lux,  because I know now that I’m going to need them.

Whatever you’re working on, good luck and happy writing!

Time’s Running Out

I’m beginning to sympathize with the people who did NaNoWriMo in November.  They had a short amount of time to write a whole lot of words.  When I decided to try to write two books at the same time, I thought I had plenty of time to finish them before January.  And I would have, if everything had gone according to plan.  I know, I know.  How many times does that happen?  How many times do the best laid of plans of …well, you know.

I had both the Muddy River book–TATTOOS AND PORTENTS–and the contemporary mystery novel–OLD FRIENDS, NEW HABITS–plotted out.  I’d work on Muddy River in the morning, take a break to look at e-mails and twitter, etc. and eat lunch, then work on the Lux mystery in the afternoon.  And honestly, I was making great progress.  Until I had to stop to write plot points for my sixth Jazzi Zanders book.  The book isn’t due until May 4th, and I’ve never had to send in plot points way ahead before.  But there’s a funny little thing called a contract, and it listed Dec. 15th as the deadline for my cozy mystery outline.  Not sure why.  Maybe my publisher wanted to remind me that I had a book to write.  But it is, what it is.  So I had to put on my writing brakes and pound out plot points.  I need enough suspects, twists and turns, and clues to keep things interesting, and they took longer to figure out than I’d expected.   By the time I sent them, I’d lost almost two weeks.  Those two weeks pretty much doomed me.

I’m not sure that I can work on Jazzi, then if I get my pages done for the day, work on one of my other books.  The problem?  I get hopelessly messed up if I try to switch back and forth between first person and third.  And believe me, when that happens, you notice.

My daughter who’s a nurse in Indy and my grandson and his wife who live in Indy are all coming up to celebrate a late Christmas with us this weekend.  Cheers and happy dance!  We get to exchange presents and have the big, holiday meal.  By the time they leave on Sunday, though, there’s not a whole of December left.  Even if I took coffee intravenously and didn’t sleep at all, I wouldn’t have enough time to finish both books.  So, I’m playing with options.

Maybe I could write on Jazzi during the week and work on Muddy River or Lux on the weekends.  My husband would still remember who I was, wouldn’t he?  Or maybe I could write on Jazzi during the day, take a LONG break, and then work on one of my other books for an hour or two in the evening.  HH likes basketball this time of year:)

I’m guessing it’s obvious by now that I’m not sure what I’m going to do.  But I’ll think of something.  I always (okay, usually) do.  I’m too close to The End to give up now.  Light candles for me.  Send me happy thoughts.   And whatever you’re working on now, best of luck!



 

Nothing on the calendar next week

I finished writing my plot points for Jazzi 6 and sent them to my editor.  38 of them.  And they were long.  But that’s one chore done.  This book will have two different unrelated murders in it, and my plot points ended up stretching more than usual.  I guess I should have expected that.  If one murder takes a lot of scenes to solve, two murders with different motives take more.   But they’re done.  And I’m not going to start writing the book until January, so the ideas have plenty of time to stew in my mind.  I like giving them time to settle and ferment and maybe even change.

Speaking of outlining, our writers’ club carry-in was Wednesday, and one of our members is studying K.M. Weiland’s book on how to outline.  It’s detailed, so we talked about how we developed our stories a little.  He’s like me and needs structure to find his way.  We’re in the minority in my group, but that’s okay.

Now that my Jazzi book is planned out, I can return to working on the two books I’m writing simultaneously.  I’ve missed them.  Hester’s had to find substitute teachers to take her place in her school for young witches twice now, and she’s ready to get back in the classroom to check on her students.  They’ve been so good to the friends who stepped in for her that she decides to reward them by letting them make witchy ornaments for their Christmas trees at home.  The ornaments serve a double purpose.  First, the kids love making them.  And second, she explains the meaning of each one while they work.

I was fascinated by the articles I read about the pentagram inside a circle.  I never realized that each of the five points stands for different elements: earth, air, water, and fire with the top point symbolizing the spirit, and that a witch can rotate the pentagram, not for Satanic purposes, but to concentrate on one element of magic more than another.  The circle stands for infinity and unity, so that the physical and spiritual are combined to channel magic. Interesting, at least to me.  Hester goes on to make other symbols, but I only had room for two of them in the chapter I polished today.

I didn’t get to my contemporary mystery at all while I worked on plot points, but I’m looking forward to writing new pages for it tomorrow.  My daughter Holly asked to see what I’d done with it, so far, so I sent her the pages I have done; and she called today to tell me she was surprised by them, since they’re not at all like a cozy, and she liked them.  Always a relief.  She’s a tough critic.  She gave me plenty of ideas on how to tweak the things she thought I skimmed over (I do that in first drafts), so I’m one step ahead on that.  I’ll have ideas to fix those flaws when I do rewrites.

But the really good news is that I don’t have anything on my calendar for next week.  NOTHING.  I’m hoping to duct tape myself in my office chair and pound on my computer until my fingers grow so thin, I can’t keep my wedding band on anymore.  Okay, that won’t happen.  I’m always telling my HH that I’m working fanny off, but he always tells me it’s still there:)  Regardless, I hope I get a lot of work done on both books next week.  Even if I’m lucky and I do, I’ll still have a lot more to do.  But I’m getting there.  Little by little like the tortoise, and some day in the dim future, I’ll cross over the finish line.

I know December is a busy month for everyone, but I hope you find a minute or two to hit the keys.  Whatever happens, I hope you enjoy the season.  And happy writing!  Or reading!  Or celebrating with friends!

And remember, I welcome comments and questions.  Just saying…

 

October

My birthday’s actually at the end of September, but according to the zodiac my birthday month is September 23 to Oct. 22.  So October is a special month for me.  Every year, when I reach it, I feel more energized, like I’m starting a new year.

Also, October is the month in Indiana when the leaves change color and the air grows nippier.  And at the end of the month, there’s Halloween.  I’ve always liked fairytales, paranormal, and supernatural.  And All Hallow’s Eve is when the veil between our world and the spirit realm thins.  Witches celebrate Samhain and put out a saucer of milk for Cat Sith.

Cat Sith inspired me to write a short story for Muddy River.  No horror or ghosts or goblins.  It’s how the supernaturals in Muddy River celebrate the holiday.  You can find it on the Muddy River Snippets page here: https://writingmusings.com/snippets-page/.  

And today, for the Thursday Snippet, I put up a Halloween story for Jazzi and Ansel.  The body on their front stoop isn’t a stuffed dummy.  It’s real.  https://writingmusings.com/the-body-in-the-lake-a-jazzi-short-story/.

Another reason for me to celebrate lately is that I finally finished the plot points for Muddy River Four.  I’m often tempted by the desire to just wing it and see what happens, but it never works for me.  It always costs me more time and effort than if I make myself pound out ideas for chapters so I can see the cause and effect that take me to a book’s end.  When I write willy-nilly, letting my characters lead me, I run amok.  My characters must not be trustworthy.  Not sure what that says about me:)

Anyway, I’m going to try to pound out a Muddy River by the end of November, because my next Jazzi mystery is due on May 4th, and I’ve learned the hard way that I don’t get as much writing time in December as I usually do, so I’ll rub my hands together and plot out Jazzi 6 in-between holiday things.  I mean, it’s more important to see friends and family and have fun:)  Once January hits, I can hibernate and hit the keys every week day to make my Jazzi deadline.

At least, that’s the plan.  For now.   But you know how Life goes.  The best laid plans and all that….

So, I’m wishing you an awesome October, and happy writing!

 

Carnival Row (spoilers)

I don’t watch a lot of TV.  We have BritBox, so I can watch British mysteries, and my husband loves the Great British Baking Show even more than I do, but when I saw the clips for Carnival Row on Prime, it had all of the elements I like in a story.  A Victorian feel.  A gloomy setting.  Supernaturals and Fae.  And a scary monster that guts people to take their livers.  Yes, the show is dark.  And the humans aren’t depicted as much nicer than the monster.  The way they treat the supernaturals, for me, was gut-wrenching.  (Oops, there’s that word again.  Sorry).

And it made me love this series, it was so complex.  And in my opinion, and this is JUST my opinion, the plotting was brilliant.  I love mysteries, especially puzzles where each little clue becomes important at the end of the story.  Carnival Row was like that.  We start out following a detective who’s determined to stop a killer from beating Fae women with a hammer, killing most of his victims.  I thought, Aha!  The story’s big question.  Hardly.  The other cops who work the area aren’t much concerned about the women’s deaths.  What’s one less Fae?  Good riddance!

We get a glimpse of Philo’s private life, living in a boarding house.  The woman who runs it has fallen for him, and when we see them in an intimate scene, we learn that Philo has scars on his back from the war he fought in.  (If nudity and sex bother you, be warned).  Being a soldier has shaped him, and he  doggedly follows each clue that comes up until he confronts the killer.  And then there’s a twist.  The killer tells him that the Fae haven’t only brought their strange religions and customs to Carnival Row, they’ve brought a dark monster, and the evil has only begun.  Then the killer throws himself off the top of the building, killing himself.

We wonder why Philo cares so much about the Fae when no one else does.  And then we learn, through a flashback, that while fighting the war, he was stationed in a Fae bastion, and he fell in love with a woman there.  She ends up in Carnival Row, too.  And we know the two will meet and the plot’s going to have another twist.  We also learn that the scars on Philo’s back are because his mother was Fae.  She had his wings cut off when he was a baby so that he could pretend to be human growing up and have a better life, and she placed him in an orphanage so that he wouldn’t be associated with her.

When we return to present day in the story, Philo’s now tracking the dark monster that’s stalking the area.  I’ve shared enough spoilers, so I won’t say more except that there are subplots that add more layers to the story, and the twists keep coming, and the story gets more and more complicated.  It’s as much a maze as a mystery with each person’s story  weaving in and out of each other.  The over arcing storyline builds more and more tension with each episode, and the characters were well developed, even minor ones.  Predictions seem like one thing and then morph into another.  There was even decent social commentary if you chose to notice it.

I write cozy mysteries.  Even my Muddy River stories with supernaturals don’t push the envelope too far.  But I think I could learn a thing or two by studying the plotting of Carnival Row.  Writers can learn a lot from movies that inspire them.  How were they put together?  What made them better, more compelling than other movies you’ve watched?  I was impressed with the writing of this eight episode series.

October is almost upon us with days that get shorter and shorter, (at least, where I live).  All Hallow’s Eve will soon arrive with its thinning of the veil.  Enjoy the changing of the leaves, the brisk temperatures, and let’s hope that happy writing is in your future!

 

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!

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!