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!

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…

 

That Inner Voice

No, I’m not talking about my conscience.  Neither am I talking about that “good” angel that sits on my shoulder and says, “No, don’t eat the potato chips AND the sandwich–too many carbs.”  Those righteous voices never give it up, but that’s probably a good thing.  Okay, it IS a good thing, but every once in a while, they get a little over zealous.  A piece of chocolate?  I mean, come on.  The Thou Shalt Nots are a lot easier to deal with than the “Thou Could Have Done Betters.”  The same thing goes for writing.  The voice I’m talking about is the one that nags us and says “That’s not the perfect word for that sentence” or even worse, “Something’s not quite working here, and you should fix it.”

You know what they say–Everyone’s a critic.  But it’s EASY to find fault.  It’s a lot harder to fix it.  You’d think a Muse might help.  You know, send inspiration to make every scene perfect, every verb strong and active, no word repetition, sizzling similes, magnificent metaphors, and dialogue that rings true.  But not so.  Muses just tease us.  They send us an idea that kicks our imaginations into overdrive and then say “You’re welcome” and pat themselves on the back and leave us to it.  Bringing that idea to life is our job.  And sometimes, it’s a real pain in the you know what.

I can’t dive in and go with the flow when I get an idea.  Been there, tried that, and I run out of steam somewhere and it shows.  Talk about soggy middles.  I need some kind of framework to hang my words on.  But even then, even when I know the story’s going in the right direction, I can still end up with scenes that mock me and refuse to come out the way I envision them in my head.

When I was younger and more carefree, I stuck a few patches on those scenes, blew kisses at them, and hoped for the best.  But do you know what?  When I got my pages back from my beta readers, those were the pages that always swam in red ink.  So now, I listen to the inner voice that says “Nope, not there yet.  Try again.”

I don’t always know how to fix those spots.  But it almost always means I didn’t get something right earlier and I don’t have my dominoes in place for that scene to work.  Now, instead of beating that scene to death with better words, sharper dialogue, I take a step back and look at the scenes that led up to the moment in question.  Because, unfortunately, that inner voice is always right.

I’m a person who deals very well with shades of gray.  Things don’t always have to be black or white, right or wrong for me.  I’m not a perfectionist who will always find fault with myself.  But I distinguish whether a scene is good or just sort of good.  And there are so many talented writers out there, sort of good just isn’t good enough.  So when my inner writer alarm goes off, I mark that scene and come back to it.  And I make myself fix it.  And if I can’t, I give my critique partners the pages and admit that I’m not happy with the way it turned out and hope they can give me ideas to make it work.

I hope your inner voice is steering you in the right direction, and happy writing!

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/

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twitter:  @judypost

 

A snippet from my latest romance

Thought I’d post a snippet from my second Mill Pond romance.  Might post a few off and on to give you a taste of the novel.  Harmony Meyers’s parents were nothing to brag about and left her in her brother’s care as often as possible. Her brother resented having to babysit her and let her know it.  She has little faith in family and doesn’t connect with too many people.  This scene shows why:

She heard footsteps stop at the kitchen door, and Ian’s voice.  “I’m heading home for the night.  You left your watch in suite three, Brody.  Here.  Catch!”

She caught the movement of Ian’s arm as he tossed the watch, underhanded.  She shut the oven door and straightened in time to see Brody raise his hand to catch it.  His fist stopped inches from her face.  He nodded to Ian as he left, then turned to her and stopped abruptly.

“Harmony?”  His voice was gentle, tentative.  “Are you all right?”

Fear clogged her throat.  She couldn’t answer.  Her heart pounded.  Old instincts.

He reached for her, and she planted her feet in a fighter’s stance.  She pulled her arms up, her hands balled into fists to protect her face.  New instincts.  No one would ever slap her again.

Brody pushed his arms out at his sides, palms forward, in a defenseless pose.  “I won’t hurt you.  I’d never hurt you.”

Harmony took quick breaths, fighting for calm.  Brody wasn’t her brother.  He’d never hit a woman.  She buried her face in her hands, and her shoulders shook.

Strong arms wrapped around her.  She leaned against Brody’s broad chest.  He didn’t say a word, just hugged her to him.  After a while, she moved away from him.  She felt stupid.  Ridiculous.

https://www.amazon.com/Opposites-Distract-Mill-Pond-Judi-ebook/dp/B0174PKHHE/ref=sr_1_3?s=digital-text&ie=UTF8&qid=1468284321&sr=1-3&keywords=judi+lynn

 

 

3 down, more to go?

My three book contract is up with Kensington.  I delivered my last book, and I’m waiting for my editor to read it and send feedback.  I’ve been lucky so far.  No rewrites.  That might not hold with this book.  It has a different rhythm, a different flow.  My protagonist is a female chef with two kids, and I wanted to capture how those two things drove Paula’s life, how she had so little time for anything else–like romance.  But romance finds her anyway.  The thing is, I’ve grown attached to Mill Pond, the people who live there, and I wondered what to do next.

Luckily, my editor wrote that he hopes I have more stories in mind for the series.  I do, but first, my agent has to negotiate a new contract.  I have no idea how much time that will take,  but I had to send a proposal for her to submit, and that managed to be a lot of work.  My wonderful, wonderful editor is easy-going about what I send in, just as long as he can get an idea about what the next book will be like.  I’m the one who fusses about plot points.  I know there are pantsers, who start a story and let their characters lead the charge.  I can’t start a book until I know all of the pulse points along the way.  And yes, it’s come down to pulse points for me.  I’ve gotten more driven about my outlines, not less.

I used to start a book, just knowing the set-up, two turning points, and the end.  If I aimed for those, I knew I was on the right track.  Not anymore.  I’ve reached the point where I want an idea for each chapter in the book.  For Fit To Be Thai’d (my working title–Tyne’s Paula’s assistant chef, who specializes in international cuisine), I have FORTY lengthy plot points.  Why?  Because the longer I work with my characters, the better I know them, and I’d rather do that during plot points than while I’m pounding out pages.  More, for this book, I wanted to focus on tone.  I want the book to have a “light” feel.  I want Tyne to jump off the pages.  Anyway, it took me longer than usual to plot out this book.  I was beginning to think I’d NEVER get it done.  But I’m glad I did all of the grunt work ahead of time, because now, I can’t wait to write it.  And the proposal’s sent.  And now I have to wait until I hear back from my agent and editor–the life of a writer.

And talking about writing, I’m doing my blog early this week, because I’m playing hooky over the weekend.  My daughter’s coming home on Saturday, and we’re taking her son and his significant other to a small Vietnamese restaurant for supper.  Then on Sunday, Holly and I are spending the day cooking for the Oscar Party we share with a few movie buff friends of ours.  I haven’t seen any movies lately, but they know them all, so I’m just focusing on providing the food.  We go all out–salmon in puff pastry, spiced beef on pita triangles, and creamy crab and bacon endive boats, along with boiled shrimp.  Dawn and Holly are chocoholics, so I’m making a flourless, chocolate cake, too.   (Now you know why food creeps into most of my stories.  I love it!  Love to eat, love to cook).  Anyway, I’ll be missing in action this weekend, but hope you have a wonderful time and happy writing!

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

My author’s Facebook page:  https://www.facebook.com/JudithPostsurbanfantasy/

twitter:  @judypost

CoockingupTrouble

 

Outline to Finished Draft

This post is too long…again.  But it should finish explaining how I turn an outline into a finished draft.  I hope.  If you still have questions, let me know.  But here goes!

When I start a book, I do pretty detailed plot points.  I didn’t always.  I used to stick to the basics of what had to happen to move the story, but now, when I think of a chapter or scene, I scribble down whatever comes to mind, and the more I scribble, the more things I think of.  That way, when I read my notes, I just need to bring them to life.

Every book starts with a hook.  For Wolf’s Bane, I show Reece racing to her mom’s house. Her mom remarried after Reece’s father died and had two children with her new husband. Eugene’s proud that he has a son, but Jenny reminds him of his mother.  He doesn’t like his mother, so whenever he’s had too much to drink, he likes to smack Jenny.  Reece, who teaches martial arts, rushes to prevent that.

However, Wolf’s Bane isn’t a literary novel.  It’s urban fantasy, so Reece’s family isn’t the main plot.  When she jumps out of the car to rescue Jenny, she sees a woman sitting on a porch stoop.  The woman raises her face to the sky and howls before she runs away. Later, after Reece has sent Eugene to the kitchen and gotten her brother and sister to bed, when she starts to her SUV, a werewolf attacks a young man on the street corner.  The man seems doomed until a gargoyle plummets from the sky to rescue him.  He kills the werewolf, and it shifts back to the woman Reece had seen earlier.  Plot point 1.

Now, that’s all plot point 1 is, a summary of what happens in that chapter.  But I’d already decided that I was aiming for 80,000 words for this book.  As it happened, I ended up with 30 plots points, and the novel ended up being 364 pages and almost 91,000 words.  But at the time, when I finished figuring out my 30 plot points, I figured I needed 2,600 words for each plot point, or about 10 -12 pages.  Each point might involve a few different scenes.  For my latest romance, I plotted forty plot points for 70,000 words.  Why?  Because I knew I wanted shorter, punchier scenes and chapters, only about 7 pages each.  How do I make one plot point into 7 to 12 pages?  By bringing the scene to life.

In Wolf’s Bane, I’d already shown that Reece is attached to her step-brother and step-sister.  If they call, she’s there.  Why?  Why does she care?  How much of an age difference is there between them and her?  How does she feel about her mother now?  Why does her mother tolerate Eugene’s drinking?  And how does her mother feel about Reece popping in to protect Joseph and Jenny?  What was Reece’s father like?  And what does Reece do now that he’s gone and she lives on her own?

Plot point 2:  This is still set-up.  Usually, the entire first fourth of my books are set-up.  This scene takes place a month later.  Reece is back at her mom’s house, and when she leaves, the man who was attacked gets off the bus at the corner and starts toward her.  Moon light hits him, and he starts to change.  He attacks Reece, and again, the gargoyle comes.  This time, he saves her, but his wing’s hurt in the battle.  She drives him to her condo, and he notices that she’s been scratched.  The wolf’s paw mark makes a tattoo-like stain close to her heart.  A sign that she’s a witch.

Again, this plot point only summarizes what happens in this scene or chapter.  I have to add details to bring the scene to life.  What did Reece do when she watched the man shift into a werewolf?  How did she feel?  How did she feel when the wolf attacked her?  When the gargoyle came to help her?  Does she believe him when he tells her she’s a witch? How will she cope with that?  What does it mean?  etc.  Question after question to bring the characters and actions to life.  Anyway, that’s what I do–scene after scene.

For me, once I get the plot points, I can concentrate on “seeing” what’s happening, what each character is doing, what the setting looks like.  I can “hear” the characters, listen to the grunts and shuffling of the battles.  That’s how my outline becomes a draft.

Now, a quick note:  I divide my stories into fourths, and that helps me keep my plot points on track.  The hook is extra–something to grab the reader.  So here’s how I start:

  1. Hook:  Reece races to her mother’s house to protect Jenny from Eugene.
  2. Plot Point 1:  Reece sees a werewolf attack a man and a gargoyle save him
  3. Plot Point 3:  The man shifts and attacks Reece. The gargoyle saves her and she learns she’s a witch.

I know I want 80,000 words, and I’ve decided I can reach that with 30 plot points.  That means that I want my first turning point to come at the end of chapter 7 or 8, at the end of the first fourth of the book.  Reece knows she’s a witch, but she has no idea what that means or how to awaken her magic until the end of the book’s set-up (the first 7 or 8 chapters).  Also, a rogue werewolf tries to kill her, so she’s been targeted for some reason and doesn’t know why.  At the first turning point, an owl brings her a moonstone necklace to awaken her magic and she teams up with the gargoyles who protect Bay City to fight the rogues.

The second turning point comes at the middle of the story.  Wedge Durrow and his werewolf pack join Reece and Damian to fight the rogues, and they have an idea who the rogues are.  Hecate, a powerful witch, joins them, too.

The third turning point hits at the three-quarters point of the book, and the fourth quarter of the book leads to the final, big battle and resolution.  It ties up all the subplots, etc.  For plot points and structure, I highly recommend: http://storyfix.com/story-structure-dummies.  The point is, once you have your hook, first plot points, three turning points, and the end of your book, all you have to do is fill in more plot points from A to Z.  And then, all you have to do is bring each of those plot points to life.  Good luck and happy writing!