Tag Archives: high stakes

Being Benched Is A Bummer

We’ve had a lot of company and seen a lot of people over the holidays.  Most of our friends have retired and their kids are grown.  But all of us can still be rattled when our kids hit a bumpy patch, friends hit snags, or health problems knock us sideways .  It’s frustrating to feel helpless.  The thing is, there are a myriad of things we can’t do much about.

Once kids grow up and move away, there’s only so much you can do to help them.  Sometimes–and this is even worse–you have to watch them make mistakes, get hurt, and lick their wounds.  It’s hard.  When you really care about people, the first instinct is to fix things for them.  But often, that’s not possible.  It’s not always even the best thing to do.

One of my friends is a therapist, and he uses the term “helicopter parents.”  They hover over their children, trying to protect them and shield them from being hurt or disappointed.  They think they’re helping.  They’re not.  Life isn’t always smooth or easy, and kids need to learn to deal with that.  But, if the problem is too big, and you CAN make a difference, wouldn’t you be tempted?

In the mysteries I write, my protagonists are usually dragged into trying to find a killer because they’re trying to help someone they care about.  In all three series, my protagonists are amateur sleuths, so the stakes have to be high enough to make them get involved.  In my Jazzi Zanders series, Jazzi usually knows the person who was killed or the person who’s a likely suspect and might be blamed.  In Muddy River, Raven’s the area’s enforcer.  It’s his job to find a culprit and punish him.  But Hester’s a teacher and the leader of the town’s coven.  She joins in trying to solve the crime because she takes any injury to someone in Muddy River personally.   In the new series I’m working on, Lux is a journalist who’d rather report a crime than try to solve one, but when her friends are in danger, she digs deeper to find the killer before someone she loves gets hurt.

I’ve read mysteries–and enjoy them–where the amateur sleuth takes risks just to satisfy her curiosity.  I’m sure there are people like that, and writers can make them believable, but myself, I’d steer clear of anything that might cause me bodily harm unless I was REALLY motivated.  That’s my protagonists’ approach to crime solving, too, and I think watching a loved one suffer for whatever reason–fear of going to prison, blamed for a crime they didn’t commit, fear that they might be the next victim, or grief because someone they loved died would be enough to make them jump in to help.  They’re not helicopter friends, but the type of friends you can count on in your time of need.

My protagonists aren’t the type to stay on the bench when they can make a difference.  They can’t stand sitting on the sidelines.  In life, sometimes, that’s all a friend can do.  And it’s awful.  We can’t fix the problem or make it go away.  The most we can do, at times, is to be there for moral support, to listen, and to share part of the burden.  But in mysteries, sleuths find the clues they need to solve the crimes.  And that’s the beauty of them.  As writers, we can make justice prevail and provide a satisfying ending.

Happy Writing!

 

 

 

 

 

Rewrites–Oh, the joy!

I’ve stepped away from my novel long enough to be able to look at my critique partners’ comments and plunge into rewrites. I’m no longer as fond of my words, my chapters, my “babies.” I’m ready to dig in and make my manuscript better.

When I’m in writing mode, I have to be passionate about my characters and story. I “hear” them and I’m excited about what they’re doing and why. Sometimes, they endear themselves to me a little too much. When I go back to edit, they weren’t always as witty as I thought they were, and the time they spent bonding together in the car gets a little long and dreary. If I were a reader, I’d be saying “When will we get there?” If a scene doesn’t have enough tension, if it doesn’t move the plot forward enough, I need to be objective and cut it. More especially for me–since I tend to write lean–I need to fill in more internal dialogue and description so that the reader can hear the same character inner thoughts that I’ve been listening to since I started the book. I try to remind myself, during edits, that readers turn pages because of tension and emotional impact. Plot’s great. It drives the story, but it’s not enough. Have I delivered? Did I make my characters believable and real? Would a reader care about them enough to follow them through a second book, if I’m writing a series? Will the readers miss them when the story’s over?

A fellow blogger whom I read has developed a novel approach to editing. The linear, from start to finish approach, isn’t enough for her anymore. She has some great tips on editing, ways to make the middle of your story stronger. https://suebahr.wordpress.com/2015/07/13/a-rebel-with-a-cause/. Rewrites, for me, are about honing a novel until I’ve made it as good as I know how to. It’s when I look at the foundation of the story, as well as the fine points.

Did I start with a great hook? It can be in your face or subtle, as long as it grabs you.
Did I deliver the set-up soon enough? Anymore, lots of books state the protagonist’s big problem in the first paragraph or by the end of the first page. It tells me what this book is about.
Did I create the perfect setting? Will it flavor every nuance of the story?
Did I create protagonists the reader will care about? Are the stakes high enough? Does my main character have to struggle and change to achieve his goal?
Did I people the story with minor characters who have goals/problems of their own? Are they distinct? Memorable? (I read a post on Writeonsisters.com that gave great advice on creating characters. I like it for more than just POV: http://writeonsisters.com/writing-craft/5-tests-for-writing-multiple-povs/)
Did I add enough sub-plots to keep the story afloat? For a novel, I like to have at least two sub-plots, more if the book’s really long.
Did I add enough tension in EVERY scene to keep the pacing tight?
Were the plot points strong enough to keep the story afloat? Did I have an inciting incident, then two twists, and finally a final showdown and wrapup?

I’ve talked about all of these things on this blog before, but I’m in rewrite mode. All of the above is floating around in my head. And those are just the foundation pilings. Grammar, language, and imagery all come into play, too. That’s why rewrites take time. And that’s why they’re so wonderful. Rewrites help you tweak your tale from the basics to the “much, much better” and, if you’re lucky and persistent, topnotch.

(I’m still playing with my writing experiment on my webpage, and I’m still having fun with it:
http://www.judithpostswritingmusings.com/)

Emotion in Writing

I’ve started to really look forward to a fellow blogger’s posts.  She’s a bird enthusiast, like me, but she’s also a wonderful writer and captures lots of emotion in very few words.  (http://jmgoyder.com/author/jmgoyder/)

It’s made me think about my own writing.  I draw character wheels to get my characters’ hair and eye color right, to understand what motivates them.  I scribble down a sketchy map of plot points to keep the story going in the right direction.  I worry about word choice and commas.  But I belong to Goodreads, and the books that people love the most aren’t always perfectly written.  They’re the ones that elicit a strong emotional reaction.    If the language is lyrical and the twists and turns are exciting, that’s an added plus.  But the emotional impact is the payoff for all of the pages turned.

So how does a writer create emotion?  An often repeated piece of advice comes to mind.  The protagonist’s stakes have be high, almost impossible, to achieve.  He has to work hard and suffer many failures to try to achieve his goal.  And he should never give up.  The goal has to matter.

The characters should be sympathetic.  Not the same as nice or smart or good looking, even though in urban fantasy, that doesn’t hurt.  But come to think of it, protagonists aren’t always nice.  They can be stubborn, frustrating, and flawed.  That actually makes them much more fun to follow, but it’s hard to care about a character who’s petty, selfish, or mean.  I have a problem with whiners.  Or characters who are shallow.  Why would we care if he/she achieves what he wants or needs?  But he might SEEM petty or act selfish sometimes, etc., as long as we know he’s actually a decent human being at the core.

The characters need to feel real, not just some personality traits on paper who follow the author’s script and lead the plot from point A to point B.  They have to have their own wants and desires, their own hangups and habits.  And once in a while, their reactions have to be totally honest, not what the author or reader would expect, not the proper way to respond, but something that makes them seem human.  They need to be flawed, to make mistakes, and have regrets.

Anyway, I’ve read lots of articles on POV, pacing, and voice, along with all of the other tools a writer needs in her author belt.  But I think checking our scenes and chapters for emotional impact should be one of the things at the top of the list.  Some people do this naturally, like JMGoyder does.  Some emotions are built into the story conflict.  They come with the territory.  But if we can add emotion to a scene, it makes it stronger.  It’s something to think about.

What are some of your all-time favorite books?  What made you like them?  Remember them?