Nancy's Notes From Florida

Author Nancy J. Cohen discusses the writing process and life as a Florida resident.

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    Hanging by a Hair, a Bad Hair Day Mystery by Nancy J. Cohen

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Posts Tagged ‘Writing Craft’

Characters Too Weird To Be True

Posted by Nancy J. Cohen on April 15, 2014

Characters Too Weird To Be True by Nancy J. Cohen

“Florida is a giant bug light for crazy people.” ~Phyllis Smallman, Sleuthfest 2014

It’s no surprise to any author living in Florida that some of the craziest stories we can write are actually inspired by true events in our sunshine state. Join us in exploring a different side of Florida than the travel bureau promotes with our first Blog Hop sponsored by Florida Chapter of Mystery Writers of America. Read on, click the links below to read another member’s view of crazy Florida, comment, share your favorite stories, and enter the contest to win a Kindle Paperwhite.

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Florida has its share of wacky characters. Every Sunday, I buy a newspaper and read through it with a pair of scissors in hand. Inevitably, there’s some article about an interesting resident or an issue that intrigues me. I cut out these articles and file them. Whenever I’m searching for a secret to give a suspect, I’ll glance through these clippings. That’s how I found a cool character who was a funeral director by day and a Samoan fire knife dancer at night. I tracked down the guy, interviewed him at his funeral home and based a character on him in Hair Raiser.

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There’s no lack of strange people living in Florida. Criminals move down for the good weather same as other citizens. But most of the interesting characters in the news appear less in the spotlight. It might be a housewife running a prostitution ring, a non-profit administrator embezzling money, or a local teacher found with child porn files on his computer. These are secrets worth considering, because they’ll make the characters in my books seems suspicious. And Florida does have its share of wackos where truth is stranger than fiction.

Another character I used in a book was inspired by a reader at a talk I gave. She’d owned a clothing boutique and mentioned a guy who came in and wanted to try on women’s clothes. This idea was perfect for Murder by Manicure who now has a transvestite in the story. So you never know where inspiration will strike.

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For Hanging By A Hair, #11 in the Bad Hair Day mysteries, neighborhood communities played a role in story development. Who hasn’t had trouble with their homeowners’ association? Marla’s husband has a disagreement with their HOA president who is later found dead. Our state’s Native American heritage comes into play in this story with a suspect who is a tribal shaman.

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Florida has a rich history, a diverse ecosystem, and a hotbed of issues. All we have to do is read the newspaper for ideas. Thus I’ve dealt with citrus canker, illegal immigrant labor, exotic bird smuggling, child drowning prevention, melanoma detection, and a host of other matters that affect Floridians. Although these issues can be serious, my stories contain humor, a satisfying ending, and a lesson learned. And what have I learned? We never lack for material in sunny South Florida.

Amazon Hardcover: http://www.amazon.com/Hanging-Hair-Nancy-J-Cohen/dp/1432828142 
Amazon Kindle: http://www.amazon.com/Hanging-Hair-Bad-Day-Mysteries-ebook/dp/B00JJ2XVUQ/
Barnes and Noble: http://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/hanging-by-a-hair-nancy-j-cohen/1116603785

Nancy J. Cohen has written over twenty romance and mystery novels. She wishes she could style hair like her hairdresser sleuth, Marla Shore, but can usually be found reading instead.

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Blog Commenters can win an ebook copy of either Shear Murder or Writing the Cozy Mystery (your choice). Winner will be announced on April 23. Leave a comment, and your name will automatically be entered. And don’t miss our Grand Prize contest below!

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Click on the link below to Win a KINDLE PAPERWHITE

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Kindle Paperwhite

No purchase is necessary. You must be at least 18 years old to enter. By submitting your entry, you agree to be entered into the participating authors’ email newsletter list. Your information will not be shared with anyone else, and you may unsubscribe at any time. Winner will be notified by email. Authors are not responsible for transmission failures, computer glitches or lost, late, damaged or returned email. Winner agrees for their name to be used in conjunction with the contest on FMWA and authors’ social media sites. U.S. Residents only due to postage constraints.

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Visit our other FMWA Authors and win more prizes:

Victoria Allman, Gator Bites, http://www.victoriaallman.com/blog
Miriam Auerbach, Bonkers in Boca, http://www.miriamauerbach.com/bonkers-in-boca
Gregg E. Brickman, Crazy South Florida—How it got to be home, http://www.GreggEBrickman.com/blog.html
Diane Capri, Fishnado!, http://www.dianecapri.com/blog
Joan Cochran, The Million Dollar Squatter: Crazy in the Land of  Coconuts and Bagels, http://www.joanlipinskycochran.com/blog.htm?post=952677
Nancy J. Cohen, Characters Too Weird to Be True, http://nancyjcohen.wordpress.com
JD Daniels, He Did What? http://www.live-from-jd.com
Joy Wallace Dickinson, In Florida, It’s Great to Be a Cracker, http://www.FindingJoyinFlorida.com
Dallas Gorham, http://www.DallasGorham.com
Linda Gordon Hengerer, Crazy Treasure on the Treasure Coast, http://footballfoodandfiction.blogspot.com/
Victoria Landis, Eavesdropping 101, http://www.victorialandis.com
Sandy Parks, Keep your eyes to the Florida skies, http://www.sandyparks.wordpress.com
Neil Plakcy, Moscow on the Intracoastal, http://www.mahubooks.blogspot.com/
Johnny Ray, Utilizing Google Plus Air to Facilitate Author Interviews, http://www.sirjohn.us
Joanna Campbell Slan, Honey, You’ll Never Guess What Rolled Up in the Surf, http://www.joannaslan.blogspot.com

 

Posted in Fiction Writing, Florida Musings, The Writing Life, Writing Craft | Tagged: , , , , | 37 Comments »

Writing the Cozy Mystery

Posted by Nancy J. Cohen on February 5, 2014

Do you want to write a mystery but don’t have a clue where to start? Or maybe you’ve begun a whodunit but are stuck on the plot? Perhaps you’re already writing a series, and you need tips on how to keep track of your material?Cozy

After hearing numerous aspiring writers ask for advice on how to write a mystery, I decided to compile an easy-to-read instructional booklet on this needed topic.

What makes a cozy different from other crime fiction? How do you plot the story? Where does your sleuth originate? How do you plant clues?

The answers to these questions and more are in Writing the Cozy Mystery.

This title is now available on Amazon but will appear soon in multiple digital formats, including Nook, Kobi, iBooks, & SW. A print edition is coming next. Please keep watch on my website for links to these editions.

For the affordable rate of $0.99, what have you got to lose?

BUY NOW at http://www.amazon.com/Writing-Cozy-Mystery-Nancy-Cohen-ebook/dp/B00I8O1KYA/

International: http://bookgoodies.com/a/B00I8O1KYA

UK: http://www.amazon.co.uk/Writing-Cozy-Mystery-Nancy-Cohen-ebook/dp/B00I8O1KYA/

CUSTOMER REVIEWS are requested. Please write a blurb about the book if you find it to be useful and post it on Amazon, Goodreads, Barnes & Noble, etc. Also any shares and tweets would be appreciated.

This morning we are at:

#3 in Kindle Store > Kindle eBooks > Education & Reference > Writing, Research & Publishing Guides > Writing Skills

Let’s keep the momentum going!

And here’s another reason to celebrate: I just finished, as of this morning, my first draft of Peril by Ponytail, #12 in the Bad Hair Day Mysteries! Yes, I actually typed “The End.”

Watch for my Valentine’s Day contest coming soon. In the meantime, enter our Booklover’s Bench anniversary contest to win a Kindle Paperwhite or 1/8 free books by our authors, including an advance reading copy of Hanging By A Hair, #11 in the Bad Hair Day series. http://bookloversbench.com/contest/

 

Posted in Fiction Writing, The Writing Life, Writing Craft | Tagged: , , , , , , , | 8 Comments »

When Your Characters Torment You

Posted by Nancy J. Cohen on January 30, 2014

Characters can torment you, the writer, for a variety of reasons. Secondary characters may want to have their stories told. Main characters might whisper in your ear to tell their tale. And when you’re in the midst of spinning your web of deceit, the characters live within your head, unwilling to let you go.

Silver Serenade is an example of main characters who wanted their story to be heard. Rookie assassin Silver Malloy and desperate fugitive Jace Vernon are both after the same man, terrorist leader Tyrone Bluth. Silver’s assignment is to kill the man while Jace needs Bluth alive to prove his innocence. For Jace—a diplomat turned desperado and a crack pilot—bigger political issues are at stake that could lead to galactic war. For Silver, the issue is personal. Tyrone’s Marauders destroyed her family and her research. Revenge fills her heart, and she’s vowed nothing will stop her from her goal. Forced to team up in their pursuit, Silver and Jace realize that when they catch Bluth, one of them must yield.

4585894_med   Silver

These characters whispered in my ear to tell their tale until I couldn’t ignore them any longer. They’d been the subject of my option book after I wrote four scifi romances for Dorchester. As the market for futuristics took a dive, Dorchester turned down this fifth title. Years passed, and the cycle came around. Paranormals and its various subgenres made a resurgence. I finished Silver Serenade and sold it to The Wild Rose Press. Finally, their story was done.

Now I’m in the throes of torment again. I am fifty pages away from finishing Peril by Ponytail, my twelfth Bad Hair Day mystery. When I go to bed at night and when I wake up in the morning, the characters are swirling in my head. What’s going to happen in the next scene? Am I considering all the angles? Could I be forgetting to follow through on one of the suspects? Did I remember to have a funeral service for the first victim? What about his wife, who stands to gain a substantial inheritance from his death? Did we examine this motive in the course of the story? How will Marla and Dalton find their way through the maze of underground tunnels in the mine scene?

And always, there’s the underlying anxiety—Will I have enough to reach my word count?

I am driven to finish this story. The characters won’t let me have any peace until we’re done.

Does this happen to you?

Posted in Fiction Writing, The Writing Life, Writing Craft | Tagged: , , , , , , | 11 Comments »

A Sense of Setting

Posted by Nancy J. Cohen on January 16, 2014

A Sense of Setting by Sally Wright

Why is a thing I do, that some readers say they like, so hard for me? Descriptions of landscape and setting, I do those passages over and over before I can get them even close to being right. And what I mean by “right” starts with, “Is it clear? Can it be interpreted any other way? Could a reader really visualize what you’re describing?” – even before I get to “Is it interesting prose?”clip_image002

Part of my difficulty probably comes from having an overactive visual memory that demands unattainable perfection. For instance: I can still see a tiny arched wooden bridge over a miniscule shivery stream edged with wild watercress, beside a dark forest, in front of a wood-beamed cottage in Connecticut I haven’t seen since I was four (and only saw five or six times then) – and I rewrote that description more times than I’ll admit, even though it’s nothing special now.

And when settings hand you your stories, you can’t just blow by. Several Ben Reese mysteries popped into my head because of a particular place – in Scotland, England, Tuscany, Georgia and the Carolinas, Ben’s small-town Ohio home – and I’ve spent countless days revising and polishing and choosing details to try to describe them well.

Breeding Ground, the first Jo Grant mystery, got into my blood years ago when I spent time in Lexington, Kentucky researching a Ben book. I stayed in beautiful old farmhouse B&Bs, surrounded by pastureland and fast running creeks, and as I grilled the owners about the houses’ history, and local characters as well, it made me want to write a new series immersed in that lush green world where Thoroughbreds graze the hills.

If I’m working at a real place, I take a ridiculous number of photographs. I use travel books, novels, reference books and magazines, even biographies and journals, if the scene takes place at an earlier date. Movies too, if they exist. If I wanted to place a book in Kenya, I’d certainly watch “Out Of Africa,” once I’d read the book.

I use maps, real and imagined by me, depending on whether the setting exists, or I’ve altered something real, or made it up entirely. I draw floor plans and elevations and arrange furniture on the plans, because unless I can see it myself in incredible detail I’m not going to describe anything so someone else can picture it.

That’s a big part of why we write – right? To draw people in to our created worlds – in, on so many levels, and to such a degree that they can see and feel and care about what happens to the people they meet.

And when we’re writing, caught up in that world ourselves, it’s one of the great pleasures in life – at least for me (even if I write the blasted description another hundred times).
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Sally Wright is the Edgar Allan Poe Award nominated author of six Ben Reese mysteries, as well as Breeding Ground , the first Jo Grant mystery. Sally lives with her husband in rural northwestern Ohio.

Book Blurb:

clip_image004“To borrow a beautiful phrase from her own work, Sally Wright’s Breeding Ground is a story that is as small as a wren’s nest and as wide as the world. There’s murder along the way, but Breeding Ground aims at a larger target and hits home remarkably well.  It’s a tale of families and the ghosts that haunt them, of heroes and horses, of the age-old battle between those who value honor and those who do not.  The prose is gorgeous, and the setting—the stunning horse country of Kentucky—has never been more beautifully rendered.  This is a book you will absolutely be glad you’ve read.” — Kent Kreuger

Buy Links:

Amazon, http://www.amazon.com/Breeding-Ground-Sally-Wright-ebook/dp/B00G69OF3M/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1386626608&sr=1-1&keywords=breeding+ground

BN, http://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/breeding-ground-sally-wright/1117272099?ean=2940148839170

Follow Sally Online:

Website: http://www.sallywright.net/

Facebook Author Page: https://www.facebook.com/SallyWrightAuthor

Twitter: https://twitter.com/Sally_Wright5

Posted in The Writing Life, Writing Craft | Tagged: , , , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

Arizona Research Trip

Posted by Nancy J. Cohen on October 23, 2013

The importance of visiting a story location as a writer really made its mark with my recent trip to Arizona. The scenery was different than anything I’d expected. I traveled there to research my next Bad Hair Day Mystery, currently titled Peril by Ponytail. The first impressions that hit me driving from the airport were the colorful southwestern designs on the bridges and highway borders. Next was the landscaping. Instead of green grass and palm trees, a variety of cacti and small shrubs dotted the reddish-brown earth.

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Most remarkable were the saguaro cactus, with the “gu” pronounced like a “w.” My cousin Janice, our hostess, explained how it takes up to 75 years before a saguaro branches out. The plant lives several hundred years and can weigh up to 10 tons from the water inside. In the distance, mountains rose as mysterious peaks tempted exploration.

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We headed outside Phoenix, past Scottsdale, and into Fountain Hills. This lovely community features expansive homes in mixed Mediterranean and Adobe styles amidst rolling hills. A lake boasts its own fountain that jets upward on the hour. Interesting restaurants, shops, and picturesque views invite a leisurely lifestyle. You can see the four peaks on the McDowell Mountains where the only amethyst is mined in the U.S.

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Our first free day, we visited the weekend flea market in Mesa. We drove past a casino and through the Salt River Indian Reservation into the desert to get there. Everywhere you go, you see large expanses of uninhabited land, but they aren’t bare. Either they’re cotton fields grown by the Pima Indian Nation, or they’re full of desert plant life.

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The flea market has great prices on jewelry and gift items if you get the chance to go. So does Old Scottsdale, which we visited that same afternoon. Here’s where you can buy western wear, cowboy hats, souvenirs, hot sauce, or that turquoise and silver pendant you’ve always wanted. Stop for ice cream at the infamous Sugar Bowl and take a peek at the modern Performing Arts Center. And give yourself time to adjust to the time chance and dryness if you’re from a humid climate like Florida. We were lucky to come in October with ideal temperatures. Drinking lots of water in either location is essential.

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You do know I like to show pictures of food, yes?

Coming Next: The Desert Botanical Gardens

Posted in Business of Writing, Fiction Writing, The Writing Life, Travel | Tagged: , , , , , , | 6 Comments »

Creating Realistic Characters

Posted by Nancy J. Cohen on September 20, 2013

When Characters Stop Being Literal and Become Real
J.H. Bogran

On the dedication page of Harry Potter and the Half Blood Prince, author J.K. Rowling dedicates the book to her daughter, proclaiming Harry is her ink-and-paper twin. In just one sentence, Mrs. Rowling demonstrates how real the characters are for her.

Every writer worth his salt knows that only when we believe and treat our character as real people, they will become so to the readers. Why? I could bet it is because our perception of the character seeps into them while we type them.    Firefall

I don’t pretend to preach to the converted, what I’d like to share today is the way I develop my characters, not that I think it is the one and only way to go about it.

After I decide the story I want to tell, I spend time developing a list of characters that I think are required to tell the story. The list includes the lead, lead’s love interest if any, the antagonist, and the secondary characters. I don’t waste time on the character with bit parts; I trust they will show up when I need them for a particular scene. Yeah, it’s kind of “if I build it, they will come.”

Two books that have helped me with characters and how to write them are Angela Ackerman/Becca Puglisi’s The Emotion Thesaurus, and the other one is Dynamic Characters by Nancy Kress.

The main characters get special attention, of course. I prepare a worksheet where I list name, description, personality, profession and extras. The first four are pretty self-explanatory. Extras can be tiny little things like if he/she smokes, or notes the appalling story of how they became the person they are at the start of my book.

For the physical description I cheat a little bit, if it can be called like that. I use people I’ve met, sometimes movie or TV actors, but someone to anchor me to what they look like and keep me from changing hair or eye colors between chapters. Their personality starts relatively empty as I’d like to leave room for the characters to grow. Of course, that character worksheet keeps getting revised while I’m writing the story.

The secondary characters are not as developed, but I keep a close watch on them as sometimes they come back with surprises, or they make appearances in other stories. For example, the doctor who treated my lead female character suffering from Multiple Personality Disorder in the story Love Me Two Times, turns out to have a younger brother. In the opening chapter of my new novel Firefall, Doctor James Martin is performing an intervention on his younger brother Sebastian, who is the lead character in that novel.

One tip I learned during a ThrillerFest class on craft imparted by Robert Dugoni was to give each character a unique trait. It can be anything from always chewing gum to a limp. The idea is that the trait would be big enough to make them appear better than two-dimensional.

The making of my character is far from a refined technique, but it works for me, so I’m sticking with it. They become real to me because I can picture them in my head.

I’m curious to know how others do it, so please leave a comment if you can. Thanks.

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About J. H. Bográn   JH Bogran

J. H. Bográn, born and raised in Honduras, is the son of a journalist. He ironically prefers to write fiction rather than fact. José’s genre of choice is thrillers, but he likes to throw a twist of romance into the mix. His works include novels and short stories in both English and Spanish. He’s a member of the Short Fiction Writers Guild and the International Thriller Writers, where he also serves as the Thriller Roundtable Coordinator and contributor editor their official e-zine The Big Thrill.

Website at: http://www.jhbogran.com
Facebook: http://www.facebook.com/jhbogran
Twitter: @JHBogran
Goodreads: http://www.goodreads.com/author/show/4307673.J_H_Bogran
Amazon author page: https://www.amazon.com/author/jhbogran

About Firefall:

After losing his wife and son in an air crash, former NYC firefighter Sebastian Martin is spiraling downward into alcoholic oblivion. Then his brother sets him up with a last-chance job investigating insurance fraud, but his first case takes a deadly turn as he crosses path with an international ring of car thieves. Sebastian ends up strapped to a chair facing torture at the hands of a former KGB trainee who enjoys playing with fire on his victims to get answers.

Firefall Buy Links:

Rebel E Publishers: http://rebelepublishers.com/about/our-books/firefall/
Amazon: http://www.amazon.com/Firefall-ebook/dp/B00F6VYDE2
Smashwords: https://www.smashwords.com/books/view/355941

Posted in Fiction Writing, Writing Craft | Tagged: , , , , , , | 5 Comments »

Creating Mood

Posted by Nancy J. Cohen on August 23, 2013

Word choices are important when creating mood. Next time you read a scary story, look at the particular descriptive words the author uses. It takes work to get these right. Now let’s see how I put this to work for me. Here is my original paragraph:

Outside, I locked up and then turned toward the street. My shoes clicked on the pavement as I strolled down the sidewalk toward the parking lot. Overhanging branches shadowed the walls like skeletal limbs, blocking the light from street lamps. Crickets chirped their nightly chorus, nearly drowning the muted traffic sounds from Lake Avenue. Even that thoroughfare had quieted for the weekend.

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What’s wrong with this? “Crickets chirped” brightens the mood when I want this to description to raise tension. So here is version number two:

Outside, I locked up and then turned toward the street. My shoes clicked on the pavement as I strolled down the sidewalk toward the parking lot. Overhanging branches shadowed the walls like skeletal limbs, blocking the light from street lamps. The low, steady thrum of crickets nearly drowned the muted traffic sounds from Lake Avenue. Even that thoroughfare had quieted for the weekend.

tree branches

Oops. Lake Avenue is a bustling town center with restaurants that would be lively on a weekend evening, so it wouldn’t be quiet on a Sunday. Better delete that line. I don’t quite like the muted traffic sounds, either. This line should add to the suspense. Here is my final version along with the next couple of lines. Tell me what you think:

woman alone

Outside, I locked up and then turned toward the street. My shoes clicked on the pavement as I strolled down the sidewalk toward the parking lot. Overhanging branches shadowed the walls like skeletal limbs and blocked the light from street lamps. The low, steady thrum of crickets pulsed in the autumn air like a single-minded creature hidden in the shrubs.

A car engine idled nearby. I glanced over my shoulder, my nape prickling.

None of the cars parked along the curb had any lights on. I didn’t see anyone sitting in them, but somebody had started a motor within hearing distance.

The sensation grew that I was being watched, and goose bumps rose on my arms. My breath came short as my pulse rate rocketed.

I picked up speed, eager to reach my car. My foot banged against an uneven edge of pavement. I stumbled but regained my balance and hurried on. I’d just passed Elhambra’s Mystical Emporium when a roar sounded in my ears.

I whipped around. A pair of headlights lunged at me.

headlights

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This is a work in progress, so your suggestions are welcome. My advice is to write the story as it comes out and worry about nitpicking the word choices later. It’s easier to fix what’s already on the page. If you get too hung up with your pages being perfect, you’ll never progress. Write that first draft and then go back to polish.

Posted in The Writing Life, Writing Craft | Tagged: , , , , , , | 16 Comments »

What are Copyedits?

Posted by Nancy J. Cohen on July 24, 2013

What’s the difference between line editing and copy editing? After your work gets accepted by a publishing house, your story editor will comb through it line by line looking for problems in structure, pacing, continuity, and logic. She’ll ask questions in the margins, make deletions, add lines where appropriate, and suggest improvements to some scenes.

So what does a copyeditor do that is different? This skilled editor focuses on grammar, punctuation, and spelling, as well as providing another set of eyes to detect omissions and errors. A word of advice—don’t use colons or semicolons as they may translate into peculiar characters during digital conversion. Consider an emdash instead. The same warning applies for the ampersand sign. Type out the word “and”.

After you polish your work umpteen times, you’ll have to suffer through three more reads for your story editor, copyeditor, and page proofs. And believe me, you will need each pass-through. I always find things to correct, no matter how many times I polish my stories.

Having just finished the latest set of copyedits for Hanging by a Hair, #11 in the Bad Hair Day Mysteries, I’d like to share what I learned. This time, I wrote the changes in a file I’m calling Style Sheet for this particular publisher. Keep in mind that each publishing house will differ in how they like things done. I’m not talking about fonts and line spacing. You can find that info in their submission guidelines. So what do I mean? Let’s take a look at my notes.

Remember when you used to please your teacher back in your school days? Each editor has his or her pet peeves. Learn them.

woman computer

Here are some preferences for my story editor:

Use he said/she said instead of too many action character tags. [Note: my other publisher prefers just the reverse.]

Don’t use “her eyes rounded/bulged/widened” unless your character is looking at someone else. Or say, she felt her eyes widen. [I don’t particularly agree with this, but hey, I aim to please.]

Be wary of making the amateur sleuth appear too nosy.

Avoid phrases like sounds “infiltrated her ears.” Use “she heard.”

Watch “his eyes glittered, blazed, darkened,” and let the dialogue speak for itself instead.

Don’t use Publix or Home Depot. Use supermarket or hardware store.

writer pencil

Now along comes the copyeditor. What sorts of things does she point out?

Capitalize wine types, i.e. Chardonnay [Again, another publisher might not do this.]
It’s a to-do list, not a To-Do list.
Sink into her bed, not onto her bed.
Seasons are not capitalized, i.e. fresh scent of spring, not Spring.
It’s caller I.D., not Caller I.D.
Uh-oh, not Uh, oh. [Again, my other publisher would do it the second way.]

These should be one word rather than two words or hyphenated:
Babysit, Checkout time, Coffeemaker, Doorbell, Doorknob, Fairyland, Hairbrush, Kindhearted, Lampposts, Midair, Peephole, Semisweet, Signposts, Timepiece, Townhouse, Windowsill, Workhorse, Wristwatch.

This should be hyphenated:
Bang-up job, Blow-dried her customer’s hair, Blow-out (as in, cut and blow-out), Boarded-up opening, Bottled-up rage, Cobalt-blue, Community-minded, Cross-referencing, Crime-solving skills, Class-action lawsuit, Crowd-buster, Deep-set eyes, First-timer, Freeze-dried foods, Going-away party, Good-quality wood, Hang-ups, Hard-boiled eggs, Heavy-duty belt, Heavy-set guy, High-rise, Higher-paying, Hurricane-force life, Hurricane-impact windows, Kettle-shaped clock, King-size bed, Last-minute problems, Late-afternoon air, Less-traveled, Lesser-known, Loose-fitting, Miles-long trail, Much-needed break, Next-door neighbor, Non-profit, Older-era movie star, Open-air entertainment, Orange-colored sport coat, Pet-grooming service, Plus-size lady, Put-down (as in, giving a put-down), Ranch-style house, Red-painted fingernails, Second-degree misdemeanor, Second-floor balcony, Short-staffed, Shoulder-length, Somber-faced, Stick-straight hair, Strike-out (as in, another strike-out), Thank-you notes, Three-tiered confection, Wheat-colored hair, Work-related, Wood-planked dance floor.

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I’ve printed these out so I can keep them by my side during subsequent drafts or revisions. It helps to know how your publishing house likes things done. You can disagree with suggested changes if they would alter your voice. Plus sometimes copy editors make mistakes. When this happens, point out that the original way stands and perhaps include evidence. For example, one copy editor once changed I-95 to Interstate Ninety-Five. I pointed out that no one here refers to it that way. I-95 stood its ground. In another case, the editor misspelled the name of a car model. I sent back a copy of an ad with the correct spelling. For the most part, though, by making many of these desired word or phrase choices early on, you’ll both be happier.

Posted in The Writing Life, Writing Craft | Tagged: , , , , , , , | 48 Comments »

Determining Theme in Novel Writing

Posted by Nancy J. Cohen on July 15, 2013

Do you know your story’s theme before you begin writing? Many writing coaches will advise you to figure this out ahead of time and work symbolism into your story as you write. But what if you don’t have a clue as to what your theme should be? Sometimes the theme only becomes evident later, after you’ve completed the book. At that stage, a wise observer might point out that you’ve naturally incorporated symbolism into your story.

The point is not to worry about this analytical part of writing if you’d rather write your book in the heat of the moment.

writing

I’ve never set out to craft a story knowing my theme ahead of time. I’ll write a synopsis in my initial stage and do some character development, but heavy analysis would stop me dead. I need to let the story unravel, even though I know where it’s going. Thematic elements are there. I might not have recognized them yet.

Ask yourself this question after you’ve penned a few novels: What are your stories about? What is the core message that comes across? I’ve realized many of my works are about redemption. My heroine sleuth, Marla Shore, seeks to redeem herself for a past mistake. The first Bad Hair Day mystery, Permed to Death, reveals her sense of guilt and what she’s done to assuage it. Guilt is a great motivator. The theme of redemption is also evident in some of my romances where characters seek to redeem their self-respect or reputations.

coverPTD

But is that my only theme? Recently I’ve begun using the self-editing software mentioned below in a previous blog. I have been eliminating repetitive words within my manuscripts. One of my favored words is “just.” This word can also be found in “adjusted” and “justice.” Whoa. Justice?

justice scales

In Died Blonde, Marla goes to Cassadaga, FL and gets a reading from a certified medium. This spiritualist tells Marla the following:

The medium’s eyelids fluttered. “Right now, you’re obsessed with completing your task. You feel the need to pursue justice. Learning the truth will bring you peace.”

A chill captured Marla all the way to her toes. She’d pronounced similar words as part of her Bat Mitzvah speech: Justice, Justice, Shall You Pursue. How could they form on Hazel’s lips?

“Treat yourself fairly as you would treat others,” the medium explained. “Accept who you are, and you’ll find the power within you to move forward. Above all, don’t give up. The truth is just around the horizon.”

coverDBmm

These words become Marla’s mantra throughout the series. She seeks truth and justice.

Warrior Lord, book 3 in my paranormal Drift Lords series, also deals with this theme. Lord Magnor has been unjustly accused of a crime. Ditto the hero, a wanted fugitive, in Silver Serenade. Is the pursuit of justice another one of my themes? I believe so, and it’s one I’ve only now realized.

One of my favorite book series is Terry Goodkind’s Sword of Truth fantasy series. Why? Because Richard Rahl, the protagonist, is the Seeker of Truth. Richard seeks the truth in all matters, as does his love Kahlan, the Mother Confessor. Once under her spell, no one can lie. If you’re not into the books, check out the TV series Legend of the Seeker for swashbuckling adventure, fantasy, and romance.

Seeker

I didn’t set out to write about this theme, but there it is. So, too, might your theme reveal itself in your body of work.

Do you determine your theme ahead of time? What is your core message?

 

 

Posted in The Writing Life, Writing Craft | Tagged: , , , , , , | 20 Comments »

Self-Editing Software

Posted by Nancy J. Cohen on July 2, 2013

Recently I did a second read-through of Warrior Lord, #3 in the Drift Lords series. I’d already done a pass for line editing, so I hoped this one would be my last in a sweep for smoothness and repetitions I might have missed. I ended up knocking off 17 pages worth of prose. Oh, no. Did this mean I’d have to read all 460 pages again? I’m too close to the story. It’ll have to be put aside for a month or more, and I’d lose valuable time when I could be submitting it.

While I pondered whether to consider submission now or not, I decided I’d better check for overusage of the word “just”, one of my favorite modifiers.

Uh, oh. I used the word “just” 135 times. This included such words as “adjusted” and “justice of the peace” so I ignored those instances. But on more than one page, I had used “just” twice.

Maybe there were more words like that one. I remembered bookmarking a site online that other authors recommended. It concerned a self-editing program for writers that would pick out problem areas like this, so I downloaded the free trial at http://www.smart-edit.com.

Whoa, my eyes popped at the results. The word “just” wasn’t my only debacle. I used “when” 256 times, “while” 182 times, “like” 235 times, “down” 210 times. Really? Even the word “forward” came up 82 times.

Clearly, more polishing was in order. The program analyzed my sentence starters. I begin sentences with “A” 227 times, “And” 110 times, and “But” 111 times. We all know lots of sentences start with “The”. Mine did so for 545 times. Oh, dear. I’d better pay more attention to varying my sentence structure. How did my earlier novels get by without this amazing software?

Then the program listed all the proper nouns used in the story. I discovered two different spellings for my hero’s homeworld: Agoora and Agora. I made that correction and moved on.

The software also listed all the curse words used in my story. Okay, I didn’t have very many and they weren’t that bad. They can stand, but if you want your work to be a PG rating, this task can be helpful.

It also points out clichés that you use. I didn’t realize I’d said “hands on” 11 times throughout the story. That might not seem like much for a 101,763 word novel, but I hadn’t realized I favored the phrase—as in the heroine puts her “hands on” her hips too many times. Fortunately, I didn’t have too many clichés and some I’d written on purpose so those other ones were okay to leave in.

Next up in the program comes misused words, such as accept/except, anxious/eager, any more/anymore. Hmm, would she be anxious for his approval, or eager for it?

Your dialogue tags don’t escape scrutiny, either. I used “said” 150 times and “asked” 54 times. There are occasions where a character bellows or shouts, but a singular usage in this instance might be acceptable. I’ll take another look to see if the dialogue can stand by itself.

Finally, suspect punctuation like exclamation marks are pointed out along with the story locations where you use them.

Amazed by the value of this program, I decided to sweep it by the non-Marla mystery I’ve been working on. Oh, my. Did I realize I’d used the phrase “my cell phone” 23 times in this 67,000 word manuscript? Yes, the program checks for repeated phrases along with repeated words. Speaking of the latter, favored words in this story were “could”, “like”, “didn’t”, and “time,” among others.

“Hands on” is another favorite cliché of mine is this story, too. I’d better watch out for that phrase hereafter.

Regarding punctuation, I had an extra space before an emdash. Imagine that?

I only ran the free trial for this program. The fully realized version allows you to set customized parameters. For $49.95, you can buy a license to use the program on your desktop and laptop computers running Windows. I don’t have any writing or story construction software, but this program seems essential. You might want to give it a try for yourself. http://www.smart-edit.com

Now I have more work to do. The book I thought was finished is not done. I had not polished it to perfection as I’d thought. My editor will have to wait weeks more for me to turn in this manuscript, but it’s a service to readers to make it the best it can be.

What writing tools do you use that may be helpful to other writers?

Posted in The Writing Life, Writing Craft | Tagged: , , , , , , , | 44 Comments »

 
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