Nancy's Notes From Florida

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

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Posts Tagged ‘writing’

Plotting Murder Among Friends

Posted by Nancy J. Cohen on February 25, 2014

Join our imaginary conversation in a restaurant between two mystery writer friends:

Coffee Cup

Writer A: “I need to kill somebody while they’re getting a facial.”

Writer B: “How are you gonna do it?”

Writer A: “I’d like to use poison.”

Writer B: “You can’t involve the beautician. That would be too obvious.”

Writer A: “I know. What if my victim has one of those mud masks applied, and she has to lie there with a towel on her face for ten minutes or so? The beautician might leave for a few moments, at which time somebody can come in and smother the woman?”

Writer B: “Smothering works, but it doesn’t use poison. What if the killer taints the mud instead?”

Writer A: “Then the beautician would have to wear gloves when applying it so she wouldn’t be affected.”

Writer B: “How long do you want the victim to take to die? You’ll need the poison to be fast acting if she’s dead when the aesthetician returns.”

Writer A: “Yes, it should be quick. I have a book on poisons at home. And I don’t want it to be immediately evident to the cops that the woman died from unnatural causes.”

Strange Male Voice: “Are you talking about us, ma’am?”

Writer A and B glance up. Two policemen are standing by their table.

Cop A: “You’ll need to come to the station, miss. The customer in the next booth says you’re planning a murder.”

Writer A glances at their nosy neighbor. “We’re mystery writers. I’m talking about my next book, Fatality by Facial. Here, have a bookmark.”

Cop B: “No kidding? You know, I’ve always wanted to write a mystery. How do you get published? Do I need an agent?”

Writer A and B abruptly get up, pay their tab, and leave after exchanging bemused glances.

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So if you were the plotting partner, how would you suggest doing the deed?

Posted in Fiction Writing, The Writing Life, Writing Craft | Tagged: , , , , | 6 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 »

Small Press Does Not Mean Small Editing

Posted by Nancy J. Cohen on January 2, 2014

Small Press Does Not Mean Small Editing by Victoria Pinder

I started out my writing journey and went to RWA Nationals after finishing my first novel. I learned my writing sucked. I tried to fix it, but I’ve never sold those earlier books. To me, life is about growing and moving forward. I wrote more and decided that I had enough of waiting a few years with nothing happening. I decided to self-pub, and I chose a faux name writing as Greta Buckle. Victoria, my name, was reserved for traditional publishing. Then I discovered self-publishing wasn’t the only alternative path. Small press was another viable option.

It’s a relief to go small. And I’m glad I chose this route.   Mything You

I paid someone to edit Mything You. I love the story, but that editing wasn’t nearly as brutal as the Zoastra Affair. I rewrote that novel so many times my head spins. My editor corrected me on so much that my writing will never be the same. The growth and care I received from Soul Mate Publishing is something I’m grateful for experiencing. These were real editors who told me I needed to work on my craft, and I wasn’t paying for their services. If my editor said “rewrite,” I had no choice. I had to think deeper. Change. Say yes.

And I couldn’t ignore it.

Publishing is a business. Amazon is so profiting off indie authors, and Amazon cares more about Amazon than it does me. Play the game and play it well. But let’s not forget there are people out there also looking to make money WHILE publishing a good book that is not Amazon. I’ve learned more from editing than I did in a year of independent publishing. And I can focus on writing, not everything else it takes until the media giant takes 100% of all profits.

Small Publishers can answer the phone, and listen and help. Publishing is a business and it’s not all about you controlling everything. What are you willing to trade? I want my time to write. Don’t jump into one type of publishing because it’s easier than the other. There are pros and cons to everything. With publishers, there is time to write.

The Zoastra Affair
, December 2013, Soul Mate Publishing
Chaperoning Paris, 2014, Soul Mate Publishing
Borrowing the Doctor, 2014, Soul Mate Publishing
Mything the Throne, 2014, Double Dragon ebooks.
Electing Love, 2014, Soul Mate Publishing

And more books are out there at the moment.

I’ve created a list of small press and e-publishers from a variety of sources. I’ve put it on my site, as a tribute to Nancy’s awesomeness. Go here: http://victoriapinder.com/?page_id=1411

Oh, and special thanks to Nancy Cohen. She’s the newly elected President of Florida Chapter Mystery Writers of America as well as Vice President of Communications for Florida Romance Writers. I just chose to be Vice President of Programs for FRW, and I can’t imagine where she has the time. But besides all that, she’s a good person with a positive attitude. She’s one of the people I’m most thankful for in real life for knowing. She’s amazing.

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The Zoastra Affair by Victoria Pinder   The Zoastra Affair
Published by Soul Mate Publishing
Science Fiction Romance

YouTube Trailer:
http://youtu.be/Buah-LGT4tA

Blurb:

A hundred years from now, Earth is a trading partner with alien beings, mostly humanoid. However, going into space brought forth an unknown enemy who attacks Earth at will.

The Zoastra are part of the Earthseekers, an organization originally designed to go into space. Its new mission is to find Earth’s enemies.

Ariel is stuck on a Victorian planet and steals Grace’s body and life to get off the planet. Grace must get her body back before Ariel bonds with Grace’s husband, Peter. Then there is Cross, the man on a mission to find those who killed his family. Ariel is attracted to Cross, but she’s stolen someone’s life.

Excerpt:

 I’m going to have to steal someone else’s body to get out of here.

“Ariel, are you listening?”

Ariel Transcender stared dumbfounded at the mother superior of her prison, a/k/a Aulnale School for Orphans. “Yes, mistress.”

She had no idea what happened, though she pasted a fake simpering smile of appreciation on her face. Ms. Rochelle walked away.

A few minutes later, Ariel looked out the window again, tuning out Rochelle’s mind numbing lecture on what was proper behavior when near a man. The boarding home on this planet gave the stupidest lectures of the galaxy. Her lips curled into a sneer. Women were not excited to be bound to men.

Could I do this to someone else? Do I have any other choice?

Lenchena, the teenage girl who’d stolen her adult body and taken off on Ariel’s ship, needed to be found. And Ariel refused to listen to the daily drivel about always listening to a man.

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About the Author:

clip_image004Victoria Pinder grew up in Irish Catholic Boston before moving to the Miami sun. She’s worked in engineering, after passing many tests proving how easy Math came to her. Then hating her life at the age of twenty four, she decided to go to law school. Four years later, after passing the bar and practicing very little, she realized that she hates the practice of law. She refused to one day turn 50 and realize she had nothing but her career and hours at a desk. After realizing she needed change, she became a high school teacher. Teaching is rewarding, but writing is a passion.

During all this time, she always wrote stories to entertain herself or calm down. Her parents are practical minded people demanding a job, and Victoria spent too many years living other people’s dreams, but when she sat down to see what skill she had that matched what she enjoyed doing, writing became so obvious. The middle school year book when someone wrote in it that one day she’d be a writer made sense when she turned thirty.

When she woke up to what she wanted, the dream of writing became so obvious. She dreams of writing professionally, where her barista can make her coffee and a walk on the beach can motivate her tales. Contemporary romances are just fun to write. She’s always thinking who’s getting hurt and whose story is next on the list to fall in love. Victoria’s love of writing has kept her centered and focused through her many phases, and she’s motivated to write many stories.

Member of Florida Romance Writers; Contemporary Romance; Fantasy, Futuristic and Paranormal chapter of RWA; and Savvy Authors.

Visit Victoria online at:

Website: http://www.victoriapinder.com
Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/pages/Victoria-Pinder-also-writing-as-Greta-Buckle/294685373900979
Twitter: http://twitter.com/victoriapinder
Tumblr: victoriapinder.tumblr.com
Pinterest: http://pinterest.com/victoriapinder/
Linkedin: http://www.linkedin.com/profile/view?id=200859737&trk=hb_tab_pro_top
Google+ https://plus.google.com/105161432419802350109/posts/p/pub

Posted in Business of Writing, Self-Publishing, The Writing Life | Tagged: , , , , , , , | 3 Comments »

Creating a Timeline

Posted by Nancy J. Cohen on October 1, 2013

How do you map your protagonist’s family tree? Who are your characters’ relatives? What are their birthdays? And how much should they age from book to book if you’re writing a series?

Creating a Timeline is crucial to a series. Keeping records of your recurrent characters in this regard is essential. Currently I’m beginning work on my next Bad Hair Day mystery, tentatively titled Peril by Ponytail. Marla and Dalton take a delayed honeymoon to an Arizona dude ranch owned by his cousin, Wayne Campbell.

Well, guess what? Other than Dalton’s parents and teenage daughter, we haven’t mentioned his family members before. Suddenly I’m at a loss as to his family tree.

Family Tree

Not so with Marla. I created her family tree for Dead Roots, when Marla and Dalton spent Thanksgiving weekend with her extended family at a haunted Florida resort. Where can I find this record? With a sense of urgency, I searched my computer files. Nope, not there. So I pulled out my notebook for that particular title. I breathed a sigh of relief when I discoverd a handwritten diagram of Marla’s family tree. With newer technology at hand, I scanned this paper into a file so it doesn’t get lost.

Marla Family

Thank goodness I have extensive notebooks for each title. What I keep in them is subject for another blog, but suffice it to say that I have lots of rich material on character backgrounds, research notes and articles, and more.

Now I have to create Dalton’s family tree. I know his age and birthday and how it’s progressed from book to book because I write it down for each volume. Ditto for his daughter and what grade she’s in. When his parents came into the picture, they got added, too. But who else is there? How is cousin Wayne related to him?

I’ll need to work on this by drawing out his family tree. I don’t know how to do it on the computer without accessing complicated programs, and they’ll take too much time to learn. But considering my experience, here are some items you might want to add to your notes for each book you write and/or for your overall series bible. The timeline can include:

  1. Birthdays
  2. Time of Year each book takes place, i.e. Season and Month
  3. Day to Day Progression of Plot per story title
  4. Family Trees
  5. Proper Names. This might be a separate file or you can put them here. This means the name of your person’s housing development, favorite restaurants, type of cars people drive, pet’s names, etc.
  6. Maps of the town or neighborhood where your character lives and works
  7. Diagrams of a particular locale. Here is Sugar Crest Resort from Dead Roots.

resort map

Your needs may differ with each book as to what your timeline requires. Peril by Ponytail is the twelfth book in my series, and yet I’ve not had to create Dalton’s family tree before. So what you need for one volume might not apply to another. Whatever you do, make sure you record the material in print and on your computer files. Back it up so you don’t lose it. If I hadn’t found Marla’s family tree in that notebook, I would have been at a loss should I need it again.

So stay attuned to your timelines when plotting your story and lay down the necessary groundwork. And now, tell the rest of us what else we might  include in our Timeline folder.

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

Discovering Your Story

Posted by Nancy J. Cohen on March 21, 2013

Plotting your story can’t take place until you have an idea of issues you want to explore, setting, and character. Before you take pen to paper, you engage in the stage of Discovery. What does this mean?

Normally when planning a mystery, I start with the victim. Once the dead guy makes himself known, I create the suspects around him. Who had reason to want this person dead? What do they stand to gain? Who are the vic’s friends, business associates, and relatives? What secrets are they hiding? What issues are involved? Then I begin to explore possible motives. My research branches out, sometimes in new and interesting directions. Different elements swirl in my head, seep into my subconscious, and brew together until the plot pops out. Usually at this point, I can sit and write the entire synopsis.

But in researching my next mystery, I find myself going in a new direction totally. My characters will be transplanted from their normal Florida suburb to a ranch vacation in Arizona. I’m pondering a story that’s more an adventure than a whodunit, and the more fascinating items I research, the more excited I am getting. Copper mines, water resources, cattle ranches, ghost towns, haunted hotels, train rides…oh, my. A research trip is definitely required.

miner   ghost town

So far my notes are confined to Internet research but the various issues are becoming clarified. I am beginning to see what is possible and what may be implausible. These determinations will help when I debate my characters’ secrets and motives. I’m driven to discover more, to uncover additional tidbits that might influence my developing story. And I’m wondering if my readers will like reading more of an adventure or if I should stick to a traditional whodunit.

Or maybe this is all a pipe dream and these elements belong elsewhere, not with my series. But I’m excited for my happy couple to meet new challenges in a different location. Every few books in a series, when the setting gets to be same old, same old, you need to transplant your protagonists somewhere new for variety.

Sufficient time must be allotted for this discovery process. Plotting, research, and exploration are part of the pre-writing mode. Never feel guilty that you are not actually writing. You have to get it right, and only by digging into all the possibilities can you offer new material for the reader.

I am uncertain where I will go with this information I’m collecting. Maybe I’ll throw it all out and plot a traditional murder mystery. Or maybe I’ll go with the flow and drop my characters into a morass involving disputes over water resources, mining rights, ghost towns, and more. What do you think?

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

Florida Writers Groups

Posted by Nancy J. Cohen on February 27, 2013

If you are a writer living in Florida, you are lucky to have so many writing organizations to join. You need not worry about working in a vacuum. So if you reside near any of these sites, check them out and consider attending a meeting or two. Many of them also hold conferences so be on the lookout for news and announcements that will help you further your writing career.

FL Chapters of RWA

Ancient City Romance Writers
St. Augustine

Central Florida Romance Writers
Orlando

First Coast Romance Writers
Jacksonville

Florida Panhandle Romance Writers
Tallahassee

Florida Romance Writers, Inc.
Miami/Ft. Lauderdale/Palm Beach

Southwest Florida Romance Writers
Naples/Estero/Fort Myers

SpacecoasT Authors Of Romance
Melbourne

Sunshine State Romance Authors
Homosassa

Tampa Area Romance Authors
Tampa

Volusia County Romance Writers
Lake Helen

Florida Writers Groups

Florida Writers Association

Mystery Writers of America, FL Chapter

South Florida Writer’s Association
Miami

Space Coast Writers Guild
Melbourne

Treasure Coast Writers Guild
Fort Pierce

Writer’s Network of South Florida

Posted in Business of Writing, Florida Musings | Tagged: , , , , , | 4 Comments »

Writing the Military Hero

Posted by Nancy J. Cohen on February 10, 2013

Have you ever thought about writing a military hero into your story?

If so, be sure to get your facts and lingo straight. At a recent Florida Romance Writers meeting, we had the good fortune to have as guest speaker a Navy Captain and the brother of one of our members. Let’s call him Captain X for the sake of anonymity to respect his privacy. His experience includes flying helicopters, missions over Iraq, and special ops support.     soldier

He explained (Disclaimer: All comments are subject to my interpretation) that Special Forces means U.S. Army and Special Operations Forces (SOF) refers to any service. In general, these guys are professionals, fairly introverted with quiet personalities, and very patriotic. Rogue agents like you see in the movies probably would be “PNG-ed” or deemed “persona non grata” in reality. A QRF refers to Quick Reaction Force. These are the guys who stand by in case “things go sideways.”

Captain X mentioned how you don’t really know how you’ll react until you are actually under fire. A brave man faces his fears and chooses to overcome them.

The Captain talked about Iraq and how he’d rather be there in the summer because it’s too hot for the bugs to come out. It rains in the winter and the powdery sand becomes like mucilage. Some of the wildlife includes camel spiders (“as big as a dessert plate”), no-see-ums, mice, and scorpions.

His helicopter had two pilots, two gunners, and a medic. He wore armor and a helmet with a boom mike. He says they never use the word “gun” but call it a “weapon” instead. They refer to members of the military as “teeth or tail”, i.e. going to war or staying behind. He says they are careful not to cause collateral damage in terms of injuring civilians. They’re allowed to say No to a mission if they deem it to be too dangerous in this regard.

This was reassuring to me. It’s nice to know our military officers’ opinions are respected and they’re not expected to blindly follow orders, the excuse for too many atrocities in the past. At least, this is one officer who makes conscientious decisions based on the information available. I hope there are many others like him out there.

Captain X also mentioned his deep respect for Vietnam Veterans, and from his personal experience, they are as brave and honorable as anyone who ever wore the uniform.

And if anyone wishes to support the service, please consider the Wounded Warrior foundations.

The writing lesson learned is to be true to the lingo if you write a military hero. Captain X’s talk was peppered with colorful language that probably wasn’t as bad as it is in reality. Honor is still important, and so is bravery. And when your hero raises his rifle, it’s a weapon, not a gun. Or better still, it’s a specific model weapon. So just as cops and other folks in our books have their own jargon, so do the military. Get it right.

My hairdresser sleuth has a particular way she looks at things. How about your characters? What occupations have you researched for accuracy?

Posted in The Writing Life, Writing Craft | Tagged: , , , , , , , | 12 Comments »

CSI Investigations

Posted by Nancy J. Cohen on January 22, 2013

At a recent meeting of MWA Florida, we heard a CSI investigator from North Miami PD speak about her experiences. “Our day begins when yours ends,” she quipped. A beautiful woman who is married with five children, she could be a TV star of her own show. She proceeded to differentiate what’s real and what isn’t from what we see on television. The “CSI Effect” is what people expect from watching these shows, like immediate test results. That isn’t what happens in reality when it might take years. However, these dramas are good for bringing attention to an underfunded field. Private labs might produce quicker results, but she’s not allowed to use them for legal reasons.  magnifier

Why doesn’t she drive a Hummer? This is one of the questions she’s been asked. She drives a van because it’s large enough to hold her equipment and has storage space. She never parks in front of a business unless she’s on a case because that would drive customers away.

DNA testing can take months. Florida is number one for the best hits on CODIS (Combined DNA Index System). You must have been arrested to be on this database. In Miami, they have one year from date of entry to make a hit with a suspect. Otherwise, the statute of limitations runs out. Two types of DNA concern them: Mitochondrial and Nuclear. The latter contains a cell’s nucleus and goes back to a single source while the genetic pool is larger for the former type of DNA.

IAFIS (Integrated Automated Fingerprint Identification System) is fingerprint storage and retrieval. Usually it’s the latent examiner who makes the hit, although this can be subjective. Prints come from people who’ve been arrested. Other sources for prints can be places like jobs that require them, immigration, etc.

Five manners of death exist:

Homicide
Suicide
Accident
Natural (over 80%)
Undetermined

She says investigators specialize in certain areas, and the science and technology are constantly changing. They look for signs of foul play. For example, if you are sick or injured, you may curl on your bed into fetal position. You don’t lie prone in a closet, where a body was found. It was later determined he died from a broken neck. A migrant worker renovating the house was guilty of murder.

With Live Scan, ink isn’t used for fingerprinting. The old method often resulted in operator error—too much or too little ink, not rolling the prints properly. There are 150 points of identification on each finger. Patterns can be a loop, arch, or whorl or a combination therein. Footprints have similar characteristics. Fingerprints develop at 7 months in the womb. Changes may occur with scarring, like musicians who grow calluses. How long do prints remain on the scene? Forever, unless they are removed.

They give every case a name, like the Lemon Case where a guy supposedly fell on his knife when paring fruit. She’ll look in the kitchen, in the garbage for clues. It turned out the man’s girlfriend stabbed him, and friends helped her cover it up. But they neglected to erase the footwear impression where someone had stepped on the knife.

As a mystery writer, it’s important to get the facts straight. We can’t rely on what we watch on TV.

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Disclaimer: These are my notes and they are subject to my interpretation. Any errors are not intentional.

Posted in Business of Writing, The Writing Life | Tagged: , , , , , , | 11 Comments »

32 Self-Editing Tips for Writers

Posted by Nancy J. Cohen on January 10, 2013

32 Self-Editing Tips for Writers by Nancy J. Cohen

Periodically, I’ll post these self-editing tips after updating them. I am involved in my own revisions at the moment for Warrior Lord, book #3 in my Drift Lords series. This means two read-throughs. The first round is for line editing and catching repetitions. The second round is to read for smoothness, final word tweaks, and consistency. Then I’ll send it in.
woman computer
When I get the marked up version from my editor back, I am always appalled at the number of things I still want to change. This proves revisions are never done. You have to call a halt when you feel you’ve done your best. So what should you do during your self-edits? Use these rules as a guideline.

Have an identifiable main character. With multiple viewpoints, you run the risk of detaching your reader unless you go into deep viewpoint with each switch. Have one main character with whom we can identify and cheer on, otherwise why should we care what happens?

Make your protagonist likeable. Have you watched TV shows where none of the people appeal to you? Would you continue watching it? Even if you employ an anti-hero in your story, give him a reason for his anti-social behavior. He has to be redeemable or sympathetic in some way.

Motivate your characters with clear goals. If they don’t care what’s happening, why should your reader? Make sure your character’s goals are obvious up front. Why is this important to him? What is he doing to make it happen? What’s stopping him? What stakes are involved?

Invest your characters with attitude to give them a distinctive personality.
NO: I’m fine, thanks. YES: You really wanna know? OR: It’s none of your business, dude.

Keep description within the viewpoint of your character
. Similes and metaphors should be within her frame of reference. Hairdresser: as limp as a strand of shampooed hair. Or: as tight as a newly permed curl.

When you’re in deep viewpoint, use pronouns rather than the character’s name. Keep viewpoints distinctive. Use a new paragraph with a space break when you switch heads.

Avoid flashbacks and backstory. This is probably the most common mistake of newbie writers. Leave the past in the past unless it’s important for your current story. Keep the action moving forward. Drop in backstory into dialogue or relate it in brief thoughts during action scenes. Less is better. There’s nothing faster that will disengage your reader and kill the pacing than long passages of backstory or flashbacks suddenly inserted into the middle of a scene.

Show, don’t tell.
Show me your character’s emotions. Don’t tell me about them, or I won’t be engaged as a reader. NO: She felt afraid. YES: Ice gripped her heart. NO: He was angry. YES: He slammed his fist into the door. Physical reactions and nonverbal clues indicate emotions. Without these, you’ve written a cardboard character who I can’t relate to as a reader. Also, don’t have the hero only perform action stunts and hold terse dialogues. Show me how he reacts internally. Introspection is important to helping us relate to him, although paragraph after paragraph of angst can get tiring. Just don’t leave it out or I won’t get a feel for him as a person.

Dialogue should have a purpose. Conversations should advance the plot or reveal character. Know going into a scene what you mean to reveal. If your characters are aimlessly yakking about their love lives or what they’re cooking for dinner, cut the conversation. Don’t ramble. Have a snappy conversation filled with innuendos and hidden meanings. And remember to include your protagonist’s emotional reactions. Also, don’t overuse dialects. Sprinkle in some foreign or slang terms to give the flavor without making sentences hard to pronounce.

Beware of talking heads.
Lines of dialogue need to be broken up by character tags, such as sensory descriptions or action. Remember to include emotional reactions and introspection so we can see what’s preying on your character’s mind.

Eliminate most substitutes for said along with adverbs that describes speech. NO: I love it, he chortled merrily. YES: I love it, he said with a chuckle.

Replace he/she said with character tags. Use action as an identifier and bring in the five senses whenever possible. NO: “I suppose you’re right,” she said. YES: “I agree.” Her nape prickled as though Grace’s words had prophetic power.

Avoid long paragraphs of exposition. Show us the scene unfolding from the character’s viewpoint. Otherwise, do these passages really need to be there? Make the reader feel what your hero feels. Don’t just tell us what’s going on.

Tighten your sentence structure by replacing phrases with precise words. NO: the light of the boat YES: the boat’s light NO: He ran down by the terrace and out toward the lake. YES: He sped past the terrace toward the lake.

Replace passive verbs with active tense. NO: The slaves were slain by lions. YES: Lions mauled the slaves. NO: His forehead was heated by the sun baking overhead. YES: The baking sun heated his brow.

Replace walked and went with a more visual word. She shuffled toward the door. He raced down the street. He sprinted across the yard.

Dangling Participles. Learn by example: NO: Glancing into the rearview mirror, her breath released upon noticing the coast was clear. YES: Glancing into the rearview mirror, she released a breath upon noticing the coast was clear.

Gerunds. Beware of ing phrases that are illogical. NO: Flinging the door wide, she stepped inside the darkened interior. YES: She flung the door wide and stepped inside the darkened interior.

Avoid weak phrases like seemed to, tried to, began to. NO: He seemed to want her input. YES: His smile encouraged her to speak. NO: She tried to tie the knot, but it slipped through her fingers. YES: As she fumbled with the knot, the rope slipped from her fingers. Also avoid unnecessary phrases such as she realized, she figured, he decided, he watched, he thought.

Be realistic about meal and work hours.

Avoid weak verbs: is, was, are, were, there was. NO: There was water on the window. YES: Water droplets beaded the window. NO: His pulse was racing. YES: His pulse raced.

Avoid negatives. NO: He would not wait any longer if she didn’t appear. YES: He’d leave if she failed to show up.

Delete redundancies. NO: sat down YES: sat NO: He thought to himself YES: He thought. BETTER: eliminate he thought if you’re in his viewpoint.

Check for repetitions: Most of us subconsciously overuse a favorite word. Be alert for these when you read through your manuscript. (I just counted how many times I use the word “just” here, and it’s 9 times. I’m guilty!) Avoid the same phrases or words in consecutive pages. Watch out for repeats of the same information in conversations or in a person’s thoughts.

Eliminate the word “that” where not needed.

Remove qualifiers that weaken your prose, such as: very, rather, quite, really, just, awfully. NO: I remembered that she was really nice. YES: I remembered how her smile lit the room. NO: It was very hot. YES: The heat made my skin itch.

Beware of flying body parts.NO: Her eyes flew across the room. YES: Her gaze flew across the room. NO: She threw her hands in the air. YES: She raised her arms.

Be specific: NO: She passed a clump of flowers. YES: She passed a clump of red tulips sprouting from the ground like supplicating hands. NO: It had been a hard day. YES: Her body sagged as though she’d run a marathon (cliché alert?).

Learn correct spelling and usage: their or they’re; it’s or its; lay or lie; you’re or your. This is fundamental, and there is no excuse for getting these wrong.

Use descriptive detail only when it enhances your story. Too much description can slow pacing and lose the reader’s interest. However, whenever you describe a scene, remember to use the five senses. If you want to engage the reader, include specific sensory details.

Avoid clichés like the plague. If you spot one during revisions, go back and replace it with something more original. NO: He wore a scowl like a cloak. YES: He wore a scowl like a seasoned samurai (and he’s Japanese, so this fits the frame of reference).

Go for strong endings at ends of sentences. Don’t end sentences on a preposition. NO: I didn’t know what he was waiting for. YES: I didn’t understand why he waited. NO: He stared in horrified dismay at her. YES: He stared at her in horrified dismay.

And speaking of strong endings, this concludes my self-editing tips. It helps if you put aside your work for several weeks after completing the initial draft. Coming back to it with a fresh perspective will allow you to catch things that might otherwise slip by. Working off a hard copy and reading dialogue aloud are other techniques to use. You want to polish your manuscript until it figuratively sparkles and then move on to the next story.

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Posted in The Writing Life, Writing Craft | Tagged: , , , , , , , | 46 Comments »

 
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