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

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Plotting Questions For Mystery Writers

Posted by Nancy J. Cohen on September 22, 2018

Your main goal in writing a mystery, or any kind of fictional work, is to create story questions in the reader’s mind. This creates suspense that you need to propel the story forward. Even as you are plotting the book, assuming you’re a plotter like me and not a pantser (figuring it out as you go), you need to keep asking yourself ongoing questions.

Plotting Questions

Let’s take a story I have in mind as an example. The setting is a historic house. Suspects may include the head docent, the owner or owner’s children, a board of trustees if they own the place, the gardener, café manager, and gift shop lady. Objects are being stolen from this house one at a time so the theft won’t be noticed. So here we come to several questions.

Why is someone stealing valuable objects?

The thief needs money. What for?

Gambling debts (a bingo addict? Horse races? Jai A’lai games? Illegal online gambling?)
Medical care (expensive medications for a hidden disease? Medical treatment for a loved one? Nursing home care for an aged relative?)
To pay back a loan or to pay blackmail money
Greed (he’s not getting paid enough)
To hide financial losses

Or the thief is stealing out of a sense of entitlement. The culprit feels these items should be rightfully his because the former owner (a distant relative?) swindled his father out of his inheritance. Or was his father cheated by a business partner, the former owner of the estate?

Note that you can assign one of these motives to each suspect without deciding which one is the killer. It’ll make them all seem guilty.

Next question would be: Who has access to the house? This could be any of the above named suspects, plus the cleaning staff, repairmen, or other minor players.

So the thief steals these items. How does he sell them? Does he go through a person acting as fence? If so, how did he gain this criminal connection? Has he been incarcerated, which is where he got the idea for thievery and learned these skills? Or maybe the culprit is a woman lonely for attention who’s been seduced by a bad boy?

What about security? Are the valuable items in locked display cases? Is there video monitoring, motion detectors, glass-break alarms? Or are the objects in plain sight in various rooms guarded by security personnel until closing time?

Now we come to the next big question. Who is killed and why? Did the victim witness the thief in action? Maybe he saw the crook hand off the item to his fence in exchange for a wad of cash. Or he stumbled into the culprit and the stolen object tumbled from the thief’s jacket onto the ground. Either way, this appears to be a crime of opportunity.

The sleuth finds the body. What is the means of murder? Where does she find the victim? Let’s say the sleuth also discovers one of the stolen items on the estate grounds. How does it get there? Did the thief mean to get rid of the evidence, or did the item fall from his pocket accidentally?

Now let’s turn everything around. Thefts have been taking place at this estate, and the suspects all seem to be hiding these secret motives we’ve discussed. But what if the victim’s death was premeditated? The autopsy reveals that this act was set in motion even before the day’s events began. He died from poison, not the knife wound. Plot twist! Now your sleuth has to reexamine all the motives, the access to the victim, and the specialized knowledge needed to commit the murder.

If you’re a mystery writer who likes to plan things out in advance, you need to answer all these questions before you begin writing the novel. You might be a pantser who starts with a story crisis and keeps writing, being surprised along the way. But as you can see, a plotter can be surprised as well when these plot twists pop up. I call this process story magic coming into play. The point is to keep asking questions. These same questions will plague your readers, and that creates suspense. When one issue is settled, you’ll need to raise more questions to keep the tension going throughout the book.

For more on this topic, see my previous posts on Writing the Mystery

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Bouchercon World Mystery Convention – Saturday

Posted by Nancy J. Cohen on September 17, 2018

On Saturday, I attended “It Takes a Village to Publish a Book” with various panelists at Bouchercon World Mystery Convention talking about what happens behind the scenes before a book gets published in terms of cover design, getting reviews, etc. It’s not something that can happen overnight with a traditional publisher. This is why it may take a year for your book to go from sale to publication.

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The next panel I attended was on Podcasts. This seemed to be more about producing your own podcast than how to get on one as a guest. It was interesting to hear why each podcast producer got started in the field and what their goals are for their audiences.

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The rest of the time I spent schmoozing with my fellow authors, hanging out in the bookroom, or pacing the corridors of the historic hotel. It was pleasing to meet fans and librarians as well as new writer friends, such as Marilyn Levinson, Neil Plakcy, and Diane A.S. Stuckart. Here’s Deborah Shlian with Joan Cochran and Diane Capri. Then we have Joanne Sinchuk and Sue Wilder from Murder on the Beach Mystery Bookstore. This last person in the photo wins the award for most unusual hairstyle.

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Murder on the Beach  hairdo

On our way home on Sunday, we stopped by Parkesdale Market in Plant City to buy loaves of their infamous strawberry bread plus other goodies. This is a fun stop along I-4 between Orlando and Tampa.

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See all my photos HERE.

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Sept. 1 – 18 Booklovers Bench Monthly Giveaway
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Sept. 17 – 26 Women Sleuths on Booksweeps

Enter Sept. 17 – 26 to win 30+ Women Sleuth Mysteries, including books from authors like Lisa Gardner and Laura Durham, along with FREE reads just for entering. You could also win a copy of MY book, Hair Brained. CLICK HERE TO ENTER

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Posted in Appearances, Conferences, Fiction Writing, Florida Musings, Food, The Writing Life | Tagged: , , , , | Leave a Comment »

Bouchercon World Mystery Convention – Friday

Posted by Nancy J. Cohen on September 15, 2018

Friday morning was the Sisters in Crime breakfast at Bouchercon World Mystery Convention. This is always a fun event where we learn what SinC is doing and how we can participate. Here I am with friends R.V. Reyes, Rick Wymer, Mary Lou Benvenutto, Harriet Ottenheimer, and Deborah Shlian, among others.

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Later, I attended a panel on Audiobooks, and it was interesting to hear the viewpoints of the panelists who were authors, narrators, and producers. I wished they’d discussed marketing for indie authors, but it wasn’t a topic brought up.

Then there was lunch with Lisa Scottoline who gave an inspiring and witty talk. Seated at my table were Olive Pollak and Suzanne Baginskie.

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Friday night was the most fun of all. Florida Chapter of MWA held a party for all its members in the area, and we had a great time reconnecting with friends and meeting some new people. The chapter Board did a great job organizing this event. Too many members to mention here, but you can check out our chapter at https://mwaflorida.org/

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See all my photos HERE. Coming next: Bouchercon Day 3

Sept. 1 – 18 Booklovers Bench Monthly Giveaway

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Enter Here to win a $25 Amazon/BN gift card at Booklover’s Bench.

Posted in Appearances, Business of Writing, Conferences, Fiction Writing, The Writing Life | Tagged: , , , , | Leave a Comment »

Bouchercon World Mystery Convention – Thursday

Posted by Nancy J. Cohen on September 14, 2018

I started off at the Bouchercon World Mystery Convention speaking on “The Business is Cozy” panel on Thursday morning. Fellow panelists were Cheryl Hollon, R.V. Reyes, and Jane Cleland with Emily Giglierano moderating. We had good attendance and numerous questions during the Q&A session.

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Earlier I had attended a panel on writing suspense. Don Bruns moderated. Here is a rundown of points learned:

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· The best suspense comes from character rather than action

· The “What’s Next?” question creates suspense. As writers, how do we delay this answer while drawing readers in?

· You have to include suspense in the first paragraph of your story. Raise questions for the reader right away.

· You draw readers in with your first question. You bring readers back with your last question.

· Don’t follow other people’s rules. What works best for them might not apply to you.

After lunch, I sat in on “Make ‘Em Laugh – Writing Humor.” The panelists discussed how murder isn’t funny, but characters can be. It’s their quirks and the situations they find themselves in that provide mirth.

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Of course, schmoozing is the real work at a conference. You go to see and be seen and to make new friends. In these photos, excluding me, from left to right: Cheryl Hollon, Victoria Landis, Rick Wymer, Mary Lou Benvenutto, Marlene Stringer, and Marty Ambrose. See all my photos HERE. Coming Next: Day 2 at Bouchercon

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Sept. 1 – 18 Booklovers Bench Monthly Giveaway

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Enter to win a $25 Amazon/BN gift card at Booklover’s Bench.

 

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St. Petersburg Florida

Posted by Nancy J. Cohen on September 12, 2018

We got into St. Petersburg, Florida on Wednesday Sept. 5. Unfortunately, I hadn’t booked the conference hotel which was already full when I registered for Bouchercon World Mystery Convention. Events took place at the historic Vinoy Renaissance by the bay. This distinctive structure faces a boat marina and a park on one side and Beach Drive at another end. Our hotel, the Hampton Inn, was on a side street from this main strip that hosts a plethora of restaurants and museums. The town is good for a few days stay with all there is to see and do. Here are shots of the Vinoy that was built in the 1920’s.

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It was a distinct disadvantage not staying there as we had to tip the valet at the Hampton Inn each time we needed the car. I got too hot walking the five to six blocks in ninety degree heat to the conference hotel while dressed up for the meeting. Once I left the Vinoy in the afternoon, I didn’t return. Daily thunderstorms and the intense heat prevented another long stroll. A shuttle ran between conference hotels, but only in the early morning and late afternoon. So I learned my lesson. Never stay off site again. However, we enjoyed St. Petersburg along Beach Drive even though we didn’t go farther into downtown.

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Dining adventures included Parkshore Grill where we had lunch on day one.

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We dined outside at Fresco’s on the first night.

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We met my former critique partner, Sharon Hartley, and her husband for dinner at Bella Brava.

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Richard and I enjoyed the early bird special at 400 Beach Seafood.

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I think I had more fun trying the different restaurants than anything else!

I skipped out on the conference on Saturday afternoon for a visit to the Museum of Fine Arts. This two-story building held many exhibits including sculptures, paintings, and valuable artifacts. I liked the clock exhibit. There’s a café and gift shop on the premises. Here are some of the items we viewed. More are in the album on my Facebook page.

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Coming Next: Bouchercon 2018

See all my photos HERE

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Enter to win a $25 Amazon/BN Gift Card at Booklover’s Bench

Posted in Conferences, Florida Musings, Food, That's Life, Travel | Tagged: , , , , , | 10 Comments »

Trimmed to Death – Midwest Book Review

Posted by Nancy J. Cohen on September 6, 2018

I am excited to share this review of Trimmed to Death from Midwest Book Review:

Trimmed to Death

Trimmed to Death is the 15th book in the cozy mystery ‘The Bad Hair Day’ series that profiles hairstylist/sleuth Marla Vail. One would think that, with such a long-standing series of adventures behind her, any newcomer to Marla’s world would at least need some degree of prior familiarity with the series, but no such expertise is required in order to delve into the world of South Florida and Marla’s endeavors to succeed.

In this latest story, Marla has entered a local charity bake-off contest at a Fall festival, and stumbles upon the dead body of fellow contestant Francine while she awaits the results. This sets off a chain of events in which Marla uncovers a host of food-related possible perps who each would have had a stake in Francine’s demise.

As Marla plans her own benefit to support a local historical museum, the threat of repeat deaths looms over her promotion plans for her salon and the community.

One reason why Nancy J. Cohen is an award-winning cozy mystery author is that her stories are packed with personality, upbeat scenarios, and the solid pairing of a murder mystery with broader community entanglements. In this story, Marla isn’t just a sole proprietor operating independent of her world; she’s thoroughly connected to the community through her salon and work.

Descriptions are thus nicely crafted and filled with atmosphere and detail that bring Marla’s world to life, sometimes with a touch of ironic observation, as when she and her companion venture into an eclectic restaurant during the course of their investigations and have to confront a decidedly sophisticated menu that challenges their taste buds:

“I don’t see anything here that I like. You didn’t tell me the menu was this eclectic.”

Marla took a look. Crawfish cocktail, conch fritters, gator bites, deviled crabs. Those didn’t appeal to her, either. “How about the guacamole?” she asked in a less than enthusiastic tone. It wouldn’t be her appetizer of choice.

“The dip comes with pita bread. And what’s this pawpaw martini?” Dalton asked.

“Some kind of fruit drink, maybe? We could always get a salad to start.”

“That seems like the best bet. I wouldn’t want the sunray salad. That’s got oranges and onions and cream cheese balls. Ugh.”

As for the investigation itself, it’s filled with the kind of realistic flavor that cements the idea that Marla and her fellow partners in non-crime are not professionals, but informed amateurs:

Marla drew a stool over to the counter, sat on the vinyl seat, and unwrapped her sandwich. After taking a few bites, she said, “We have some promising leads, but nobody stands out as the main suspect.”

“Who do you have so far? In the mystery novel I just finished, the guilty party was the business partner.”

From fundraiser activity, culinary insights, and probes into Marla’s logic to recipes and romance which pepper the story line and embellish its twists and turns, readers who want a cozy mystery filled with atmosphere, intrigue, and adventure should settle a chair by the fire for a good evening’s read.

Trimmed to Death is a delicious story to savor primarily because the focus on Marla and her community is so realistically and compellingly done that readers will relish the final results and the path that leads Marla and her detective hubby Dalton to move from the concerns of the Cut ’N Dye Salon and Day Spa to probing Francine’s life and the motives of who would want to murder her.”

D. Donovan, Senior Reviewer, Midwest Book Review

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Digital ISBN: 978-0-9985317-5-5, $4.99, Sept. 25, 2018, Orange Grove Press
Print ISBN: 978-0-9985317-6-2, $14.99, Sept. 25, 2018, Orange Grove Press

Pre-Order Your Copy Now:

Amazon Print: https://amzn.to/2xXmY57
Amazon Kindle: https://amzn.to/2Kb7oIK
iBooks: https://apple.co/2xWHSRP
Kobo: https://www.kobo.com/us/en/ebook/trimmed-to-death
BN Nook: http://bit.ly/2sH9vcH
BN Print: http://bit.ly/2lEUhkB

Book Trailer: https://youtu.be/AHwKfK-vTIY
Goodreads: https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/40504820-trimmed-to-death

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Adventures in Dining – Orlando

Posted by Nancy J. Cohen on September 4, 2018

As usual when we visit Orlando, we like to try new dining spots as well as frequent some of our favorite restaurants. Besides Bonefish Grill and Longhorn, we celebrated our family’s September birthdays with the Magical Dining Month menu at Fleming’s. I got the beef filet with a salad and carrot cake for dessert.

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I didn’t fare as well at Epcot’s Food & Wine Festival. This being Labor Day Weekend and the opening of the festival, the park was crowded and there was a long wait under the broiling sun just to get in through bag inspection. We made it to a couple of places where I tasted the mini blended burger (very good!) and the loaded mac and cheese (too spicy).

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Then I succumbed to the heat and felt lightheaded. After a brief rest on a shady bench, I recovered my stamina and we headed to the festival marketplace to pick up our annual passholder magnets. Then we left, vowing to return when the weather has cooled and the crowds have thinned. I just can’t make this trek anymore in the 90+ degree heat.

Another day, we dined at La Madelaine, a French café located inside the Florida Mall where we took a nice air-conditioned walk. I didn’t have a problem there and enjoyed the exercise. My meal here was tomato basil soup, Caesar salad, and a half turkey and brie sandwich. The best breakfast was at Keke’s Café where I had a waffle accompanied by fresh berries and whipped cream.

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The highlight of the week was a bridal shower in honor of our daughter held at Orchid Thai Cuisine in Winter Park. The food was delicious from the buffet-style appetizers to the plated lunch to the beautiful cake. Our daughter was radiant as she greeted her friends and other guests.

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It’s hard to follow the wedding diet on these meals. I’d say I would wait until after the wedding, since that weekend will involve a lot of eating too, but then Thanksgiving will be upon us. Maybe I should make getting in shape a New Year’s resolution?

 

Posted in Florida Musings, Food, That's Life, Travel | Tagged: , , , , , | 4 Comments »

Trimmed to Death – Book Trailer

Posted by Nancy J. Cohen on August 25, 2018

Mix together a cocktail for murder, add a few salty suspects, toss in a dollop of sweet humor, and you have the recipe for Trimmed to Death, #15 in The Bad Hair Day Mysteries.

 

 

Savvy hairstylist and amateur sleuth Marla Vail enters a charity bake-off contest at a fall festival sponsored by a local farm. While she waits to see if her coconut fudge pie is a winner, Marla joins a scavenger hunt where people playing character roles are the targets. Instead of scoring points with a live person, she finds a dead body planted face-down in the strawberry field. Who would want to cut short the life of food magazine publisher and fellow bake-off contestant Francine Dodger? As she investigates, Marla learns there’s no shortage of suspects. A celebrity TV chef, food critic, olive oil importer, food truck owner, pastry chef, and cookbook author may be stirring up more than their next recipe. Can Marla unmask the killer before someone else gets trimmed from life? Recipes Included!

Early Reviews 

“From fundraiser activity, culinary insights, and probes into Marla’s logic to recipes and romance which pepper the story line and embellish its twists and turns, readers who want a cozy mystery filled with atmosphere, intrigue, and adventure should settle a chair by the fire for a good evening’s read.” D. Donovan, Senior Reviewer, Midwest Book Review

“What a great read! Marla and Dalton make a wonderful team… I like how it shows some realistic dimensions to Marla and Dalton’s professional lives. They both are concerned with doing a good job professionally, doing what’s right and having a life of their own. This book is believable, well-written and well-developed. The storyline is fast-paced and keeps readers guessing to the end.” Kathleen K. on Goodreads

“This is Book 15 in the Bad Hair Day Mystery Series. I have read each of these books and they just keep getting better and better…This book is wonderful and I highly recommend it.” Sandy B. on Goodreads

“In Trimmed to Death, Marla once again falls upon a murder; this time while enjoying herself at a fall festival sponsored by a local farm. I enjoy following Marla and her escapades. The stories are always light-hearted and easy to read.” Jan K. on Goodreads

TRIMMED TO DEATH, Sept. 25, 2018, Orange Grove Press
Digital ISBN: 978-0-9985317-5-5
Print ISBN: 978-0-9985317-6-2

Cover Design by Boulevard Photografica

Pre-Order Your Copy Now:
Amazon Print
Amazon Kindle
iBooks
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BN Nook
BN Print

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Too Many Great Posts, Not Enough Time

Posted by Nancy J. Cohen on August 22, 2018

Do you get so caught up in reading blogs, webinars, and posts and/or listening to podcasts, that you get nothing else done? I have been catching up on reading newsletters from my professional writing organizations, trade journals to which I subscribe, plus blogs on marketing and other business aspects of writing. If only I could clear my Inbox, I tell myself, I’d turn my focus to the nine backlist titles that I still have to reissue.

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And yet the more of these articles that I read, the more that keep popping up in my email. Moreover, reading this advice makes me feel terribly guilty. Why am I not able to do all these things? The articles offer wonderful marketing strategies and tips, and yet I’d need to be either thirty years younger to have the energy or three clones to manage it all.

Meanwhile, I am accomplishing nothing else. Is it because I’ve lost my mojo? Or is it that I can’t move on to new material until I get these backlist titles done? Then again, maybe it’s burnout and time for a break. It used to be that I put my writing goals first in the morning before glancing at email or social media. What happened to this self-discipline?

So I’ve decided to skim these articles, file the information for later, and do only what I can for now. It’s more important to move on to the next project. This means I need to practice BICHOK more often – Butt in Chair, Hands on Keyboard. Get off the couch, and go to work.

This goes for you, too, my fellow writers. Let’s pay less attention to the “should” demons (i.e. the things you should be doing) and more time to the work we can control. Your success is only as good as the next book. It’s not dependent on how many social media posts with cute memes you’ve posted.

GIVEAWAY

Enter Here Aug 9 – 23 to win a signed advance reading copy of TRIMMED TO DEATH, #15 in the Bad Hair Day Mysteries.

 

Posted in Business of Writing, Fiction Writing, Marketing, The Writing Life | Tagged: , , , | 10 Comments »

Joyce Sweeney’s Plot Clock

Posted by Nancy J. Cohen on August 20, 2018

This past weekend, writing coach Joyce Sweeney gave a workshop on The Plot Clock at the August meeting of Mystery Writers of America Florida Chapter. You can sign up for a webinar on this topic at her website: http://www.sweeneywritingcoach.com/. Here’s what I learned. Any errors are due to my misinterpretation.

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Start with this question before you begin plotting: What will happen to your protagonist so he has to change and transform? In a mystery, how will the murder challenge your main character?

Act One of this four-act structure includes the Inciting Event. The person who doesn’t want to change meets an event that will cause him to transform. At this stage, he is reluctant to get involved. He fights against the inevitable until something compelling happens that he can’t avoid. This is called the Binding Point.

Act Two finds the hero entering the special world of the story. In a mystery, this is when the sleuth commits to solving the crime. But the protagonist hasn’t changed yet and makes mistakes. Things go badly for him. As a writer, ask yourself what’s the worst thing that can happen to this character? He keeps losing ground and struggles to carry on until he reaches a Low Point. This happens in the middle of the book.

In Act Three, the hero determines to improve and fight on. By doing the right thing, he gains ground. He may have followed the wrong path and has changed direction. Now he is on the proper trail. But we still need to escalate tension. As the protagonist gets closer to identifying the murderer, the bad guy reacts. More deaths may occur. Attempts on the hero’s life might threaten him. The sleuth is doing better at solving the crime, but the killer is now on to him. For every action the hero makes, the villain makes a countermove.

The Turning Point comes out of left field and moves us into Act Four. Nobody could have anticipated this plot twist. It derails the main character so that he questions his purpose and wants to quit, or “turn away.” Here you must raise the stakes so he can’t quit. He rallies and “turns back” to solve the mystery.

The Climax comes close to the end. You should be layering in the explanations about the suspects’ motives so the Denouement is short and doesn’t drag on.

For more details, visit Joyce’s site at http://www.sweeneywritingcoach.com/

GIVEAWAY

Enter Here Aug 9 – 23 to win a signed advance reading copy of TRIMMED TO DEATH

 

Posted in Fiction Writing, The Writing Life, Writing Craft, Writing Tips | Tagged: , , , , , , | 1 Comment »

 
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