Nancy's Notes From Florida

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

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Archive for the ‘Fiction Writing’ Category

RWA 2017 Overview

Posted by Nancy J. Cohen on August 4, 2017

I had a wonderful time at #RWA17, the Romance Writers of America national conference. The site rotates each year, and this time it relocated to Orlando, Florida at a hotel not far from our condo there. Thus I commuted to the Dolphin Resort on a daily basis. Sessions began at 8:30 every morning, although I got there by 8:00 to cruise the goody room and see who I could run into at the conference lobby. On the left, here I am with Jane Ederlyn and Tina Stitzer. On the right, I’m with Pam Stack.

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Before I get into summaries of what I learned, I want to mention that in addition to the educational aspects, networking is a prime goal of mine at these events. I was happy to see many of my fellow members from Florida Romance Writers as well as mystery author Joanna Campbell Slan from our Florida MWA chapter. Here are photos of all of us having fun. Below are Tina Stitzer, Elayne Cox, Kristin Wallace, Victoria Pinder, and Jane Ederlyn on the left. On the right is Joanna Campbell Slan, Melanie McCarthy, Zelda Benjamin and me.

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Publisher booksignings meant giveaways, and I took home a collection of books to last months if not years. I only selected the ones in my favorite genres so as not to be greedy. Indie authors had their own signing event too. Signing below are Zelda Benjamin, Lynnette Hallberg, and Heather Graham.

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Then there was the massive “Readers for Life” Literacy Autographing that raised $44,163.59 on behalf of ProLiteracy Worldwide and the Florida Literacy Coalition. According to ProLiteracy, the amount donated from this Literacy Autographing over the years has helped 40,000 adults learn to read.

Reading is what it’s all about, and we authors learned how to reach readers through marketing skills until it felt like steam coming out of my ears with info overload. When I’ll have time to implement any of this information is your guess as well as mine.

I especially liked the luncheons, where we could meet new people at our tables, and the mixer with librarians, booksellers, and bloggers. Individual sessions with industry reps were also helpful. In my next few posts, I’ll try to summarize the workshops to the best of my ability.

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Stuck in the Middle

Posted by Nancy J. Cohen on July 25, 2017

While writing a novel, you are plodding along during the first half of your book, and all of a sudden you come to a halt. Now what? It’s too soon to start the revelations leading to the killer or to the romantic resolution. You need more material to make your word count. It’s also a good spot for a turning point in your plot. So what do you do? You face the blank white page and experience a sense of fear that your story will come up short. You’ve reached the dreaded Muddle in the Middle.

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Do not panic. Instead, read your synopsis over again or review your chapter-by-chapter outline. Haven’t done them? Do so now. Reviewing what you’ve written will reveal plotting elements you might have forgotten or personal threads you can expand on. Here’s what else you can do:

Raise the body count.
This is especially easy in a murder mystery. Just throw in another dead body. Who is dead and why? Who could have done it? How does this deepen the primary mystery? Could two different killers be involved? What if this victim was your prime suspect? Who does that leave? A whole new investigation will start based on who is dead, and it may throw your sleuth’s earlier theories out the door. Now she has to go in another direction for answers.

Crime Scene

Have an important character go missing.

If a character disappears mid-point in your story, that’s going to disrupt everyone’s plans. Is this person in jeopardy, or is he guilty of perpetrating the initial crime? Did another bad guy betray him? Or is this act staged, and the person isn’t really missing after all? How do your other characters feel about this missing person? Was he loved or despised? What efforts are being made to find him? How are the police treating his disappearing act?

Introduce a new character who shows up unexpectedly.

Think about a secret baby, secret lover, or secret sibling. Or a secret spouse. What is this person’s role in the mystery? How does his appearance change the investigation? Who was keeping this character’s identity a secret? This would be the time for that secret baby to come to light or the past husband no one knew about or the former girlfriend with a grudge. Or it could be someone who’s heard about the case and wants to cash in somehow. Could this new arrival be a fraud? How does his presence affect the other characters?

Twins

Resurrect a character thought to be dead.

This is possible if a death was staged, meaning no body was ever found, or the corpse was not identifiable. Is it someone who’d been gone for years or whose alleged murder started the current investigation? What made this person decide to reappear now? Or, what is the clue that leads the sleuth to believe this guy isn’t dead after all?

Steal a valuable object or return one.

Why was this item taken? Is it a clue to solving the mystery? Does it relate to another crime? Who took it and why? Is it meant to be a distraction from the murder investigation? Or was it part of the same crime all along? In the reverse, you could have a valuable object turn up, like a missing will or a more recent one that names a different heir.

Build on secrets and motives already present.

If you’ve laid the proper groundwork for your story, your characters have enough secrets, motives and hidden depths that you can explore as the story moves along. Write down each loose end as you review the high points and make sure you go down each trail until that thread is tied. Usually you’ll find you have enough material already hiding among your pages. Snippets of suspicions your characters mentioned can be plumped out until laid to rest. So give your people enough layers that peeling the onion takes the entire book. Except just when you thought you knew it all, throw in another twist like one of the points above.

What are your tips for getting through the muddled middle?

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Mystery Fest Key West

Posted by Nancy J. Cohen on June 29, 2017

Here are notes from some of the workshops I’d attended at Mystery Fest Key West. Any errors are mine due to my misinterpretation.

Friday started off with a talk by a representative from the Bomb Squad. The bomb squad in Monroe County gets about thirty calls a year. Lots of them involve old military ordinance like torpedoes and grenades, and about eighty percent are still live. Once a mortar round was dug up in a fellow’s yard and it dated back to 1887. Other finds might include acid bombs, pipe bombs, vehicle bombs, flares, and other old explosives that turn up in people’s backyards.

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The investigators want to know: What is it? Why is it here? How can we disrupt it? Compressed water will tear the devices apart but won’t set them off. They have to make sure it’s safe while preserving the evidence.

When the guys respond, they keep a distance of three hundred feet or more and stay behind a protective barrier. If they have to go in closer to determine if an object is safe they’ll don helmets and flak jackets. Or they’ll send in the Robot.

The Robot is used for recon and demolition. It costs approximately $265,000 and can run up to seven miles per hour. It has six cameras, some of them encased, and it can climb stairs as well as go in and out of planes and buses. The Robot can take X-rays and can drag up to 300 pounds. It is remote-controlled at a five mile range. The machine runs on dual motorcycle batteries.

Police Myths

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James O. Born spoke about police myths and how to make our law enforcement officers more realistic in our stories. He distinguished between the uniformed Highway Patrol officers and the Florida Department of Law Enforcement that’s more of an investigative agency. He spoke about pay and pensions and how patrol is the main job for a cop. They are taught to shoot in order to stop a suspect, not necessarily to kill. Deadly force would be a last resort. Plainclothes is not the same as undercover which involves deception.

I missed some of Lisa Black’s excellent talk on Blood Spatter as I had to prepare for my “Writing the Cozy Mystery” workshop coming next. Then it was time to head over to Hemingway House for an outdoor reception with drinks and appetizers.

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On Saturday, Randy Rawls moderated a panel on “Where I Get My Ideas” including John H. Cunningham, David Beckwith, Charles Todd, and Paul Sinor. Next came Heather Graham moderating the interesting discussion on “How to Commit a Perfect Murder” with Lisa Black, Rick Ollerman, Robert Coburn, and Siera London. Here’s how: 1. Don’t Get Caught. 2. Is it really a murder if there’s no body? 3. Poisons have worked well throughout history, especially before modern forensics. 4. If there’s trace evidence, you will get caught. There really isn’t a right answer to this question.

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Honored Guest Clifford Irving gave the keynote luncheon speech. Here he is with conference chair, Shirrel Rhoades.

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I skipped the next panel, “It Takes a Crook,” to get ready for Cozy Mysteries and Female Sleuths. I moderated a panel about female sleuths where we touched upon many subjects. One of the main points that came across was that women sleuths are more intuitive and compassionate, and these stories often involve interpersonal relationships or family issues.

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The evening continued with a special dinner party held at the historical Custom House Museum, which houses displays on the island’s military history.

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This is always a fun conference in a relaxed atmosphere with fellow authors and fans who are eager to learn about our books.

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Posted in Appearances, Business of Writing, Conferences, Fiction Writing, Marketing, The Writing Life | Tagged: , , , , | 3 Comments »

Tips for the Hot Pitch

Posted by Nancy J. Cohen on April 27, 2017

Pitching Your Novel to an Editor/Agent

Are you preparing for a conference but your knees get shaky at the thought of an editor/agent appointment? Be prepared, not scared. Begin your ten minute pitch session by offering the editor or agent a handshake along with your name. If you have a business card, hand it over. Sit down and smile and state your story’s genre and word count. Mention which imprint at the publishing house you are targeting. Then continue with the following.

Do not bring your manuscript. Do not ramble on with plot details. Do have a completed book ready to submit. Do hit these high points and then let the editor do the talking.

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LOG LINE: When planning your pitch, think in terms of Key Words and Hot Premises for a one line summary of your work. Look at TV Guide for examples of log lines. Examples of key words are “humorous cozy”, “legal thriller” or “courtroom drama.” Be prepared to compare your work to movies or other authors in the same genre.

Facials Can Be Fatal: Salon owner Marla Vail’s new day spa hits a snag when a client dies during a facial in this killer cozy mystery.

Warrior Lord: A fantasy wedding in Las Vegas turns into a nightmare when contest winner Erika Sherwood realizes she’s married an alien.

CHARACTERS: Don’t crowd your pitch with too many character names. In a mystery, stick with the sleuth, victim, and killer. In a romance, just the hero and heroine count. Identify your main characters by means of an adjective and a noun. i.e. sassy hairstylist, scandalous socialite, shy schoolteacher, reckless ranger, dashing detective.

OPENING HOOK: Describe the initial set up or how the story opens.

Permed to Death: Hairstylist Marla Shore is giving her client a perm when she goes into the back room to get some clean towels. She hears a loud crash, rushes back into the salon, and finds her client dead in the shampoo chair.

Warrior Prince: Mythology student Nira Larsen receives a summer job offer she can’t refuse—to act as a tour guide for a team of warriors from another planet.

MOTIVATION: In a romance, this is the internal conflict that keeps the couple apart. In a mystery, this would be why the sleuth feels compelled to get involved.

Hanging by a Hair: Marla’s husband is implicated in the murder of their neighbor. A police detective, he’s removed from the case. She means to find the killer, clear her husband’s name, and make the neighborhood safe again.

Warrior Lord: Magnor is a Tsuran swordsman who has been shunned by his tribe. Evidence pointed his way when his brother-in-law was found murdered. He took the fall for his sister, who lied him to gain his property. He doesn’t trust women who might betray a man, nor does he consider himself worthy of love since he lost his honor.

RESOLUTION: How will your characters grow and change by the end of the story? In a romance, what compromises will each person make to bring about a HEA ending? In a mystery, what insight does the main character have about herself by the final chapter?

UNIQUENESS: How is your book different from others in the genre? What special knowledge or fresh angle do you have to offer? Does the theme deal with any issues in today’s news?

SERIES OR SINGLE TITLE: If this is meant to be a series, give the overall series title and brief blurbs for the next books. If you have an overall arc for your main character, here’s where you can mention your protagonist’s inner journey.

If the editor or agent shows interest, you can briefly mention the continuing characters that will populate your stories. In the Bad Hair Day Mysteries, these include Detective Dalton Vail, who becomes Marla’s love interest. There’s her mother and other relatives, her salon colleague Nicole, and her friends Tally and Arnie. These people are part of the world you are creating. They’ll become friends to your readers.

MARKETING: What is your series marketing hook? i.e. “It’s Murder, She Wrote in a beauty salon with a South Florida slant.”

Do you have a platform? A niche audience? How do you plan to promote the book? When I was starting out with my series, I might have said: “Besides appealing to mystery lovers who like humor and a touch of romance, I’ll target people in the beauty business such as hairstylists, manicurists, and salons owners. Plus, Florida is a popular site for mysteries. People who’ve visited here or who live here like to read about familiar places.”

Are you set up with a website, blog, Facebook page, Twitter? Are you prepared to do a virtual blog tour, book trailer, and more? Show that you’re willing to work hard as a partner in marketing your work.

SELL YOURSELF: Ultimately, it’s your energy and enthusiasm that count. You have to be someone the agent or editor wants to acquire as a client. Be professional and courteous at all times. It may even be that you speak about something else you have in common, i.e. trying new recipes or touring the city sights. Then when you send in your proposal, your cover letter can state: “I enjoyed our discussion at the XYZ conference about seafood. If you recall, I’d mentioned my book….”

Restrict your pitch to the above essentials. Avoid descriptions of plot details, physical character traits, and your own personal history unless it relates to the story.

CONCLUDING THE INTERVIEW
Thank the editor or agent for their time. If they request you send them something, ask if they want to see a query letter, proposal, or the full manuscript. Also, do they prefer an email or snail mail submission? Ask for their business card before you shake hands again and depart.

FOLLOW UP: At the editor or agent’s request, mail your work to them afterward. If it’s via snail mail, which is unusual these days, mark the package “Requested Material.” If it’s an email, be sure to put in the subject line a reference to where you met, i.e. SleuthFest Conference Author. Then cross your fingers and hope for the best!

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Did you miss my earlier posts on Getting an Agent? Go here for Part 1 and Part 2.

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Writing Tips – Color Descriptions

Posted by Nancy J. Cohen on April 4, 2017

Do you have trouble with color descriptions when writing your novel? I can see colors fine except when I have to describe them in a story. Then I’ll say a character has brown eyes, is wearing a green top with khakis, and has her nails painted red. Remember the childhood refrain you learned to help you remember the colors? “Red and orange, green and blue. Shiny yellow, purple too. All the colors that we see, live up in the rainbow…” Anyway, that might not be an accurate rendition, but it’s how I remember the song.

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Rainbow colors alone don’t do justice to the myriad of shades out there. So I’ve written color charts for myself as a writing tool for when I need more interesting variations. You can also classify by categories, such as:

Jewels—pearl, amethyst, emerald, ruby, sapphire, jade, garnet
Flowers—rose, lilac, daffodil, hibiscus, orchid
Minerals—onyx, copper, gold, silver, malachite, cobalt
Nature—thundercloud gray or leaf green or canary yellow
Food—grape, cherry, orange, lemon, lime, cocoa, coffee, fudge, chocolate, peach, nut brown, pumpkin

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One of the best resources is a department store catalog. You can’t get more imaginative than their names for towels, sheets and sweaters. Thinking white? How about pearl, ivory, parchment or snow?

You get the idea. And so I’ve created a file listing colors which I’ll share with you here. My only request is that you tell me what I’ve missed. Here we go.

· BLACK: Jet, ebony, charcoal, raven, crow, coal, pitch, soot, ink, velvet, cast iron, midnight, onyx, obsidian

· BROWN: Chestnut, auburn, nut, mahogany, walnut, hazel, fawn, copper, camel, caramel, cinnamon, russet, tawny, sandy, chocolate, maroon, tan, bronze, sun-ripened, coffee, rust, earth, sod, dusty, mud

· GRAY: Silver, metallic, gunmetal, steel, cloudy, ashen, foggy, slate, leaden, stone, mist, platinum, smoky, mercury

· WHITE: Milky, chalk, frost, snow, ivory, cream, pearl, opal, parchment

· RED: Blood, apple, ruby, rusty, brick, fire engine, pink, rose

· ORANGE: Tangerine, fire opal, sunset, kumquat, pumpkin, apricot

· GREEN: Emerald, jade, apple, leaf, sea, grass, sage, basil, pea, olive, malachite, forest, lime

· BLUE: Cobalt, indigo, sapphire, turquoise, azure, sky, navy, royal, deep sea, ink, ice, denim, Cerulean blue

· YELLOW: Blond, lemon, daffodil, canary, topaz, golden, tawny, sand, saffron, citron, sulfur, amber, straw, primrose

· PURPLE: Lavender, violet, lilac, amethyst, orchid, mauve

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Colors also convey emotions. For example, mud brown and toad green have a less pleasant connotation than chocolate brown and sea green. Browns, oranges, and reds are so-called “warm” colors while blue and green are “cool” colors or more soothing. So choose your hues carefully to enhance a scene.

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Six Stage Plot Structure – Part 2

Posted by Nancy J. Cohen on March 16, 2017

Michael Hauge’s Six Stage Plot Structure, Part 2 – The Inner Journey

The second part of Michael Hauge’s talk on Six Stage Plot Structure at the Florida Romance Writers Cruise Conference deals with inner conflict. If you missed Part One, read it Here. For the sake of expediency, I use the term “heroine” but these principles apply to the hero as well.

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Disclaimer: Any mistakes in this summary are due to my misinterpretations.

The writer wants to elicit emotion in the reader. You can convey emotion and show us what’s going on without the need for dialogue or internal reflection. i.e. A lonely guy is staring at the empty furniture in his house. We get a sense of loss.

Character, desire, and conflict are the key components to storytelling. “Stories are participatory. We become the hero or heroine in the story.” We want to create a movie in the reader’s mind.

Modulate the tone and pace of the story to heighten emotional response. Here Mr. Hauge showed us clips from the movie “UP” as an example.

 

Key Components of the Inner Journey

Longing or Need

This is a desire that is expressed but the protagonist does nothing about it. It’s a hole in the character’s soul. A longing is expressed while a need is not acknowledged. This need is usually for a connection with another person.

Wound

A painful experience from the past is still driving the protagonist’s behavior. Most typically take place in adolescence. In “Up,” the older man’s wife Ellie dies. His wound is that he never gave her the adventure he’d promised.

Belief

We formulate a belief to explain what caused the wound, and to prevent it from happening again. In “Up,” the guy believes he failed by not keeping his promise. In a romance, it might be the heroine’s belief that if she loves again, her heart might be broken like before, and she might not survive this time. Or, an abused child believes he deserved punishment. The belief is never true but it is always logical.

Fear

We harbor the Fear that the painful experience will happen again. The Belief is very specific as to what may cause it to reoccur. For the abused child, the fear might be of letting anyone see who he truly is. An abandoned child might believe that anyone he gets close to will disappear. In “Up,” the man’s fear is that if he lets go of Ellie, he’ll lose all connection to her (i.e. he’ll lose her again).

Identity

The Identity is the false self we present to the outer world that allows us to feel safe. It protects us from the fear that grows out of the belief that was created by the long-ago wound. In “Up,” the main character has turned into a curmudgeon who lives in an empty house with Ellie’s things still there. If he sells the house or lets anyone inside, he might lose his memory of her. He must protect his memory of her at all cost. Our identities keep us feeling safe. It’s our emotional armor. But it makes us believe this is who we really are.

Essence

The Essence is a person’s true potential if they let go of the Identity. We see who this person really is underneath their façade.

The heroine of a story must leave her identity behind and live fully in her essence. This is the only way to achieve the outer motivation or visible goal.

Identity versus Essence is the Inner Conflict. The heroine’s inner journey or character arc takes her from living fully in the Identity to living fully in the Essence.

Looking at the Six Stage Plot Structure, in Stage One which is the Set Up, the heroine is living in her Identity. She believes the wound is in the past and over. Then an Opportunity arises that moves her to a New Situation. In the New Situation, the heroine is still in her Identity but she gets a glimpse of what living in the Essence would be like. She sets a goal.

To achieve this goal, she must live in the Essence. In the film “Up,” the main character realizes his wife Ellie viewed their marriage as an adventure. He throws out their furniture, which has served as his emotional armor, and he moves on to a new adventure. He goes into his Essence and achieves his goal.

The inner journey involves moving from Identity to Essence. This exposes the Fear, and so the protagonist retreats to her Identity before finally embracing the Essence. The Aftermath shows the reward where the heroine has found the courage to move beyond her Fear and live her truth.

This character arc should be a universal truth, while the outer plot is specific to the story. i.e. To live fully, we have to be willing to let go of the past and move forward.

This transformation should be gradual and not an epiphany. During the third stage, the character makes Progress. She vacillates between her Identity and her Essence. She feels vulnerable at getting a glimpse of her Essence and retreats back into her Identity.

In a romance, the biggest weakness is when there’s no solid reason why these two people should be together except the author wants it. Attraction at first sight is okay, but physical chemistry only takes you so far. This does not make for an enduring relationship. Why are these two people in love? They fall in love because they are each other’s destiny. The hero is the only one who sees beneath the heroine’s Identity and appreciates her true Essence. And vice versa. They connect at the level of the Essence. When there’s a love triangle, the guy she’s going to leave represents her Identity. The guy who is her destiny represents her Essence.

Conflict takes place at the level of Identity. Connection is at the level of Essence.

At the Change of Plans, the characters may not recognize their goal of pursuing each other but the reader does. You can put them into a competition or force them to work together. At the half-way mark, they can acknowledge their goal but still resist it.

Complications (Stage Four) ensue as the outside world intrudes. The heroine might feel safe but unfulfilled in her Identity. She can have it all, but she has to get past her Fear. She may think, “I’ll do whatever it takes to achieve my goal. Just don’t ask me to [blank] because that’s not me.” You know it’s the right thing if [blank] scares her.

At the Major Setback, both characters retreat to their Identities to feel safe. In a romance, this is the Big Black Moment.

The heroine’s reflection character (best friend, sidekick, etc.) says, “What are you doing? This isn’t you. Go after him.” The reflection reminds the character of who she truly is.

The hero and heroine make the Final Push (Stage Five) to achieve their goals and win each other’s love. They return fully to their Essence. The Aftermath (Stage Six) shows their transformed existence.

For more information on Mr. Hauge’s one-on-one coaching, visit StoryMastery.com

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Six Stage Plot Structure – Part 1

Posted by Nancy J. Cohen on March 13, 2017

Michael Hauge’s Six Stage Plot Structure, Part 1- The Outer Journey

Michael Hauge teaches a terrific class on Six Stage Plot Structure. Michael has coached screenwriters, producers, stars and directors on projects for every major studio and network, as well as top public speakers and corporate leaders. He’s the author of Writing Screenplays That Sell and Selling Your Story in 60 Seconds: The Guaranteed Way to Get Your Screenplay or Novel Read, as well as his best selling lecture with Christopher Vogler, The Hero’s Two Journeys. Michael is also a popular speaker around the world. We were fortunate to have him with us on board Independence of the Seas for the Florida Romance Writers Fun in the Sun cruise conference.

 

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Disclaimer: Any errors in this summary are due to my misinterpretation.

 

Key Components of the Outer Journey

Set Up (Stage One)

Here’s where you introduce the protagonists and show them in their normal life. You’ll want to establish an emotional connection with readers. Create empathy with the main character and connect the reader to her before you introduce any flaws. How do you do this? For the sake of expediency, we’ll use the term “heroine” but these principles apply to the hero as well.

1. Create sympathy by making her the victim of undeserved injustice or misfortune.
2. Put your character in jeopardy, but it doesn’t have to be physical. It can be the threat of loss for something vitally important to the character.
3. Make your heroine likeable by showing her kindness or generosity. Show that she is well liked by others.
4. Make the character funny. She can be funny by saying things that are unfiltered and not politically correct.
5. Give her a skill set that we admire. For example, we admire people who can get things done. They have the power to accomplish things.

Next show the protagonist as being stuck or in a state of inertia. They’re tolerating a situation or lying to themselves, and something is missing from this person’s life. Another character in the story tells them what they need to learn in order to progress.

In a romance, do we meet the hero and heroine separately before they come together, or do they come together at the outset? Determine if you’re using one or two viewpoints for these characters. If we meet the heroine first and encounter the hero when she does, you can use the singular viewpoint.

Opportunity (Turning Point 1)

Something happens that has never occurred to the main character before. It jolts the heroine out of a normal life and she must react. This can be a good or bad event, but either way, it will result in the heroine’s preliminary goal, a desire to move to a …

New Situation (Stage Two). Now the protagonist must figure out what’s going on and how to react, and in response will formulate a specific, visible outer motivation.

Change of Plans (Turning Point 2)
The heroine will begin pursuing the outer motivation.

Most Hollywood movies involve a heroine pursuing one or more of five visible goals:

1. To win the love of another person or a competition
2. To stop something bad from happening
3. To escape a bad situation
4. To deliver or transport an item of value
5. To retrieve something of value and bring it to safety or possess it.

Emotion should grow out of conflict and not out of desire. In a romance, you have to delay pursuit of the love interest. Or, have them meet but then go back and show their normal lives beforehand. Or, force them together but give them different goals. The heroine should have another goal than pursuing the guy. For example, “You two have to work on this project together. The outcome will determine which one of you gets the promotion.” Hold back her admission that she’s falling for the guy by giving her a different goal to pursue.

In a mystery, the dead body presents the Opportunity. The sleuth makes a discovery at the one-quarter mark. A new event leads to a new goal, i.e. “It looks as though we’re going after a serial killer.”

Progress (Stage Three)

The heroine’s plan seems to be working. She’s moving closer to her goal but still has conflict. She must bypass or overcome obstacles until the midpoint or Point of No Return (Turning Point 3). Something happens that forces the protagonist to make a full commitment to her goal. In a romance, it might be the first kiss, or the first time your couple goes to bed together. Now they are not able to return to the life they once had.

Complications (Stage Four)

It becomes more difficult but more important to reach the goal. If the heroine loses the hero now, she risks losing her destiny. But the outside world is closing in and the conflict becomes greater and greater, until the main character suffers a Major Setback (Turning Point 4). All appears lost. In romance jargon, we call this the Big Black Moment. This is when the two lovers break apart.

Retreat and Final Push (Stage Five)

Each character will try to return to the way they were in the Set Up. They go back to the original situation, but it’s no longer satisfying. So the protagonist makes a final push to achieve her goal.

The Climax (Turning Point 5) is where the heroine faces her biggest obstacle. She either achieves her goal or she doesn’t.

In the Aftermath (Stage Six), we see the heroine in her new life. In a romance, we see how the hero/heroine will be living together. It’s the reward at the end of the goal. They’ve reached their destiny.

For more information, visit StoryMastery.com

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Coming Next: Michael Hauge’s Six Stage Plot Structure, Part 2 – The Inner Journey

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Writing the Mystery – Howdunit?

Posted by Nancy J. Cohen on February 7, 2017

When writing a cozy mystery, you need to decide upon crime scene details even though interpersonal relations and not forensic investigations are your story’s focus. Here’s an example of what this means. For my next book, I decided to start the tale at a bake-off contest, but the setting bothered me. Our city fairs are held on athletic fields or a flat stretch of grass in a park. This doesn’t leave much opportunity to stash a dead body.

I was telling this to my manicurist and mentioned that I needed a more interesting setting. She suggested Bedner’s Farm as a possible model for my story. The next day, my husband and I drove north to visit this farmer’s market in Boynton Beach. See my post for a report on this visit. The varied structures and grounds were ideal for my purposes, but I’d move my fictional site nearer to Marla’s hometown. Marla Vail is my hairstylist sleuth and the star of the Bad Hair Day Mysteries.

Bedner's Farm  sheds

Now what? Francine Dodger is the target of the festival’s Find Franny scavenger hunt. I got this idea by looking up harvest festivals online. This drove me to research living scavenger hunts until I had an idea of how mine would work. Think about the five W’s when you’re in this phase.

trophy

Who ends up dead? Let’s say Francine is the victim.

Where is she killed? How does she arrive there? Is she lured on purpose, or it is a crime of opportunity? Did the killer follow her? Determine Where-dunit.

How
does he do it? She could be drowned in a ditch. Water-filled canals line the U-pick rows. But other customers might be milling around there. Will it look like an accident or right away be identified as a homicide? She can fall down a silo. But what would make her climb up there in the first place? Or she could be runover by a tractor.

What knowledge does the killer need? If the murder involves an equipment accident, it’ll have to involve someone who knows to operate the machinery. Ditto the hazards inside a silo. You don’t want to point the finger at a particular suspect like the farmer, because it’s too obvious. Maybe give one of the other characters a secret history of working on a farm or of selling agricultural machinery.

If you poison a victim, who has knowledge about the type of poison used as well as access to it? Is it fast-acting enough for the circumstances, or do you need a slower more insidious death? What are the particular symptoms? Consider your means of murder very carefully when you’re making these decisions so your story will sound plausible.

When does it happen? Think about not only the time of death, but also why not a week or a month ago? Why NOW?

How does the killer get away? Does he have blood on his clothes? Are his shoes wet or muddy? Is he able to blend back into the crowd? How does he act when he encounters the heroine?

Now let’s throw a wrench into the works.

What if it’s a case of mistaken identity? He thought he had killed one woman but he got somebody else who was similarly attired. How will he react upon seeing his intended victim alive and well? This leads to another set of problems. It means he can’t see the victim’s face before he kills her, or he’ll realize it’s the wrong person. So again, we go back to Howdunit?

Once you figure out these details, you’ll have to determine how your amateur sleuth stumbles across the dead body. And this is when the story actually begins.

If you missed my previous posts on this topic, go here:

Writing the Mystery – Whodunit
Writing the Mystery – Whydunit
Five Stages of Writing

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Writing the Mystery – Whydunit?

Posted by Nancy J. Cohen on February 3, 2017

In the previous post, we discussed character development. As you figure out each person’s goals and secrets, you need to determine how that character relates to the others. Think of a spider web. The victim is in the center, and all of the other threads are the suspects. Or visualize it as a character wheel with spokes. Whichever model you choose, you’ll want to connect the characters to each other.

characters

Here are examples from my WIP to show you how it’s done. The characters are involved in a bake-off contest held during the spring festival at a local farm.

Tally Riggs, my hairstylist sleuth’s best friend, met Becky Forest at a local historical museum. She told Tally about the bake-off.

Becky, a scientist, is a cookbook author and curator of the museum. She studies plant remains of ancient peoples, including early Florida food practices. Every time Becky has a new cookbook out, she’s a guest on Chef Raquel Hayes’ TV show.

Raquel, a judge at the bake-off contest and a TV chef, did something in the past that could scandalize her. Francine Dodger recognizes her on TV and threatens to spill her secret.

Francine, a contestant at the bake-off, is a food magazine editor. While researching an article on the farm, she uncovers something that could ruin the owners’ reputation.

Zach Kinsdale, eldest brother of four siblings who run the family farm, hasn’t told his two brothers and sister Janet about this looming disaster.

Janet is married to Tony, who runs an import-export business. He sells his imported olive oils to Zach for the farm’s marketplace. But Janet suspects something unethical about her husband’s business. She’s the one who organized the bake-off since her husband’s company is a festival sponsor.

Tony, Janet’s husband, is worried about an exposé that Francine has mentioned. He’s also concerned about Tristan Marsh, pastry chef at The Royal Palate and a judge at the show. Tristan has been making inquiries that concern him. He’s not the only one. Alyce Greene, a blogger who supports the farm-to-table movement, has been troublesome as well.

Alyce is a contestant at the bake-off. She’s married to Jon, a food truck operator. Jon got a loan to start his business from Alyce’s brother, Steve Madison. Steve, an investment advisor, manages Tony’s accounts.

And so on. You get the idea. It helps when the puzzle pieces fit together as a whole, but this process may take a while. In the meantime, allow your subconscious to stew on these ideas until story magic happens. The connections will pop into your brain. It’s a joyful moment when this occurs. It always does; you have to maintain faith in the creative process.

Now you know as much about these people as I do. Next comes Writing the Mystery – Howdunit.

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Writing the Mystery – Whodunit?

Posted by Nancy J. Cohen on February 1, 2017

During the Discovery phase of your novel, which I discuss in my post on Five Stages of Writing, you’ll begin formulating the characters. If you’re writing a mystery series, you may already know the protagonists and recurrent characters. So now you have to determine the suspects that are specific to your WIP (work-in-progress).

As a plotter and not a pantser, I’ll create these characters before I can begin writing. This means knowing their goals, conflicts, and motivations as in Debra Dixon’s book by that name. I’ll assign each person a secret with a motive for murder. At this stage, I may not know which one is the killer because it could be any of them. Or, the person I pick to be the killer might turn out later to be a red herring.

Here’s an example of how I develop my characters. This guy is one of three judges for a bake-off contest in my current WIP.

Round One

Alton Paige, food critic, has a pudgy face and a rotund figure that reminds Marla of a dog. He’s a bit of a philanderer. Alton extorts money from restaurant owners in return for a good rating.

Oops, I have an Alton and an Alyce, one of the contestants. Watch out for similar names when creating your characters. I will change the judge’s name. In the next round, I fill in his secrets and start working on his relationships to the other characters. Okay, this guy below doesn’t have the face or frame of my character, but he depicts the attitude.

food critic

Round Two

Carlton Paige, 44, food critic, has a pudgy face and a rotund figure that reminds Marla of a dog. He’s a bit of a philanderer. Carlton accepts gifts from restaurateurs. In return, he gives them a high rating but only if warranted. The word to describe him would be smarmy. His wife, Sally, who accompanies him on his food jaunts, spends most of her spare time at the gym. She’s always criticizing his lack of restraint in eating…and in other things. Since she’s having an affair with her personal trainer, she overlooks his marital transgressions. Secretly he has an inferiority complex, being the younger brother of three siblings and on the plump side even as a kid. He strives for recognition. Food has been his means of consolation. He’s worked his way up in journalism and aspires to be editor of the entertainment section. Carlton’s reputation is all important to him, and he resents the attention being given to upstart bloggers like Alyce Greene (a contestant in the bake-off). Her blog is eroding his ratings and putting his job in jeopardy. He has to learn self-respect in order to refuse bribes and move ahead in his career…or to realize his worth in his current role.

Round Three

Carlton Paige, 44, food critic, has a pudgy face and a rotund figure that reminds Marla of a pug breed of dog. He’s a philanderer whose sensual attitude in life appeals to women. Carlton accepts gifts from restaurateurs. In return, he gives them a high rating but only if warranted. The word to describe him would be smarmy. His wife, Sally, who accompanies him on his food jaunts, spends most of her spare time at the gym. She’s always criticizing his lack of restraint in eating…and in other things. Secretly he has an inferiority complex, being the younger brother of three siblings and on the plump side even as a kid. He strives for recognition. Food has been his means of consolation. He’s worked his way up in journalism and aspires to be editor of the entertainment section. But this won’t happen unless he gains readers. He resents the attention being given to upstart bloggers like Alyce. Her blog is eroding his ratings and putting his job in jeopardy. What will he do to protect his reputation and his readership?

Sally Paige, Carlton’s wife, knows Francine Dodger, another contestant, from the gym. When Carlton complains to her about Alyce, he suggests Sally should discredit her to Francine. But Sally hesitates to approach Francine because the food magazine publisher knows about Sally’s affair with her personal trainer. And while she overlooks her husband’s marital transgressions because she’s unfaithful as well, she still loves Carlton. How far will Sally go to protect her husband and her marriage?

angry woman

You see how each round adds another layer? These people will come alive when they walk onstage for the first time. I don’t bother with long biographies. I’ll see how they move and speak and act when I meet them on the page. What matters now are their motives for murder. If you want to get a better handle on their physical descriptions, search for images online at the royalty-free sites.

After you have a profile on each character, it’s time to connect them to each other. These interrelationships are crucial for a cozy mystery, because the focus of this subgenre is on personal connections among the characters rather than on forensic details or police procedure. More on this next time.

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