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Archive for the ‘Writing Craft’ Category

Reviving Your Backlist Titles – Revisions

Posted by Nancy J. Cohen on April 28, 2016

Reviving Your Backlist Titles Part 3

In addition to reformatting and updating the earlier titles to which you’ve received reversion of rights, will you do a full revision of the work? How long ago did you write it? If you decide to tighten the writing, here is a reminder of what to fix.

Grammar

Remove those amateurish exclamation marks from your early writing days.

Motivate your characters with clear goals. Why is this goal important to him? What is he doing to make it happen? What’s stopping him? If he fails, what’s at stake? If your hero behaves a certain way, tell us what happened to influence this action. Don’t just have him lash out without rationalizing his attitude.

Keep description within the viewpoint of your character. Similes and metaphors should be within the protagonist’s 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 space break when you switch heads.

Avoid flashbacks and backstory. Leave the past in the past unless it’s important for your current story. Keep the action moving forward. Drop backstory into dialogue or relate it in brief thoughts during action scenes. Less is better.

Show, don’t tell. Show your character’s emotions. Don’t tell the reader about them. NO: She felt afraid. YES: Ice gripped her heart. NO: He was angry. YES: He slammed his fist on the table. Physical reactions and nonverbal clues indicate emotions. Without these, you’ve written a cardboard character.

Dialogue should have a purpose. All conversations should have direction. What’s the point you’re trying to make? Who needs to be in this scene? How will it propel the action forward?

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, but don’t overuse them. Make sure it’s clear who is speaking if there are several lines of dialogue without tags. Eliminate unnecessary tags altogether, like in this example:

His mouth curved in a suggestive smile that made heat rise to her face. “This potato-crusted grouper sounds good,” he said with a wink. “It comes with a salad and herb bread. Why don’t you order for me?”

In my revision, I removed “he said with a wink.” We already know who is speaking and he’d given a suggestive smile. No more is needed.

Avoid long paragraphs of exposition or description. Do these passages really need to be there? Or will readers skip over them? Make the reader feel what your hero feels. Don’t just tell us what’s going on. Also, if paragraphs get too long, split them up. White space is a good thing.

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.

Watch those “ing” phrases. Make sure your subjects match: 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.

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 (i.e. you can’t do both actions at once in the first sentence).

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. Avoid unnecessary phrases such as she realized, she figured, he decided, he watched.

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.

Delete redundancies. NO: sat down YES: sat. NO: He thought to himself. YES: He thought. NO: Climbed up YES: Climbed

Check for repetitions: Most of us subconsciously overuse a favorite word. Be alert for these when you read through your manuscript. 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. As an example, note the word “hoping” used three times in this same paragraph. Oops. This excerpt is from my current Work in Progress.

Hoping to learn more, she focused on what she already knew. “Mr. Ripari was hoping to sell the property. Did you know it had been a pioneer theme park back in its earlier days? He was hoping to turn the house into a living museum. I understand there’s some controversy involved.”
Needless to say, I’ve revised this paragraph.

Remove qualifiers 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. One of my favorites is “only.” Vary this one by using “merely” or “simply” or eliminate it altogether.

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. NO: Her eyes floated above the crowd. YES: She surveyed the crowd.

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: their or they’re; it’s or its; lay or lie; you’re or your. They’re means they are. It’s means it is. You’re means you are.

Be consistent: If you’ve written a series, make sure you are consistent with particular words. Moustache or mustache? Chardonnay or chardonnay? Duffle or duffel? Nightstand or night stand? Think about creating a style sheet so you can have a handy reference for these types of words.

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.

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.

Be aware of series continuity. Now that you know where your series is going, you can correct any inconsistencies along the way, plant a hint for something to come, or add/verify the ages and dates when things occur in your characters’ lives.

In conclusion, reword sentences so they’re stronger. Eliminate needless drivel. And make your book the best it can be out of respect for your readers. You want your work to shine so you can be proud of it all over again.

Read earlier post on Reviving Your Backlist Titles – Updating the Work

Read earlier post on Reviving Your Backlist Titles – Manuscript Preparation

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

Reviving Your Backlist Titles – Updating the Work

Posted by Nancy J. Cohen on April 21, 2016

You’d like to reissue your backlist titles now that you have the rights back, and you already have a complete digital file as in my previous post. So now what? Are you going to upload the file as is, or will you be revising the work?

I wanted to fix my writing, since my mysteries started coming out in 1999. That’s the pub date for Permed to Death. I wrote that book more than fifteen years ago. Do you think I’ve learned to write better in that time? Looking over the original manuscript, I was horrified by the number of exclamation marks. Many of the Amazon reviews said this book needed editing. You know what? They were right. Now I had my chance to go back and tighten things up.

I had another impetus. I want to offer my books in audio editions but not based on my older versions. I prefer to link these to my newly revised Author’s Editions. (Cover designs by Patty G. Henderson at Boulevard Photografica).

Author Editions2

For your decision, it’ll depend on how recently your title came out and how satisfied you are with the content. I’m proud of my Author’s Editions. The only problem is getting people to read them and to post new reviews on Amazon.

Regardless of your choice whether to fix the writing or not, you’ll need to format the book for today’s digital vendors. In general, remove all headers or footers. Use page breaks instead of section breaks. Choose Times New Roman 12 pt. font; indent new paragraphs 0.5 inches; and remove all tabs. Make sure you have one space and not two between sentences. Be aware that colons and semi-colons might cause problems so try to eliminate these where possible. Use proper Em-dashes. Later, you’ll go to your vendor sites and check their specific guidelines.

Decide what you’ll do about changing technology. In the current book I’m revising, Marla (my hairstylist sleuth) dialed directory assistance to look up someone’s phone number. I changed this to an Internet search. I’ve also changed answering machines to voice mail, flip phones to cell phones, wired home phones to mobile units. And I’ve changed the names of places or restaurants that no longer exist.

Here is an example from Highlights to Heaven. This is the original passage:

“Do you see any possibilities with Barry?” Tally asked Marla after they were seated at Legal Sea Foods in the Oasis at Sawgrass Mills.

There had been a short wait for a table, unlike the crowds at the Cheesecake Factory or Wolfgang Puck. Saturday night was bound to be busy anywhere in Broward, but with the cinema here, shoppers competed with moviegoers for restaurant tables.

“I like him. He’s good-looking, quiet in a dependable sort of way, and sincere. It’s his father who I can’t stand.”

Since two of these restaurants are out of business, I changed it to this:

“Do you see any possibilities with Barry?” Tally asked Marla, after they’d taken seats at a restaurant in the Sawgrass Mills complex. They’d had to wait for a table, but Saturday nights were busy at all the eateries in Broward.

“I like him. He’s good-looking, quiet in a dependable sort of way, and sincere. It’s his father who I can’t stand.”

So as you can see, you’ll need to reformat the text, update the technology, and alter certain place names.

Now comes the tough question. Do you want to do a full revision? Your book has already been professionally edited, and you have the advantage of a copy edit being done. But this time, you can examine the writing in a new light, with the eye of experience. Are you prepared to do a line edit? Because that’s what it will take. You might find repetitions you’d missed before, redundant sentences, inconsistent characterizations, or those pesky “ing” clauses that cause trouble.

Moreover, if you’ve written a series, now you know what comes next. You can fix this story with the sequels in mind. If you choose this path, you’ll have a lot of work ahead. In our next post, we’ll review what to look for when combing through your story to polish it to perfection.

Contest Alert!
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Posted in Business of Writing, Fiction Writing, The Writing Life, Writing Craft, Writing Tips | Tagged: , , , , | 13 Comments »

Reviving Your Backlist Titles – Manuscript Preparation

Posted by Nancy J. Cohen on April 18, 2016

Once you get the rights back to your earlier titles, what do you do with them? Try to resell these books to a new publisher? Put them online as ebooks for sale? Offer them in a new trade paperback print edition? Go through an intermediary such as Draft2Digital or publish them yourself directly to vendors? And should you revise and update the stories first?

When I got my rights back from Kensington for my earlier Bad Hair Day Mysteries, I decided to tighten the writing, update the technology, and add back materials to the books. Now was my chance to hire a cover artist and get the design I’d always envisioned.

Here are four versions of Permed to Death, the first book in my mystery series. From the left to right: Kensington, Ereads, Open Road Media, and my new AUTHOR’S EDITION (Cover design by Patty G. Henderson at Boulevard Photografica).

coverPTD  PTD  Cohen_PermedDeath  PERMED TO DEATHeBook

So what should you do first if you’re interested in reviving your old titles?

Obtain a File

First you’ll need a digital copy of your book in one entire file. I wrote my early books in the days when we copied the manuscript and snail mailed it to our publisher. Each file was a separate chapter. I didn’t have a single intact file for the book. Nor did I have the edits that were done by my publishing house. In other words, my original files didn’t match the finished product.

What to do? These books came out in hardcover and then in mass market paperback. I decided to have the paperbacks scanned in since they held the most recent edition.

The Scanning Process

If you’re lucky enough to find a digital copy of your book online, you could buy it, download the file and work from there. You can use the free Calibre program to convert between formats. Otherwise, choose a scanning company. I used Blue Leaf. You’ll have to sacrifice the book you send because it’ll be destroyed in the process.

Once you get the files back from the scanner, make sure you have an editable Word document, if this is the software you use. Then you have to review the text WORD FOR WORD to look for scanning errors. You may see a strange squiggle mark. Note this excerpt from Died Blonde:

Shutting off the blow-dryer, Marla plunked it on the counter. “Did you see how Claudia looked away when I mentioned a power blackout? She knew about it Pro­bably Carolyn went to the meter room to turn off my electricity.”

You have to turn on the paragraph reveal mark in Word to see the irregular mark in “probably.” It looks like a hyphen with a bar hanging off the end. You’ll have to go through the entire document looking for this weird symbol. It’s intense, eye-straining work.

Notice the period is missing after She knew about it. Missing punctuation is another problem. Or quotes pointing the wrong way, use of an apostrophe instead of a quote mark, or an extra space after a hyphen.

In revising and updating your work, one of the things to look for are “ing” sentences like that first one. More about that when we talk about revisions.

Here’s another example with a misspelling for Sun-Sentinel. That weird mark is also present in “released.”

“The medical examiner’s report hasn’t been re­leased yet, but the SunSenlinel reporter is saying Carolyn died under mysterious circumstances.”

Here’s a guide on what to look for after having your book scanned:

· Weird symbols when you turn on the paragraph symbol in Word
· Missing or wrong punctuation
· A number “1” instead of an “I”
· Misinterpretations, such as comer instead of corner. Watch for words like this with “rn” coming out as an “m” instead.
· Misspelled words such as for away instead of far away; “die” instead of “the”
· The letter “d” instead of “tl”: Words like abrupdy. Or see this example:

Marla setded a cape around her mother’s slim shoul­ders.

· Check the spacing for italics that it’s normal and not expanded or condensed (Highlight the word, hit Font, then Advanced).
· Make sure italics don’t come out as bold.
· Replace two spaces between sentences with one space if necessary.
· Format chapter headings properly with a page break and remove any section breaks.
· Look for run-on paragraphs or paragraph marks too soon that split a sentence onto the next line. Example:

“Carolyn promised Linda she would inherit her collectibles, but we couldn’t find any items of value.” “Jewelry? If a collection exists, it makes sense 

they were gifts from her private benefactor. I don’t see how Carolyn could afford anything else. Did she have a safety deposit box?”

This should read:

“Carolyn promised Linda she would inherit her collectibles, but we couldn’t find any items of value.”

“Jewelry? If a collection exists, it makes sense they were gifts from her private benefactor. I don’t see how Carolyn could afford anything else. Did she have a safety deposit box?”

You need an eagle eye and several read-throughs to catch all these errors. Regardless of which route to publication you take, you’ll want to present a professional product. So gear up to begin the next stage, which is revisions and/or formatting.(Coming Next!)

LAST DAY FOR CONTEST ENTRIES!!!

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Enter to win 35 cozy mysteries and a Kindle Fire in Storytellers Unlimited Spring into Mystery Giveaway. My contribution is an ebook copy of Permed to Death. http://bit.ly/CozySpring

 

Posted in Business of Writing, Fiction Writing, The Writing Life, Writing Craft, Writing Tips | Tagged: , , , , , , , | 12 Comments »

Word Repetitions

Posted by Nancy J. Cohen on March 30, 2016

When I’m editing my next novel, one of the things I look for are word repetitions. Here is a perfect example of what I mean:

Marla took the printout from Keri. They’d better head over to Liam’s house while the day was still young. Later, he’d be busy getting ready for his charity event. She fumbled inside her purse and took out her checkbook.

“I appreciate your getting this information for us,” she told Keri. “How much do I owe you?”

Keri gave her a warm smile. “My rate is discounted to twenty dollars an hour for new clients. This didn’t take me much time at all, even though Liam keeps his home address private. So let’s call this a complimentary visit. Any referrals you can make my way would be appreciated.”

“Are you sure? You gave up your free time to meet with us today.”

“No problem. I had a few things to catch up on this afternoon anyway.”

“I appreciate it. If you ever come to Palm Haven, stop by my salon. I’ll return the favor.” Marla put away her checkbook and rose.

What word did I repeat? I used “appreciate” three times. Here is the revised version:

“I appreciate your getting this information for us,” she told Keri. “How much do I owe you?”

Keri gave her a warm smile. “My discounted rate for new clients is twenty dollars an hour. This didn’t take me much time at all, even though Liam keeps his home address private. So let’s consider it a complimentary visit. Any future referrals you can send my way would be welcome.”

“Are you sure? You gave up your free time to meet with us today.”

“No problem. I had a few things to catch up on this afternoon anyway.”

“That’s generous of you. If you’re ever in Palm Haven, stop by my salon and I’ll return the favor.” Marla put away her checkbook and rose.

Look for these types of word repetitions when revising your work. This is separate from a read-through where you try to pick up snatches of dialogue that repeat conversations between your characters. Often when you’re writing chapter-to-chapter, you lose track of what’s been revealed. Your editing sweeps should help you cut through the clutter and expose these faults. So be diligent and comb through your work as a detective might comb through his list of suspects.

 

Posted in Excerpt, Fiction Writing, The Writing Life, Writing Craft, Writing Tips | Tagged: , , , , , , | 4 Comments »

Discreet vs Discrete

Posted by Nancy J. Cohen on March 24, 2016

Grammar Lesson: Discreet vs Discrete

Grammar

In my current work in progress (WIP), I wrote this sentence and then wondered if I’d used the correct spelling. “Her low-heeled sandals made a discreet tap-tap as she strode along.” Did I mean discreet or discrete? Was there a difference? And how could shoes make a discreet sound? What did I mean by this? Did the shoes make a quiet sound that would come under the radar? Or was the noise distinctive in some way?

The Daily Writing Tips said both words are adjectives. Discreet means judicious, prudent, circumspect, cautious. Discrete, on the other hand, means separate, detached from others, individually distinct.

According to Oxford Dictionaries, the words are pronounced the same way and share the same origin, but they don’t share the same meaning. Discrete means “separate, as in a finite number of discrete categories, while discreet means careful and circumspect, as in you can rely on him to be discreet.”

Vocabulary.com gives further advice. “Discreet means on the down low, under the radar, careful, but discrete means individual or detached… Remember that the “ee’s” in discreet hide together in the middle of the word, but the “t” in discrete separates them.”

So what did I mean in my sentence above? Was that proper usage? I think so. The meaning I intended was “quiet, on the low-down” rather than “distinctive.”

I did a search in another project and came up with this sentence. It’s obviously wrong now that I know the difference:

“Never mind that he could get dismissed for consorting with a student. That hasn’t stopped him before, but usually he’s more discrete about it.”

Oops, I’ll have to change that one to “discreet.” Live and learn.

 

Posted in Fiction Writing, Writing Craft, Writing Tips | Tagged: , , , | 12 Comments »

Raising Suspense in your Novel

Posted by Nancy J. Cohen on March 10, 2016

How to increase suspense in your novel was the topic of a Saturday panel at Sleuthfest. Speakers included Laurence P. O’Bryan, Chris Pavone, Charles Salzberg and Alison McMahan as moderator.

P1050466

What you want to do as a writer is to raise questions in the reader’s mind. You say things, but you don’t explain all of them. Follow the principle of R.U.E.—Resist the Urge to Explain.

Start out the story with a bang. Don’t give all the backstory right up front. Respect the reader to figure things out on his own. Create situations to make the reader care about your character’s backstory. This history can come in during “down” times in the pacing but only in small doses.

Contain mini-mysteries within the overall plot. Give solutions along the way to keep the reader interested, and then raise new questions.

Guide the reader down blank alleys but not too many of them.

Sentences should have velocity.

Leave out the paragraphs readers will skip over. Don’t dump info like descriptions of places or people unless it serves a purpose.

Spread out character background. Reveal things sparingly in terms of character and place.

Mood and temperament of the sleuth can add to the suspense. How is he going to behave? Will he act morally? Relationships add tension. Action shows a character’s true motivation.

Adding a ticking time bomb or a deadline or using bait and switch tactics are other methods to raise suspense. So can a sense of menace, but be subtle. For example, you mention that a character is meeting someone on Monday. Who is he meeting with? What’s going to happen?

“Our job is to keep people reading. Each chapter should have an arc that doesn’t resolve.”

Increasing suspense in your novel #writetip #amwriting @nancyjcohen http://bit.ly/1XftNAk

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Disclaimer: These notes are my interpretation and are subject to errors which are mine alone.

View photos from Sleuthfest on my Facebook page. Look for the Sleuthfest 2016 album. Please Like the page while you are there.

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Posted in Business of Writing, Conferences, Fiction Writing, Writing Craft, Writing Tips | Tagged: , , , , , | 4 Comments »

10 Mistakes for Beginning Writers to Avoid

Posted by Nancy J. Cohen on February 2, 2016

It’s annoying, when I’m judging a writing contest or reading a self-published book, to find common mistakes that could be avoided with editorial help. Unfortunately, many beginning writers don’t even realize they need assistance. They’ll ask a friend or an inexperienced critique partner or a local English teacher to proofread their work, and the result is considered ready for publication. Think again. If you write fiction, you want an expert in the genre to edit your work and not the local journalist who has published nonfiction or the lit professor mired in academia.This post doesn’t apply to indie authors who know the ropes and have an expert eye screen their story.

editing

Revise and polish your work as best you can before submission, whether to a writers contest or a publishing house or even to an editor you might hire. Here are ten common mistakes to avoid.

1. Create an Identifiable Main Character

Get us into the action right away with a sympathetic viewpoint character. Put us in her head and show us the world from her unique viewpoint. Make sure we can identify with this character throughout the story, so stay in her head as much as possible. Even when you use multiple viewpoints, we want to root for the hero.

2. Make Your Characters Likeable

Remember to address your character’s goals, motivation, and conflict. What does your character want? If she wanders aimlessly through life with no particular goals, that makes me as a reader less interested in her. Give me a reason why she behaves that way. Maybe she lacks confidence because of a past event. Maybe she’s afraid of failure. Knowing this will make the reader become more engaged with her. Give her redeemable qualities so we’ll like certain aspects of this person. If not, the reader won’t care, and that’s the death knell to your story. This also applies to the anti-hero. What makes him redeemable? Why should I, the reader, care about him? By balancing action with reaction, you’ll motivate your characters and make them more believable. For every action, you need a reaction. Don’t focus on plot to the exclusion of emotion. Make me care about your characters’ lives.

3. Avoid Bouncing Heads

Don’t switch viewpoints in mid-scene. If you must switch viewpoints, use a space break. Don’t leap into the head of every minor character. We cannot know a person’s thoughts unless we’re in their mind. You have to infer what the other person is thinking through non-verbal cues or dialogue. It becomes very disconcerting when every character we meet has an internal dialogue. Then the story loses focus. Stay in one character’s head. When you switch, indicate it with a space break.

4. Establish the Setting Up Front

As soon as possible into the story, establish the place, season, and time of day. Remember your five senses of Who, What, Why, Where, and When. Try to work these into the opening pages. Examples: Crickets chirped their nightly summer chorus, or late afternoon sunlight glinted off an icicle hanging from the roof. Also, don’t mention a street name or landmark and assume the reader knows where this place is. Be specific and give a location. Use the five senses to bring your settings alive, but remember to describe them from your viewpoint character’s perspective.

5. Watch Your Use of Bad Language

The occasional curse word may be acceptable for a hero who’s a hardass or for a heroine in the urban fantasy genre, but elsewhere it may raise a reader’s hackles. It can also turn off some readers completely, so this language should be sprinkled in judiciously, if at all. Add it only if it helps to define a character, not because you believe it makes your protagonist seem tough. Ask yourself: Is this necessary? If not, leave it out. Or deploy a substitute, like “frak” on Battlestar Galactica. Remember the old adage: Less is better, especially if you want to expand your readership.

6. Show, Don’t Tell

To keep the pace flowing, use dialogue and action and minimal exposition. If you have long passages where nothing happens except the protagonist thinks to herself or explains what happened in the past, the story comes to a dead halt. You want to imbue a sense of immediacy to your story, and that won’t happen unless you involve the reader. Long meandering passages of narration may have been acceptable centuries ago, but that doesn’t work today. Show us what’s happening; don’t tell us.

7. Avoid Flashbacks Like the Plague (and don’t use clichés, either)

The first chapter is your only chance to grab the reader so she’ll continue your story. If you segue into a flashback, the forward momentum is lost. Who cares what happened in the past? Throw in a line or two of dialogue or introspection to show us how the past is relevant to the current action, and then move on. Or make it part of the story action, such as a confrontation with a friend or a hesitation on the part of the main character to perform some act. Work backstory into your chapter with minimal intrusion. Flashbacks, too, will kill pacing, so remove those long passages that reflect past scenes and not the present. Only retain what is necessary to explain the current action.

8. Every Conversation Should Have a Purpose

When I suggest you use dialogue generously, I don’t mean that two friends should get together and chat meaninglessly on matters that don’t move the story forward. Dialogue must serve a purpose: to reveal information, define character, move the plot ahead, offer reaction and reflection on what’s just occurred. So ask yourself as you approach a conversation, what do you want to get across in this segment? If you don’t have a point to make, delete the scene.

9. Use Character Tags Sparingly

Try to replace “he said” or “she said” with actions. Avoid adverbs and show the tone of the conversation in dialogue instead. Don’t use “he thought” or “he wondered” if you are in the character’s head. Do use italics for inner thoughts.

Bad Example:

“You’d better not stick your nose where it doesn’t belong,” he said in an angry voice.

You’re telling me to mind my business? she thought. “I’ll do whatever it takes to find Angie’s killer,” she replied. “You’re the one who should watch your back.”

“Oh, yeah?” he sneered nastily. “Don’t say I didn’t warn you.”

Better Example:

“You’d better not stick your nose where it doesn’t belong.” He towered over me, as though his superior height could intimidate me into behaving.

You’re telling me to mind my own business? You’re the one who should watch your back. “I’ll do whatever it takes to find Angie’s killer.”

“Oh, yeah?” He jabbed his finger in the air. “Don’t say I didn’t warn you.”

10. Proofread Your Work

Would you enjoy reading a book riddled with spelling errors or misplaced commas? No? Then why send one to a contest where mechanics are judged? Proofread your work for typos, dropped quotation marks, missing periods, and misspellings. Same goes for your work before you indie publish it. Get beta readers to help if you can, and definitely hire both a developmental and a copy editor. You want your work to appear professional, not only out of respect for your readers but also for your future career as an author. If the goal is to increase your readership, you’ll strive to publish a polished product so readers will want more.

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Posted in Fiction Writing, Self-Publishing, The Writing Life, Writing Craft, Writing Tips | Tagged: , , , , , , , | 10 Comments »

Avoiding Info Dumps

Posted by Nancy J. Cohen on January 15, 2016

An info dump is when you drop a chunk of information on the hapless reader. This can take various forms. Here are some examples:

Overzealous Research

You love your research, and you can’t help sharing it with readers. These excerpts are from Facials Can Be Fatal (Bad Hair Day Mystery #13). The first paragraph is the original. The second one is the revised version.

Original

“The company built houses and rented them to the miners and their families. Single men would have shared a place together, eight to twelve of them in one dwelling. The homes were shotgun style. You could see in through the front door straight back to the rear. Since the miners worked twelve hour shifts, they weren’t all home at the same time. The rent was taken out of their paychecks.”

Revised

“The company built houses and rented them to the miners and their families. Single men often shared a place together. Since they worked twelve hour shifts, they weren’t all home at the same time.”

P1030065 (800x600)

Original

“The Colorado River Compact of 1922 divided the waters of the Colorado River between seven states and Mexico. Getting it to the farther regions of our state proved difficult. Thus was born the Central Arizona Project Canal, or CAP as we call it. This required pipelines and tunnels to move the water. That can be costly, which is why our cities obtain most of their water supply from underground aquifers. Groundwater is our cheapest and most available resource.”

Revised

“The Colorado River Compact of 1922 divided the resource between several states. The Central Arizona Project Canal, or CAP as we call it, uses pipelines to move the water to the far reaches of our state. That can be costly, which is why many of our cities obtain their water supply from underground aquifers. Groundwater is our cheapest and most available resource.”

Laundry List

Any kind of list runs the risk of being tedious. Here’s a litany of symptoms you might get after being bitten by a rattlesnake. This passage is from Peril by Ponytail (Bad Hair Day Mystery #12):

Western rattlesnake strike ready

“You’d have intense burning pain at the site followed by swelling, discoloration of the skin, and hemorrhage. Your blood pressure would drop, accompanied by an increased heart rate as well as nausea and vomiting.”

As this passage wasn’t necessary to my plot, I took it out. Be wary of any list that goes on too long. Here’s another example:

He counted on his fingers all the things he’d have to do: get a haircut, buy a new dress shirt, make a reservation, call for the limo and be sure to stop by a flower shop on the way to Angie’s house.

Do we really need to know all this, or could we say, He ran down his mental to-do list and glanced at his watch with a wince. Could he accomplish everything in one hour flat?

Dialogue

Here’s a snatch of conversation between my sleuth, Marla the hairdresser, and her husband, Detective Dalton Vail:

conversation

“I’m going to talk to our next-door neighbor, who happens to be the Homeowners’ Association president,” Dalton told her. “Wait here with Brianna. Since my daughter is a teenager, she won’t understand the argument you and I had yesterday with the guy.”

“Yes, isn’t it something how he made a racist remark?” Marla replied.

“I thought it was kind of Cherry, our association treasurer, to defend you.”

This dialogue could have come from Hanging by a Hair (Bad Hair Day Mystery #11). But why would I have Marla and Dalton talking about something they both already know? This is a fault of new writers who want to get information across. It’s not the way to go, folks. Show, don’t tell. In other words, show us the scene and let it unfold in front of us. Don’t have two characters hack it to death later when they both know what happened. Now if one of these participants were to tell a friend what went down, that would be acceptable.

No doubt you’ve run across info dumps in your readings. Can you think of any further examples or other forms this problem might take?


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

Character Development: Lifespace

Posted by Nancy J. Cohen on June 19, 2015

Do you lie awake at night worrying about future events or reviewing your to-do list? The other night, I couldn’t fall asleep. Too many thoughts and concerns flickered through my mind. When this happens, one technique I use is to grab a handy notepad and pen and scribble down every thought in my head. This might include a list of things I have to get done the next day or a list of my worries, whether realized or not. Writing them down seems to allay some of the anxiety.

Assigning these concerns to a set of worry dolls is another method I might employ. These are miniature Caribbean dolls that you lay out on your nightstand or put under your pillow. Then you assign each doll one of your worries. They fret all night while you can go to sleep, safe in the knowledge that someone else is doing the worrying for you.

Worry Dolls1

I’d suggest a good book, but if it’s too good, you might want to keep reading. So choose a happy story that isn’t so engrossing that you can’t put it down. And if all else fails, there’s always a glass of wine to lull you into a state of tranquility.

wine

What does this have to do with writing? When developing your main characters, you want to do the same thing. Imagine your character’s lifespace. Determine what is in her head at any given moment in time. Here is an early version for Marla Shore, my hairdresser sleuth. Never mind my minimal drawing skills.

Lifespace

What is YOUR main character thinking about right now? Why are these things on her mind? Which ones are the most important to her? How do they influence what she’s going to do next?

Giveaway! Anyone who comments or reblogs this article will be entered into a drawing for a free set of miniature Caribbean worry dolls. Winner will be picked by random.org on Monday morning and posted here. U.S. residents only due to postage constraints.

Worry Dolls3

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Facing the Void

Posted by Nancy J. Cohen on June 8, 2015

I’m in that void in between books. Having finished my Author’s Edition of Body Wave (Bad Hair Day Mystery #4) and scheduled it for launch on June 16, I can start thinking about my next project. And so far that’s all I’ve done—think about it. This would be Bad Hair Day #14. It’s a direct sequel to Facials Can Be Fatal that follows Peril by Ponytail, my September release. I’ve set this summer for plotting with writing beginning in the Fall.

All I have at this point is the victim. I also have a possible motive, but whether this ends up a red herring or the actual reason for the crime is yet to be determined. My suspect pool is limited to work colleagues. Who else can I bring in? Did the victim have any interests or extracurricular activities that might have gotten him in trouble?

charcoal blazer

I won’t know the answers until I do my character development charts. But first, I have to figure out the timelines, because this guy’s background indirectly intersects with my sleuth’s life. So where was she when they first met? What does she know about him?

Another person is involved who has a closer relationship to our intrepid hairstylist. How is this person related to the crime? Is it random, or does this character have secrets of her own that could provide a motive?

And what about the so-called crime? Is it plausible? What could be the course of events that led to the victim’s death? Who else might be involved? This necessitates research. I have to ask an expert in the field.

As you see, all I have are a series of questions. But these are things I must ask myself to start the plot formulating in my head.

idea

And then there’s the Wow factor for me. What can I learn that’s new and interesting? This is what really grabs my interest and gets me excited about a story. The idea can come from a newspaper or magazine article, news broadcast, personal experience, or tidbit of information that crosses my path. Maybe as I’m delving into the characters, it’ll come to me. Meanwhile, my story antennae are alert.

If all else fails, I can explore my Dirt File, where I keep clippings of interesting articles about people’s crimes. Or I could explore my General Research files where I stick items that might inspire me. I’m hoping these actions won’t be necessary. Maybe I’ll get an unexpected visit from the muse who will bring me the right idea. Then the pieces will start to fall into place, and a story will form. I call this the Discovery phase because you are discovering what the story is about.

Plotting a new book is a daunting task, but one every writer faces when he finishes one book and contemplates the next. I can’t wing it like some authors. I need the story plotted out in advance. I’ll write a synopsis before beginning page one. This entire Discovery process can take me from one to three months. Then the hard work of writing begins.

How about you? When does your story brain put the pieces together?

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Posted in Fiction Writing, The Writing Life, Writing Craft | Tagged: , , , , | 13 Comments »

 
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