Nancy's Notes From Florida

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

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Posts Tagged ‘novel writing’

Stay in Viewpoint

Posted by Nancy J. Cohen on November 13, 2017

As a beginning writer, I didn’t understand what it meant to stay in viewpoint. I was guilty of bouncing heads, or switching viewpoints within the same scene. This confuses readers because they become unsure of who is the main character. You should stay within one person’s head or else use a space break to delineate a change.

Books in the thriller genre often use multiple viewpoints, a technique that can work as long as there’s one clearly identifiable hero. If not, your reader isn’t going to care about any of the characters. Sure, you can catch their interest using bait and switch tactics. This means, you leave off each scene with one person in jeopardy before switching viewpoints with a space or chapter break. But get inside too many different heads, and the reader will cease to care. Maybe this is why I like single third-person or first person viewpoint in the mysteries I read. In a romance, it’s standard to alternate the hero and heroine’s viewpoint and sometimes this includes the villain as well. That’s okay as long as the character switch is well marked.

keeper

In revising Keeper of the Rings, one of my earlier romances that I wrote originally as Nancy Cane, I caught a perfect example of changing viewpoints in the same scene. Here’s an example:

[B’s viewpoint] Wellis, the village priest, had requested Bendyk’s presence. Now, as he sat across from the older man in the living room of his oceanfront bungalow, Bendyk fingered the medallion hanging from his neck.

“I fail to understand your meaning when you say people are straying from the Faith.” He squared his shoulders. “The turnout at the service this morning was phenomenal.”

“That’s because the villeins are putting on a pretense of piety for your benefit.” Wellis wagged his finger. “They’re afraid you’ll report to the Docent about their indiscretions.”

[W’s viewpoint] Pursing his lips, Wellis felt he should know his flock better than any representative from the central authority, such as Bendyk Worthington-Jax. He’d sent for help, realizing the situation could get out of control. After all, on whose head would the wrath of Lothar fall if he failed? His own, of course. But the golden-haired missionary, despite his zeal, had found nothing amiss.

It wasn’t Bendyk’s fault, considering how fearful the villeins were about retribution. The blasphemous talk circulating throughout the town was bound to bring dire repercussions. Wellis had hoped Bendyk would inspire a renewal of faith and, indeed, the service he’d conducted this morning had been exemplary. Perhaps his visit had done some good after all.

Bendyk faced him across a table laden with fresh fruit and nuts. The young man quirked an eyebrow. “Don’t forget it’s tithing time. The tax collector is here, even in the midst of Renewal celebrations. That’s enough cause for heightened tension.”

Wellis gave him a weary smile. “Not in this case. We’ve been fortunate to have the same agent each year. She counts in our favor and exacts a toll of ten percent on less the amount actually produced.”

Bendyk’s eyes darkened to a shade of indigo. “You mean this agent reports an inaccurate count? Why, that’s a criminal offense.”

Wellis leaned back in his chair, relishing the warm salty breeze blowing in from the open windows. His bungalow, a short distance from the ocean, stood on stilts like the rest of the houses by the shore. Further inland, other dwellings rose along a gentle slope that footed the Jerrise mountain range.

His congregation enjoyed a simple life living off the bounty of the sea and their industries of ropemaking and small boat construction. No one had enough revenue to fuel an investigation, so he didn’t see any harm in telling Bendyk of the tax agent’s favoritism.

“It appeases people,” he said with a shrug. “There’s enough grumbling about laws that don’t take into account the needs of individual districts.”

Bendyk scraped a hand through his short, wavy hair. “That’s not true. The Docents are responsible for making adjustments. If they rule unfairly, you can appeal to the Candor.”

“The Candors are concerned mainly with their own wealth. Things have gotten out of hand.”

Bendyk shot to his feet. “My father is a Candor. He’s always judged his people fairly and considered their needs.”

[B’s viewpoint – we can’t see if our own eyes look shrewd] Wellis regarded him with shrewd eyes. “Cranby is an exception. Do you deny that dissatisfaction with the Synod’s power is growing? Aren’t your services widely in demand in an attempt by local priests, like myself, to stem this tide of disloyalty?”

[W’s viewpoint] “It is the work of the Truthsayers.” Bendyk’s jaw clenched. “They seek to undermine the Faith and establish anarchy in its place.”

Footsteps sloshed outside, and Wellis held up a hand to silence his guest. “Hush, here comes the village council. I have summoned them to hear your advice. Go easy, young man. Your fiery tongue does you well in sermons but not in debate.”

I decided this scene should be told from Bendyk’s viewpoint since he’s a major player in the story. So here’s the new scene. See if it flows better and keeps your interest more.

Wellis, the village priest, had requested a private audience with him. Now, as he sat across from the older man in the living room of his oceanfront bungalow, Bendyk fingered the medallion hanging from his neck.

“I fail to understand your meaning when you say people are straying from the Faith,” he said. “The turnout at the service this morning was phenomenal.”

Wellis wagged his finger. “That’s because the villeins are putting on a pretense of piety for your benefit. They’re afraid you’ll report their indiscretions to the Docent.”

Bendyk tightened his lips. No doubt Wellis felt he knew his flock better than any representative from the central authority. But the priest had sent for help, realizing the situation there could get out of control. After all, on whose head would the wrath of Lothar fall if he failed? Yet the blasphemous talk circulating through town wasn’t evident during Bendyk’s inspection. He wasn’t surprised, considering how fearful the villeins were about retribution.

Wellis had hoped his arrival might inspire a renewal of faith. In truth, the service Bendyk had conducted this morning had been exemplary. Perhaps his visit had done some good after all.

He faced the priest across a table laden with fresh fruit and nuts. “Don’t forget it’s tithing time. The tax collector is here, even in the midst of Renewal celebrations. That’s enough cause for heightened tension.”

Wellis gave him a weary smile. “Not in this case. We’ve been fortunate to have the same agent each year. She counts in our favor and exacts a toll on ten percent less than the amount actually produced.”

“You mean, this agent reports an inaccurate count? Why, that’s a criminal offense.”

Wellis leaned back in his chair, while a warm salty breeze swept in through open windows. His bungalow, a short distance from the ocean, stood on stilts like the rest of the houses by the shore. Further inland, other dwellings rose along a gentle slope that footed the Jerrise mountain range.

“It appeases people,” Wellis said with a shrug. “I hear grumblings about laws that don’t take into account the needs of individual districts. My people enjoy a simple life. They live off the bounty of the sea, plus their industries of rope-making and small boat building. No one earns enough revenue to warrant an investigation.”

“That’s not true. The Docents are responsible for making adjustments. If they rule unfairly, you can appeal to the Candor.”

“The Candors are concerned mainly with their own wealth. Things have gotten out of hand.”

Bendyk shot to his feet. “My father is a Candor. He’s always judged people fairly and considered their needs.”

“Cranby is an exception.” Wellis regarded him with shrewd eyes. “Do you deny that dissatisfaction with the Synod’s power is growing? Aren’t your services widely in demand in an attempt by local priests, like myself, to stem this tide of disloyalty?”

“It is the work of Truthsayers. They want to undermine our Faith and establish anarchy in its place.”

Footsteps sloshed outside, and Wellis held up a hand to silence his guest. “Hush, here comes the village council. I have summoned them to hear your advice. Go easy, young man. Your fiery tongue does you well in sermons but not in debate.”

You may have noticed that I polished up the prose as well. So what do you think? Were you better able to identify with Bendyk in the second sample?

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

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.

badhair 

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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Posted in Fiction Writing, The Writing Life, Writing Craft, Writing Tips | Tagged: , , , , , | 9 Comments »

Creatures and Story Creation

Posted by Nancy J. Cohen on February 8, 2016

Writers can spin stories out of thin air. Yes, it’s true. We grab ideas out of the effluvia around us. Soon we’re building a novel. The characters gel, and the setting takes on detail. And then we’re off, pounding at the keyboard, the fervor of creation keeping us in its grip.

Let me give you a demonstration.

The other day, my husband and I enjoyed a sunny afternoon at Morikami Museum and Japanese Gardens in Delray. Florida may have changeable weather in the winter, but we have no snow, sunny skies, and colorful flowers.

Bougainvillea Flowers ElDorado

Birds fly down here in the colder months to share space with ducks and turtles that grace our neighborhoods.

Bird2  Geese Roadblock3 IMG_1974IMG_1962

We also have a variety of critters we’d rather not meet up close and personal. Witness this guy we observed during our visit to Morikami.

IMG_1964 IMG_1973

Here he is enjoying a meal. Thank goodness iguanas eat plants and not people.

 

Places like Morikami remind me of why I became a writer. When I sit on a bench and gaze at a lake or tread upon dead leaves through the forest, I let my imagination soar to other worlds. And so here we go with an example of how easy it is for a writer to start a story under any circumstances. We are walking along a wooded trail surrounded by tall trees and leafy foliage.

IMG_1972 P1020368 (800x600)

Mystery: I’m a tour guide/curator/director leading a group through a botanical garden. Our continued funding depends upon the success of this excursion as does my job security. All is going well until one of our party goes missing and later turns up dead…murdered. Whodunit? Is it the real estate magnate who covets the property to turn into condos? The chief curator at a rival attraction? A meandering spouse who saw the tour as a good opportunity to make his partner disappear? A politician whose stance on public safety will lift his status on the campaign trail? The mystery deepens as I begin my investigation and learn that each person in the group has a secret to hide.

Romance: I’m sitting on the park bench when a cute guy sits beside me. He wears a camera with a big lens around his neck. With a sexy grin, he peers over my shoulder and asks what I am sketching. We get to talking. I love the dimples that crease his cheeks when he smiles. But I’m dismayed when he tells me he’s the photographer assigned to the article I’m writing. Oh, no. How will I keep my professional distance when all I can think about is jumping his bones?

Horror: Patrons have vanished from the trail around the lake. Other guests have reported hearing strange noises in the brush and glimpsing a reptilian tail. But my friends think it’ll be a hoot to stay here overnight. We’re all drinking and having fun after dark until Ada is pulled screaming into a clump of trees. No one sees what grabbed her, but she’s totally gone except for the blood. We pack to leave and go to call for help, but our cell phones have no service and the road is closed due to flooding ahead. We’re trapped there….

Science Fiction: With my laser weapon strapped to my hip, I patrol the woods. My acute sense of smell tells me the creature is near. Anticipating the bounty for my catch, I track its life form on my portable viewer. My client will pay a bonus if I capture the specimen alive. All I have to do is net the prickly ardtrunk and transport us both to my flier.

Fantasy: I halted at the Japanese rock garden, admiring the combed gravel. At the far end, a pair of white stone statues guarded the display of Bonsai plants. A sense of peace washed over me as I stared at the small, glittering stones on the ground. They’d been raked recently, with a spiral pattern leading one into the other like a miniature maze. I’d been drawn to this place, never realizing the oasis sat just outside the city beyond the Fae Woodlands. I glanced to my right, where the air under a painted red archway seemed to shimmer. My heart raced as I approached. I could no more stop my feet from stepping across the threshold than I could stop my breathing. And that’s when the world tilted….

YA Fantasy: Oh Gawd, why’d my parents have to bring me to this boring place? They might enjoy the trees and plants, but nature isn’t my thing. Give me my cell phone and a Diet Coke, and I’m a happy sixteen-year-old. I took out my cell phone to text Marlene and tell her what Randy had said to me in math class, but the dang thing wouldn’t connect. “Hey, Ma,” I yelled, glancing up. “When are we leaving already?” Oh great, I couldn’t see my folks anywhere in this freakin’ garden. They must have gone up ahead. Wait, that hedge hadn’t been there a moment ago. And where did that weirdo come from? The short little guy stood staring at me as though I had come from Mars.

Isn’t this fun? Which story do you like?

As you can see, storytelling is in my blood. I can’t stop playing the “What If?” game. Where do you go for inspiration?

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Posted in Fiction Writing, Florida Musings, The Writing Life, Travel | Tagged: , , , , , , | 98 Comments »

PROMOTIONAL TEAMWORK

Posted by Nancy J. Cohen on October 12, 2010

THE FUTURE OF PUBLISHING at Brainstorming on the Beach, Novelists, Inc. conference

Thursday, October 7, 2010

This day was entirely devoted to The Future of Publishing and was open to all writers. Impressive speakers spoke to us about what’s new and what’s coming in the publishing industry. The first panel’s topic was Promotional Teamwork. Here are my notes, keeping in mind this is what I heard and my interpretation.

 PANEL ON PROMOTIONAL TEAMWORK

Speakers:

Eileen Fallon, Literary Agent

Brian O’Leary, Magellan Media Partners

Joan Schulhafer, Publishing and Media Consulting

Shannon Aviles, More Than Publicity

Kay Hooper, NYT Bestselling Author

Carolyn Pittis, Senior VP, Global Author Services, HarperCollins

Linda Parks, Co-Owner, Fireside Books

Loriana Sacilotto, Executive VP, Editorial & Global Strategy, Harlequin Enterprises

Joan: “The train has left the station,” meaning we’re all published authors and we have the choice of many destinations. We cannot let uncertainty about the future paralyze us in terms of what to do for promo. Determine who is your target audience and what you will send them in terms of printed materials. Communicate your plans to your publisher but be careful not to create more work for them. “Every time you have a request or idea, it creates work.” So be realistic in your expectations.

Loriana: Harlequin believes in building authors into their own brand. They hold weekly sessions regarding digital media and social networking. “Write consistently what you write best” to build your brand.  Print and ebook sales should be looked at together. Publishers should ask, how is this book selling in each format?  Bestseller lists still influence readers, distribution and discounts.  Is there an alternate way to measure success other than the bestseller lists?  How about total sales and the value of the backlist? 

Carolyn: Review copies still sell books today but we need more book recommendation tools.  Word of mouth hasn’t met technology yet.  Think about who your promo activities are geared toward. Also consider the cost of your various promo efforts, i.e. “For this dollar, I get less or more.”  Everything online is measurable.  Co-op used to be the major marketing expense for publishers, but things are shifting.  Independent booksellers still have tremendous influence.  A big shift is coming in retailing.  Google will allow indies to sell eBooks competitively with Amazon, etc.  As consumers use more eReader devices, indies can leverage their connections with readers.

The market is booming overseas for English language genre fiction, i.e. vampire romance, thrillers. There’s a huge demand in India and Muslim countries in particular. Growing and developing technology in eBook formats, metadata, etc. will increase among pubs.  “You can connect with your readers around the world.  That’s where the growth is.”  This growth surge will help combat book piracy.

Shannon: “Eastern Europe is in an upswing as are China, Scandinavia, Central/South America” re demand for English language books. Driving it is the eBook biz, apps, handheld tech, integrated marketing, widgets, and enriched content.  Publishers have to recognize measurable numbers for eBook sales.

Linda: Send your book to the indie bookseller, not just a bookmark.  Make a connection with your local independent bookstore.  This will benefit both of you. 

Brian: Ads in PW and newspapers don’t sell books.  You want your brand to extend beyond what your publisher does for you.  Social media provide an on-going effort to build your reputation.  “Be visible and be searchable from the moment your book is published.” 

Kay: Consider the cost of social networking to your creativity. “You have to find your comfort level because the future is now.” 

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

KAREN HAWKINS SPEAKS

Posted by Nancy J. Cohen on August 14, 2010

NY Times bestselling author Karen Hawkins offered her advice this morning at the Florida Romance Writers meeting. Here are some of the guidelines she offered based on what she’s learned through the years as a professional writer.                           

  1. Don’t ignore the market unless you’re willing to wait for the market to swing around to what you want to write.  Write what you love and love the market, but stay true to your voice.  Find out where your voice will fit in the current marketplace.
  2. Don’t write for one editor. Write for the genre. Be broad enough so that your work has appeal.  (i.e. If you write to one editor’s tastes and she rejects your work, then where does that leave you?)
  3. Start a self-editing checklist.  If you’re hearing the same things over and over from contest feedback and critique partners, it’s time for you to listen.
  4. Treat writing as a business in terms of keeping ledgers, records of expenses, estimated tax payments, etc.
  5. You need at least four books in the same genre for readers to find you.  Don’t genre jump or jump on the new trend.  Every book you write should offer what readers expect from your brand.
  6. Be assertive. Stand up for yourself or get an agent who will do it for you. Don’t sell yourself short. There’s a lot more out there to ask for if you try.

We can learn from the mistakes other multi-published authors have made and the lessons they’ve learned, because we’ve all been down the same road at one time or another.

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

PLOTTING CONUNDRUM

Posted by Nancy J. Cohen on May 14, 2010

My hero is locked in a dungeon behind a heavy wood door with a rusty lock and a cross bar on the other side. Food is delivered through a hinged door in the bottom. His prison mate is a dwarf who has the ability to turn inanimate objects into gold. How do they get out? The dwarf has hidden a chisel, and the hero still has his electronic gizmo. If he breaks the lock with the chisel, there’s still the wood bar to lift on the other side.

Options:

Hero uses his gizmo to levitate the bar.

A secret ally knocks out the guards and unlocks the door.

The hero uses the old trick of pretending to be sick or dead and the dwarf hollers for help.

They dig a tunnel.

The dwarf turns the door into gold. Then what?

Look up properties of gold at:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gold                  Gold crystals

Gold is very malleable in its pure form. Turn the door into gold and then kick it in? It would have to be very thin.

Turn just the lock into gold, punch it through, then wriggle a hand past the hole to the other side, and unlatch the bar? That’s a stretch, but it could work. It gives both characters more of a role than just having an ally do the dirty work.

You tell me. What would you do to have them escape?

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

STORY MAGIC

Posted by Nancy J. Cohen on May 5, 2010

I’ve written on this topic before, but it continues to astound me. Facing the blank white page again this morning, I wondered how I’d ever fill my page quota. My characters had just been captured by the bad guys. They’d been isolated from each other, and I had no idea how they would escape. But when I started writing and entered the Zone, as we writers call it, the story just took over. I went into a trance-like state, where I’m not aware of my surroundings. I visualize the story and the words just come out. Before I know it, my page quota is done.

In today’s section, my heroine is taken to the enemy commander. During their conversation, she learns things important to the plot. She’s dragged away for interrogation. This segment concludes the chapter. The next chapter will switch between her viewpoint and the hero’s. They’ll each gain information, and a new character will be introduced. I don’t have to worry about that today. I finished my pages and can move on to other things, like writing this blog.

I’m also proofreading the eBook version of Moonlight Rhapsody, one of my earlier futuristic romances. Then there are the social networks, listserves, and numerous other promotional activities to keep me busy. Did I mention that I’m meeting a friend for lunch and have errands to do? Thank goodness I finished these pages early because now it’s time for the exercise bike.

This book is taking off already because I know the characters. It’s the second volume in the series, and I laid all the groundwork in book number one. Unlike a mystery with numerous suspects that have to be introduced for the first time, this paranormal romance focuses on the hero and heroine and the various secondary characters they meet during their journey. The hardest thing is remembering the mythology I created, but I have enough notes to help me along.

Whoever said (and I’m not exactly sure if this is correct), “I hate writing, but I love having written,” is right, although it’s the blank page I hate. I love having written once the story magic takes over and words fill the pages.

Posted in The Writing Life | Tagged: , , , , | 2 Comments »

NEW AGE RESEARCH

Posted by Nancy J. Cohen on May 3, 2010

Today’s age of global communications allows for more ease of research than in the past. I’m writing a scene that takes place in an Asian fortress. Through a search on the Internet, I found the perfect model for my citadel. I moved it to a Pacific island where my characters have crash landed their airplane. They plan to scout the premises but are captured by the bad guys.

The soldiers march Paz and Jen to the fortress, which I’ve renamed Shirajo Manor. But now what? Thanks to images on the Internet, I can take a virtual tour of my model palace. So I look at them slide by slide, and describe the scene as I go. You can follow the tour here, too: http://www.himeji-castle.gr.jp/index/English/

Isn’t that cool? I can picture this place now, rife with winding paths, maze-like manicured grounds, medieval gates, and stone stairways. I can see the shady trees overhanging the paths. I can go inside and walk down the long corridors lined with heavy wood doors, imagining my injured hero locked inside one of the rooms while the heroine is dragged away to see the evil commandant, General Morar.

This brings up the next problem: How do they escape? Paz and Jen are separated. Our hero gets locked in a dungeon. Jen is given to the general’s wife, a scientist who conducts experiments on humans. How will she escape and find Paz? How will they pass through the successive gates guarded by armed troops, choose the right paths designed to confound invaders, and reach the exit?

Worry about it later, as my heroine in Book One of this paranormal series says. And so I shall, unless YOU give me a clue as to how these characters can escape?

Posted in Writing Craft | Tagged: , , , , | 1 Comment »

BACKSTORY

Posted by Nancy J. Cohen on December 9, 2009

One of the most common problems in new writers’ works is the insertion of backstory into the first chapter of their book. Nothing else kills the pacing quicker than paragraphs heralding back to some past event in the character’s life. Maybe it’s necessary to relate some of these facts, but they can be done in a less intrusive manner. You must keep the action moving forward. The reader wants to know what’s happening now, not twenty years in the past.

So how do you deal with this burning issue? Here are six tips to get you started.

1. Leave backstory until later. Is it absolutely essential to the core of the plot as the story opens?
If in doubt, leave it out. The story should start with some sort of crisis or change that propels your character to take action. Let the reader wonder why this is happening until your character can take a breather and reflect on what’s going on . That shouldn’t occur until at least the second chapter. Remember to end the third chapter on a hook, because this proposal is your selling tool. Kill the pacing, and kill your chances for publication.
2. Filter past events in gradually, not in one info dump. Only reveal what is necessary at that time in the story.
3. Leave some elements purposely out to create a mystery. The reader will keep turning pages to see what happened between your people in the past or why your heroine feels this way.
4. Add in the backstory through dialogue whenever possible. Let your character tell her story to someone who doesn’t already know it. Or have two characters gossip about your protagonist. If you’re in her viewpoint, she could overhear or one of them could mention it later. Find ways to work it in so that it’s interesting to the reader.
5. If you want to relate the backstory from your protagonist’s viewpoint, offer tidbits of past history a line or two at a time. Or segue into the past in a quick paragraph with a sensory element that ties the past and present together. The idea is not to get bogged down. Keep moving forward!

How do you deal with this problem?

Posted in Writing Craft | Tagged: , , , , | 11 Comments »

CHARACTERS & COLLECTIBLES

Posted by Nancy J. Cohen on November 17, 2009

While thumbing through a recent mail-order catalog, I began to wonder what items my heroine might select. This gave me the intriguing idea of assigning a collection to each protagonist. You can learn a lot about your hero or heroine from the knickknacks found in his or her house. Perhaps your heroine presents a tough exterior but indulges herself by wearing lacy lingerie. Or your hero, who seems a sensitive type, harbors an assortment of evil-looking knives in his drawer. This one might work especially well in a mystery.

What are some of the items your protagonist might collect? How about porcelain figurines, i.e. cats, dogs, birds, or children? Letter openers, music boxes, sports memorabilia, clocks, models of airplanes or cars? For works of art, does he prefer expensive paintings or framed posters? Sculptures or tacky souvenirs? What about religious ornaments, decorative plates, bead jewelry, antique coins, or crystal paperweights? How about porcelain thimbles portraying kittens, castles or cottages? Fantasy figures like angels, wizards, and unicorns? Or maybe icons from a popular TV show.

What books and magazines does he read? Are they strewn about the cocktail table for show, or are they askew on an unmade bed? Are the pages ragged, corners folded in, or is an elegant bookmark used for a book in pristine condition? Don’t forget the office, too. What do they have on display on their desk?

For inspiration, check out those unsolicited catalogs you get in the mail or browse the Web. Look through the magazine section in your local bookstore. You’ll see magazines for all sorts of hobbies. Ads can give you other ideas.

Next time you’re in someone else’s house, be nosy and snoop out their shelves.

Think about why your hero or heroine collects a particular item. Does it express a hidden desire, reveal a facet of his/her personality, expose a touching sentiment? Even owning nothing of a personal nature can make a statement in itself. Have fun delving into the intricacies of your people’s hobbies and describe the precious tchotchkes through their eyes. Adding these details will give an added dimension to your writing and more depth to your characters.

Posted in Writing Craft | Tagged: , , | 6 Comments »

 
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