Nancy's Notes From Florida

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

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Posts Tagged ‘Writing Craft’

Character Archetypes

Posted by Nancy J. Cohen on September 27, 2016

Archetypes are recurrent themes found in works of literature and film. Take the Star Lord and the green-skinned girl in Guardians of the Galaxy. He’s a cocky womanizer. She’s a feminist warrior. Don’t you love their snappy dialogue before they realize how much they care for each other? Here’s a list of other familiar archetypes.

AMNESIA: Is he/she married, a parent, a missing bride/groom, presumed dead? Did he kill someone? Did someone try to kill him? Is she a witness to a violent crime? Is he an undercover agent who got hurt by the bad guys? American Dreamer, The Bourne Identity

BRIDES: Marriage of convenience, fake fiancés, mail order bride, runaway bride/groom, green‑card, royal, shot-gun wedding, jilted, terms of the will, mismatch, Vegas spur-of-the-moment wedding (or hasty drunken decision). Runaway Bride, Father of the Bride, Wedding Crashers, Sleepless in Seattle, What Happens in Vegas

Bride

BUDDIES/PARTNERS: Two or more pals go on a road trip and have a wild time.

CHILDREN: Abandoned, lost, orphaned, adopted, biological, inherited, stolen, kidnapped, secret baby, true identity unknown, switched‑at‑birth, kids playing matchmaker for single parents. Home Alone

DISGUISE: Hidden identity, switching places, surprise identity: True Lies, The Prince and the Pauper, The Scarlet Pimpernel, Freaky Friday, The Princess Diaries

identity

FISH OUT OF WATER: Enchanted, City Slickers, Kate and Leopold, Outlander

MAKEOVER: The Princess Diaries, My Fair Lady

MISMATCHED COUPLES: Bad boy/Good girl, Cowboy/Lady, Pirate/Princess, Real Estate Developer/Preservationist, Wanderer/Homemaker, May/December, Womanizer/Feminist, Duke/Governess, Mentor/Protegé, Boss/Employee. Romeo & Juliet, Beauty and the Beast, Six Days Seven Nights

RAGS TO RICHES: Cinderella, Pretty Woman, Ever After, Maid in Manhattan

 

maid

REUNION: Former lovers, estranged spouses, lost love, thwarted romance, divorced but still in love. Sweet Home Alabama

SECRET POWER: Harry Potter series, Superheroes like Superman and The Flash

SINGLE PARENTS: Struggling working mothers, clueless divorced dads. Three Men and a Baby, Baby Boom. Many of the Hallmark TV movie rom coms.

TWINS: Switched identities, mistaken identities, trading places to fool people and having the tables turned on them instead. Parent Trap, New York Minute

Twins

Think about the books on your shelves at home. Do you repeatedly buy the same types of stories? Does this tell you something about the plot devices that appeal to you? Have you ever tried writing a story with your favorite theme?

Now let’s see how this applies to writing a murder mystery. As a writing exercise, select a theme above and randomly pair it with a setting mentioned in the post below. What do you get? Can you weave a mystery around this combination?

For example, “Rags to Riches” meets “Library.” So…we have a Cinderella-type woman who is hoping to better herself, so she gets a job in an important library where she means to meet a guy. Think government center or historical library, not just your average small town place. But instead of meeting the man of her dreams to escalate her social status, she stumbles across a dead body in the stacks. What’s worse is that she’s accused of the crime. You see what I mean? Now share your combination and how you’d plot a story.

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Setting within a Setting

Posted by Nancy J. Cohen on September 22, 2016

As mystery writers, we are trained to place our sleuths within a distinctive milieu that becomes a character in itself. Whether it’s a small town, a neighborhood in a big city, or a regional locale, this setting imbues our stories with a unique flavor. Then we assign an occupation to our sleuth that further extends this world.

Recently, I realized that for each story, we add another circle. Think of concentric circles each enclosing the other with the sleuth in the center.

Circles

In watching traditional mysteries on TV, I’ve noticed how each show focuses on a narrow group of people, same as we do in a cozy mystery novel. It’s easy when we pick a setting with built-in suspects. Here are some ideas in no particular order:

Bookstore
Craft Emporium, Gift Shop
County Fair, Crafts Fair
Classes—Cooking, Crafts, Dance, Yoga, Acting, Quilting
Charity Organization, Fundraisers
Competition—Art Show, Bake-Off, Sports Tournament
Health Care—Clinic, Doctor’s office, Dentist, Hospital
Food—Catering, Cookie Store, Coffee Shop, Restaurant, Chefs, Winery, Farm
Library
Museum or Historical Site
Theatrical Performance, Circus, Carnival, Concert, Live Stage Show
Holiday Event, Parade, Christmas Sale, Fourth of July Committee
Trade Show
School or College
Sports Team
Party, Wedding, Celebration
Bank, Financial Center, Insurance Agency
Transportation—Car Dealership, Bus Trip, Train, Road Trip
Tour Group
Cruise Ship, Private Charter Yacht
Hotel or Resort
Beauty Care—Salon, Day Spa, Wellness Clinic
Book Club, Knitting Club, Gourmet Club, Bridge Club
Conference or Convention

Anyway, you get the gist. Tell us where you’ve set your latest novel or where you might like to see one take place.

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Posted in Fiction Writing, Writing Craft, Writing Tips | Tagged: , , , , | 9 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.

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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 »

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 »

Self-Discipline

Posted by Nancy J. Cohen on November 19, 2015

You can’t complete a full-length novel without a strict code of self-discipline. Imagine all the distractions we have throughout the day. How can a writer put these aside to focus intently on a book? How can we face a blank page each day, knowing we have to fill in the words? How can we concentrate day after day, month after month, on the same story until it’s done?

It takes immense self-discipline. You can train yourself to do it. First, you must set an attainable goal. Don’t think about the 300 page manuscript you have to complete or the 80,000 minimum word count. Consider how many pages you can reasonably complete each day. Set a daily goal. Determine what time of day is your most creative and set your starting hour. You will complete your pre-writing rituals and get down to business each day…when?

Now consider how many days per week you’ll be able to get this done. Do you want a five-day work week with weekends off? Or do you have a day job, so you have to binge write on weekends? How about allowing for doctor appointments, lunch with friends, and business meetings? Now set a weekly goal.

Use your tabulations from above to figure out your monthly projections. Then set monthly goals.

Beyond all this is the deadline you set for the first draft. Always leave leeway for sick days or vacations or unexpected visitors from out of town. When is your expected completion date?

Keep in mind that these deadlines are somewhat variable. Let’s say you’ve set five pages per day as your attainable goal. One day you might write two pages. Another day you might write seven pages. But your overall goal is twenty-five pages per week. As long as you reach the weekly goal, you’re okay.

Now comes the hard part. You need to practice BICHOK: Butt in Chair, Hands on Keyboard. You must do this day after day, no matter how tedious it becomes. Progress may seem slow, but even if you complete two pages a day, you’re moving forward. That’s the important thing. Do not stop to revise your work. You can fix it after it’s done. Keep moving ahead.

woman computer

Non-writers don’t realize how hard it is to accomplish these goals. It’s easier to make plans with friends, play on Facebook, or do the household projects you keep putting off. You’d rather do a hundred other things than stick to a writing schedule. But the only way you’ll write that book is through sheer determination. You WILL do it despite temptation.

So set your goals, grit your teeth, and get your butt in the chair. You’re allowed to take an exercise break, but then sit back down and finish your daily goal. When done, you can have the reward of checking your email and social media and going out to have fun. The next day, it starts all over again. Put on those blinders while you write and keep going full-speed ahead. Many people say they want to write a book. Only a true writer at heart will finish one after the other.

What’s your method for getting the work done?

Posted in Business of Writing, Fiction Writing, The Writing Life | Tagged: , , , , , | 14 Comments »

Young Adult Mysteries

Posted by Nancy J. Cohen on October 28, 2015

This panel at Bouchercon was titled “Importance of Book Clubs and Young Adult Literacy.” Speakers included Destiny Geddis, Matthew McGrath, B.K. Stevens, and Kaley Whittle, with Tina Whittle moderating.

P1040969

Disclaimer: These notes are based on my interpretation and any errors are mine.

· This panel included YA readers. They do reviews and have a book club at their charter school. Here is what they wish writers and editors knew about YA.

· YA mysteries have a teenage sleuth. The crime doesn’t have to be a murder. These stories often include elements of self-discovery and current issues for teens.

· Panelists advised authors to talk to young people to see how they speak. TV teens are as accurate as CSI teams on TV. Know your audience. Do the research. Talk to young adults to see what they do and what their friends do. “We don’t use certain words that have become antiques. We talk differently.” They also use different languages between texting, e-mail, talking in person to friends and to adults.

· Not all teen protagonists need a tragic backstory. They don’t have to be misunderstood. They don’t have to be loners, either. There’s lots of diversity in high school.

· Adults are not always evil, mean, unlikable, or uncaring. Avoid clichés like “I’m a teenager and I hate my parents.” Teens don’t rebel against authority in high school. They have to be respectful to teachers. Parents don’t always have to be divorced or dead. Nor does the family dog have to die. Most parents love their kids and try to be good parents and sometimes make mistakes.

· Don’t force the romantic elements. Have your characters be strong on their own, and then they can fall in love. You don’t need a lot of angst. The romance doesn’t always mean boy/girl, or white guy/white girl. Platonic relationships work too. Friendships are also desirable. The romance can lead to character growth when the protagonist has to make a choice.

· Don’t kill off a pet just to elicit an emotional response. Make the emotion natural and realistic to a character who’s connected to readers. Don’t throw in a baby either for the emotional response. Look at http://doesthedogdie.com for a guide to movies.

· Create a diverse cast of characters.

· Treat YA mysteries as seriously as adult mysteries. Readers should have access to clues, and the protagonist should solve the mystery on her own. “We figure things out really quickly and we want surprises. Don’t dumb down the mystery. Give us challenges. Develop the villains as fully as other characters.” Avoid dialogue such as “as you know…”

· Strong female characters do not act like stereotypical men. They can be feminine but strong. Males will read books with a female lead. Don’t follow gender clichés. Guys can be sensitive, and girls can like sports.

· Leave your moral soapbox at home. Subtlety is appreciated. Talk to the reader, not at the reader, otherwise it feels preachy.

· It’s okay to be both serious and funny.

YA writers or readers, what would you add?

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

Revising Your Manuscript

Posted by Nancy J. Cohen on July 30, 2015

I’m in the midst of edits for Facials Can Be Fatal, #13 in the Bad Hair Day Mysteries. A couple of the problems I’m fixing are things you should be looking for in your work, also. These include too many mentions of previous stories, info dumps, and extraneous material that doesn’t add to a scene. My own read-through has revealed inconsistencies that I didn’t catch during my prior rounds. Here are some examples.

editing

Excerpt One—Original Scene

“Was the other ship ever found?” Dalton’s rapt expression showed his fascination.

As a history buff, he must be soaking this in, Marla thought with fond affection.

Sam’s face folded into a frown. “The problem with that wreck site, unlike the deeper water where the Atocha sank, is that undercurrents cause shifting sand dunes. The Santa Margarita broke apart in a wide debris field. Through the years, people discovered a trail of artifacts, from gold chalices to silver coins, jewelry, and swords. Then in 1980, Mel Fisher’s company located a section of the ship’s wooden hull, along with items valued at forty million dollars. However, other portions of the ship remained elusive. Records showed eight hundred ounces of registered gold, one hundred and forty-five silver bars, more than eighty thousand silver coins, and millions of dollars in smuggled contraband still missing.” He ticked off each listing on his fingers.

“So that treasure remains unfound?” Dalton scratched his head as though the magnitude of value astounded him.

Sam got up to pace the room. “Another salvage firm from Key West discovered more relics. They contacted Mel Fisher’s company, since his group had the federal permit to explore those waters, and the two companies formed a partnership. Since then, they’ve recovered many more items. I like this one: sixteen thousand natural pearls in an oval leaden box. The largest weighs in at over fifty-two carats, one of the biggest known natural pearls in the world.”

“That’s amazing,” Marla said. “Those ships must have been heavy with all those coins and ingots aboard. No wonder they sank.” Gold jewelry and pearls, emeralds from Columbia, silver from Mexico . . . who wouldn’t kill to obtain such bounty? “How many more ships like those two remain undiscovered?”

“Quite a few.” Sam went on, his words rushing together in his enthusiasm. “In 1733, the Nuestra Espana fleet left Havana for home with three armed galleons and eighteen merchant ships. They encountered a hurricane off Marathon. The San Jose alone was carrying almost seven million pesos in gold when it sank. Many of these wreck sites are charted on maps and have been studied by archaeologists as part of the state’s historical preserves.”

“And yet, not all of the ships that sank have been found?” Marla imagined there must be records of missing cargo dating back in history.

He nodded. “As I said, some thirty to forty known ships have sunk in our coastal waters. There could be hundreds more.”

“What are the laws pertaining to these wrecks? Who owns them if found?”

“According to the Abandoned Shipwreck Act of 1988, any historic find becomes the property of its respective state.”

Excerpt One–Revised Scene

“Was the other ship ever found?” Dalton’s rapt expression showed his fascination.

Sam’s face folded into a frown. “The problem with that wreck site, unlike the deeper water where the Atocha sank, is that undercurrents cause shifting sand dunes. The Santa Margarita broke apart in a wide debris field. Through the years, people have discovered many of its relics, including a lead box filled with sixteen thousand pearls.”

“That’s amazing,” Marla said. “Those ships must have been heavy with all the gold coins, silver bars and jewels aboard. No wonder they sank. How many more ships like those two remain undiscovered?”

“Quite a few.” Sam got up to pace the room. “Most of the known wreck sites are charted on maps. They’re part of the state’s historical preserves.”

“Who owns the salvage rights to a sunken ship?” Marla asked, wondering about laws regarding lost treasure.

“According to the Abandoned Shipwreck Act of 1988, any historic find becomes the property of its respective state.”

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Excerpt Two—Original Scene

They’d requested a table outside at the rear but under the covered portion, not the lounge part that was just for drinks. Their table, covered with a white cloth, was already set with wine glasses, bread plates, and a glass-enclosed candle when they took their seats. Further out on the wooden deck, the drinkers had bare wood tables open to the sea breeze with some shade provided by green umbrellas. The tables and chairs had been bleached by the sun and looked more ashen in color.

They faced east and the Atlantic Ocean. A tree grew from under the deck, dropping the occasional debris when the wind blew. The view to the side enchanted her with its sandy beach and graceful coconut palms, but she couldn’t see the water stretching out to sea. The sky had darkened and there wasn’t enough illumination from the moon.

After the waitress uncorked their bottle of Chardonnay and they had sampled their first glass, Marla ordered the Boston lettuce salad with watercress, blue cheese, apples, and spiced pecans, while Dalton couldn’t pass up the conch chowder. They both had fish for their entrées; he got the soy glazed grilled tuna steak and she ordered pan-roasted salmon. Dalton, sitting next to a potted red croton plant, reached for a slice of crusty bread.

Excerpt Two– Revised Scene

They’d requested a table in the outside dining area at the rear of the house. Their white-clothed table held wine glasses, bread plates, and a glass-enclosed candle. They faced east and the Atlantic Ocean. The view to the side enchanted Marla with its sandy beach and graceful coconut palms, but she couldn’t see the water stretching out to sea. The sky had darkened, and the moon didn’t provide enough illumination.

After they had sampled their first glass of Chardonnay, they placed their orders. Dalton chose the soy-glazed grilled tuna steak and Marla ordered pan-roasted salmon. Dalton, sitting next to a potted red croton plant, reached for a slice of crusty bread.

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Excerpt Three—Original Scene

Howard lived in Mangrove Isles, a community of pricey homes bordered by canals in east Fort Lauderdale. Since they were already on A1A, it didn’t take them long to get there. His two-story house was well-maintained with iron grillwork on a second-story balcony, ceiling fans on a covered porch, and white outdoor wicker furniture. Majestic palms and other tropical greenery graced the front lawn. The driveway’s red pavers led to a detached three-car garage.

As Dalton parked along the curb, Marla looked up the house via a real estate site on her cell phone. “It’s worth over two million,” she said with a sense of awe, wondering if Howard had a yacht docked out back like many of his neighbors. “Would you believe he has five full bathrooms? The place is listed at nearly forty-three hundred square feet.”

“It must cost a lot of money to maintain.”

“Does he live alone, or is he married?” She didn’t recall his family status.

“He got divorced eight years ago. His kids live with the ex-wife.”

Excerpt Three–Revised Scene

Howard Cohn lived in Mangrove Isles, a community of pricey homes bordered by canals in east Fort Lauderdale. His Mediterranean-style villa had iron grillwork on a second-story balcony, ceiling fans on a covered porch, and hurricane impact windows facing the front lawn. Tropical greenery bordered a paved walkway to the door.

“Does Howard have a family?” Marla asked, unable to recall his marital status.

“He got divorced eight years ago. His kids live with the ex-wife.”

So what do you think? Are these revised versions better? What are your main weaknesses that you look for in revisions?

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Posted in Fiction Writing, The Writing Life, Writing Tips | Tagged: , , , , , , | 4 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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Posted in Fiction Writing, Writing Craft, Writing Tips | Tagged: , , , , , | 15 Comments »

 
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