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’

Writing the Mystery – Howdunit?

Posted by Nancy J. Cohen on February 7, 2017

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

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

Bedner's Farm  sheds

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

trophy

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Now let’s throw a wrench into the works.

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

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

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

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

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

End of Chapter Hooks

Posted by Nancy J. Cohen on November 2, 2016

Creating a hook at the end of a chapter encourages readers to turn the page to find out what happens next in your story. What works well are unexpected revelations, wherein an important plot point is offered or a secret exposed; cliffhanger situations in which your character is in physical danger; or a decision your character makes that affects story momentum. Also useful are promises of a sexual tryst, emotional aftermath of a love scene, arrival of an important secondary character, or a puzzling observation that leaves your reader wondering what it means.

hook

It’s important to stay in viewpoint. Otherwise, you’ll lose immediacy and this will throw your reader out of the story. For example, your heroine is shown in first person viewpoint placing a perfume atomizer into her purse while thinking to herself: “Before the day was done, I’d wish it had been a can of pepper spray instead.” What happens later on? This character is looking back from future events rather than experiencing the present. As a reader, you’ve lost the sense of timing that holds you to her viewpoint. You’re supposed to see what she sees and hear what she hears, so how can you observe what hasn’t yet come to pass? Thus you are tossed out of viewpoint while being forewarned things are going to get nasty.

Hanging

Foreshadowing is desirable because it heightens tension, but it can be done using more subtle techniques. Here’s another out-of-body experience: “If I knew what was going to happen, I’d never have walked through that door.” Who is telling us this? The Author, that’s who. Certainly not your character, or she’d heed her own advice. Who else but the author is hovering up in the air observing your heroine and pulling her strings? Same goes for these examples:

“I never dreamed that just around the corner, death waited in the wings.” Who can see around this corner if not your viewpoint character? YOU, the author!

“Watching our favorite TV program instead of the news, we missed the story about a vandalized restaurant.” If the characters missed the story, who saw it?

“I felt badly about the unknown victim, but it had nothing to do with me. Or so I thought.” He’s speaking again from the future looking back.

“I couldn’t possibly have been more wrong.” Ditto to above.

“I was so intent on watching the doorway, I didn’t see the tall figure slink around the corner.” Then who did spot the tall figure? You got it–the author.

Although these examples are given in first person, the same principles apply to third person limited viewpoint. Your reader is inside that character’s skin. She shouldn’t be able to see/hear/feel beyond your heroine’s sensory perceptions. By dropping hints about future events, you’re losing the reader’s rapt attention. Avoid author intrusion by sticking to the present. End your chapter with a hook that stays in viewpoint.

Here are some examples from Permed to Death, #1 in the Bad Hair Day Mysteries:

“This was her chance to finally bury the mistake she’d made years ago. Gritting her teeth, she pulled onto the main road and headed east.” (Important Decision)

“There’s something you should know. He had every reason to want my mother dead.” (Revelation)

“Her heart pounding against her ribs, she grabbed her purse and dashed out of her townhouse. Time was of the essence. If she was right, Bertha was destined to have company in her grave.” (Character in Jeopardy)

“Her heart heavy, she crawled into her car. Until this case was solved, she couldn’t call anyone her friend.” (Aftermath of emotional scene)

[Heroine has been poisoned] “She allowed oblivion to sweep her into its comforting depths.” (Physical Danger)

“Todd Kravitz, the old lady’s son. Don’t you remember? He was the male model who posed with you for those sexy shots.” (Secret Exposed)

The same techniques apply to romance novels as well as mysteries. Ending a chapter with a confrontation between the hero and heroine will make the reader turn the page, especially if you’ve presented only one character’s reaction. Anticipation rises for the other person’s response. How will this event change their relationship? In addition to emotional turning points, escalating sexual tension will keep your reader eagerly flipping pages.

Divorce,fight,problems - Young couple angry at each other sitting back to back

Decisions that have risky consequences can also be effective. For example, your heroine decides to visit her boyfriend’s aunt against his wishes. She risks losing his affection but believes what she’s doing is right. Suspense heightens as the reader waits to see if the hero misinterprets her action. Or have the hero in a thriller make a dangerous choice that puts someone he cares about in jeopardy no matter what he does. What are the consequences? End of chapter. Readers must keep going to find out what happens next.

bomb

To summarize, here’s a list of chapter endings that will spur your reader to keep the night light burning:

1. Decision
2. Danger
3. Revelation
4. Secondary character’s unexpected arrival
5. Emotional turning point
6. Sexual tension
7. Puzzle

Sprinkle the lucky seven judiciously into your story and hopefully one day you’ll be the happy recipient of a fan letter that says: “I stayed up all night to finish your book. I couldn’t put it down.” That’s music to a writer’s ears.

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

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

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.

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 »

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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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?

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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 »

 
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