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 skills’

The One Page Synopsis

Posted by Nancy J. Cohen on November 30, 2017

Your publisher requests a one-page synopsis. How do you condense an entire story into a single page? My normal synopsis runs fifteen pages on average. Here’s what I do for a traditional mystery.

Synopsis OnePage

First offer a tag line that sums up the plot. Here’s an example from Shear Murder:

A wedding turns deadly when hairstylist Marla Shore discovers a dead body under the cake table.

The Setup

This initial paragraph presents the setup for the story.

Hairstylist Marla Shore is playing bridesmaid at her friend Jill’s wedding when she discovers the bride’s sister stabbed to death under the cake table. Torrie had plenty of people who might have wanted her dead, including her own sister who threatened her just before the ceremony.

The Personal Motive

Why does your sleuth get involved?

At Jill’s request, Marla agrees to help solve the case. With her own wedding four weeks away, her salon expanding into day spa services, and her relatives bickering over nuptial details, she has enough to do. But when Jill is arrested for Torrie’s murder, Marla has no choice except to unmask the killer.

The Suspects

Give a brief profile of the suspects along with possible motives.

Jill and Torrie owned a piece of commercial property together. Their cousin Kevin, a Realtor, has been trying to find them a new tenant. Meanwhile, Jill’s uncle Eddy, a shady attorney, has been urging them to sell. Now Torrie’s husband, Scott, will inherit his wife’s share. Scott has another motive besides greed. Torrie had announced her plan to leave him for another man, Griff Beasley. Griff was Torrie’s colleague at the magazine where she worked as well as the photographer at Jill’s wedding. Griff implicates Hally, another coworker. Hally and Torrie were competing for a promotion. Then [Suspect X] turns up dead.

The Big Reveal

The final paragraph is where the clues lead to the killer. If possible, include what insight the protagonist has gained. This last is important for emotional resonance so readers will be eager for the sequel to see what happens next to your heroine.

It appears Suspect Y did [Evil Deed]. Snooping into his background, Torrie learned that Suspect Alpha helped him [Do Something Bad]. Suspect Alpha murdered Torrie because she found out about [His Illegal Business], and then Suspect X because she’d discovered [fill in blank]. Marla reveals the killer and is free to enjoy her own wedding ceremony.

No, I’m not going to tell you who the killer is in Shear Murder. You’ll have to read the book to find out. But this gives you an idea how to write a one-page synopsis.

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Posted in Business of Writing, Excerpt, Fiction Writing, The Writing Life, Writing Craft, Writing Tips | Tagged: , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

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.

<><><>

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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Visit my discussion at Booklover’s Bench to see why I started out in a nursing career but I don’t write about a nurse sleuth. Leave a comment for a chance to win a copy of Body Wave. http://bookloversbench.com/lets-talk-with-nancy-j-cohen-2/

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

Proofreading Your Novel

Posted by Nancy J. Cohen on July 10, 2014

No matter how many times you review your manuscript, you’ll always find something to correct. I am reading through Peril by Ponytail for the third or fourth time. And here are the kinds of things I am still finding to correct.

Moustache or mustache? Both spellings, according to the dictionary, are correct. But I use the first variation 5 times and the second variation 3 times. I changed them all to “mustache” because it seems to be more common.

Nightstand or night stand? I have these both ways. Which is it? Considering that my editor did not correct the first usage, I changed the second one to match.

Consistency is the key. A particular word should have the same spelling throughout the story.

I also am looking to reorder sentences for better flow of logic, like these passages:

Original:

An attractive redhead at the front desk glanced up at their approach. “Carol, I see you’ve brought our guests. How was the drive?”

“Not bad. What’s going on, Jan? Why is the sheriff here?”

The fortyish lady thumbed her finger at an inner staff door. “You’d better ask your husband, hon.”

“Marla and Dalton Vail, meet Janice Sklar. Jan is our Director of Reservations.”

Janice flashed them a smile. “I expect you’ll want your room keys. You have Hacienda Number Seventy-Five. Here’s a map.” She circled a few buildings and offered a quick review of their room location and other highlights. “Do you need help with your luggage?”

“I’ll get it, thanks.” Dalton stepped up to the counter to complete the formalities. That included the key to a loaner car from Wayne.

“This way,” Carol said when he’d finished. She led them through a door marked Private.

Revised:

An attractive redhead at the front desk glanced up at their approach. “Carol, I see you’ve brought our guests. How was the drive?”

“Not bad. Marla and Dalton Vail, meet Janice Sklar. Jan is Director of Reservations.”

Janice flashed them a smile. “I expect you’ll want your room keys. You have Hacienda Number Seventy-Five. Here’s a map.” She circled a few buildings and offered a quick review of their room location and other highlights. “Do you need help with your luggage?”

“I’ll get it, thanks.” Dalton stepped up to the counter to complete the formalities. That included the key to a loaner car from Wayne.

“What’s happening, Jan? Why is the sheriff here?” Carol asked.

The fortyish lady thumbed her finger at an inner door. “Ask your husband, hon.”

“This way,” Carol told her guests. She led them through a door marked Private.

I felt Carol would more logically introduce her guests right away then ask about the sheriff.

Go for more precise wording, like in this example. I also changed swarthy to sinewy to avoid stereotyping:

From:

The swarthy laborers glanced at the new arrivals and then went back to work. Marla hoped they spoke English as they approached one fellow applying a coat of paint to a window trim. She was careful to sidestep past a ladder on the walkway and tools on the ground.

To:

The sinewy laborers glanced at the new arrivals and then went back to work. Marla hoped they spoke English as she and Dalton approached one fellow applying a coat of paint to window trim. She sidestepped past a ladder on the walkway and tools on the ground.

Here’s a sentence that needs completion to improve clarity.

Original:

“He [the sheriff] came to tell us Garrett Long is dead. His body was found out on the Snakehead Trail by a couple of hikers.”

“What? That’s not possible.” Jesse’s tan faded under his sudden pallor.

“I know. It’s hard to believe Garrett would let his caution slide. Hopefully the sheriff will investigate and determine what really happened.”

Revised:

“He [the sheriff] came to tell us Garrett Long is dead. His body was found out on the Snakehead Trail by a couple of hikers.”

“What? That’s impossible.” Jesse’s tan faded under his sudden pallor.

“I know. It’s hard to believe Garrett would be so careless as to fall off a ledge. Hopefully, the sheriff’s office will investigate and determine what happened.”

One must have sharp eyes and an alert mind to inspect your own work. Eventually, we get too close to the material. We send it off to our editor, who hopefully picks up any errors we missed. We’ll get back the clean copy for another read-through and then it’s done. If anything slipped past, it wasn’t due to negligence on our part. We tried to catch everything. But no matter how many times we scrutinize our work, the editing process is never done.

Posted in Fiction Writing, The Writing Life, Writing Craft | Tagged: , , , , | 18 Comments »

My Review of Nancy J. Cohen’s “Writing the Cozy Mystery”

Posted by Nancy J. Cohen on March 5, 2014

Thanks to DL Fernandez for his great review of my instructional guide, Writing the Cozy Mystery.

ByDLFernandez

Writing the Cozy Mystery Writing the Cozy Mystery by Nancy J Cohen

In the market for a new, great How-To book on writing? Well, look no further. I keep my eye out for these because they tend to be a wealth of knowledge and experience, packed with interesting ideas and exercises. And I’ve found one that I recommend highly. It’s a quick, efficient read that’ll definitely get your story-brain working.

I’ve been a fan of mysteries for a very long time, from the classics concocted by Conan Doyle, Chandler, and Christie, to modern doozies from the likes of Lehane. Well into my thirties at this point, one of my favorite novels is still a middle-grade cozy puzzle mystery I read in elementary school, The Westing Game by Ellen Raskin. Even as a middle school literature teacher these days, I read that novel with my 6th graders as part of a larger unit…

View original post 467 more words

Posted in Book Reviews, Reviews, Writing Craft | Tagged: , , , , , | 2 Comments »

Writing the Cozy Mystery

Posted by Nancy J. Cohen on February 5, 2014

Do you want to write a mystery but don’t have a clue where to start? Or maybe you’ve begun a whodunit but are stuck on the plot? Perhaps you’re already writing a series, and you need tips on how to keep track of your material?Cozy

After hearing numerous aspiring writers ask for advice on how to write a mystery, I decided to compile an easy-to-read instructional booklet on this needed topic.

What makes a cozy different from other crime fiction? How do you plot the story? Where does your sleuth originate? How do you plant clues?

The answers to these questions and more are in Writing the Cozy Mystery.

This title is now available on Amazon but will appear soon in multiple digital formats, including Nook, Kobi, iBooks, & SW. A print edition is coming next. Please keep watch on my website for links to these editions.

For the affordable rate of $0.99, what have you got to lose?

BUY NOW at http://www.amazon.com/Writing-Cozy-Mystery-Nancy-Cohen-ebook/dp/B00I8O1KYA/

International: http://bookgoodies.com/a/B00I8O1KYA

UK: http://www.amazon.co.uk/Writing-Cozy-Mystery-Nancy-Cohen-ebook/dp/B00I8O1KYA/

CUSTOMER REVIEWS are requested. Please write a blurb about the book if you find it to be useful and post it on Amazon, Goodreads, Barnes & Noble, etc. Also any shares and tweets would be appreciated.

This morning we are at:

#3 in Kindle Store > Kindle eBooks > Education & Reference > Writing, Research & Publishing Guides > Writing Skills

Let’s keep the momentum going!

And here’s another reason to celebrate: I just finished, as of this morning, my first draft of Peril by Ponytail, #12 in the Bad Hair Day Mysteries! Yes, I actually typed “The End.”

Watch for my Valentine’s Day contest coming soon. In the meantime, enter our Booklover’s Bench anniversary contest to win a Kindle Paperwhite or 1/8 free books by our authors, including an advance reading copy of Hanging By A Hair, #11 in the Bad Hair Day series. http://bookloversbench.com/contest/

 

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

 
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