Tag: plotting

The next book. Where and when to begin….

 Good morning Miss Demeanors! I’ve been on the road recently, first to the wonderful Southern Kentucky Book Festival in Bowling Green, then to the Mystery Writers of America symposium in New York, and finally to Malice Domestic in Bethesda. At every point, there was talk about writing. Lots of talk about writing.  One of the questions is how to know when it’s time to start a new project. My question today is, what part is the most difficult for you? The initial idea, outline, writing the first pages? Do you have a process to go from idea to “start”? ROBIN: The opening scene. I try to subscribe to the crappy first draftprocess where I focus on getting the story out of my system. Ideas areeasy, 3-dimensional characters take a little more time, knowing whereto start the clock ticking is hard, a great first sentence is where I agonize. I have to remind myself I have permission to just spit thefirst draft out and worry about that all-important first page whenI’ve got some clay on the table to work with. SUSAN: I’m with you, Robin.  I really like to know the opening scene, and even though I plow forward with a rough first draft, I’m […]

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Serial Summer

This is the Summer of my Submission, which is to say this is the summer when my fabulous agent is working to sell my new mystery novel and I am working very hard to manage my anxiety. I considered taking up drink, and have not ruled it out entirely, but for the time being I’m channeling my anxiety into writing short stories. Which is to say I am now in the midst of writing four short stories.   I’ve never done anything like this. Usually I’m a very focused one-at-a-time sort of person. I explore, I take notes, I cogitate, I excavate and then hopefully something emerges. But at the moment I’m more in a machine-gunning frame of mind. I’m spewing one idea after another onto the page, and it’s sort of fun. Perhaps it’s the writing version of going onto Tinder and dating four guys in one week. (I can hear my son groaning as I write that sentence.) One of the most exciting parts of this speed-writing is that I’m developing characters I normally wouldn’t write about. One particular one that intrigues me is the daughter of a serial killer. I’ve always been interested in what it would be like to […]

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Clues and red herrings

 Mystery and thriller writers are often asked – how do you plot your books? For the truth of the matter is that whether the author plots in advance or flies by the seat of their pants and then fixes, the mystery/thriller writer is paying attention to the clues and red herrings that bring their story to a satisfying end. This makes clues and red herrings the mystery writers stock in trade. They aren’t, however, all of the stock needed to arrive at a satisfying end. I like to think that misdirection is the mystery writer’s friend.   What are some strategies for misdirection?– Innocent characters with strong motives (who must be clearly shown to be innocent later)– Innocent character at the scene of the crime (meaning no motive, but the reader will wonder if the motive will be revealed)– Guilty character who appears innocent (no evidence of motive, weapon or opportunity)– Clues that can be interpreted in multiple ways (and are)– Unreliable narrator (this has been added to the list of popular misdirection techniques in recent years) Strategies require thought and application. Writers use post its and charts, they think about foreshadowing, investigate the rabbit holes of misdirection, and plot backwards from the […]

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Fair Game

 The movers brought my furniture today. Except for a few minor snafus—driver arrived, crew didn’t; car battery died so couldn’t get it off truck—everything was going well. Until. The crew parked in the nameless alley behind my house and had almost finished unloading my household goods when a cranky neighbor showed up and demanded both the crew’s pickup truck and the moving truck be removed. She “needed” them moved, she said. The movers had parked in the alley to avoid blocking the road in front of my house. They weren’t impeding traffic. They weren’t parked in the woman’s yard. They weren’t blocking her driveway or preventing her from leaving her house. Cranky neighbor was so offended by a moving truck in a back alley, she called the police. The policeman who responded did not seem overly concerned. He remained polite and professional. He simply asked the movers about how long they thought they’d be then left. Cranky neighbor stayed home and spied on the movers, looking for reasons to scold them. Welcome to the neighborhood. Being an author always alert for story ideas, I immediately thought this woman would make the perfect fictional murder victim. I fantasized ways of killing her […]

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WRITING MY WAY OUT OF A CARDBOARD BOX

 Let me be clear. This is not a criticism of or rant against technology. I am thrilled to be living in an age where there are computers, cellphones, the Internet, and Bluetooth. Admittedly, there is a learning curve for someone my age. I remember identifying with Dave Barry who wondered how they got the ink through the wires of a fax machine. But it has been worth every effort I have made to hang on, clinging to my devices by my fingernails declaring, “I will not be left behind.”            I am particularly smitten with Google. There is no place you cannot go with this wonder of wonders. Just within the past 48 hours, I have explored how to defer federal jury duty, how to fix a dropped stitch, what the weather will be in New Orleans and Italy this month, and who is the better candidate for state senate in my community. When the students I teach at a law school told me I should stop struggling with Westlaw, a complex legal software program, and just use Google, I was relieved to know I was actually in the know.            So when a number of my writing colleagues began to rave […]

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Killer Nashville and Plot Twists

The writer’s conference Killer Nashville exceeded expectations in many ways, but as I digest the days of panels and speakers and most importantly dive into writing again I’m thinking about Plot Twists. At Killer Nashville three great panels touched on this: How to Write Effective Plot Twists, No Soggy Middles, and Creating Tension in Your Story. What I liked best about the panels is that there is no “perfect solution”. After all, every story is different, every author’s voice is different, however, there are many points that an author can reflect upon. I take notes at these events as if there is an exam (leftover from graduate school days?) and looking over them a few points stand out to me today. Mainly the idea of spending time on the villain. Sounds simple, right? Killer Nashville is mainly thriller and mystery writers and the advice and discussions crossover between the two…however I think that when writing a thriller the audience may know exactly who the villain is that villain should be evil (Hannibal Lector and his evil out of prison alter ego were both known to the reader/viewer and both were evil personified). I write mysteries and it’s not always as clear; after […]

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Wednesday's Writing Tip

I have a dirty secret to tell you involving my pants. I do not fly by the seat of them. Writers love to say that they do. They claim that their stories emerge, Athena-esque, fully formed from their split heads: beginning, middle and end intact; armed, even, with a marketing plan. Anything less is not art, they claim. So, here’s another confession. I am more craftsman than artist. My stories are painstakingly plotted. Each chapter is a carefully crafted image in a photo mosaic that I recolor and arrange until the whole can only be seen by standing back. I set out my plot twists like points on a map. Sometimes, I am surprised by how I get there. Sometimes, the characters become different people who refuse to go where I’d like, necessitating another storyline or idea. But, more often than not, they are designed with particular characteristics and backstories in mind that should set them off on the path I’ve envisioned.  If writers are Gods of our little worlds, then I am a deterministic one. My characters can no more escape their inclinations than I can escape my genetic compulsions.  So I don’t sit down and let the muse take me where she will. […]

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