Category: Writing (Page 1 of 8)

#amwriting Mystery with a Pinch of Humor

Do you love your mysteries with a dose of humor? Want to find more about how to write them?

This week I discovered a wonderful webinar called Mirth & Mystery with Diane Kelly at Triangle Sisters in Crime.

 

 

First Diane sets the stage. As she explains, humor often doesn’t get as much respect as other genres, even though it is incredibly difficult to write. There is only one award for humorous mysteries, the Lefty (the archives is a great place to find books to add to your reading list).

That doesn’t mean it is impossible. Diane gives the names of several popular mystery authors known for their humor. Of the authors on her list, my husband is a huge fan of Carl Hiaasen, I love Janet Evanovich’s  Stephanie Plum series (previous post), and my son is a mammoth Dave Barry fan. What does that say about our family?

Next she delves deeply into the numerous ways that humor can improve your writing, from making your manuscript stand out to agents and editors, to  adding to the emotional range. If you have your readers biting their fingernails with tension, rather than charging forward with more,  provide a bit of relief via a lighter, comedic moment.

I’m not sure how long the video will be available, but this webinar is a gem. Seriously.

Here are Amazon Affiliate links to the two humor writing books she recommends (mainly so I remember to pick them up).

The Comic Toolbox: How to Be Funny Even If You’re Not by John Vorhaus

The Eight Characters of Comedy: Guide to Sitcom Acting And Writing by Scott Sedita

 

Then a few days later I found a webinar by mystery author Kathy McKintosh on “Humor in Mysteries.”  Is the cosmos trying to tell me something?

Look for it at Bear Canyon Library on YouTube (link).  Unfortunately sharing was disabled, so you will have to click through to watch it.

Do you have a favorite mystery author who incorporates humor in their novels? We’d love to hear about it!

@DesertSleuths anthology SO WEST: LOVE KILLS Coming Soon

Interested in mysteries? Like to read anthologies?

A short story I wrote is featured in the latest Desert Sleuths anthology, So West:  Love Kills*, arriving 9/10/2021.

(*Amazon affiliate link)

Here’s the blurb:

Betrayal. Deception. Greed. Love Gone Wrong. Brothers and sisters. Lovers and liars. Fathers and daughters. Mothers and sons. From the wilds of Arizona’s Rim country to its dusty lowland deserts, you’ll find it all within the pages of So West: Love Kills. Bonds forged and broken. Covenants kept and cast aside. Love nurtured and left to rot. Not everything is as it seems. Not everyone can be trusted. But one thing is for certain—love hurts. Sometimes it even kills!

 

Contributing authors:

  • Shannon Baker,
  • Mysti Berry,
  • Meredith Blevins,
  • Patricia Bonn,
  • Lauren Buckingham,
  • Susan Budavari,
  • William Butler,
  • Patricia Curren,
  • Meg E. Dobson,
  • Beverly Forsyth,
  • Denise Ganley,
  • Roberta Gibson,
  • Katherine Atwell Herbert,
  • Tom Leveen,
  • Susan Cummins Miller,
  • Charlotte Morganti,
  • Julie Morrison,
  • Claire A. Murray,
  • Kris Neri,
  • Karen Odden,
  • R K Olson,
  • D.R. Ransdell,
  • Kim Rivery,
  • Elena E. Smith.

 

Lead Editor: Maegan Beaumont.

Co-Editors: Deborah J Ledford, Susan Budavari, R K Olson, Shannon Baker, Meg Dobson

Cover Designer: Maegan Beaumont.

E-books available for preorder now. I’d love for you to check it out!

#amwriting Gleaned from Virtual Classes This Week

April has been a month jam-packed with virtual writing classes.  I wanted to take a minute to jot down a few notes about what I’ve learned (making an effort not to infringe on someone else’s work).

Highlights

From ProWriting Aid’s Crime Writer’s Week

First class:

The Elements of a Crime Novel by Leigh Russell, who has a long-running series featuring DI Geraldine Steel.

Leigh Russell spoke about her writing process. Two things that struck me were that she admitted she wrote the first book mainly for her own enjoyment, so she decided her protagonist would be 39 years old. Now she’s writing the 18th book in the series, she regrets not making her protagonist a bit younger. She says she has to fudge Geraldine’s age or her protagonist will be well past  retirement age before Russell finishes the titles she has under contract. Nice problem to have.

She also moved her setting from a fictional city to a real one because she feels this gives her a built-in audience. Other authors have suggested creating a made up setting if you are going to feature a lot of violent crimes because real world tourist boards do not appreciate their town being the host to a serial killer. Bad publicity. In direct contrast, Russell says people delight in seeing their community in a novel and become devoted fans.  Regardless of what the tourist board thinks, people will realize that your book is a work of fiction. Good to know!

Second class:

Editors Anne Hawley and Rachelle Ramirez spent some time explaining the fine points of the different subtypes of crime novels. Although I was well aware of the differences between mystery, thriller and police procedural, I was less familiar with the caper/heist  subtype. A novel I read recently, Finlay Donovan is Killing It by Elle Cosimano (previous post), falls into this category.

Rachelle also presented a four act structure that works well for mystery novels. I was most taken with the suggestion that the protagonist may have a fear rather than a flaw. A fear can be a weakness and a motivation. Useful idea!

Interview:

I’m not sure how long this video will be posted, but I thought Vaseem Khan had some incredibly insightful things to say about writing so I hope you get to watch it. Also, I’m going to look for his books, which he says are fashioned after on of my favorite mystery series, The Number One Ladies Detective Agency.

Edit:  Check out about 30 minutes! His take on writing the other (“otherwise we’ll all be writing autobiographies”).

Newsletter and blog at his website.

#amwriting Writers’ League of Texas

Looking for some inspiration and camaraderie? Check out the Writers’ League of Texas.

I know, I know. There are too many online opportunities already, but you can tell this is a fun group from their welcome video.

See what I mean?

They have:

Let me know if you decide to give it a try.

 

 

#amwriting Couch to 80K Writing Challenge Rocks

With all the analogies comparing NaNoWriMo to running a marathon, I wasn’t surprised that the aptly named Couch to 80K Boot Camp with Tim Claire was good way to condition my writing muscles. What did surprise me was that his advice might have saved my novel.

The “Boot Camp” consists of listening to and participating in six sessions per week over the course of eight weeks. Each session lasts roughly 20 minutes, including ten minutes of guided writing time. The first exercises are deceptively simple, like making lists of character names. Each step builds on the previous. Gradually, you learn craft, sometimes without realizing you are learning.

At first I thought it might be too much to do both challenges together, but the timed Couch to 80K sessions were just what I needed to get the words flowing each day for NaNo.  The synergy was perfect.

After “winning” NaNo, however, I found myself stalled on the novel. The ending I had planned was dull and cliche, but I didn’t see any realistic fixes. I worried the whole thing was headed to the drawer.

In desperation, I went back to the Couch to 80K. I hadn’t finished all of week eight, largely because he said to use the time  to write scenes and I was already past that stage. Because it had worked so well during November, however,  I sat down and listened to the last few from beginning to end. At the end of the very last lesson there it was. He mentioned that to have a truly fresh novel you have to do research. Real, deep research.

Of course, what had been eluding me like a fluttering butterfly came into focus as if through a macro lens. NaNo conventional wisdom is to put off research and simply write, so that’s what I had done. I got into the habit of not doing research. N-o-n-e. Research was wasted time. No wonder my novel was flimsy and floundering. I delved into research and it is so refreshing. I already have a bouquet of new ideas. Although I feel like an idiot for not figuring it out earlier, I was smart enough to see the solution when it was handed to me.

Thank you, Tim Claire.

*****

Tim Claire also has the 100 day challenge. Anyone up for working on it with me?

 

#Mystery Writing with Megan Collins

We’re finding so much wonderful info for readers and writers online right now. For example, there’s a free series from Gotham Writers called Inside Writing.  In this episode we see author Megan Collins talk about writing her novels The Winter Sister and Behind the Red Door.

Favorite parts:

  • Megan reveals she is a fan of true crime. She considers listening to podcasts like My Favorite Murder as research for her novels.
  • Her agent Sharon Pelletier says a big twist at the end should be believable and satisfying, not simply a big surprise.
  • Sharon also says the little details have to be accurate/realistic or it will put off readers.
  • Megan suggests tuning out the pressure to create something completely new and fresh because it can be paralyzing.  Tell your story.
  • Sharon doesn’t want to see the ending/answer to the mystery in the pitch.

The Winter Sister* by Megan Collins

(*Amazon Affiliate link)

Persephone died sixteen years ago and her murder remains unsolved.

When her sister Sylvie returns to her hometown to care for her mother, the mystery of what happened to Persephone is forced into her life again. She must deal with why her mother rejected her after her sister’s death. She also runs into Persephone’s boyfriend, who was the last to see her alive. Can she face the secrets kept all those years?

#Amwriting October 30: Ready to Write

NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month) starts Sunday November 1, but our preparation series ends today. Hopefully you have honed your tools and are ready to write. If you get stuck at any point, help is just a click away in the resources linked below.

 

 

Can you believe we’re finally at the starting line? Frankly, I’m a bit excited and frightened at the same time. I’ve done NaNo before, but this feels like it’s going to be an important year. Hope it is for you, as well.

Time to take a breath and get those last few things accomplished. I’m going to leave you with a list of a few writing  resources  in case you need assistance while in the throes of writing.

My last bit of advice, however, is to also be willing to ignore the advice. The most important thing is for you to write is your own unique story.

Resources

Visit the 30 Day Novel Prep Page for the links to all the posts in the series. Tip:  I’ve pulled out all the writing books I recommended in the various posts and have them together on a close-by shelf for ease of grabbing

My friend Shan Hays has some great suggestions about how to get into the writing habit. I’m going to try a few, like when I stop for the day I’m going to prepare a sticky with notes about where to start the next morning. Such a good idea. Now I’m wondering why didn’t I do that before?

 Blogs to Visit:

Anne R. Allen -writing and marketing tips by a variety of authors (plus awesome resources page)

Writer Unboxed

Jennie Nash Book Coach – often has free tips and resources in addition to her services

**Helping Writers Become Authors with K.M. Weiland – extensive resources on all aspects of writing, especially for the beginner. Excellent!

Darcy Pattison has a ton of writing advice that work for all writers, not only for children’s book authors.

Podcasts to exercise by (or do the dishes by):

Writing Excuses podcast  is like eavesdropping on a bunch of extremely talented writer friends.

The Bestseller Experiment podcast

Example podcast:

 

Write Minded – about inspiration and process, for example  NaNo prep with Alexis Daria

I’ve tried to keep the list short and to the point.

Do you have any writing resources you would recommend?

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Note:  I’ve been keeping these NaNo posts and some additional notes in a Scrivener file. I just looked and they add up to 49,986 words. With this post I will have written over 50,000 words about NaNo this month!

You can write 50,000 words, too. Now go do it!

Thank you for reading. Please stop by and let us know how you are doing through the month.

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#Amwriting October 29: Writing Process and Creativity

As we begin to wrap up the NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month) prep series, let’s talk about writing process and creativity.

Writing can be a real a mystery. Yesterday, while typing up a blog post about endings, I had an epiphany about the beginning line of my novel. Popped right into my head. What is up with that?

Because we are about to embark on what is the writing equivalent of a marathon, perhaps it is time to talk about the creative process. Where do these new ideas come from? How does imagination work? How do we encourage it?

Where do the ideas come from?

Experts suggest that ideas come from having a question in mind. Some problem — small or large — has caught the attention of your brain and now it is puzzling out the answers whether you are aware of it or not. The answer arrives in the form of an idea.

For my “beginning” example above, I suspect one of the articles I looked at while preparing the post on endings must have mentioned the importance of beginnings as well. Perhaps it was in a fleeting title in a related posts section that I barely glanced at. In any case, without conscious effort my brain began churning away at the problem. I didn’t even know it had been engaged until the answer arrived.

I like calling creativity a “muse” because it helps explain that sort of unpredictability. Elizabeth Gilbert has a wonderful TED talk about the fickleness of creativity, which I’ve shared in a previous post. It’s well worth visiting.

Tricking Your Muse

At some point during the course of writing your novel, your muse may decide to take a long vacation in Hawaii. Here are some ways to trick him/her/it back into the room.

1. Read over what you wrote the day before. Remember what you were thinking and what you were feeling, plus where it was leading you. If you can’t remember, don’t worry about it because that will take up more mental space. Ask yourself the question, perhaps out loud. “Where was I going?” Then play around with some of the other suggestions in this list.

2. Set a timer and free write for 15 minutes. During that time, send your inner critic on vacation, perhaps to Florida. No correcting yourself. Ignore spelling, punctuation, grammar. Also, no expectations. Write whatever pops into your head.

Recently, I was supposed to write a letter from one of my characters to another. It wasn’t working, so instead I free wrote a letter to my sister. Turns out I had been thinking about her. Getting my thoughts down on paper freed me to work on my novel again.

3. Move to another scene or plot point and reverse engineer the scene you are stuck on later (a suggestion from yesterday’s post about endings.)

4. Check in with yourself. Sometimes we get so caught up in writing, we don’t take care of our needs. Are you hungry? Thirsty? Too warm? Too cold? Need a trip to the restroom? Tired? Are you wearing comfortable clothes? Are there noises that are distracting you?

Be careful, however, that you aren’t using a trip to the fridge as a way of procrastinating. If you just ate 15 minutes ago, hunger probably isn’t the issue.

5. Take a shower.  A shower combines gentle physical stimulation with a retreat from the world. It is a mini-vacation that might bring your muse back from hers.

6. Change venue. Take a walk, take a ride, drive somewhere new, write in the park, write in the basement. Maybe your muse will be intrigued by the novelty.

7. Join other writers. Writing is a hard thing to do and writing alone can make it more difficult. Try to find other writers and spend time writing together. Share experiences. Bounce ideas off each other. These days the meetings will probably be virtual, but that works, too.

8. Promise yourself a reward for finishing something. Positive reinforcement is good and it can be a simple as a piece of chocolate or five minutes on social media.

If none of these suggestions work, it might be time to take a long look at your project with an objective eye. Is your reader self trying to tell you there’s something wrong that your writer self doesn’t want to face? I once spent several weeks rewriting the first four chapters of a novel, spinning my wheels over and over. I couldn’t get past those chapters for some reason. Then, I figured out the glitch. My main character had no motivation to stay with the problem I wanted him to solve. In fact, he had good reasons to walk away. I decided to let him go and set the project aside for the time being.

Recharge Your Muse

If your creativity battery is simply low, there are ways to recharge that don’t require vacations to Hawaii. The tried-and-true way is to do some reading. In addition to any book you have handy, I recommend Natalie Goldberg’s Writing Down the Bones. It is full of chatty, but genius gems about writing.

In addition, look at art, listen to music, attend a play, or watch a movie. Let the creativity of others spark something in you.

Happy writing!

Do you have any other suggestions for keeping your creativity flowing? I’d love to hear them.

 

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Visit our 30 Day Novel Prep Page for all the links.

#Amwriting October 28: Where and When of Endings

As we near the finish of our NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month) prep series, it’s time to think about endings.

Where and when do you bring about your ending? Sometimes you might want to put the cart before the horse.

Writing Your Novel From the End

Much of this NaNo preparation series has been oriented toward starting your novel from the beginning of the story. But what about approaching it from the opposite direction? What about nailing your ending, then writing to that goal?

In a recent Writing Excuses podcast, Victoria Schwab revealed she writes the endings of her novels first. To explain why, she uses an analogy of baking. According to Victoria, you need to know whether you are making an apple pie or a carrot cake to decide what ingredients to assemble (although to be fair, genre will guide you to some extent.) Her analogy makes a lot of sense. Having a concrete, well-made product in mind could give you a clearer sense of purpose.

Reverse Engineering in the Middle

On the other hand, for some people knowing the ending can kill creativity or motivation to complete the novel. Even if that’s the case for you, there are times it might be beneficial to work backwards. In a recent webinar, former Police Captain and author Isabella Maldonado suggested reverse engineering as a tactic to get around plot holes or being stuck. For example, if you get stuck at the end of the first act (or whatever plot point you have at 25%), move on to the midpoint. Once you have figured out what needs to happen there, then 25% should come together.

Reverse engineering can apply to any point in the novel. Skip ahead to get unstuck.

 

Public Domain image from publicdomainpictures.net

Prolepsis

You can also play with endings with prolepsis, which is telling the reader from the start what is going to happen. In this case the story generally follows a normal timeline, leaving the reader to wonder how that ending is going to be true.

A. S. A. Harrison’s The Silent Wife is a stellar example of prolepsis. In this case the protagonist states flat out in the second paragraph of the novel that she is going to kill her husband. The events then unfold in chronological order. It is one of my favorite novels (my review with spoilers).

Reverse Chronology

By definition, thrillers often reveal the killer(s)/antagonist(s) identity early on in the book and the central question is whether the protagonist will be able to catch them. However, we usually don’t know the answer until the end. Author Jeffrey Deaver wrote his thriller The October List with reverse chronology or what he called “a surprise beginning” (PW article). He disclosed the  ending at the beginning of the novel, then journeyed backwards in time to slowly divulge why things were not all that they seemed. That must have been incredibly difficult to plot, which is why he says, “Once is enough for me!”

Now that we are at the end of the post, I hope this has given you some ideas.

Are you going to apply any of these options to your novel?

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Visit our 30 Day Novel Prep Page for all the links.

 

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