Saturday, August 23, 2008

Getting Distracted

Is it tough for you to stay focused?  Ever find that, despite your best intentions, you start flirting with another project?  It's the lure of the forbidden:  you're actually supposed to be working on your mystery series.  But then you get this great idea for a children's book.  In the middle of the night, no less.  You even sketch out some dialogue and the tone of the book, and...

Just say no! This happened to me a couple of nights ago and it was soooo tempting to start working on something new and different.  It always seems like the new love will be easier to work with, more fun-loving, cuter.  Isn't the grass always greener on the other side of the fence?

I decided to type out my sketchy idea on a Word doc and save it to the file "New Book Ideas." That way I haven't forgotten the idea and I can explore it later.  Because starting another project is just as much a form of distraction as messing around on the computer or watching TV is. 

Thursday, August 21, 2008

When Your Schedule Goes Nuts

Sometimes when you're a mom, your life just gets incredibly busy and crazy.  Occasionally you can guess when this madness will descend, and others it just bites you in the rear end.  This week was a little of both.

I had kids over for end-of-summer playdates several days.  My own children were unexpectedly attention-craving, we had my daughter's birthday party to plan and execute, Brownie Scouts had a pool party....argh!  Basically, any plans I made were quickly morphed into something else.  Did I mention that both my dryer and my air conditioner needed repairman?

I did manage to write during this craziness, but I was catching my moments when I could: in the middle of the night, waking up with insomnia; while my kids were in the pool and I was at poolside; in the car at stoplights.  Was it exactly the quality writing time I wanted?  No.  But I felt better when I did it and it quickly added up, too. 

School starts back next week and with any luck I can get back into more of a rhythm.

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Characters: Suspects and Victims

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While I'm writing my daily pages (I'm starting at the beginning of the book, but might hop around later), I'm also working at the same time on fleshing out my characters. Since I'm writing mysteries, I'm thinking in terms of suspects, killer, and victim(s).

A lot of these characters have traits of people I know or have met, even for a few minutes, in the grocery store or Target. Sometimes I meet people that really strike me the wrong way and they become victims in my books. :) The idea here is that you're writing what you know. Obviously you're not going to want to call your characters by the same name or make them exactly like the person you have in mind. That's called libel. But there's lots of good baby naming links for names. Or you could drag out your old high school yearbook and come across a bunch of name ideas. I've had fun with this site: . It has a lot of fantasy name ideas, but it can really get your creative juices flowing.

It's been said a lot, but it really helps to know your characters well. It helps even more to know your characters a little TOO well. If you make a simple list of your character's personality traits and background, it helps you to know what motivates them and what internal conflicts they might be facing. You don't need to put all your information about the characters in your book--it would end up bloated with unnecessary information. But by knowing your character well, you can make your book stronger.

Here are some links to some character trait charts that have helped me nail down my characters: and

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Keeping to a Schedule

There are days when churning out my 1-2 pages is a major chore. Today started out that way. I had a flurry of emails, phone calls, and a meeting yesterday which all dealt with event sign-ups for Scouts and school, 2 special occasions to find a babysitter for, college reunion activities to plan out and make hotel reservations for, and the launch of a major fundraiser for Boy Scouts. STRESS. I knew before I went to bed that I was feeling stressed out, but just decided to turn in and hope for the best (the best= wake up refreshed the next morning.)

Anyway, I woke up worried at 3:15 A.M. How was everything going to get done? Could I carry it off or would I drop the ball? Could I even remember all the stuff I needed to do? And so I decided to get up for the day. Because, let's face it, we all know when sleep just isn't going to happen that night. Getting up sure beats tossing and turning. I sat down with my calendar, worked out my worries the best I could, and then started writing. There sure as heck aren't a lot of distractions in the middle of the night. Despite being tired, I wrote my couple of pages and surprised myself at their humor. Okay, maybe it was sarcasm. But that was a tone I was going for so maybe being exhausted helped me to channel it.

As long as I write at least one or two pages a day, I'm on target. The most important thing is getting the words down on the page. I'm as much of a perfectionist as anyone else, but you can't revise and edit until you've got something substantial to read-through. When I'm too hung up in corrections and reading over the text, then I don't move forward on the project at all.

Saturday, August 9, 2008

Rules and Tools

Some Mystery Writing Rules:

Here's an important link to review before you get too deep into your plotting:

You've got to make sure your mystery is fair. After all, you don't want your readers feeling cheated at the end of the book. Actually, if you have a potential editor or agent feeling cheated, your book won't even get as far as a reader. So keep it fair. Most readers like to match wits with your sleuth.

Some Mystery Writing Tools:

I'm in brainstorming mode now. Right now I don't have my suspects fully formed. In fact, I haven't even decided on their names. But my plotting is starting to make some inroads. One tool I use to organize the masses of paper and typing is a free one you can find online: Included is a Wiki that tells you more about the product. Basically, you can use it to create a visual outline. To see screenshots of some example FreeMind maps, look here:

My FreeMind map has the name of the mystery in the middle. Coming out of it are "Suspects for First Murder, "Suspects for Second Murder," "Scene of Crime" (with 4 nodes coming out--Place, Clues, Weapon, Body), "Sleuth," "Victims," "The Killer," Setting,"--you get the idea. You could do this on paper, too, of course. Might want to get a big sheet, though. Each node has more nodes coming out of it with more information. Out of the "Victims," I have 2 nodes--one for each victim. For each victim, I have suspect nodes. It helps me to see how it all fits together.

Another bit of software that I like can be found on this UK site: . The software creates a bulletin board with index card look for your story. This is very helpful in keeping up with your different storylines. This is not free software (and the dollar to pound exchange rate is not the best right now), but it's not too expensive, either.

For all you moms out there: is school still out where you are? If so, it might help you out to make yourself a schedule. At least you'll start out with a game plan (every good mom knows that plans have to be flexible!) Right now I've got my going-into-middle-schooler on a Whitewater rafting trip, but my 6 year old is home. My day looked like this:

Coffee. Take out dog and get/read paper. Check email. Work on my plotting for 30 minutes. Fix breakfast for my daughter and some for me. Start a load. Write a blog entry. Make sure daughter is dressed and has done a little tidying up in her room. While daughter is playing, do some research online. Run a few errands (gas, purchase and send a gift) and come back home. Put laundry in the dryer and prepare lunch. After lunch, write for a few more minutes. Take daughter to the Kitt Kittredge movie. Make supper. Run load for a couple more minutes to de-wrinkle. Hang up laundry....

The important thing out of all the drivel above is that I did schedule some one-on-one time with my daughter. She can put up with almost any amount of distraction from me (and even my telling her that I do need 30 minutes alone....bye-bye) if she knows that we are going to do something special together. Many times we just play Memory together (a game I'm abysmal at) or read stories. But the time is there and I make a point of making it. That way I don't feel guilty when I'm carving out time to write.

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Take Your Idea and Write Back Cover Copy

First of all, a disclaimer: this blog will follow what works for me. In fact, I may find that some of these methods DON'T even work for me, which will put me back at the drawing board. But I'll be sure to report in on what's working and what's not helping at all.

So here we are with the old blank page. It's good for brainstorming, at least. If you haven't gotten your idea for your mystery, this is the place to start a list. For me, it all starts with the murder. My last book featured a newcomer to a small town and a variety of people who disliked her for different reasons. Are there any news stories lately that have peaked your interest? Think of motives for murder: love gone wrong, greed, revenge, heat of the moment-type stuff. Just reading the newspaper (online or the paper variety) or watching the local news can give you ideas. You could change the outcome of the news story: ask yourself "What if THIS happened instead? What if it wasn't the jealous husband who killed her--maybe it was her lover instead. What if he were desperate to keep their affair hidden?" You get the idea.

It's also important from the start to determine what mystery genre you're writing in. These websites can help you:

For example, if you're writing a cozy mystery, you won't want the murder depiction to be too graphic. The murder itself would happen offstage and usually isn't very gruesome. (Agatha Christie did have some fairly gruesome poisonings and stranglings, but usually cozies have lots of people with blunt force head trauma or have been pushed down staircases.) Determining what type of mystery you're writing helps you choose the murder plot.

I'm not going to spend a lot of time with finding the spark of an idea. That's one of those things that you just have to discover yourself. I picked up the idea for my new book while ruminating on dinner parties--a testament to the fact that you can find your ideas anywhere. I'm mostly interesting in the execution of the plot and the tools available to help it happen.

This is how I've started out the 3rd book--I've written the back cover copy. It does sound backward, but after reading this post yesterday, it sounded like a great idea to me: . After all, no matter what your position is--aspiring writer, an established writer pitching the next book in your series, etc--you'll need a pithy pitch. Besides, she's right when she mentions it helps you to focus on the main plot catalyst. It also shows you whether your plot has enough punch and conflict. You can check out cover copy by walking through your bookstore, or online at Amazon. You might also check out your local library's website and see the subject blurbs they list for various mysteries. Choose your favorite mystery author and read his or her jacket copy.

Welcome to Mystery Writing is Murder

You're invited to come along as I chronicle writing my third cozy mystery. I hope this log will help me with my next book and help anyone else who finds writing a novel overwhelming at the beginning.

You'd think by this time it would be easier. After all, this is a series and I know my main characters pretty well. The setting is based on a place familiar to me both on the page and in person. And I have a basic plan for the story. But for some reason it's not all that simple.

I do reach a point in the story where the words come out faster than I can record them: in the car, at the grocery store, during conversations with people that I should be listening to, in the kids' carpool line. But at the beginning, I like to research and think things through. That's the slowest, most difficult part of the process to me. I'm planning on posting websites, blog entries, and books that help me out. Since I do like taking breaks, I'll also post some mini book reviews along the way. And, because I'm a mom with a regular life (do any of us have a true 'regular life?!'), there'll also be plenty of posts on how I'm fitting this process in with parenting, being a Brownie leader, and cleaning my house. And blogging! You can find me on another blog, too--

Time to write.