Tying Up Those Pesky Loose Ends

When writing a mystery, it’s crucial to tie up any loose ends by the end of the story. You don’t want to leave readers hanging on what some incident or snatch of dialogue might have meant when they finish the book. There are several ways for you to keep track of these plot threads.

You might make a list of all the questions that will arise in a reader’s mind as you write the story. Or you can create this list as you do your first read-through revision. If you write a synopsis, that’s another way to keep tabs of what’s going on. Once you’ve finished the first draft, read through your synopsis and make sure you’ve resolved all the plot points. If not, fix them during the revision process.

Here’s an example of some loose ends from Easter Hair Hunt. A brief story blurb will fill you in so you can follow these questions.

When hairstylist Marla Vail attends an Easter egg hunt at historic Tremayne Manor, she’s only there to fix hair for a client, Bonnie “Blinky” Morris. But when she’s asked to comb the grounds for leftover goodies, Marla discovers more than just a few dyed eggs. The dead body in the bunny costume is definitely not having a good hare day. And Blinky seems to have disappeared down a rabbit hole.

LOOSE ENDS – Spoiler Alert!

Where is Blinky?
Why did Blinky give her costume to the dead guy?
Who stabbed the victim and why?
Where and what is the murder weapon?
What does the autopsy report say?
How did the Faberge egg end up in the grass next to the body?
Who is stealing artifacts from the house? Is the motive money or spite?
Why did Connor Tremaine deed his property to his wife and leave nothing to his son?

I write a synopsis up front as a writing guide. I’ve just gone through the one for Styled for Murder, my next Bad Hair Day mystery, to make sure it matches the story changes I made along the way. Whoops. It appears I’ve left too very obvious loose ends and forgot all about them. One factor is part of the killer’s confession, and another relates to a subplot with a secondary character.

Re the subplot, I left a hint in a conversation but have no idea what it meant. I can’t find an explanation for this statement anywhere in my character profiles or plotting notes. Do I eliminate this snatch of dialogue, or do I come up with a reasonable explanation? I chose to leave it in and explain what this character meant later on. That’s what I get for not keeping better track of each detail. I didn’t keep my list of loose ends for this story like I usually do, and that would have helped. All is not lost, though. I can write them out during my next revision pass to make sure everything is solved.

This is also why a story needs multiple views. We need to make sure all the questions have been answered by the end. Even our editors and beta readers sometimes miss things that our fans will point out later.

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Do you have lapses like this? How do you catch them?

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Writing the Cozy Mystery – Howdunit

When writing a cozy mystery, you need to decide upon crime scene details even though interpersonal relations, and not forensics, are your story’s focus. The murder might even be off scene, but you’ll still have to determine how it happened.

Writing the Cozy Mystery - Howdunit

In Trimmed to Death, the story begins at a farm festival bake-off contest, which my hairstylist sleuth Marla Vail enters as a contestant. But I was stymied regarding the setting because our city’s fairs were held at athletic fields or local parks. I was telling this to my manicurist when she suggested Bedner’s Farm as a possible model for my story. The next day, my husband and I drove north to visit this farm 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.

Now what? I had to select a victim. Spoiler alert!

After looking up farm festivals online, I decided my story would include a live scavenger hunt with the prize going to the guest who collected all of the stamps. Francine Dodger is the final target of the festival’s Find Franny game. Unfortunately, she is slated to die.

Next, consider the five Ws to expand the details.

Who ends up dead? Francine is the victim.

Where is she killed? In the strawberry field. 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.

 

strawberry plants

How does she die? Will it look like an accident or right away be clear it’s a homicide? Water-filled canals line the U-pick rows. She could be drowned in a ditch. Or she can fall down a silo and smother in the grain. But what would make her climb up there in the first place? Or maybe we should run her over by a tractor.

What knowledge does the killer need? If the murder involves an equipment accident, it’ll have to be someone who knows how 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 go this route.

If you poison a victim, who has knowledge about the type of poison plus has 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? In a cozy mystery, we want to avoid anything messy or too graphic. 

When does it happen? Think about not only about the time of death, but also why not a week or a month ago? Why NOW? What happened to trigger the killer at this point in time?

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 at the farm festival?

Now let’s throw a wrench into the works. What if it’s a case of mistaken identity? The murderer 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.

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Previous posts on this topic:

Writing the Cozy Mystery – Whodunit
Writing the Cozy Mystery – Whydunit

Note: This post topic originally appeared in Feb. 2017.

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Writing the Cozy Mystery – Whydunit

When writing a cozy mystery, you need to identify the victim and then figure out who has something to gain from this person’s death. It can be friends, relatives, or colleagues. Give each person a secret that may or may not provide a motive for murder.

Writing the Cozy Mystery - Whydunit

Next figure out how these people relate to each other. Imagine a spider web. Put the murder victim in the center circle. The spokes coming from the center are the suspects. These spokes have branches that are their motives. Then connect these people to each other like a web. If you want to see this web of deceit illustrated, pick up a copy of my book, Writing the Cozy Mystery.

Here are examples from Trimmed to Death to show you how it’s done. Hairstylist Marla Vail enters a bake-off contest at a local farm during a fall festival. She finds a dead body face-down in the u-pick strawberry field. Spoiler Alert!

Tally Riggs, Marla’s best friend, met Becky Forest at a local historical museum. Becky told Tally about the bake-off, who invited Marla to participate with her. Here is Becky in her office.

Becky Forest in Trimmed to Death

Becky, a scientist, is a cookbook author and curator of the museum. She studies plant remains of ancient peoples, including early Florida food practices. Every time Becky has a new cookbook out, she’s a guest on Chef Raquel Hayes’ TV show.

Raquel Hayes in Trimmed to Death

Raquel, a judge at the bake-off contest and a TV chef, did something in the past that could cause a scandal. Francine Dodger recognizes her on TV and threatens to spill her secret.

Francine, a contestant at the bake-off, is a food magazine editor. While researching an article on the farm, she uncovers something that could ruin the owners’ reputation.

Zach Kinsdale, eldest brother of four siblings who run the family farm, hasn’t told his two brothers and sister Janet about this looming disaster.

Janet is married to Tony, who runs an import-export business. He sells his imported olive oils to Zach for the farm’s marketplace. But Janet suspects something is unethical about her husband’s business. She organized the bake-off since her husband’s company is a festival sponsor.

Tony Winters in Trimmed to Death

Tony, Janet’s husband, is worried about an exposé that Francine has mentioned. He’s also concerned about Tristan Marsh, pastry chef at The Royal Palate and a judge at the show. Tristan has been making inquiries that concern him. Then there’s Alyce Greene, a blogger who supports the farm-to-table movement. She has been troublesome as well.

Alyce is a contestant at the bake-off. She’s married to Jon, a food truck operator. Jon got a loan to start his business from Alyce’s brother, Steve Madison. Steve, an investment advisor, manages Tony’s accounts.

And so on. You see how these people are interrelated. It helps when the puzzle pieces fit together as a whole, but this process may take a while. In the meantime, allow your subconscious to stew on your characters until story magic happens. The connections will pop into your brain. It’s a joyful moment when this occurs.

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If you missed my previous post on this topic, go here: Writing the Cozy Mystery – Whodunit

NOTE: This post topic originally appeared in Feb. 2017.

Next comes Writing the Cozy Mystery – Howdunit.

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Story Dream – Mysterious Village

Have you ever been blessed with a story dream? I consider myself fortunate when this happens and write it down first thing in the morning to preserve the memory. You’ll think you might remember it but the scenes fade as the day wears on.

Dreams

I’ve been lucky to have dreams that have inspired some of my stories. That’s how Circle of Light, my first published book, began. The dream ended and it was too good to let go. I had to finish the story. Scenes for Silver Serenade came from a dream, also. I can’t say that this has happened for my mysteries, but perhaps this recent one will be the start.

The Dream

I have recently moved to a small village and am exploring the environs. Nearby is a big city that I’m eager to visit. I walk around the urban center, gawking at the tall buildings as though I’m in Manhattan.

While there, I am inside a department store several stories high when I notice white smoke billowing from a window below. Fearful that I would get trapped if there was a fire, I hurry down the interior stairs praying the exit door wasn’t locked. I get out and overhear a conversation between two officials. There was no fire, but they believed it was an act by a subversive group to cause confusion.

I go home to my new house, glad for the peace and quiet. My daughter comes to visit and we decide to take a walk. I haven’t found any paved walking trails nearby, so we hitch a ride down the main avenue to a bustling flea market. We can walk and shop at the same time.

We dump our coats on a chair to shop unburdened. As I browse the colorful wares, I don’t see anything I want to buy. We’re at one booth when I get worried someone will steal my fur coat. I scurry back to the chairs where we left our outerwear and observe with relief that I had only brought a cheap cloth jacket. It doesn’t matter if I lose that one. I tell my daughter I’m going home and will take the coats. It’s warm and we don’t need them. I’ll return shortly.

At the village, I notice a dirt walking path I hadn’t seen before. It borders woods on one side and a field on the other. I walk a short distance down the trail and come upon a gunship on a landing. What is that weaponized transport doing here? I am not quick enough to take a photo with my cell phone before the engine revs up and it’s gone.

Remembering the conversation I’d overheard earlier, I wonder if this vessel belongs to insurgents in the area. I should tell someone but I have no evidence.

I go back to the flea market but my daughter isn’t there. I take the bus home and call her during the ride. To my great relief, she answers and is safe. And that’s when I woke up.

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The Aftermath

Fantasy Dreamer

What do you think? Is there a germ of a story idea in here?

Sometimes it’s the emotions from a dream that can be useful in creating a scene. The fear of being trapped in a high building, losing touch with a loved one, or making an ominous discovery are feelings I can glean from this dream.

What part of this story would you want to see developed? Have you had any interesting dreams lately?

 

 

 

How to Create a Box Set

Setting out to create a book box set can be a daunting task. Join the online writing community and gather data on this topic as soon as you think you might go in this direction. Lots of great advice is out there and it will help you with these steps to create your own book bundle.

How to create a box set

Series Title

You’ll need to invent a series title for your box set that is different from your actual series. It helps to include the words “box set, boxed set, collection, or omnibus” to show that it’s a bundle. Avoid the word “anthology” because this has come to mean a collection of works by different authors. You’re doing a same-author set. I went with The Bad Hair Day Mysteries Box Set for my new series.

Then you must give each individual book a title. For me, this became Volume One, Volume Two, etc. The subtitle is Books 1-3 and so on. Go to Amazon, put in the search window any of the terms above along with your genre, and study the titles. For example, put “cozy mystery box sets” and see what pops up. Note how those authors handle the series title and subtitle. 

Manuscript Preparation

For each book, strip out the front and back matter. Decide if you will keep the individual title pages or will insert a book cover photo instead.

Format each book the same, i.e. single space, one-inch margins, chapter header styles, indent first line, etc.

Compile the set. At the end of book one, copy and paste book two. Repeat for book three if this is a triple bundle.

Front Material

Add a title page to the front of each boxed set.

Create a blurb page with a story blurb for each individual book title. Here’s where you can mention any awards a book has earned. I include a review quote for each book as well.

Obtain an ISBN number and assign it to your box set title at MyIdentifiers.com. [See my previous post for instructions.] Add this to the copyright page for your box set. Put the copyright info for the box set volume at the top, followed by the original copyrights for each individual title. I put the credits here also for my cover design artist and my professional formatter. 

Back Material

Include one Author’s Note with a Call to Action (i.e. Request for Review, Newsletter Signup) at the end of the box set.

Add an “About the Author” page with your bio and social media links.

If you wish, present a Book List at the end with all your titles in series order. Don’t forget a buy link. I send readers to the books page on my website so as not to run into conflict with distributor policies. For example, you can’t have an Amazon link on a book you upload to Apple.

Cover Considerations

Hire a cover designer to create an overall theme that carries through from volume to volume. This may include a new logo for your box set series. (Credit to Kim Killion at The Killion Group, Inc. for my designs). Consider placement and fonts for series title/logo, subtitle, and author name for consistency. Choose a color scheme (i.e. bold colors, tropical hues, pastels). Decide on a background image. Note all mine take place in the salon with small variations. Marla, my hairstylist sleuth, is on each cover holding a drink or item related to one of the stories.

Order both 2D and 3D covers for each set. The book distributors will have different policies in this regard. I use 2D covers at Apple and Kobo, and 3D covers at Amazon and BN. Having both types is also helpful when marketing your work.

   The Bad Hair Day Mysteries Box Set Volume Two         Bad Hair Day Mysteries Box Set Volume Two

Get Ready to Publish

Format for your distributor(s) of choice. I send the assembled manuscript to my formatter, who makes sure any errant coding is removed, checks chapter headers for consistency, inserts book covers in place of individual title pages, and converts the set into my choice of ePub format. You can also upload to Draft2Digital for free conversion.

Marketing Tips

Decide on a release strategy. How many volumes will you be releasing? How soon together do you want to launch them?

Create a short blurb for each set to use as part of your book descriptions. Examples:

Set 1

Meet Marla Shore, a Florida hairstylist and salon owner with a knack for styling hair and solving crimes. In her debut case, the brazen beautician unravels a shocking murder that’s making waves all over Palm Haven, a small southern town where almost everyone has something to hide. A coastal fundraiser and a murder at a fitness club round out this trio of fun, light reads.

Set 2

Meet Marla Shore, a Florida hairstylist and salon owner with a knack for styling hair and solving crimes. In this trio of adventures, Marla helps her ex-spouse solve a murder, searches for her missing pet-loving neighbor, and stumbles across the body of a rival hairdresser.

Set 3

Meet Marla Shore, a Florida hairstylist and salon owner with a knack for styling hair and solving crimes. In this trio of cozy mysteries, Marla stays at a haunted hotel, has a blast at a beauty trade show, and sails on a Caribbean cruise with a killer onboard.

Create several memes at BookBrush.com for the first volume in your series.

Once you have the cover and blurbs, begin a page on your website for volume one and save as a draft.

Upload to the distributors and collect your buy links. Add these links to your web page.

Write blogs in advance for pre-order and for launch date.

Prepare a newsletter to announce the new book.

Write a page of tweets and FB posts that you can use with your memes.

Plan a Launch Party and decide upon giveaways.

Determine if you will seek reviews for this volume or let them populate at will.

Think about ads to attract new readers to your series via your box sets.

Consider applying for a BookBub deal for volume one after volume two launches.

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Want to get started reading The Bad Hair Day Mysteries? Check out my Box Sets at https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B08ZDVH1VW

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Transition Scenes

Transitions are some of the hardest scenes to write in a novel. Your hero has to go from Point A to Point B without boring detail or abrupt shifts of any kind. If you’re like me in racing through the first draft to get the story down on paper, then doubtless your critique partners may say, “Needs a better transition” in more places than one.

Transition Scenes

These scenes provide an opportunity for you to expand on the hero’s reflection of recent events or for him to decide on his goals for the upcoming scene. Another option is simply a time transition with a space or chapter break.

Here’s an example from my work in progress, where my critique partners pointed out a rough transition. The italics are for demonstrational purposes only.

Original Version

They’d bought a house without a pool, an anomaly in South Florida, but Marla couldn’t bear to have a backyard pool after the tragedy in her past. Images still haunted her of little Tammy’s body. That awful day when a toddler drowned while under her care as a babysitter was forever imprinted in her mind. No way she would tempt fate with a swimming pool on their property. Instead, Dalton planned to hire a landscaping firm to plant a formal garden they could enjoy.

Speaking of plants, April flowers provided splashes of color amid the regal palms and manicured lawns at the Broward County Convention Center. Dalton searched for a parking space in the adjacent garage. It was ten-thirty and already mobbed but he found an empty spot. Marla appreciated the water view as they exited and headed toward the massive white building. Sunlight gleamed off the Stranahan River where Marla caught a glimpse of a cruise ship over by Port Everglades.

A faint chemical smell pervaded the lobby as they entered along with dozens of other guests. She paused to admire the towering walls of glass windows and the turquoise and coral patterned carpet. Its seashell designs, along with a series of potted palms, added to the bright and airy tropical ambiance.

Revised Version

They’d bought a house with enough land for an elevated garden in the backyard. Marla hadn’t wanted a pool after the tragedy in her past. Images still haunted her of little Tammy’s body. The toddler had drowned while under her care as a babysitter, and it had taken years for her to come to terms with it and move on. No way would she tempt fate with a swimming pool on their property. Instead, Dalton hoped to hire a landscaping firm to create his dream vegetable garden.

The arrival of their son had put a halt to those plans. Between the baby, their two dogs, and a teenager in the house, they had enough to handle for the moment.

As they approached the parking garage at the Broward County Convention Center, Marla considered her goals for the day. Caroline was sure to be present at the design company booth, since she ran their office. Would Brad or Nadia accompany her? Either way, Marla hoped to learn more about their operations.

She put off these thoughts as Dalton found an empty space. He retrieved the stroller from the trunk while Marla grabbed their baby supplies. [Baby] was happy to get out of the car and into the fresh air.

April flowers provided splashes of color amid regal palms and manicured lawns on the path leading to the convention center. Sunlight gleamed off the rippling current from the waterway in back. From her vantage point, Marla glimpsed a cruise ship docked at Port Everglades. She remembered her own voyage to the Caribbean with a pang of nostalgia. It would be a long time before they’d be able to travel in luxury again.

A faint chemical smell hit her nose as they entered the convention center lobby. She paused to admire the towering glass windows and the turquoise and coral carpet. Its seashell design, along with a series of potted palms, added to the bright and airy tropical ambiance.

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It’s helpful when you learn what isn’t working so you can fix it. Don’t skip over your transitions. In your first round of revisions, review these scenes to ensure they roll smoothly from one setting to the next. Some scenes may need to be lengthened and others will need to be trimmed. Either way, you’ll want your story to flow like warm honey and taste just as sweet to your readers.

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Daily Writing Goals

Questions often asked of writers include: What is your writing process? Do you set yourself daily writing goals? Do you plot the book in advance?

For me, I’m a plotter, not a pantser. I write a synopsis ahead of time. The storyline may change as I write the book, but it acts as a roadmap along the way. Once I get started writing and get past the first few pages or beginning chapters, I’ll set a deadline for completion. Then I put myself on a writing schedule of five pages a day. I don’t stop to polish my work or perfect my sentences. It’s important for me to get the story down on paper and then I can go back and revise.

If you want to finish a manuscript, it helps to set daily goals. When you sell to a traditional publisher, you’ll have definitive deadlines for the next book. Small press publishers may require a submission date as well if they offer multibook deals.

I’d started out working for Dorchester and did two books a year for them, meaning I had to complete a book within six months. Strict self-discipline is the only way to get this done. When I wrote for Kensington, they only wanted one book a year. That was easier because it gave me time to plan an extended launch campaign.

Now that I’m indie publishing my work, I set my own deadlines. My writing happens early in the morning before normal office hours. Then I have the rest of the day free for excursions or to work on marketing or other book projects.

When I’m in the revision stage, I also set goals. For a 300-page manuscript, this would be 10 pages a day to get done in a month. And that’s only for the first round of line editing.

Besides the creative goals, I also set business goals. This year, I am bundling my mysteries into box sets. Last year, the goal was to complete reissuing my backlist titles. Next, I’d like to do more audiobooks and perhaps revise some old manuscripts sitting in my drawers. This is in addition to writing book #18 in my series.

Keep in mind that my method might not work for you. Whichever way you can finish a book, go for it. But if you’re floundering and can’t seem to get past the first few chapters, set yourself some achievable goals.

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PODCAST

Interested in hearing what inspired me to write Easter Hair Hunt? Listen to the Tart Words Podcast.

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Morality in Mysteries

In discussing the mystery genre, writers often mention how crime fiction reflects the current state of our society. Morality in mysteries is another important consideration. What are the lessons learned by the protagonist, and in extension, by our readers? Personally, I don’t give heavy thought to these notions when I write a novel. Mostly I aim to entertain. My goal in writing the cozy mystery is to help you escape from reality and enjoy a fun, lighthearted tale. But could there be a morality lesson buried in our stories upon a closer look?

In the earlier Bad Hair Day Mysteries, my hairstylist sleuth seeks redemption for a past mistake. When Marla was nineteen and babysitting a toddler, the child accidently drowned in a backyard pool. I meant to educate readers about this preventable tragedy. Guilt drives Marla and motivates her to solve the crime in Permed to Death. When she meets handsome Detective Dalton Vail, this guilt prohibits her from progressing in their relationship. He has a teenage daughter, and she doesn’t want children. She has to forgive herself before she can move on in life. She volunteers for the Child Drowning Prevention Coalition and helps solve murders to bring justice to victims. This is how she atones for what happened and remembers she has a good heart.

Lesson One — You can move on from past mistakes and be a better person.

As Marla and Dalton grow closer, Marla comes to care for his daughter, Brianna. Their relationship still has its bumps, because Dalton also has some emotional baggage to cast away before he can move ahead. But finally, by Shear Murder, Marla has accepted that she’s stronger with Dalton and he realizes that she completes him.

Lesson Two — Finding love can strengthen you, not cause loss of independence or self-identity. 

But Marla is still nervous. As their nuptials approach, she buries herself in solving another case rather than face wedding details and bickering relatives. Finally, she finds the courage to accept her new family with enthusiasm and love. She sheds her fears and looks forward to a new tomorrow.

Lesson Three — We need to accept who we are to ensure a brighter future.

These moral lessons resonate because they’re universal truths. Mostly, the morals in my stories involve the sleuth as she learns to appreciate the meaning of family. The focus is not on the criminal mind or what effect the crime has on the victim’s survivors. Cozy mysteries focus on the sleuth and her life. In this way, her character growth issues reflect the problems we face in the real world.

That’s why I like reading cozies, too. They’re about someone like you or me who is a lot braver and who has the guts to chase down the bad guys. Along the way, we live vicariously in the sleuth’s world and enjoy seeing her relationships grow and change.

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How about you? Do you determine a theme ahead of time, or does it emerge from your writing as you develop the story? Do your tales focus on the criminal’s motivations and the repercussions of the crime, or more on the sleuth’s life in general? 

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The Spark of Inspiration

Some writers say they write when the muse strikes them. They might go days without filling a manuscript page and work feverishly when the mood hits. I don’t believe in waiting for inspiration this way. As a professional writer, you have a job, and you must show up for work each day.

The Spark of Inspiration

However, I do believe there’s a certain spark about a story that serves as a creative faucet. It’s what caught your passion in the first place. Or maybe you’re struggling to find this elusive element. That’s where I am with my next Bad Hair Day mystery. Never mind the dozen other distractions demanding attention, such as reissuing my remaining backlist titles. So what’s wrong?

I know what the next Marla Vail story will be about in terms of the murder mystery. But I like to learn something new with each book. That’s what makes the story fun and special for me. In EASTER HAIR HUNT, it was learning about beekeeping, stamp collecting, honey production and Fabergé eggs. In TRIMMED TO DEATH, I researched Florida olive groves and olive oil scams. The range of topics I’ve covered in each of my books varies greatly, but each subject was something that interested me. I haven’t found this spark yet for book #17 in the series.

As an author, you don’t want to repeat yourself. I’ve done the historical angle, especially in FACIALS CAN BE FATAL when I used excerpts from my father’s 1935 travel journal. I should avoid mixing history and mystery for this next one. Science? Maybe, but this might not be a good idea when we’re all so paranoid about viruses. Food? Always an interest of mine, but I’ve already done olives, coffee, honey, and vanilla.

I’ve scanned through the news, hoping some esoteric topic will catch my fancy. Maybe I’m too distracted to really think hard on it. Likely it’ll be 2021 before I can sit down to write this book, because I have too much else to get done before then. However, I could work on the plot once I get involved in the research. Would you call this waiting for the muse? Or is it merely waiting until my mind is clear to focus on this story?

I know the moment will come when the notion hits me. Or I’ll get interested in diverse topics that I will have to fit into the mystery plot. This is similar to putting a puzzle together. I’d write the ideas onto mental index cards and then shuffle them around to see how they can be combined. This is a bit harder than an overall concept but it can be done. Either way, I’ll be excited when inspiration hits. How about you? Do you need that special spark to start your story?

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Writer’s Block

Is there such a thing as Writer’s Block? Or is it merely an excuse for poor planning? Because if you’ve properly laid the groundwork for your novel, you should know exactly where the story is headed. Some writers are pantsers and not plotters, and their novel writing experience is a meandering road that will eventually lead to the end. Whichever way you tell a story, the middle might become a muddle where the road ahead is obscured. But this doesn’t have to happen if you retrace your steps and build on whatever is already present.

Writer's Block

In terms of writing the story, I don’t believe Writer’s Block exists. Even when faced with the complexity of writing a novel, we can break it down into baby steps. One hour of writing, one page, one chapter. We keep going until we are done. However, in terms of lost confidence or too many outside distractions, it can definitely be real.

Loss of confidence comes from a variety of sources, such as a bad review, a publisher who rejects your next option book or dumps you altogether, a line that is cancelled along with all its authors. You might feel lost, doubting your talent and questioning which way to go. But if you’re a career writer, you’ll either ignore that nasty review and celebrate the good ones instead, or you’ll pick yourself up and find a new publisher or will decide to try the indie route.

Outside distractions can be another major cause of Writer’s Block. Disastrous world events can become huge roadblocks. Our writing becomes insignificant in the face of these catastrophes. Storytelling seems meaningless, and yet we have to remember that books offer comfort to our readers. It’s our calling to provide escapism and entertainment during troubled times.

Personal events are much more difficult to ignore. Some writers find sitting at the computer to be comforting during personal crises. Others find it impossible to write. That’s okay. We need to allow time to process what has occurred, and hopefully, someday the muse will return.

Speaking of minds, in my fiction writing classes, I advise writers to examine their character’s life space to get to know them. This is what’s in the person’s head at any given moment in time. For example, three items are occupying my mind right now that are blocking my creativity.

Because of Covid 19, I hesitate to start a new project when each day brings the possibility of getting struck down by the virus. I have to avoid the news and shut out the dire prophesies in order to get anything done.

Another big energy drain is our desire to move to be near our kids. We’ve been packing, getting rid of stuff, looking at houses on Zillow every day. After living here for forty years, this isn’t easy for us.

The business of writing is also taking up a large portion of my brain. I am still working on reissuing the remainder of my backlist titles. After these are done, I’d like to bundle them into box sets and run price promotions. These require a learning curve as well as more time and effort to put them into action. In fact, I could focus totally on marketing and never write another book. And what about those standalones buried in my desk drawers? Are they worth publishing?

Physical problems can be inhibiting. People with pain may be unable to focus. Surgeries require time to heal. Along with health concerns come aging issues. How much longer will we be able to keep writing? Is it worth the effort to start a new series? How many more books will we be able to finish in our remaining years, and is that how we want to spend them?

Yet being a writer is who we are. We write stories because it fills our time, satisfies an inner need, expresses our creativity and gives our days purpose. We hang out with other writers and contribute to the writing community.

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We’ve all been distracted by these problems and somehow we’ve found our way back, often to even greater success.  I suspect the secret is what I’ve told aspiring authors. Focus on the writing first thing each day. Shove aside anything else on your mind and spend an hour on your writing project. Then let the world flood your mind.

What advice do you offer writers struggling with these issues?

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