Creating a Timeline

How do you map your protagonist’s family tree? Who are your characters’ relatives? What are their birthdays? And how much should they age from book to book if you’re writing a series?

Creating a Timeline is crucial to a series. Keeping records of your recurrent characters in this regard is essential. Currently I’m beginning work on my next Bad Hair Day mystery, tentatively titled Peril by Ponytail. Marla and Dalton take a delayed honeymoon to an Arizona dude ranch owned by his cousin, Wayne Campbell.

Well, guess what? Other than Dalton’s parents and teenage daughter, we haven’t mentioned his family members before. Suddenly I’m at a loss as to his family tree.

Family Tree

Not so with Marla. I created her family tree for Dead Roots, when Marla and Dalton spent Thanksgiving weekend with her extended family at a haunted Florida resort. Where can I find this record? With a sense of urgency, I searched my computer files. Nope, not there. So I pulled out my notebook for that particular title. I breathed a sigh of relief when I discoverd a handwritten diagram of Marla’s family tree. With newer technology at hand, I scanned this paper into a file so it doesn’t get lost.

Marla Family

Thank goodness I have extensive notebooks for each title. What I keep in them is subject for another blog, but suffice it to say that I have lots of rich material on character backgrounds, research notes and articles, and more.

Now I have to create Dalton’s family tree. I know his age and birthday and how it’s progressed from book to book because I write it down for each volume. Ditto for his daughter and what grade she’s in. When his parents came into the picture, they got added, too. But who else is there? How is cousin Wayne related to him?

I’ll need to work on this by drawing out his family tree. I don’t know how to do it on the computer without accessing complicated programs, and they’ll take too much time to learn. But considering my experience, here are some items you might want to add to your notes for each book you write and/or for your overall series bible. The timeline can include:

  1. Birthdays
  2. Time of Year each book takes place, i.e. Season and Month
  3. Day to Day Progression of Plot per story title
  4. Family Trees
  5. Proper Names. This might be a separate file or you can put them here. This means the name of your person’s housing development, favorite restaurants, type of cars people drive, pet’s names, etc.
  6. Maps of the town or neighborhood where your character lives and works
  7. Diagrams of a particular locale. Here is Sugar Crest Resort from Dead Roots.

resort map

Your needs may differ with each book as to what your timeline requires. Peril by Ponytail is the twelfth book in my series, and yet I’ve not had to create Dalton’s family tree before. So what you need for one volume might not apply to another. Whatever you do, make sure you record the material in print and on your computer files. Back it up so you don’t lose it. If I hadn’t found Marla’s family tree in that notebook, I would have been at a loss should I need it again.

So stay attuned to your timelines when plotting your story and lay down the necessary groundwork. And now, tell the rest of us what else we might  include in our Timeline folder.

Creating Mood

Word choices are important when creating mood. Next time you read a scary story, look at the particular descriptive words the author uses. It takes work to get these right. Now let’s see how I put this to work for me. Here is my original paragraph:

Outside, I locked up and then turned toward the street. My shoes clicked on the pavement as I strolled down the sidewalk toward the parking lot. Overhanging branches shadowed the walls like skeletal limbs, blocking the light from street lamps. Crickets chirped their nightly chorus, nearly drowning the muted traffic sounds from Lake Avenue. Even that thoroughfare had quieted for the weekend.


What’s wrong with this? “Crickets chirped” brightens the mood when I want this to description to raise tension. So here is version number two:

Outside, I locked up and then turned toward the street. My shoes clicked on the pavement as I strolled down the sidewalk toward the parking lot. Overhanging branches shadowed the walls like skeletal limbs, blocking the light from street lamps. The low, steady thrum of crickets nearly drowned the muted traffic sounds from Lake Avenue. Even that thoroughfare had quieted for the weekend.

tree branches

Oops. Lake Avenue is a bustling town center with restaurants that would be lively on a weekend evening, so it wouldn’t be quiet on a Sunday. Better delete that line. I don’t quite like the muted traffic sounds, either. This line should add to the suspense. Here is my final version along with the next couple of lines. Tell me what you think:

woman alone

Outside, I locked up and then turned toward the street. My shoes clicked on the pavement as I strolled down the sidewalk toward the parking lot. Overhanging branches shadowed the walls like skeletal limbs and blocked the light from street lamps. The low, steady thrum of crickets pulsed in the autumn air like a single-minded creature hidden in the shrubs.

A car engine idled nearby. I glanced over my shoulder, my nape prickling.

None of the cars parked along the curb had any lights on. I didn’t see anyone sitting in them, but somebody had started a motor within hearing distance.

The sensation grew that I was being watched, and goose bumps rose on my arms. My breath came short as my pulse rate rocketed.

I picked up speed, eager to reach my car. My foot banged against an uneven edge of pavement. I stumbled but regained my balance and hurried on. I’d just passed Elhambra’s Mystical Emporium when a roar sounded in my ears.

I whipped around. A pair of headlights lunged at me.



This is a work in progress, so your suggestions are welcome. My advice is to write the story as it comes out and worry about nitpicking the word choices later. It’s easier to fix what’s already on the page. If you get too hung up with your pages being perfect, you’ll never progress. Write that first draft and then go back to polish.

Self-Editing Software

Recently I did a second read-through of Warrior Lord, #3 in the Drift Lords series. I’d already done a pass for line editing, so I hoped this one would be my last in a sweep for smoothness and repetitions I might have missed. I ended up knocking off 17 pages worth of prose. Oh, no. Did this mean I’d have to read all 460 pages again? I’m too close to the story. It’ll have to be put aside for a month or more, and I’d lose valuable time when I could be submitting it.

While I pondered whether to consider submission now or not, I decided I’d better check for overusage of the word “just”, one of my favorite modifiers.

Uh, oh. I used the word “just” 135 times. This included such words as “adjusted” and “justice of the peace” so I ignored those instances. But on more than one page, I had used “just” twice.

Maybe there were more words like that one. I remembered bookmarking a site online that other authors recommended. It concerned a self-editing program for writers that would pick out problem areas like this, so I downloaded the free trial at

Whoa, my eyes popped at the results. The word “just” wasn’t my only debacle. I used “when” 256 times, “while” 182 times, “like” 235 times, “down” 210 times. Really? Even the word “forward” came up 82 times.

Clearly, more polishing was in order. The program analyzed my sentence starters. I begin sentences with “A” 227 times, “And” 110 times, and “But” 111 times. We all know lots of sentences start with “The”. Mine did so for 545 times. Oh, dear. I’d better pay more attention to varying my sentence structure. How did my earlier novels get by without this amazing software?

Then the program listed all the proper nouns used in the story. I discovered two different spellings for my hero’s homeworld: Agoora and Agora. I made that correction and moved on.

The software also listed all the curse words used in my story. Okay, I didn’t have very many and they weren’t that bad. They can stand, but if you want your work to be a PG rating, this task can be helpful.

It also points out clichés that you use. I didn’t realize I’d said “hands on” 11 times throughout the story. That might not seem like much for a 101,763 word novel, but I hadn’t realized I favored the phrase—as in the heroine puts her “hands on” her hips too many times. Fortunately, I didn’t have too many clichés and some I’d written on purpose so those other ones were okay to leave in.

Next up in the program comes misused words, such as accept/except, anxious/eager, any more/anymore. Hmm, would she be anxious for his approval, or eager for it?

Your dialogue tags don’t escape scrutiny, either. I used “said” 150 times and “asked” 54 times. There are occasions where a character bellows or shouts, but a singular usage in this instance might be acceptable. I’ll take another look to see if the dialogue can stand by itself.

Finally, suspect punctuation like exclamation marks are pointed out along with the story locations where you use them.

Amazed by the value of this program, I decided to sweep it by the non-Marla mystery I’ve been working on. Oh, my. Did I realize I’d used the phrase “my cell phone” 23 times in this 67,000 word manuscript? Yes, the program checks for repeated phrases along with repeated words. Speaking of the latter, favored words in this story were “could”, “like”, “didn’t”, and “time,” among others.

“Hands on” is another favorite cliché of mine is this story, too. I’d better watch out for that phrase hereafter.

Regarding punctuation, I had an extra space before an emdash. Imagine that?

I only ran the free trial for this program. The fully realized version allows you to set customized parameters. For $49.95, you can buy a license to use the program on your desktop and laptop computers running Windows. I don’t have any writing or story construction software, but this program seems essential. You might want to give it a try for yourself.

Now I have more work to do. The book I thought was finished is not done. I had not polished it to perfection as I’d thought. My editor will have to wait weeks more for me to turn in this manuscript, but it’s a service to readers to make it the best it can be.

What writing tools do you use that may be helpful to other writers?

Polishing to Perfection

What’s wrong with this passage? When I am doing a final read-through of a manuscript prior to submission, I am looking for inconsistencies and repetitions. Can you detect what needs to be changed here:

“Good work.” Zohar slapped his shoulder. “Let’s get our gear and move out, people, before anything else surprises us.”

As his team hustled to obey, Zohar conferred with their allies. Magnor overheard him telling them to return home and assess the results. [Sentence removed due to series spoiler]

“What about the souls turned by those creatures?” asked a colonel from a foreign nation’s army.

Yaron stepped forward. “We’re working on a solution. Once our new cruiser arrives, I can synthesize and test the compound I’ve been refining as an antidote. In the meantime, help us spread the word that a pandemic virus is affecting people. This will explain any strange behavior.”

Zohar grasped his shoulder. “You have discovered a cure for the confounding spell?”

“I believe so, rageesh.”

Nira bustled toward them, her face covered in sweat and grime. Tear tracks ran down her cheeks. “The earthquakes are getting worse. We need to reach the mountain, or Loki might still win.”

“How’s Edith?” At Nira’s sad shake of the head, Zohar patted her shoulder. “I am sorry. She was a loyal friend.” He turned to the assembled crowd and raised his arms. “Listen, people, we thank you for your assistance this day. You’ve kept your word to join us in this battle, and we’ve been triumphant because of you. We’ll carry on from here, but know that you have our everlasting gratitude.”


So what needs fixing this time? The first thing that jumped out at me is that I use the word “shoulder” three times:

Zohar slapped his shoulder
Zohar grasped his shoulder
Zohar patted her shoulder.

Oops! I kept the first one, and changed the second one to “Zohar’s eyebrows raised”. In the third one, Zohar pats her arm instead of her shoulder.

Whoops again. In the last paragraph, Zohar raises his arms. Too much repetition with “arm” and “raise”. This phrase gets deleted.

Then I note he says “people” twice. The second one becomes “everyone.” But now I have “everlasting gratitude”. Too many words start with “ever”. The second term becomes “eternal.” Here is the revised passage with these changes.

“Good work.” Zohar slapped his shoulder. “Let’s get our gear and move out, people, before anything else surprises us.”

As his team hustled to obey, Zohar conferred with their allies. Magnor overheard him telling them to return home and assess the results. [Sentence removed due to series spoiler]

“What about the souls turned by those creatures?” asked a colonel from a foreign nation’s army.

Yaron stepped forward. “We’re working on a solution. Once our new cruiser arrives, I can synthesize and test the compound I’ve been refining as an antidote. In the meantime, help us spread the word that a pandemic virus is affecting people. This will explain any strange behavior.”

Zohar’s eyebrows raised. “You have discovered a cure for the confounding spell?”

“I believe so, rageesh.”

Nira bustled toward them, her face covered in sweat and grime. Tear tracks ran down her cheeks. “The earthquakes are getting worse. We need to reach the mountain, or Loki might still win.”

“How’s Edith?” At Nira’s sad shake of the head, Zohar patted her arm. “I am sorry. She was a loyal friend.” He turned to the assembled crowd. “Listen, everyone, we thank you for your assistance this day. You’ve kept your word to join us in this battle, and we’ve been triumphant because of you. We’ll carry on from here, but know that you have our eternal gratitude.”

What else would you do?

Keeping Characters Apart

By Beate Boeker

Nancy asked me to share some writing tips with you, and I thought I would focus on one aspect that every writer encounters – how to keep people apart. In a mystery, you start with a few key people: The heroine or hero, the murderer, victim one, maybe victim two.

In my cozy mystery series, Temptation in Florence, I have both—a heroine called Carlina, and Inspector Stefano Garini who’s the hero.   Delayed Death

As I’m switching viewpoints between both of them, I think it’s fairly easy to get those people clear in your mind. At the beginning, I characterize them in turn by judging them through the eyes of the other. Here’s the moment when Carlina meets Garini for the first time:

Carlina dropped onto the sofa and looked at the Commissario who took a seat in the battered armchair to her left. His face was lean and thin, and his nose reminded her of a hawk. No, the resemblance with a hawk came from the eyes. They were light and hard and gave her the impression he could spot a detail at a distance of several kilometers. He didn’t look like someone who would understand a silly mistake or two.

Garini in turn discusses her with his assistant Piedro. I’ve made Piedro a bit slow, so much so that he only has to say one sentence, and you pretty much realize that this is the dumb assistant even if you have forgotten his name in the meantime.

“What was her name? Carlina?” Piedro asked.

“No. Caroline Ashley.”

Piedro frowned. “Everybody called her Carlina.”

“A nickname.” For an instant, Stefano saw Carlina’s pale face again. The freckles had made her look younger than she was. Her eyes reminded him of a cat, slanted and intelligent.

Piedro shrugged off the name. “She acted real nervous.”

“Yes, I noticed that too.”

So far, so good. You’re unlikely to forget the victim and the hero(s). However, as an author, you need to populate the scene with plenty of other people milling about in order to create enough red herrings.

Carlina is part of a huge family, and many of the members live in the same house which is split up into individual apartments. On the ground floor, to the right, we have her grandfather Nico, who was murdered. On the left is the apartment of her grandfather’s identical twin. His name is Teodoro Alfredo Mantoni. He’s the most senior man in the house, the patriarch of the family, so I made sure that everybody calls him Uncle Teo, instead of just Teo, and whenever he enters the scene, I mention something that immediately refers to his age – his rheumy eyes, the age spots on his skin, his white hair.

Each of the twins has seven kids, all adults with their own families now. I created this huge family on purpose, to have enough room for further novels. However, I do not introduce all of them in the first novel, to avoiding confusing my readers (and myself!).

Uncle Teo is married to Aunt Maria, who is not only exceedingly fat, but who likes to eat garlic in huge quantities. As soon as she makes an entry, everybody runs to the window or speaks through the nose.

On the next floor, we have on one side Benedetta, who is one of Nico’s younger daughters. Her two teenage kids (seventeen and nineteen) live with her. Her husband died some years ago.

At this point, I feared the eyes of the reader would already glaze over, so I gave each of the appearing persons one special trait. Whenever they appear, I repeat this trait to help my readers stay oriented. Benedetta is always using bright red lipstick. She’s calm and pretty normal in this exuberant family. Her kids both have bright red hair. The younger is Ernesto, the elder Annalisa. Annalisa is very much focused on herself, besides being a true beauty. Ernesto loves to play computer games. I assumed that if I mentioned the red hair throughout the novel as a sort of signal, my readers would immediately be able to place both Ernesto and Annalisa.

Across the landing is their elder sister Emma’s apartment. She’s getting married to Lucio in the first novel. Emma knows exactly what she wants, and she has fantastic legs. Lucio is extremely jealous and traditional, so I made sure to refer to this whenever they appear.

Another floor up, we have Fabbiola. She is Carlina’s mother, and her strand of henna-colored hair is the most typical thing about her. She also has a little habit of carrying around a cushion whenever she leaves the house, so she’s clearly a bit batty, but in a nice sort of way. Whenever Fabbiola appears, the cushion appears, too, and I think this is too eccentric to be forgotten easily.

Carlina is fiercely loyal to her family, and this loyalty is her biggest problem, not only when it comes to finding the murderer but also in her relationship with Garini, who has no large family at all and is the quintessential lonely wolf.

Besides these typical traits I keep mentioning throughout the novel, I gave the characters very different names, some long, some short, and I made sure I did not have them start with the same letter. (I slipped up on Ernesto and Emma, but it’s too late to change that now!). There’s nothing more confusing than a whole family that’s called Lea, Lou, and Liz.

I don’t have any animals in my novels so far, but if they appear, I will give them animal names, like Woof for a dog or Purr for a cat. This might not be very creative, but I once read a novel where the dog was called Sarah, and it threw me time and again. “Sarah followed him into the house.” All through the chapter, I kept wondering ‘Who was Sarah again?’ – until she finally started to bark.

In addition to the traits I keep repeating, I’ll remind the reader of each character’s relationship to Carlina as soon as possible in the course of a natural conversation. Here’s an example:

“Where’s father?” Carlina’s mother sidled along the pew closer to her daughter. Her long blue skirt twisted around her legs, and she pulled it free with an impatient tug.

“Ssshhh.” Carlina placed a finger on her lips and pointed at the altar where Emma and Lucio stood in front of the priest.

Fabbiola stood on tiptoe and brought her mouth to her daughter’s ear. “Why were you so late?”

In this short paragraph, I have mentioned the words mother, daughter, and Fabbiola’s name, so even the most casual reader should be able to place Fabbiola now.

If someone doesn’t make an entry very often, I often use a blunt question from a comparative outsider to help get everybody oriented. Here’s an example from book number two, Charmer’s Death:

Benedetta continued. “We met her in town because she was still at Giulietta’s.”

Who is Giulietta?” Garini frowned.

“Giulietta is a cousin once removed,” Caroline replied. “She’s also a hairdresser.”

Sometimes, when writing, it feels as if you’re overdoing it. After all, this is your world, and you know these characters intimately. But your readers may be distracted. They may have been interrupted when reading the book the last time, and you don’t want them to be confused as to who’s talking and what on earth the character is doing there.

I hope this little explanation helps a little and would love to hear your thoughts!


Delayed Death (Temptation in Florence) by Beate Boeker

What do you do when you find your grandfather dead half an hour before your cousin’s wedding? You hide him in his bed and tell everyone he didn’t feel like coming.

Delayed Death
is an entertaining mystery set in Florence, Italy. When Carlina finds her grandfather dead on the day of her cousin’s wedding, she decides to hide the corpse until after the ceremony. However, her grandfather was poisoned, and she becomes the attractive Inspector’s prime suspect. On top of that, she has to manage her boisterous family and her luxurious lingerie store called Temptation, a juggling act that creates many hilarious situations.

<><><>              Beate Boeker
Beate Boeker is a traditionally published author since 2008. She now offers many full-length novels and short stories online. Several of her titles were shortlisted for the Golden Quill Contest, the National Readers’ Choice Award, and the ‘Best Indie Books of 2012’ contest.
Beate is a marketing manager by day with a degree in International Business Administration, and her daily experience in marketing continuously provides her with a wide range of fodder for her novels, be it hilarious or cynical. While ‘Boeker’ means ‘books’ in a German dialect, her first name Beate can be translated as ‘Happy’ . . . and with a name that reads ‘Happy Books’, what else could she do but write novels with a happy end?

Facebook – Beate Boeker Author

Twitter – @BeateBoeker

What If? Plotting Made Perfect

The words “What If?” are at the heart of every plot. Currently I’m in the throes of plotting my next Bad Hair Day mystery. Having already written the draft of a synopsis, I welcome the “what if’s” that are flying into my brain.

What if the rivalry between ranchers Hugh and Raymond has a personal basis involving Hugh’s dead wife? What if the murdered forest ranger’s spouse had gotten turned down for a loan to start a business? Would that have induced her to take out a life insurance policy on her husband? What if the bad guy is selling his valuable ore to terrorists who resell it in exchange for weapons? What if….?

Once the story elements are in your head, your subconscious goes to work and new ideas keep popping up. Some are viable. Others get discarded as unrealistic. It’s wonderful when you get to this stage because the connections start snapping together. Pieces of the puzzle coalesce into a whole, and your story is ready for writing. But how do you reach this pinnacle of inspiration?

You begin with a story premise. In a mystery, it might be the victim. Who’d want to kill him and why? You sketch the suspects in your mind. Friends, family, and business associates who might have something to gain go on your list. What if suspect A’s wife was having an affair with the victim? And what if the husband discovered their liaison? What if suspect C owed the victim money? Or maybe the victim was extorting money from a colleague, knowing something that would get the guy fired. You examine their motives, seeking the secrets these people would do anything to hide.

Keep in mind that plot is not story. Plot is the background, the secrets everyone is keeping, the motive for the murder, the devious scheme created by the villain. You are creating a tapestry that leads to the opening scene. That’s where the story starts and moves forward.

In a romance, you’ll want to determine the first meet between hero and heroine. They’re attracted to each other but initially sparks fly between them. What if…they had a history together? Or what if she hates him because…? What if they have to work together in order to…?

Or a thriller: What’s at stake? Who is behind the dastardly scheme for world domination this time? Who’s the hero? What resources does he possess? How is he going to hit the ground running? What if…he’s semi-retired and he first gets wind something is wrong when…? He’s recalled to duty? He meets his old girlfriend and she says….? Or what if she’s in trouble? What if he receives a cryptic note from her?

Whenever I get ideas relevant to the plot, I jot them down in a plotting file for that book title. I may use them or not, but this way I don’t lose them.

Being a plotter and not a pantser, I write a complete synopsis before I begin writing the story. This synopsis may go through numerous drafts before I get it right. I pass it through my critique partners and make more changes. I ask my husband to read it so he can evaluate the logic. He’s good at catching things that don’t make sense or need clarification. In the case of my current WIP, I’m consulting my cousin who lives in the area where the story is set. She’s been invaluable in pointing out what works and what doesn’t.

I’ve been doing research on the Internet as I go along. I have a whole page of links and topics to explore. It comes to mind that I’ve been calling the law enforcement officer in the story a sheriff. Is this appropriate to the location? What’s the difference between a sheriff and a police chief? Does a sheriff only work for the county? Does this apply to a state other than Florida? Another item to research goes on my list.

Meanwhile, what other motives might people have for doing in the victim? What hidden connections might exist between my characters? Often these secrets reveal themselves during the actual writing process. New angles spring to life, taking the story in a new direction. But before you get there, you have to lay the foundation.

These story details possess you and take over your mind. You think about them all your waking moments. The plotting threads sizzle, curl, and snap in your brain like writhing snakes until one bites you. What if…?


Are you a plotter or a pantser? Do you figure out these details as you write or before you begin the story?

Discovering Your Story

Plotting your story can’t take place until you have an idea of issues you want to explore, setting, and character. Before you take pen to paper, you engage in the stage of Discovery. What does this mean?

Normally when planning a mystery, I start with the victim. Once the dead guy makes himself known, I create the suspects around him. Who had reason to want this person dead? What do they stand to gain? Who are the vic’s friends, business associates, and relatives? What secrets are they hiding? What issues are involved? Then I begin to explore possible motives. My research branches out, sometimes in new and interesting directions. Different elements swirl in my head, seep into my subconscious, and brew together until the plot pops out. Usually at this point, I can sit and write the entire synopsis.

But in researching my next mystery, I find myself going in a new direction totally. My characters will be transplanted from their normal Florida suburb to a ranch vacation in Arizona. I’m pondering a story that’s more an adventure than a whodunit, and the more fascinating items I research, the more excited I am getting. Copper mines, water resources, cattle ranches, ghost towns, haunted hotels, train rides…oh, my. A research trip is definitely required.

miner   ghost town

So far my notes are confined to Internet research but the various issues are becoming clarified. I am beginning to see what is possible and what may be implausible. These determinations will help when I debate my characters’ secrets and motives. I’m driven to discover more, to uncover additional tidbits that might influence my developing story. And I’m wondering if my readers will like reading more of an adventure or if I should stick to a traditional whodunit.

Or maybe this is all a pipe dream and these elements belong elsewhere, not with my series. But I’m excited for my happy couple to meet new challenges in a different location. Every few books in a series, when the setting gets to be same old, same old, you need to transplant your protagonists somewhere new for variety.

Sufficient time must be allotted for this discovery process. Plotting, research, and exploration are part of the pre-writing mode. Never feel guilty that you are not actually writing. You have to get it right, and only by digging into all the possibilities can you offer new material for the reader.

I am uncertain where I will go with this information I’m collecting. Maybe I’ll throw it all out and plot a traditional murder mystery. Or maybe I’ll go with the flow and drop my characters into a morass involving disputes over water resources, mining rights, ghost towns, and more. What do you think?

Sowing Seeds for a Sequel

How can you drop hints for a sequel in your current story, not only to let readers know more books are coming but also to whet their appetite for the next installment?

You can (1) title your book as part of a series, (2) include a teaser for the next book after the last chapter, (3) plant clues foreshadowing another problem to come, or (4) drop an overt hint toward the end of your story.

Number four is what I did in Killer Knots, book #9 in my Bad Hair Day mysteries. At the end, I have Marla and Dalton announce they’ve chosen a date for their wedding. Now readers can anticipate the nuptials for which they’ve been waiting throughout the series. But knowing a mystery is a must, hopefully they’ll also anticipate that things won’t quite go as planned. That story becomes Shear Murder, book #10.

But what if you haven’t plotted the sequel, written the first chapter for it, or even planned to do one? And then suddenly readers are demanding the next book. What do you do?

Hopefully, you can still make additions in your current WIP. So here are some tips on how to drop in some subtle hints of what’s to come:

  • First plot your overall series story arc for the next few books.
  • Identify the main characters. Is this a series with a single protagonist in each volume, or are the stories spin-offs, wherein secondary characters in one story become the heroes in another? Either way, try to determine what personal issues will be driving these people in the next book.
  • Write the opening scene to get a feel for the story.

Now go back to the WIP and look for places where you can drop in hints of what’s to come.

In the Drift Lords series, a sweeping battle between good and evil is coming. What happens after this battle when my heroes triumph? Is the series over? Not necessarily, because you all know that after one bad guy goes down, a worse one pops up to threaten humanity.

Spoiler Alert! I created an unusual situation by writing my first three books in chronological order because the story comes to its rightful conclusion in this trilogy. The next three books, as I’ve planned it, take place in the same time period as books 2 and 3. I know it’s confusing, but bear with me. What will make this next set of three books special, if fans know our main villains get vanquished? Here’s what happened: I came up with another story arc for books 4-6. Look at Star Wars. George Lucas made a wildly popular trilogy. Then he did another 3 movies, calling them prequels. Now the series will continue with a new story line, into the future. But unlike Lucas, I have the chance to drop hints in book 3 for the next trilogy of books in my series. In my mind, I see them as sets of three with the potential for a total of seven or more. And like Terry Goodkind’s excellent Sword of Truth series, just because one nasty bad guy is defeated doesn’t mean there aren’t more out there.

I’ve had to go back into certain scenes of book 3 and add factors that will cause the reader to wonder what’s going on. This plot thread will not be solved by the end of this story. In other words, our hero’s job is not done just because he’s prevented disaster.

Do you like hints of what’s to come in stories you are reading? I’m not talking cliffhanger endings here. I hate it when the main story line isn’t finished, and you have to wait for the sequel. But personal issues may continue in the next installment, or new problems may arise that cause trouble down the road. One has to be careful not to frustrate the reader by dropping too many hints, only enough to gently tease her about what may be in store.


Last night we went to dinner at a favorite restaurant, an upscale chain that shall remain anonymous. We were seated at a booth against a rear wall and were enjoying our appetizer dumplings when I spotted a familiar brown bug crawling along the table by the wall.

“Roach!” I cried, grabbing my plate and scooting toward the opposite side of the bench seat.roach

“What?” My husband peered around. His eyes widened when he saw where I pointed.

The waiter, who was nearby, hastened over. “Is something wrong?”

“Yes, there’s a roach.” I pointed a wavering finger. Dang, but the critter had scurried behind the salt and pepper shakers.

“I’ll be right back.” The young man rushed away and returned a moment later with reinforcements.

“What do you want to do?” the manager asked me as I stood by uncertainly.

“We need to change tables. I’m not staying here.” I’d already grabbed my food dishes. The manager indicated another table nearby with regular seating, not a booth.

My husband and I transferred our drinks and other accoutrements while the wait staff stripped off the tablecloth and hunted the offending creature. The manager even got down on his knees with a flashlight to look underneath. I guessed he’d got the bug because the waiters remade the table as though nothing had happened.


The manager bustled over. “I’m so sorry. This almost never happens.” He mumbled several excuses which I blanked out, but I did hear the words, “Of course, we’ll compensate you for the inconvenience.”

I nodded my agreement. “That’s fine, thanks.” I figured we’d be lucky to get an item discounted off our bill. “Did you get it?” was all I really cared about.

“We did.” He left us to dine in peace.

Our meal proceeded until we got the final bill. To our pleasant surprise, the entire meal had been comped. All we had to pay for were our drinks and gratuity. I didn’t expect such generosity, but really, they owed it to us. I could have stood up and shrieked “Roach!” at the top of my voice. Imagine the reactions of the other patrons.

And then, being a writer, my imagination took flight. What if I had a character who did just that? This would fit right in with my humorous Bad Hair Day mysteries. Marla, my hairdresser sleuth, wouldn’t act this way, but a companion might. That person could even knock over her wine class at the same time and cause a general ruckus in an entertaining scene.

And—get this—what if Marla later spied this same character twisting a top on a medicine bottle and putting it into her purse, when Marla didn’t recall this person taking any pills. Could the guest possibly have brought the roach herself to let loose in the restaurant, hoping for a free meal? What an outrageous character. I can’t wait to write her into my next book! You see, inspiration always comes from life’s experiences.

I just love those What If’s, don’t you?

When Are Revisions Done?

Newbie writers often ask, how do you know when to stop revising and send in the work? There’s no easy answer as each of us goes through our own self-editing process. Revisions are never done. Every time you read through your work, more things pop up to fix. So when should you quit? When the story is as good as you can make it for now, and you’ll plotz if you have to go through it one more time. But all is not lost. You’ll get another chance to make corrections and tweak your phrasing during the editing phase.

Finishing your manuscript and doing second or third drafts is only part of the equation. Once your story is finished for good, you need to go back to your synopsis. Why? The story probably branched out in new directions since you began, and you need to update this important marketing tool.

You should also check through the submission guidelines and format your work accordingly. Different publishers prefer different fonts and line spacing. So get it right before you submit anything.

Check your front and back end materials to make sure everything is there. Besides the title page, in the front may go any endorsements you’ve gathered, dedications and acknowledgements, world building details like maps or casts of characters. At the end go your biography, author’s note if any, and any bonus materials like recipes in a culinary cozy. Again, see if your publisher requires anything else.

Once you have accomplished all these tasks, then you are ready to submit. Does the publisher want you to attach any ancillary materials, like cover art sheets or permissions or cover copy blurbs? This may come before or after a sale. Be certain you have these forms filled out.

Then write your cover letter and send the submission.

Here’s a quick checklist:

· Proofread your final draft for timeline consistency, character continuity, repetitions, word choices, spelling.
· Verify any research as necessary.
· Check all loose ends to make sure you’ve solved them by the story’s finale. You may want to review your plotting notes to see if you have left anything out.
· If a series, include a hook for the next story.
· Write a reader discussion guide during your final draft.
· Jot down blog topics for your blog tour.
· Rewrite your synopsis to match the finished story.
· Format your manuscript according to publisher guidelines.
· Prepare requested ancillary materials to attach with your submission.
· Submit your work and cross your fingers.

I am in this phase now which is why I’m not blogging too often, posting on FB, etc. Getting the book done amidst the holiday frenzy is taking my total concentration. I’ve gone through the manuscript, so now I have to format it to the publisher’s guidelines and fill out the required forms. Then I’ll send my baby out into the world.

Is there anything you would add to this checklist?