When you’re writing a series, you need to be aware of scenes written in previous books that might impact your current story. Has your sleuth encountered a similar character before, researched a familiar topic, or visited the same place? If so, this might change how you approach a scene for your work in progress.
During my revision for Star Tangled Murder, #18 in the Bad Hair Day Mysteries, I had two scenes that made me realize more research needed to be done. One involved a local history museum and the other a casino run by a Native American tribe.
It suddenly hit me that this wasn’t the first time for either scenario. Marla, my hairstylist sleuth, had an episode in the same museum curator’s office in Trimmed to Death. And she’d interviewed a shaman at a Seminole casino in Hanging by a Hair. I realized I had better look up what I wrote before so I don’t contradict these previous settings.
My casino descriptions didn’t match. This fix was easy. Billy, the shaman in the current story, would work at a different gambling hall. I added a few lines bringing back Marla’s memories of visiting the other place for a prior case.
Regarding the local history museum, again my description didn’t match what I’d written before. That meant I had to modify what I’d written this time around since it was the same place. No need to reinvent the wheel in this instance.
The same precautions apply to conversations. Are you relating what two characters might already know about each other? How much background do you need for new readers without repeating information? This requires a delicate balancing act. It’s best to sneak in this info in small doses.
These are only a few of the hazards in writing a series. You have to remember what came before not only so you don’t repeat yourself but also so you get descriptions right and have your character reflect upon similar incidents from the past.
How do you create memorable characters that readers will remember? In this workshop, award-winning author Nancy J. Cohen will discuss how to develop your protagonist and secondary characters, use dialogue, add conflict, and follow genre conventions in regard to plot. Examples of conflict as the engine that drives your story will be given. You will feel confident in being able to create your own main characters and devise subplots for the recurrent cast in a series.
When we write a book, we go word by word or page by page. If we think of the story as a whole, it becomes too overwhelming. Daily and weekly writing goals help us reach the finish line.
Revisions are a different story. The words are written. Now we must hone them into a fine-tuned instrument. It can take me an entire week to polish one chapter. First, I begin by addressing critique group corrections. This may involve moving passages around to tighten the focus, deleting sections, or refining a conversation. Dialogue tags have to be added to get rid of talking head syndrome, and my sleuth’s internal thoughts need to reflect her reactions.
In addition to the above, sentence structure must be tightened. Issues that are irrelevant are removed and repetitions pared down. Inconsistencies become more noticeable and easier to correct. The story begins to take shape in a more precise manner.
What this round of line editing doesn’t do is look at the book as a continuous story. Because I forget what’s happened in preceding chapters, the second round is where I’ll catch the bigger bloopers, or so I hope. This is a read-through from start to finish. Whoops, characters A and B already had this conversation in their last scene together. Or, this information has already been revealed about suspect C. Paragraphs will have to be modified accordingly. Then another round of reading is in order for overall smoothness.
Revision is a slow process but one that cannot be rushed. Just like a gemstone, every facet must be examined and polished. And once we’re done to our satisfaction, we send our work out to editors and beta readers. Then the process starts all over again.
Your book is not done just because you typed The End. Now begins the hard work of taking your raw material and honing it into a page-turning story. This will mean several rounds of revisions, intense reading sessions, and submitting to editors and beta readers for additional input.
This work happens before you prepare the book for publication, especially if you are self-publishing your novel. Regardless of the route you choose, you’ll still need to prepare a marketing plan.
Prepare Metadata including Key Words, Book Descriptions, and Author Bio.
Upload to online distributors. Copy Buy Links.
Book NetGalley co-op dates.
Query reviewers and send arcs via BookFunnel.
Write a page of Tweets and FB Posts.
This may simplify the Revision phase and the subsequent Marketing push, but it gives a general outline of what needs to be done. Obviously, if you are traditionally publishing your work, some of these steps may be omitted.
Transition scenes in a novel can be tough to write. These can serve your need to jump ahead in time, have your characters go from one place to another, or act as a bridge between action sequences.
It’s easy when you’re jumping ahead in time. You can leave a space break between paragraphs or start a new chapter to indicate that time has passed. To make things run smoother, you can include phrasing or a snippet of information from the previous section into the new one. Ditto when hopping from one place to the next. You can use a space or chapter break or try one of the techniques below.
Getting your hero from one piece of action to another can be trickier. You need to vary the pacing without boring the reader. Too many exciting scenes running together will become wearying as well as unrealistic. Think about what purpose you want this shift to serve. If you have difficulty, consider your sleuth’s Life Space. I talk about this in my guide, Writing the Cozy Mystery, which can help you plan your story’s structure.
To get inside your sleuth’s head, draw her Life Space. Start with a circle and write her name in it. Then add cartoon-like bubbles around her head. Inside of these bubbles, put her concerns at any given moment in time. This will provide insight into your character’s interests.
Use your character’s concerns to fill in the transitional pages. Here are some suggestions for your sleuth:
Mentally review the suspects
Catch up on phone calls
Visit with a friend or relative
Discuss progress with sidekick
Have a romantic interlude
Deal with personal issues
Bring in subplots
Reflect on goals
Do research related to case
Make sure your passage isn’t filled with mindless chatter, mundane chores, or a laundry list of to-do items. If your heroine is making her favorite slow cooker recipe, for example, have her stew over the suspects or talk about them to her friend over the phone. What happens in these scenes should lead fluidly into whatever comes next.
Let’s welcome our guest, Author Mary Cunningham, who will share what inspired her to write the Andi Anna Jones mystery series featuring a travel agent sleuth.
A Writer’s Life by Mary Cunningham
I’ve written most my life, but until the ripe old age of fifty, I’d never ventured beyond family memoirs and very bad poetry. Then five crazy women got together and formed WOOF: Women Only Over Fifty. All of us had reached that magical milestone, or were about to, and weren’t all that thrilled with the ramifications. Hormones, hot flashes, hair loss, and weight gain were just a few of the complaints. We decided to become proactive and write a book that not only made light of our fate, but would honor our love of dogs, too. We embarked on the WOOF adventure.
From there, I moved on to middle-grade fantasy. Huh? Not a natural transition you say? When you have a recurring dream about a friend’s attic that served as your clubhouse on rainy days, you have to write about it. Write? Er…right? Cynthia’s Attic Series features best friends, ancestors, family stories, and time travel. While I, my family nor friends have admitted to time travel, writing about family stories passed down from great-grandparents, grandparents, and my mom and dad, gave me as much writing material as any Google search could generate.
I’ve now jumped into a totally different genre—a cozy mystery series about an inept travel agent whose real talent is amateur sleuthing. One of the first “writerly” pieces of advice I got was “Write what you know.” I was that inept travel agent in North Miami Beach. (Won’t mention the agency in case there are pending lawsuits against me) Seriously, I was awful. And hated it. I’m thrilled this new book and series has given me some sense of redemption and exorcised a ghost or two.
All those miserable days I spent, completely out of my element, led to one of the most satisfying journeys of my life. Writing about Andi, and her quirky cohorts, has been a freeing experience. Not only does writing give me a release from the past, I can draw on the good and the bad. For instance, Andi’s sidekick (and true agency manager) Ellie, is based on Ellen, the proficient agent who worked with me, and saved my backside on many occasions. She knew, instinctively, when I was struggling to make an airline reservation or book a trip, and would subtly step in and guide me through the process.
So many characters in Margaritas, Mayhem & Murder are written for the reader’s enjoyment and for the purpose of making lemonade from lemons. I can’t remember writing a story that made me laugh out loud. This one did.
Throughout my writing life, I’ve made fun of the aging process (WOOF), made up adventures about my ancestors, and written about a poor, but short-lived career choice; all with self-deprecating humor. If you have life-experiences you want to remember, or would rather forget, maybe writing will help.
Do you have any memories of quirky characters or mysterious family stories?
Andi’s step-mother, Ruby, is a real piece of work, but is she a murderer?
Andi Anna Jones, so-so travel agent/amateur sleuth, puts aside her resentment of her father’s widow and books a 60th birthday cruise to Cancun for Ruby and three friends. Never does Andi imagine the cruise will include the murder of a has-been lounge singer—or that Ruby might be the main suspect.
Flirting with more than danger after arriving in Mexico, Andi connects with charming local sheriff, Manual Gonzales. An embarrassing night involving the sheriff, too many margaritas, and a Mariachi band, can’t quell her determination to clear the name of her ex-stepmother.
While gathering clues and interviewing witnesses, however, she suspects dear old step-mom isn’t the only one in jeopardy.
If you have as much fun readingMargaritas, Mayhem, & Murder: An Andi Anna Jones Mystery (# 1) as I had writing it, we’ll all be winners!
Order Your Copy Here or at your favorite online bookstore:
Author Mary Cunningham grew up on the northern side of the Ohio River in Corydon, Indiana. Her first memories are of her dad’s original bedtime stories that no doubt inspired her imagination and love of a well-spun “yarn.” Through the author’s horrifying stint as a travel agent, Andi Anna Jones sprang to life. This series gives extra meaning to the phrase, “Write what you know.” Cunningham has several other books published, including five books in the Cynthia’s Attic middle-grade fantasy series, the women’s lifestyle/humor book, WOOF: Women Only Over Fifty, Ghost Light and Christmas With Daisy.
She is a member of Sisters in Crime, International Thriller Writers, and the Carrollton Writers Guild. When she gives her fingers a break from the keyboard, she enjoys golf, swimming, and exploring the mountains of West Georgia where she makes her home with her husband and adopted, four-legged, furry daughter, Lucy.
Writing a book is like going to the doctor. You enter the office with nervous anticipation. You leave with a sense of relief. Writing a novel is similar. You begin the story with the same sense of heightened anticipation. When the first draft is done, you feel immensely relieved.
A doctor visit engenders several questions. Will he find something unexpected? Will the procedure hurt? Do I have to disrobe? What kind of follow-up will I need? And why is that poor fish swimming all alone in the waiting room’s aquarium?
We’re always afraid the doctor might find a disease we didn’t know we had. This question also applies to writing your book. Will you discover some unexpected plot twists as your characters take over the story? Will the results turn out the way you’d planned? New ideas may pop into your head or be inspired by things you see and hear around you. These may take your story in a whole new direction. For writers, the unexpected reveal is a pleasurable event. The more your story stews in the subconscious, the more chances of this happening. Embrace the unexpected and see where it leads you.
Will it Hurt?
Writing a novel can be painful. Not because it may dredge up memories from your past, but because it’s not easy to face the blank page every day. Will you be able to reach your word count? What happens if you write yourself into a corner and get stuck? Will this book be as good as the last one? We struggle with these demons and others as we sit at the computer each day. Nonetheless, we keep plugging away until the first draft is complete. Similar to a medical procedure, if it’s something that needs to be done, you just have to do it. Remember BICHOK – Butt in Chair, Hands on Keyboard. That’s the key to writing a novel.
Do I Have to Disrobe?
Your novel, once published, exposes your vulnerabilities to the reader. This book baby is naked to the world. Reviews will be mixed, hopefully with the good outweighing the bad. It’s inevitable that you expose yourself as a writer when you publish your work. You invite feedback every time you put a story out there. Grow a thick skin and get over it.
What about Follow-Up?
Like the next doctor visit, fans will be anticipating your next book. You need to get started on it soon after you finish this one, while allowing yourself time to decompress, research, and plot the sequel. Marketing is essential at this stage, too. You can’t put your book out there and forget about it. If you slack off in your promotional efforts, book sales will lag, too.
The Lone Fish
Writing is a lonely business. We sit in our home office in front of the computer all day. When we’re not writing, we are working on promotion and marketing. Friends and family don’t understand the hours of dedication we need to get the job done. It’s a full-time career with no time off. The pressure is always on to produce more or to do more social media.
We have to remind ourselves that we’re not the only fish in the sea, and we need our families to support us. In return, we have to take the time to be with them because that’s what really matters in life. Writing a book is an achievement, but you want someone with whom to share it. In terms of understanding what you do, your critique partners and writing friends can empathize. Don’t feel you’re in the turbulent waters all alone.
Saturday, June 4, 2:00 – 3:30 pm, “Self-Publishing Made Simple” Writing Workshop via Zoom with Nancy J. Cohen sponsored by Alvin Sherman Library at Nova Southeastern University. Pre-Register at https://bit.ly/3ytN1yn
Do you have a novel that doesn’t fit genre guidelines or a personal project you want to self-publish? Or perhaps you want to reissue backlist titles or become a hybrid author? In this workshop, award-winning author Nancy J. Cohen will discuss setting up your own imprint, buying and assigning ISBNs, preparing your manuscript, ebook and print distributors, and marketing tips.
Your publisher requests a one-page synopsis, or you’re required to submit a short synopsis to enter a contest. How do you condense an entire story into a single page?
First give the book title, author name, and series number a few lines down from the top and centered. Then offer a tag line that sums up the plot. Here’s an example from SHEAR MURDER:
A wedding turns deadly when hairstylist Marla Shore discovers a dead body under the cake table.
The Setup This initial paragraph presents the setup for the story.
Hairstylist Marla Shore is playing bridesmaid at her friend Jill’s wedding when she discovers the bride’s sister stabbed to death under the cake table. Torrie had plenty of people who might have wanted her dead, including her own sister who threatened her just before the ceremony.
The Personal Motive Why does your sleuth get involved?
At Jill’s request, Marla agrees to help solve the case. With her own wedding four weeks away, her salon expanding into day spa services, and her relatives bickering over nuptial details, she has enough to do. But when Jill is arrested for Torrie’s murder, Marla has no choice except to unmask the killer.
The Suspects Give a brief profile of the suspects along with possible motives.
Jill and Torrie owned a piece of commercial property together. Their cousin Kevin, a Realtor, has been trying to find them a new tenant. Meanwhile, Jill’s uncle Eddy, a shady attorney, has been urging them to sell. Now Torrie’s husband, Scott, will inherit his wife’s share. Scott has another motive besides greed. Torrie had announced her plan to leave him for another man, Griff Beasley. Griff was Torrie’s colleague at the magazine where she worked as well as the photographer at Jill’s wedding. Griff implicates Hally, another coworker. Hally and Torrie were competing for a promotion. Then [Suspect X] turns up dead.
The Big Reveal The final paragraph is where the clues lead to the killer, and the protagonist has an insight about what she’s learned. This last is important for emotional resonance so readers will be eager for the sequel to see what happens next to your heroine.
It appears Suspect Y did [Evil Deed]. Snooping into his background, Torrie learned that Suspect Alpha helped him [Do Something Bad]. Suspect Alpha murdered Torrie because she found out about [His Illegal Business], and then Suspect X because she’d discovered [fill in blank]. Marla reveals the killer and is free to enjoy her own wedding ceremony.
Hi, I have a guest post today over at the Writers Who Kill blog on the “Elements of a Cozy Mystery.” If you’re a writer with an interest in this genre, these tips will be helpful. Or if you’re a reader who wants to know more about the writing process, this will give you a glimpse behind the scenes.
As a novelist, we’re often asked if we are a plotter or a pantser. These refer to your technique in plotting a story. Do you outline ahead of time, knowing each plot point that will occur? Or do you fly by the seat of your pants as you write, unaware of what will come next in your novel?
It’s possible to be a bit of both. For example, as you approach each chapter, you may know what is supposed to happen. But how do you get from Point A to Point B? That’s where creative magic comes into play. It’s exciting to discover things about your characters that weren’t in your original notes.
I got into the habit of writing a synopsis for each Bad Hair Day mystery. These ran fifteen or so pages long and acted as a daily writing guide. I always knew where I was going if not how to get there. If the story changed along the way, I’d revise the synopsis accordingly.
A synopsis may be required by traditional publishers. As in indie published author, it’s a choice. You may need a short synopsis to enter your book in a writing contest, or to send to a blurb writer or cover designer upon request. It’s still a good thing to have and can point out any flaws in your story that aren’t readily evident.
Despite my preference for plotting ahead, I found myself unable to get past the first few pages in writing a synopsis for my current Work in Progress. I had done rough sketches of the suspects but still wasn’t clear on all their motives. And so I began writing to get a feel for the story. Now I’m 75 pages into the tale and still winging it. I’m learning things about my characters I didn’t expect. Nor do I have any idea whodunit at this point. My only fear is writing myself into a corner and getting stuck.
To avoid this mishap, I’m writing down every loose end or question that comes to mind from the reader’s viewpoint. If I run into a wall, I can go back and pick up on threads I’d missed. Will being a pantser work for me? Time will tell. So will my critique partners who’ll let me know if the plot doesn’t make sense. Here’s an example of some of these loose ends from the opening chapters: