Revisions on your novel can seem like a never-ending task. This seems especially true when you get a letter from a reader years later to tell you about a misspelled word. We’re never going to get it absolutely perfect, but we can do our best.
In an earlier post, I’d mentioned the Five Stages of Writing. I’ve also talked in other posts about line editing and other techniques for improving your work. What comes next after you’ve sent the book in to your editor? Here’s a list of suggestions:
1. Make the corrections advised by your editor when she sends your story back with comments.
2. Check your formatting throughout the manuscript after making a series of changes. Be sure all chapter headings are consistent. Turn on the paragraph symbol in Word and look for misplaced sentences or extra spaces. Do a search for [space]^p and replace with ^p. Then do a search for ^p[space] and replace with ^p. This gets rid of extra spaces before and after a paragraph.
3. Review your editor’s comments to make sure you haven’t skipped anything.
4. Revise the synopsis and chapter outlines to reflect any changes to the story or the timeline.
5. Do a thorough read-through to make sure everything reads smoothly and to see if you caught all the changes. One change may lead to another, and you might miss some if they’re one or two lines here and there.
6. Do another read-through if these second round of changes were significant.
7. Consider using a software program like Smart-Edit to check for redundancies, repetitions, or clichés that your editor might have missed. (Or do this step before you turn in your manuscript for the first time.)
8. Send the book to beta readers for another round of critiques from the readers’ viewpoint and for proofreading. If you are traditionally published, this is when you send the book in for copy edits.
9. Follow-up with another round of revisions and a complete read-through again.
10. Send in the finalized book to your editorial house or to your formatter for production.
11. Read through the entire ARC (advance reading copy) for conversion errors and final tweaks.
It’s imperative for pacing and suspense in your novel to keep the reader turning pages. We’ve discussed End of Chapter Hooks here before. If you have a weak ending, it’s tempting for readers to put down your book. This isn’t what you want. You need an element to strengthen your chapter’s final words.
Here’s an example of a weak ending from Trimmed to Death, my work-in-progress. Marla is speaking to Nicole, another hairdresser, at her salon.
“Dalton wants to take a drive north on Sunday. He says the Kinsdales have a cousin in central Florida who owns an olive grove. This man might be able to shed some light on matters.”
Nicole chuckled, a low throaty sound. “Sounds like a good excuse for a day trip. Relax and enjoy the outing. You don’t have to be back at work until Tuesday.”
This passage illustrates another item to watch for when editing your work. Don’t repeat information your characters already know. Why would Nicole tell Marla that she doesn’t have to be back at work until Tuesday? Marla knows her days off.
Here is how I changed this into a better ending, at least for now. I might work on it further, but this one is an improvement over the previous version. Let me know what you think.
“Dalton wants to take a drive north on Sunday. He says the Kinsdales have a cousin in central Florida who owns an olive grove. This man might be able to give us some answers.”
Nicole chuckled, a low throaty sound. “Sounds like a good excuse for a day trip. Relax and enjoy the outing. Temps are supposed to be in the seventies. Take advantage of the good weather while it lasts.”
Marla should heed her words. Even though the winter months could bring cold air to the south, the next storm season was always around the corner… same as the killer in their latest crime case.
This edition might not be perfect, but it’s better than the first. And so it goes when you line edit your work. Strengthen your sentences and chapter endings so they have more of an emotional impact.
Murder by Manicure Audiobook is a 2018 ABR Audiobook Listener Award Finalist! Please Vote and spread the word! Click Here for the Mystery category and scroll down to vote for Murder by Manicure. You can vote once per day.
Meanwhile, I’ve contracted with Mary Ann Evans, my narrator, for the fourth book in the Bad Hair Day series. We’ll start recording Body Wave audiobook in the next few weeks.
Go Here to get started listening to the Bad Hair Day Mysteries.
Died Blonde (Bad Hair Day #6) is now available in a newly revised trade paperback edition. Hairstylist Marla Shore stumbles over her rival’s body in the meter room behind their competing salons. Cover Design by Patty G. Henderson at Boulevard Photografica.
Enter Here Feb. 1 – 18 to Win a Samsung Galaxy Tablet in Booklover’s Bench Anniversary Giveaway!
Bait and Switch Tactics are a means to keep your reader on the edge of her seat when using multiple viewpoints. What you’ll want to do is isolate your characters, then write scenes in each person’s viewpoint with a cliffhanger at the end of every sequence. Make sure in each scene that you are in one character’s head, so the reader can identify and care about this person. Then they’ll be eager to turn the pages to see what happens next.
Take the main characters in Silver Serenade as an example. In this science fiction romance, Silver is an assassin whose assignment is to kill Tyrone Bluth, leader of Tyrone’s Marauders. Jace Vernon, a hunted criminal, needs the terrorist alive to prove his innocence.
In one scene, Silver and Jace confront the terrorist leader in his lair. The purpose of this scene is to deliver important information to propel the action forward. To raise the suspense, I have isolated our protagonists. Here is how the scene breaks down into several sequences [spoiler alert]:
1. Jace’s viewpoint. Jace and Silver, in disguise, present themselves as new recruits for Bluth’s terrorist network. They look for their contact, Gruber, at a saloon on the planet Al’ron. While sitting at the bar, Silver shrugs off a roughneck patron who makes a play for her. The fellow insults Jace, who kills him. After this display, their contact approaches and introduces them to the bandit leader. Impressed by Jace’s quick response, Bluth says they passed the first test. He’ll take Silver with him to his headquarters, but Jace must follow them alone in his ship. Jace fears for Silver’s safety. Or worse, will she use this opportunity to assassinate Bluth and leave him behind?
2. Silver’s viewpoint. She is on a firing range at headquarters for Tyrone’s Marauders, being tested for her skills as a sharpshooter. She passes the test. Her supervisor marches her to the detention center where the evil Bluth snatches a captive child from his mother’s arms and demands Silver shoot him. Tempted to aim her laser rifle at Bluth instead, Silver manages to demonstrate her skill in a less lethal manner. During their dialogue, she learns a piece of important information. Bluth leads her away, while she wonders what’s happened to Jace who has failed to show up. Has he been caught?
3. Jace’s viewpoint. Jace’s cover has been blown, and Bluth arrives to torture him in his prison cell. Bluth questions him about his contact, Gruber. Was Gruber duped by Jace, or was he a willing accomplice? Jace turns the interrogation around when he learns important news about his missing sister’s whereabouts. But what chills him is Bluth’s boast that Silver waits for him in his chamber, unaware the pirate knows full well who she really is and why she’s there.
4. Silver’s viewpoint: Silver eludes her warden and seeks to rescue Jace. In the hallway, she hears approaching footsteps. She whips inside the nearest unlocked suite. It belongs to Bluth’s chief financial officer. After rendering the man unconscious, Silver copies data from his computer. This information may help prove Jace’s innocence and could also be used to cut off Bluth’s funding at its source. But this data will only be useful if she can escape the complex. How can she reach the detention center and free Jace?
5. Jace’s viewpoint: Guards arrive to march Jace from his cell, and he figures he’s marked for death.
And so on. You get the idea? When I began this scene, I had no idea how it would play out. The sequences developed as I wrote, but each time I was in one character’s head, I left them at a critical juncture. Hopefully that will induce you, the reader, to keep turning pages to see what happens to them next.
In summary, to increase suspense, isolate your main characters and leave each one in jeopardy or fearing for the other’s safety at the end of each sequence. Switch back and forth until they meet again. This technique has been used successfully in many thrillers, and you can deploy it for your story as well. Hook your readers and reel them in!
Glam Up for the New Year! January 9 – 29 Glam up for the new year with a crystal pendant from Effy. To celebrate the reissue of Silver Serenade, I have FIVE to give away. ENTER NOW. Color of stone may differ from what is shown in this picture. U.S. Residents only due to postal constraints.
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As 2017 draws to a close, it’s time to review the goals you’d set for this year. How many did you accomplish? Which ones will wait until next year? What unexpected accomplishments did you have?
Here are the creative and business goals for my writing career that I set last January. I hold myself accountable to you. Let’s see where we stand before setting resolutions for 2018.
Finish and Launch Hair Brained (DONE)
Write Trimmed to Death (FIRST DRAFT DONE)
Publish Audiobook editions for Murder by Manicure and Body Wave (ONE DONE)
Publish Author’s Edition of Highlights to Heaven (DONE)
Reissue trade paperback editions of Died Blonde and Dead Roots (NOT DONE)
Expand Writing the Cozy Mystery for a second edition (ONGOING)
Implement Launch Campaign for Facials Can Be Fatal (DONE)
Keep up with newsletter, blogs and social media (DONE)
Set autoresponder for newsletter signups (DONE)
Learn how to put books on sale across various vendors (NOT DONE)
Learn how to use BookFunnel (DONE)
Learn how to publish a book with IngramSpark (DONE)
Put together a free Book Sampler for newsletter subscribers (DONE)
Today we have guest author Mary Cunningham discussing “Write What You Know” and sharing her experiences.
I’d written all my life, but until the ripe old age of fifty, I’d never ventured beyond family memoirs and very bad poetry. Then five crazy broads got together and formed WOOF: Women Only Over Fifty. All of us had reached that magic 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 we could continue to bitch or become proactive bitches and write a book that not only made light of our fate, but honored our love of dogs, too. We embarked on the WOOF adventure including contributions, Hormones and Harmonies, Are We Barking up the Wrong Tree, The Hair of the Dog, and Old Dog/New Tricks. Really, if we’re going to gain weight, lose hair, and feel like we’re sitting in a pre-bake oven half the night, why not learn to laugh at it?
From there, I moved on to middle-grade fantasy. Huh? Not a natural transition? When you have a recurring dream about a friend’s attic that served as your clubhouse on rainy days when jumping rope or playing softball outside was impossible, you have to write about it. Write? Er…right? Cynthia’s Attic, all five books featuring best friends, ancestors, family stories, and time travel, sprang to life.
Using the “Write what you know” advice, I used old family pictures in this series to describe my characters and the setting for the 1914 stories, a small town in Southern Indiana; my hometown.
Another middle-grade series, The Adventures of Max & Maddie, is also in the works. Again with the time travel! Can you tell H.G. Wells’ The Time Machine was one of my favorite books as a kid? Max and best friend, Maddie, delve more into history instead of magic.
I’m not sure what made me jump into a totally different genre, except I’m so glad I did! Andi Anna Jones Mysteries is an adult series about an inept travel agent whose real talent is amateur sleuthing. Again, using the “Write what you know” advice, 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! Just as I’d hoped, the first book, Margaritas, Mayhem & Murder, has given me some sense of redemption and has also exorcised a few ghosts.
Writing can be so satisfying and cathartic, and while I got an unusually late start, I plan to write as long as my fingers will cooperate. Reading gives us the opportunity to escape into our own little worlds, and as authors, we can write books and stories that offer readers a much-needed escape into other worlds, countries, cultures, and minds.
Margaritas, Mayhem, & Murder: An Andi Anna Jones Mystery (# 1), was released Nov. 30, 2017. If you have as much fun reading it as I had writing it, we’ll all be winners!
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”.
Childhood experiences, and a recurring dream about a mysterious attic, inspired characters Cynthia and Augusta Lee, for her award-winning middle-grade series, Cynthia’s Attic. The setting is her childhood home in Southern Indiana. Family stories and ancestors comprise the storylines. There are currently five books in this series.
Through a horrifying stint as a travel agent and a more rewarding experience teaching travel and tourism, the character, Andi Anna Jones, travel agent/amateur sleuth, inspired her latest adult mystery series. Mary is currently writing Book #2 of the series, along with another middle-grade series, The Adventures of Max and Maddie, a historical time-travel. The author is also trying her hand at writing a bio for a former UConn and WNBA basketball player, former army brat, who started a scholarship foundation to assist the children of deployed military veterans. Mary is a member of The Georgia Reading Association 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, fur-daughter, Lucy.
Your publisher requests aone-page synopsis. How do you condense an entire story into a single page? My normal synopsis runs fifteen pages on average. Here’s what I do for a traditional mystery.
First 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.
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.
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. If possible, include what insight the protagonist has gained. 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.
No, I’m not going to tell you who the killer is in Shear Murder. You’ll have to read the book to find out. But this gives you an idea how to write a one-page synopsis.
Do you dread writing a synopsis? If so, get used to it, because this tool is essential to your career as a writer. Not only is a synopsis necessary for a book proposal, but the sales force at your publishing house may use it to design your cover or to plan marketing materials for your book.
A synopsis is a complete narrative of your story told in present tense. A synopsis should include essential plot points plus your character’s emotional reactions. It can act as a writing guideline while not being so rigid that your story can’t change. When you finish the actual writing portion, you can return to the original synopsis and revise it to suit the finished storyline. So how should you proceed?
1. Consider adding a tag line (i.e. one liner story blurb) on your first page before the story begins.
2. Open with a hook.
3. Use action verbs. Your story should be engaging as you convey it to the reader.
4. Make sure the story flows in a logical manner from scene to scene. In a mystery, present the crime, the suspects, and their secrets. Then show how the sleuth uncovers their hidden agendas and unravels the clues.
5. Avoid backstory. Stick to present tense and keep moving the story forward. Enter background events in small doses via dialogue or interspersed with action, and only if it applies to the current situation. Less is better. And don’t reveal too much up front. It’s best to keep the reader guessing.
6. Leave out minor characters, physical descriptions unless applicable to the storyline, and subplots unless critical to the resolution of the main plot.
7. Avoid snippets of conversation, point-to-point description of your character’s every move, jumping from one place to another without any explanation, gratuitous sex, or threats on a character’s life unless they evolve from the story.
8. Include your character’s emotional reactions.
9. Stay in the protagonist’s viewpoint as you would in the story. Use transitions if you switch viewpoints. Be careful of too much head hopping in a synopsis.
10. Show your character’s internal struggle as well as her external conflict. What’s inhibiting her from making a commitment to the hero? What is causing her to doubt her abilities?
11. Include the emotional turning points. For any genre, tell us what’s at stake for the heroes. What will happen if they fail?
12. In a romance, make sure you cover the goals and motivation of your hero/heroine, how they first meet, their romantic conflict, what leads up to the first kiss, complications that keep them apart, what they admire in each other, the black moment, and the resolution. What makes these two people right for each other that no one else can provide?
13. If it’s the first book in a series, you might begin with a short profile of your main character(s). For a mystery, offer a few paragraphs about the sleuth. For a romance, write a paragraph each about your hero and heroine. What do they hope to accomplish? What is keeping them from reaching this goal? Why is it important to them?
14. Explain the ending. In a mystery, this means you tell whodunit and why. In a romance, it’ll be the resolution of the romantic conflict.
15. What lesson will your protagonist learn in this story? How will she grow and change?
MYSTERY EXAMPLE FROM FACIALS CAN BE FATAL(Bad Hair Day #13)
Salon owner Marla Vail’s new day spa hits a snag when a client dies during a facial.
Screams emanating from next door draw salon owner Marla Vail’s attention. She rushes into the adjacent day spa to see a crowd gathered in front of a treatment room. It appears Rosana Hernandez, an aesthetician, was doing a facial on her first morning client. She’d put on the woman’s chemical mask and left the room for ten minutes. Upon her return, Valerie Weston was dead.
Since the receptionist had enough presence of mind to call 911, Marla enters the treatment room to see if CPR will help. It’s too late. The woman has no pulse, and her skin is clammy. The greenish cream mask clings to her face.
The police arrive, along with Marla’s husband, Detective Dalton Vail. He takes charge of the scene and questions Rosana. The tearful beautician claims Val had been a long-time customer, and the only known problem she had was a latex allergy. Rosana was careful not to use latex gloves in her presence.
Marla, owner of the spa plus the salon, is upset about the negative publicity this incident will generate. She has applied to become an educator for Luxor Products, whom she’d worked for once at a beauty trade show. But there’s another person being considered for the job. A smear on Marla’s reputation would be detrimental. But she’s also concerned about Rosana and proving the aesthetician wasn’t at fault.
Marla has an additional problem during this December season, which should be full of happy holiday plans. One of her clients is suing her. The woman claims Marla left on her hair dye too long, and it burned her scalp. Marla contacts her insurance agent.
Doubts roil in her stomach, and they increase when lab tests confirm liquid latex had been added to Val’s face mask cream. Val died from anaphylactic shock. Rosana denies her involvement, and Marla believes her. So who else had access to the room, and why would someone target Val?
ROMANCE EXAMPLE FROM WARRIOR LORD (Drift Lords #3)
A fantasy wedding in Las Vegas turns into a nightmare when contest winner Erika Sherwood realizes she’s married an alien.
Erika has had one drink too many at the blackjack table in Las Vegas when a bearded man wearing a cape and sword drops into the seat next to her. While his strange garb doesn’t arouse her curiosity, his comment on her wristwatch does. A gift from her parents when she turned sixteen, the watch runs with no visible mechanism and no battery, and it has a peculiar symbol engraved on its face. Her nape prickles at the man’s interest but an announcement over the loudspeaker distracts her.
The casino is holding a contest for engaged couples to win fifty thousand dollars. The lucky winners will have a televised wedding and receive a new car, a stay in the honeymoon suite, and the cash.
Erika mutters how she could sure use those funds, and the mysterious stranger overhears. He leans toward her and makes a scandalous suggestion. Why not pretend they’re engaged and enter the contest? He needs a room in the Viking-themed resort, but the hotel is full.
Giddy from the free drinks offered by the staff, Erika accepts his proposition. She doesn’t think they’ll win, but hey, the competition will be fun and all contestants get bonus credits on their club cards.
When they actually win the contest, she goes through the rushed wedding ceremony in a mental fog. Magnor kisses her and something sparks between them. However, she balks when he suggests they stay together in the honeymoon suite. She already has a room at the resort. However, his rationale is valid. If the resort people discover their deception, she and Magnor might lose their prizes.
Soon she’s alone in a room with the tall stranger. She’s drawn to his brooding good looks and muscled form but is puzzled when he becomes taciturn at her attempts to draw him out.
Someone knocks on the door. It’s the official from the televised marriage. He wants Erika’s address so he can mail out the official marriage certificate. With a jolt of clarity, Erika realizes the ceremony was valid.
Quelling her panic, she considers that having an unexpected husband might suit her needs.
I hope these examples make you curious to read on. How long should your synopsis be? Mine average around fifteen pages. Sometimes a publisher will ask for a one or two page synopsis which means you’ll have to encapsulate your story into a shorter form. Stay tuned for my next post on The One Page Synopsis.
As a beginning writer, I didn’t understand what it meant to stay in viewpoint. I was guilty of bouncing heads, or switching viewpoints within the same scene. This confuses readers because they become unsure of who is the main character. You should stay within one person’s head or else use a space break to delineate a change.
Books in the thriller genre often use multiple viewpoints, a technique that can work as long as there’s one clearly identifiable hero. If not, your reader isn’t going to care about any of the characters. Sure, you can catch their interest using bait and switch tactics. This means, you leave off each scene with one person in jeopardy before switching viewpoints with a space or chapter break. But get inside too many different heads, and the reader will cease to care. Maybe this is why I like single third-person or first person viewpoint in the mysteries I read. In a romance, it’s standard to alternate the hero and heroine’s viewpoint and sometimes this includes the villain as well. That’s okay as long as the character switch is well marked.
In revising Keeper of the Rings, one of my earlier romances that I wrote originally as Nancy Cane, I caught a perfect example of changing viewpoints in the same scene. Here’s an example:
[B’s viewpoint] Wellis, the village priest, had requested Bendyk’s presence. Now, as he sat across from the older man in the living room of his oceanfront bungalow, Bendyk fingered the medallion hanging from his neck.
“I fail to understand your meaning when you say people are straying from the Faith.” He squared his shoulders. “The turnout at the service this morning was phenomenal.”
“That’s because the villeins are putting on a pretense of piety for your benefit.” Wellis wagged his finger. “They’re afraid you’ll report to the Docent about their indiscretions.”
[W’s viewpoint] Pursing his lips, Wellis felt he should know his flock better than any representative from the central authority, such as Bendyk Worthington-Jax. He’d sent for help, realizing the situation could get out of control. After all, on whose head would the wrath of Lothar fall if he failed? His own, of course. But the golden-haired missionary, despite his zeal, had found nothing amiss.
It wasn’t Bendyk’s fault, considering how fearful the villeins were about retribution. The blasphemous talk circulating throughout the town was bound to bring dire repercussions. Wellis had hoped Bendyk would inspire a renewal of faith and, indeed, the service he’d conducted this morning had been exemplary. Perhaps his visit had done some good after all.
Bendyk faced him across a table laden with fresh fruit and nuts. The young man quirked an eyebrow. “Don’t forget it’s tithing time. The tax collector is here, even in the midst of Renewal celebrations. That’s enough cause for heightened tension.”
Wellis gave him a weary smile. “Not in this case. We’ve been fortunate to have the same agent each year. She counts in our favor and exacts a toll of ten percent on less the amount actually produced.”
Bendyk’s eyes darkened to a shade of indigo. “You mean this agent reports an inaccurate count? Why, that’s a criminal offense.”
Wellis leaned back in his chair, relishing the warm salty breeze blowing in from the open windows. His bungalow, a short distance from the ocean, stood on stilts like the rest of the houses by the shore. Further inland, other dwellings rose along a gentle slope that footed the Jerrise mountain range.
His congregation enjoyed a simple life living off the bounty of the sea and their industries of ropemaking and small boat construction. No one had enough revenue to fuel an investigation, so he didn’t see any harm in telling Bendyk of the tax agent’s favoritism.
“It appeases people,” he said with a shrug. “There’s enough grumbling about laws that don’t take into account the needs of individual districts.”
Bendyk scraped a hand through his short, wavy hair. “That’s not true. The Docents are responsible for making adjustments. If they rule unfairly, you can appeal to the Candor.”
“The Candors are concerned mainly with their own wealth. Things have gotten out of hand.”
Bendyk shot to his feet. “My father is a Candor. He’s always judged his people fairly and considered their needs.”
[B’s viewpoint – we can’t see if our own eyes look shrewd] Wellis regarded him with shrewd eyes. “Cranby is an exception. Do you deny that dissatisfaction with the Synod’s power is growing? Aren’t your services widely in demand in an attempt by local priests, like myself, to stem this tide of disloyalty?”
[W’s viewpoint] “It is the work of the Truthsayers.” Bendyk’s jaw clenched. “They seek to undermine the Faith and establish anarchy in its place.”
Footsteps sloshed outside, and Wellis held up a hand to silence his guest. “Hush, here comes the village council. I have summoned them to hear your advice. Go easy, young man. Your fiery tongue does you well in sermons but not in debate.”
I decided this scene should be told from Bendyk’s viewpoint since he’s a major player in the story. So here’s the new scene. See if it flows better and keeps your interest more.
Wellis, the village priest, had requested a private audience with him. Now, as he sat across from the older man in the living room of his oceanfront bungalow, Bendyk fingered the medallion hanging from his neck.
“I fail to understand your meaning when you say people are straying from the Faith,” he said. “The turnout at the service this morning was phenomenal.”
Wellis wagged his finger. “That’s because the villeins are putting on a pretense of piety for your benefit. They’re afraid you’ll report their indiscretions to the Docent.”
Bendyk tightened his lips. No doubt Wellis felt he knew his flock better than any representative from the central authority. But the priest had sent for help, realizing the situation there could get out of control. After all, on whose head would the wrath of Lothar fall if he failed? Yet the blasphemous talk circulating through town wasn’t evident during Bendyk’s inspection. He wasn’t surprised, considering how fearful the villeins were about retribution.
Wellis had hoped his arrival might inspire a renewal of faith. In truth, the service Bendyk had conducted this morning had been exemplary. Perhaps his visit had done some good after all.
He faced the priest across a table laden with fresh fruit and nuts. “Don’t forget it’s tithing time. The tax collector is here, even in the midst of Renewal celebrations. That’s enough cause for heightened tension.”
Wellis gave him a weary smile. “Not in this case. We’ve been fortunate to have the same agent each year. She counts in our favor and exacts a toll on ten percent less than the amount actually produced.”
“You mean, this agent reports an inaccurate count? Why, that’s a criminal offense.”
Wellis leaned back in his chair, while a warm salty breeze swept in through open windows. His bungalow, a short distance from the ocean, stood on stilts like the rest of the houses by the shore. Further inland, other dwellings rose along a gentle slope that footed the Jerrise mountain range.
“It appeases people,” Wellis said with a shrug. “I hear grumblings about laws that don’t take into account the needs of individual districts. My people enjoy a simple life. They live off the bounty of the sea, plus their industries of rope-making and small boat building. No one earns enough revenue to warrant an investigation.”
“That’s not true. The Docents are responsible for making adjustments. If they rule unfairly, you can appeal to the Candor.”
“The Candors are concerned mainly with their own wealth. Things have gotten out of hand.”
Bendyk shot to his feet. “My father is a Candor. He’s always judged people fairly and considered their needs.”
“Cranby is an exception.” Wellis regarded him with shrewd eyes. “Do you deny that dissatisfaction with the Synod’s power is growing? Aren’t your services widely in demand in an attempt by local priests, like myself, to stem this tide of disloyalty?”
“It is the work of Truthsayers. They want to undermine our Faith and establish anarchy in its place.”
Footsteps sloshed outside, and Wellis held up a hand to silence his guest. “Hush, here comes the village council. I have summoned them to hear your advice. Go easy, young man. Your fiery tongue does you well in sermons but not in debate.”
You may have noticed that I polished up the prose as well. So what do you think? Were you better able to identify with Bendyk in the second sample?
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I always thought I wasn’t clever enough to come up with good plot twists. Short story writers have the market on this writing technique. Especially in the mystery genre, short fiction often relies on an unexpected twist for its punchline at the end. So how can cozy writers come up with enough surprises to keep the reader turning pages? Sometimes you can plan ahead. I’ll write a synopsis before I begin writing the actual story. But something happens along the way. The characters, setting, and story elements stew in my brain, and out pops a surprise I didn’t anticipate. This is what I call story magic. How can you get it to work for you? Review what you’ve written, and note any plot threads that you’ve introduced but failed to resolve. How about that minor character who makes a brief appearance on stage but whose role might be significant? Or the connection between two characters you didn’t expect? Or maybe a new character arrives on scene who upsets the balance among your suspects or your recurrent cast. Who is this person and how do they relate to the plot? To the other people in your story? Why did this person arrive at this time and for what reason? In other words, pick up on clues that you’ve left for yourself. You’ll be surprised at what you find. If you are taken by surprise, so will your readers be amazed at your plot twists. You can go back later and revise your synopsis accordingly. Meanwhile, go with the flow and see where it takes you. You’ll be pleased by your reviews when you have a few surprises along the way. Here are some of mine that are particularly pleasing in this respect: Facials Can Be Fatal “The story had more twists and turns than a pretzel. And I ate them all up! It is really fast-paced and kept me thoroughly engaged to the end.” Readeropolis “I recommend this book to those who are cozy mystery fans and enjoy a sleuth mystery with many twists and turns.” Readers’ Favorite “The storyline is fast-paced and keeps readers guessing to the end. There were several different twists and turns this story could have taken. I was surprised at the outcome.” Socrates Book Reviews Hair Brained “You are always thinking and on your toes while reading this book. And when you get to the end and everything is revealed….it will blow your mind!” Cozy Mystery Book Reviews “The story actually has a couple of mysteries within its pages and all is worked out by the end, but there are a lot of plot twists along the way.” Carla Loves to Read “There were several twists and turns, plus many red herrings in this book. Just when I thought I knew what was going on, the author threw in a few extra curves to have me scratching my head.” Socrates’ Book Reviews Sign up now for my latest book news, giveaways, exclusive bonus content, and events. Free book sampler for new subscribers. Save