Plotter or Pantser

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?

Plotter or Pantser

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:

Loose Ends

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Which one are you – a plotter or a pantser? Or a combination of both? Do you have any advice for aspiring writers other than to use whatever technique works for them?

Adding Descriptive Details to a Scene

How do you avoid turning descriptive details in your novel into an info dump? When writing fiction, you have to be careful how you weave in this information. Add too much prose, and your reader will skip over those passages. You can insert material more enticingly by using dialogue, brief introspections, and short paragraphs.

Descriptive Details

My readers like to learn new “factoids” as they call them, and they’ve come to expect these tidbits in my books. It’s thanks to my editor and critique partners that these don’t become lengthy dissertations on my research findings. It’s tempting to share what you’ve learned, but you need to limit your enthusiasm and save this fascinating material for future blog posts.

Nonetheless, a critique partner recently asked me for more details regarding my story’s historical background. The setting involves a battle reenactment at a living history village. I’d skimmed over the details, but my writer friend wanted more. She even suggested I make the guide’s lectures more touristy.

Okay, I could do this. Here’s an example from a scene that takes place during the skirmish. Be kind in your appraisal. It’s a first draft excerpt.

Original Passage:

A man’s voice on a loudspeaker rang out, welcoming the guests. She recognized the marshal’s gritty tone.

“This battle is representative of the one that occurred on July 3, 1836. Out of one hundred and ten soldiers, only two survived. They made it to Fort King to explain what happened and so a contingent could return to bury the dead.” He continued to narrate as the action unfolded.

A line of blue-coated soldiers moved out at a slow pace, muskets at the ready. They followed a dirt trail among the pines and scrub brush. A small group wheeled a cannon, the only artillery in sight. The officers rode on horseback behind the troop’s drummer. The men looked weary, as though they’d been on the road for days.

Suddenly, shots rang out. The solders scrambled for defensive positions as the officers rode up and down the line, shouting orders.

Rewrite:

A man’s voice on a loudspeaker rang out, welcoming the guests. She recognized the marshal’s gritty tone.

“Today we are commemorating a massacre that occurred on July 3, 1836. One hundred and ten U.S. Army troops were on a mission to deliver a cannon to Fort King in Ocala. Along the way, they were attacked by one hundred and eighty Seminole warriors. Only two soldiers survived. Hungry and wounded, the men made it to the fort and explained what happened so a contingent could return to bury the dead.”

The blue-coated soldiers moved forward in a column. They followed a narrow dirt trail among the pines and scrub brush but still in view from the bleachers. A small group wheeled the cannon, the only artillery in sight. Three officers rode on horseback behind the troop’s drummer. The soldiers looked weary, as though they’d been on the road for days.

“The troops weren’t ready for action,” the marshal continued. “Their muskets were not loaded, and their ammunition was stuffed under their jackets. They’d grown tired and didn’t notice the tribesmen following them.”

Suddenly, shots rang out.

“The captain is hit!” the marshal exclaimed as the other officers shouted orders. The soldiers scrambled for defensive positions. Then the lieutenant toppled from his horse.

“Another officer down! The Seminole chief is a wily fellow. He knows which men are commanding the force, and he’s taking out the leaders one-by-one. Oh, no! There goes the sergeant. Now the rest of the troops will be mowed down like blades of grass.”

Which version is more vivid in your mind? What else should I add?

Another suggestion was that Marla’s husband Dalton should share some of his knowledge during the battle sequence since he’s a history buff. In the original draft, he said nothing.

New Passage:

Dalton nudged Marla. “The army soldiers had muskets that were smooth-bore and more suitable for short-range firing. The Native Americans used Deringer percussion rifles given to them in the Treaty of Paynes Landing of 1832. These had greater accuracy from a distance but took longer to load.”

“Why was that?” Marla asked. Clearly, he’d researched the topic.

“Both were muzzle-loaders, at least until 1850 or so. This means a powder charge and ball had to be inserted into the end of the barrel and pushed down to the firing mechanism. It was easier to do this for a smooth-bore musket with a larger barrel. Pushing the same ball down a tighter-fitting rifle took longer. However, the spiral grooves, termed rifling, inside this barrel meant greater accuracy. For tribesmen shooting at a distance on horseback, it gave them the advantage.”

What do you think? Too much detail or are these revisions just right? You be my critic.

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Blending Romance and Mystery

Mystery fans enjoy a romantic subplot that is slow and subtle. In a series, you don’t want to resolve the relationship by the end of book one. You’ll want to build it step-by-step, advancing or retreating with each story. Especially in a cozy mystery, any graphic sex scenes must take place behind closed doors. Sexual tension is welcome, but it’s not an essential element.

Romance Mystery

As for the heroine juggling multiple boyfriends, this gets old after a few installments. Have her make a decision after the first few titles. It doesn’t have to be the right one, but it’s less frustrating for readers than to keep stringing two suitors along.

The key is to have complications so the main couple can overcome the issues that keep them apart. Once one complication is solved, you need to bring in another. Life is never smooth and always has problems.

Keep in mind that you are writing a murder mystery, and the romance takes second place to the puzzle of solving the crime. If you include a strong romantic subplot, your story may be termed a romantic mystery.

How to Blend Romance and Murder

Give your characters conflicts to keep them from making a commitment. The external conflict is your mystery. The internal conflict is the reason why the protagonists are hesitant to get deeply involved in a relationship.

Conflict

Maybe your heroine was hurt by a former lover and fears getting burned again. Or she has a fierce need for independence because she has to prove herself worthy of respect. Why? What happened in her past to produce this need? Keep asking questions to deepen the motivation. Maybe your hero doesn’t want a family because his own parents went through a bitter divorce. Secretly he feels he isn’t worthy of being loved. Or maybe he suppresses his emotions and doesn’t know how to give affection. Whatever the opposite sex character does seems to deepen or challenge this inner torment.

Your characters are immediately attracted to each other through physical chemistry. This pulls them together while the inner conflicts tear them apart. Yet the benefits of being a couple begin to outweigh the risks. As the characters become emotionally closer, they’ll progress through the stages of intimacy.

Six Stages of Intimacy

1. Physical awareness: Your characters notice each other with heightened sensitivity. For example, the heroine is aware of the man’s physical attributes. She detects his personal scent and has a physical response to his presence. They steal looks at each other when together.
2. Intrusion of thoughts: Your character begins thinking of this other person often. The love interest invades your character’s mind.
3. Touching: First, it may be an arm around the shoulder, lifting a chin, touching an elbow. The couple comes closer until the desire to kiss is almost palpable. Have them lean in toward each other for a kiss and then interrupt them, so when they get to the next stage, it’s highly anticipated. Use the five senses as much as possible to enhance the sexual tension. Flirtatious banter can add to this mounting desire.
4. Kissing
5. Touching in more intimate places
6. Coupling: In a cozy, these scenes are off the page. But if you’re writing romantic suspense, you can include them. Here it’s important to focus on the emotional reactions of your characters rather than the act itself. This is lovemaking, not just sex.

Throw a wrench into the relationship when all seems to be going well. His former spouse appears on the scene. Her on-again, off-again other boyfriend shows up. The heroine does something thoughtless and alienates the guy she likes. He feels pressured and backs off. Finally, they both change and compromise to resolve their differences. Let’s see how this works.

The Bad Hair Day Mysteries

PERMED TO DEATH: Hairstylist Marla Shore meets Detective Dalton Vail. [girl meets boy]. While instantly attracted to each other, they share a mutual distrust. Marla is the prime suspect in her client’s murder [external conflict]. Dalton is suspicious of her, and rightfully so. Marla hides a secret that gives her a motive. Meanwhile, Marla is suspicious of Dalton’s interest because she thinks it’s a pretense to interrogate her. At the story’s end, he asks her for a date and she accepts [relationship moves forward].

HAIR RAISER: Marla meets Dalton’s daughter [forward]. She dates a handsome accountant who earns her family’s approval but may be a murder suspect [relationship moves backward]. Marla and Dalton share their First Kiss [forward].

MURDER BY MANICURE: Marla takes Dalton’s daughter, Brianna, to dance class [forward]. Marla pretends to be her friend Arnie’s fiancée so he can rid himself of an amorous old flame. They coax Dalton to date the woman instead. Marla gets jealous of Dalton when he pays the woman more attention [backward]. Marla earns his daughter’s regard [forward].

BODY WAVE: Marla’s ex-spouse, Stan, enters the picture when his third wife is murdered. Marla and Dalton work together to solve the case [forward]. Stan stirs up feelings Marla would rather forget. Dalton is jealous. Marla accuses him of wanting to pin the murder on Stan [backward].

HIGHLIGHTS TO HEAVEN: Marla and Dalton argue over his restrictive rules for Brianna, and Marla feels she has no place in his life if he won’t listen to her advice [backward].

DIED BLONDE: Dalton acknowledges his need for Marla, and he proposes [forward].

DEAD ROOTS: Dalton meets Marla’s extended family. He presents her with an engagement ring [forward].

PERISH BY PEDICURE: Marla meets the parents of Dalton’s dead wife. Dalton takes their side [backward].

KILLER KNOTS: Marla meets Dalton’s parents on a cruise. She and Dalton set a wedding date [forward].

SHEAR MURDER: Marla and Dalton tie the knot.

If your people get hitched, it doesn’t mean their problems are over. Keep throwing roadblocks in their way. Life is never perfect. In reality, married couples still have conflicts as they learn to face life’s challenges together. If you keep your sleuth single, make sure to motivate her choices to show why this path is right for her. Either way, keep things changing and evolving between your characters. It’s this personal thread that compels readers to come back for more.

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Are you a fan of a romantic subplot in a mystery?

Planning a Sequel

When you’re writing a series, how do you know what comes next? Book One lays the groundwork, introducing the setting, characters, and premise for the entire series. How can the second book build on this beginning?

Planning a Sequel

That depends on if your stories are more episodic or serial in nature. For whodunits, we’re more episodic with a different murder mystery to solve in each book. The crime is the focus of the plot, like exploring a new planet on each episode of Star Trek.

But this is only your main character’s external conflict. What about their internal angst? Here’s where you can introduce a serial element. By this, I mean an overarching thread that isn’t solved in book one. This thread deals with the protagonist’s struggle to overcome obstacles to achieve her ultimate personal goal. Each book should evolve from this core inner conflict.

In my Bad Hair Day series, hairstylist sleuth Marla Vail progresses in her dating life and matures to overcome past traumas and to embrace a happy future. But once your character fulfills her destiny, you’ll have to throw in another wrench to clog the wheels. This means that when one thread is tied up, you’ll need to introduce another source. Each story should evolve from the personal issues introduced in the previous story as well as any external problems that remain.

   First Four

A romance series is more likely to feature spinoffs, or a new set of protagonists per book. These stories might take place in the same town or share a theme, thus adding a commonality. i.e. A missing object must be found or something bad will happen. Each book would then focus on the protagonists revealing a new facet to this mystery, perhaps leading to another clue. It would reflect on their inner journeys as well. This is in addition to whatever external conflict is affecting their relationship.

Or in a science fiction series, perhaps the evil galactic warlord must be stopped. The heroes have many adventures along the way, making friends and enemies as they seek to end the tyranny or to prevent a worse threat from emerging.

Drift Lords Series

Think of Harry Potter. Readers know he’ll have to face Lord Voldemort someday. Meanwhile, he has other villains to defeat. Along the way, he has to find the courage and power to defeat his mortal enemy.

Your cast of secondary characters can provide plenty of opportunities for sequels based on their goals and conflicts and interaction with the protagonist. Give one a prominent role in the next story and focus on this person’s problems. Your hero gets involved because she cares about this character. She’s also grappling with some aspect of her own personal struggle to overcome.

It all goes back to the writing advice that your main characters must grow and change. What would normally happen next in this person’s life?

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Figuring out what to write next hasn’t been a problem for me. The biggest obstacles have been time and marketing decisions. What about you?

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A Eureka Moment

Every author likely goes through a phase when we are waiting for inspiration to strike. Or perhaps we have a plotting problem and need to find a solution. If you’ve been thinking about this issue for some time, the response will pop into your head at unexpected moments. It’s like a lightbulb turns on in your brain with just the answer you need.

A Eureka Moment

It’s ironic that I was slated to speak to the Citrus Crime Writers chapter of Sisters in Crime on “Creating Settings that Sizzle.” I was struggling to figure out the setting for my next Bad Hair Day mystery.

It had been several weeks since I’d started preliminary research for this book on topics that interested me. But I still lacked the single cohesive factor I needed. In my blog post on the Five Stages of Writing, I mention Discovery as number one. This is wherein you discover the story before you begin writing. I knew the inciting incident had to take place at a fairground or a park. I had several disparate elements that I couldn’t tie together. What was I missing? The setting within a setting, which I’ve discussed in a previous post. I needed a group of people who knew each other, but I couldn’t repeat what I’ve done before. This will be my 18th book in the series, and it becomes a challenge to keep things fresh.

I sat on my couch, intending to ruminate about the plot, when EUREKA! The answer popped into my brain! It was PERFECT for what I needed!

It’s amazing how the subconscious works. This is why you need to give yourself time during this discovery phase and not rush things. Gather the story elements, let them stew in your mind, and out will come the answer you need.

I’d visited this place and wrote a blog on it. I had an album with over sixty photos. And there was even a haunted house with ghost tours on the premises! Moreover, this setting within a setting was located at a fairground and would have a built-in group of suspects.

I’d have to adjust things a bit to fit my scenario, but this idea hit the nail on the head. I even remembered an episode of The Brokenwood Mysteries that took place in a similar setting. I’ll watch it to see how they set things up. Fortunately, I have the DVD in my collection.

You never know when a research trip will pay off. As a writer, you should take notes and photos wherever you go. At some point in the future, you might need those notes to set a scene or an entire story in that place. Every site you visit becomes a potential goldmine.

Now I’m excited to bring the pieces together. I’ll have some weaving to do but I have my basis to get started. At this point, I can determine the suspects. Then it’s a matter of figuring out their secrets and interconnecting them. All of this takes place as part of the Discovery phase before writing the story. More research may be required but at least now I have a direction to follow. I’m excited to see where the trail will lead.

My fellow writers, have you ever experienced this Eureka moment? It’s a glorious feeling, isn’t it?

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Writing the Cozy Mystery – Whodunit?

During the Discovery phase of your novel, which I discuss in my post on Five Stages of Writing, you’ll begin formulating the characters. If you’re writing a mystery series, you may already know the protagonists and recurrent characters. So now you have to determine the suspects that are specific to your WIP (work-in-progress).

Writing the Cozy Mystery - Whodunit

As a plotter and not a pantser, I’ll create these characters before I begin writing. This means knowing their goals, motivations, and conflicts as in Debra Dixon’s excellent text on the subject. I’ll assign each person a secret with a motive for murder. At this stage, I may not know which one is the killer because it could be any of them. Or, the person I pick to be the killer might turn out later to be a red herring.

Here’s an example of how I develop my characters. This guy is one of three judges for a bake-off contest in Trimmed to Death.

Round One

Alton Paige, food critic, has a pudgy face and a rotund figure that reminds Marla of a dog. He’s a bit of a philanderer. Alton extorts money from restaurant owners in return for a good rating.

Oops, I have an Alton and an Alyce, one of the contestants. Watch out for similar names when creating your characters. I will change the judge’s name. In the next round, I fill in his secrets and start working on his relationships to the other characters.

Carlton Paige in Trimmed to Death

Round Two

Carlton Paige, 44, food critic, has a pudgy face and a rotund figure that reminds Marla of a dog. He’s a bit of a philanderer. Carlton accepts gifts from restaurateurs. In return, he gives them a high rating but only if warranted. The word to describe him would be smarmy. His wife, Sally, who accompanies him on his food jaunts, spends most of her spare time at the gym. She’s always criticizing his lack of restraint in eating…and in other things. Since she’s having an affair with her personal trainer, she overlooks his marital transgressions. Secretly he has an inferiority complex, being the younger brother of three siblings and on the plump side even as a kid. He strives for recognition. Food has been his means of consolation. He’s worked his way up in journalism and aspires to be editor of the entertainment section. Carlton’s reputation is all important to him, and he resents the attention being given to upstart bloggers like Alyce Greene (a contestant in the bake-off). Her blog is eroding his ratings and putting his job in jeopardy. He has to learn self-respect in order to refuse bribes and move ahead in his career…or to realize his worth in his current role.

Alyce Greene in Trimmed to Death

Round Three

Carlton Paige, 44, food critic, has a pudgy face and a rotund figure that reminds Marla of a pug breed of dog. He’s a philanderer whose sensual attitude in life appeals to women. Carlton accepts gifts from restaurateurs. In return, he gives them a high rating but only if warranted. The word to describe him would be smarmy. His wife, Sally, who accompanies him on his food jaunts, spends most of her spare time at the gym. She’s always criticizing his lack of restraint in eating…and in other things. Secretly he has an inferiority complex, being the younger brother of three siblings. He strives for recognition. Food has been his means of consolation. He’s worked his way up in journalism and aspires to be editor of the entertainment section. But this won’t happen unless he gains readers. He resents the attention being given to upstart bloggers like Alyce. Her blog is eroding his ratings and putting his job in jeopardy. What will he do to protect his reputation and his readership?

Sally Paige, Carlton’s wife, knows Francine Dodger, another contestant, from the gym. When Carlton complains to her about Alyce, he suggests Sally should discredit her to Francine. But Sally hesitates to approach Francine because the food magazine publisher knows about Sally’s affair with her personal trainer. And while she overlooks her husband’s marital transgressions because she’s unfaithful as well, she still loves Carlton. How far will Sally go to protect her husband and her marriage?

Francine Dodger in Trimmed to Death

You see how each round adds another layer? These people will come alive when they walk onstage for the first time. I don’t bother with long biographies. I’ll see how they move and speak and act when I meet them on the page. What matters now are their motives for murder. If you want to get a better handle on their physical descriptions, search for images online at the royalty-free sites.

After you have a profile on each character, it’s time to connect them to each other. These interrelationships are crucial for a cozy mystery, because the focus of this subgenre is on personal connections among the characters rather than on forensic details or police procedure. More on this next time in Writing the Mystery – Whydunit?

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NOTE: This post topic was originally published in Feb. 2017

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How to Create a Box Set

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

How to create a box set

Series Title

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

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

Manuscript Preparation

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

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

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

Front Material

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

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

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

Back Material

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

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

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

Cover Considerations

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

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

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

Get Ready to Publish

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

Marketing Tips

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

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

Set 1

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

Set 2

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

Set 3

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

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

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

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

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

Prepare a newsletter to announce the new book.

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

Plan a Launch Party and decide upon giveaways.

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

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

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

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

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Transition Scenes

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

Transition Scenes

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

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

Original Version

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

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

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

Revised Version

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

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

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

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

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

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

Don't skip over your Transition Scenes #amwriting #writetip Click To Tweet

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

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Using Myths & Legends to Enhance Your Story

Weaving mythology into your novel can add depth and resonance. How mythology influences story structure is explained fully in The Writer’s Journey by Christopher Vogler, a book that I highly recommend. But aside from structure, you can use myths and legends to drive your story or an entire series.

Myths and Legends

In Circle of Light, book one in the Light-Years Series, attorney Sarina Bretton is kidnapped from Earth to become the legendary Great Healer. For eons, tales had been told of a savior, but as nothing occurred, the myth faded. Then the predicted signs started coming true and talk of the legend revived. Signs of the Coming included a Comet, Conquerors, Internal Strife, and a Plague.

It was said the legend would come to pass when the Great Healer married a Raimorrdan who was highly placed and who was born under the sign of the circle. The healing aura could only be activated by the power of love. But can Sarina learn to love Lord Cam’brii, the man she will be obligated to wed? Or does her heart belong to the rakish starship captain who transports her to meet her betrothed? In reflecting our own times, the similarities seem uncanny. We have a pandemic, political strife, and conquerors throughout the world. All we are missing is the Comet. Where is the Great Healer when we need her?

Sarina

Moonlight Rhapsody, the next volume in the Light-Years series, is based on the mythical sirens who lure sailors to their doom. Ilyssa, the heroine, has the power to mindwash men with her singing voice.

The Drift Lords series also relies on myth and magic. These stories derive from Norse mythology complete with runes, descendants of Odin and Thor, magic devices and mystical realms. The legend in this story is that “The six daughters of Odin must join with the six sons of Thor to utter the ancient words.” By chanting this spell, they will repel Loki and shut the rifts between dimensions. First the Drift Lord warriors must find their destined mates, and the women have to be awakened to their powers. We start with their team leader in Warrior Prince, book one in this saga that also includes mythological creatures like this sea monster.

Sea Monster

Using myths and legends works in mysteries, too. In Facials Can Be Fatal, there’s the legend of an infamous pirate that plays into the story. This was loosely based on the pirate Gasparilla who sailed off the Florida coast. Here’s an excerpt:

pirate

“A pirate nicknamed Red Ted, because of his lust for bloodshed, plied the waters off the Florida coast. He died in battle with an American naval warship. But when the troops arrived at his camp near St. Augustine, it was empty. No captives, no loot.”

“Yes, I read about him.” Even to Marla’s own ears, her voice reflected her excitement. “Warren mentioned this guy in his journal. He thought they might have uncovered part of his hoard.”

“Before his last voyage, Red Ted was getting set to retire. He’d loaded his goods onto a mule train and told his second in command to take it to Key West, where he planned to hole up in his later years. Then a sighting came for one more merchant ship that appeared to be unarmed. He couldn’t resist this last kill and set sail. The vessel turned out to be a warship hiding under a merchant flag, and Red Ted shot himself rather than be captured.”

“What happened to his mule train?” Marla asked.

“They were attacked by Indians on the route south. The natives made off with horses and mules and left them with fewer pack animals. They had to lighten their load and so buried some of the chests. They didn’t have much better luck as they headed into swampland and were beset by storms as well as bandits. With dwindling resources, they buried more loads along the way.”

“Hopefully someone kept track of those locations,” Dalton said in a wry tone.

“Only one survivor staggered into Key West. He waited for Red Ted until word came that the pirate king was dead. Ravaged by disease, he tried to sell his map but nobody believed him. He headed north, afraid he’d be identified as a pirate and hanged. That was the last anyone heard about Red Ted’s treasure. But the man had a pouch of uncut emeralds on him that provided him with a cushy lifestyle in the end. In my mind, that indicates the tales of Red Ted were true.”

Weaving mythology into your novel can add depth and resonance. #amwriting #writingtip Click To Tweet

Adding myths and legends to your story makes them fun and interesting beyond the ordinary. You can delve into history or mythology and magic while adjusting the ancient legends for your own needs. It gives an added dimension to your work and resounds within our storytelling minds.

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Tuesday, Oct. 20, 7:00 – 8:30 pm EDT – Join myself along with Debra H. Goldstein, Cheryl Hollon, Diane A.S. Stuckart, and Maggie Toussaint as we talk about our books to celebrate Fall and give away some great prizes! Save the Date for A Cozy Bookworm Party and bring your friends! https://www.facebook.com/NewReleaseParty

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