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Writers need a summer break to refresh the mind…

Creative artists, and writers especially, should take a break from work to refresh and regenerate.  It’s important to reconnect with friends and family.  Summer seems to be the time to get about and visit relatives, so enjoy your family connections and savor the summer.

That’s what I’m doing right now, savoring summer. Every writer needs a little vacay from time to time!

Back soon from hiatus, which I hope will be an idea farm for me. Love writing mysteries, but the mind needs to wander a bit to gin up new material.



A timeline helps keep book chapters marching in order

When a writer tackles a book on a part-time basis, it can be a slog to keep the flow of the story smooth across umpteen chapters.  Too much time and life happens in between writing sessions.

To better keep chapters flowing naturally, ending with proper hooks, progressing to more urgent action, etc., I use a timeline.  Across a loooong sheet of paper, I horizontally tabulate each numbered chapter and what happens in it. This way, I can refresh my memory about the last time two characters crossed paths, or the circumstances on which they parted.

I keep the descriptions brief and sometimes change them as I edit or change the events in the chapter.  Sometimes whole chapters get moved around, too. No law says you can’t.

And on one day, a plot device may seem divine. On a different day, it may make you hoot at whatever the heck you were thinking. Or you realize you’ve sprung a plot device too soon and need to move it back a bit. Plent of flexibility here. 

You won’t lose the plot by using a timeline.

Here is my first novel, where I have created a murder mystery with plot changes and a twist or two. I love my timelines.

Keeping your story plot alive in face of distractions

Here’s a hurdle. Daily life.

We writers all have it and we juggle many pop-up crises on a too-regular basis. The real trick is to prioritize well and meet the important commitments. Families, health concerns, full-time jobs are all high up there on the list.

But it is also crucial for writers to keep story lines, plots, character development at the forefront of the brain. Letting too much time pass before diving back into the make-believe world just slows the creative process. In the age of electronic publishing, what budding authors have the luxury of taking a year or two to create a novel?

The reason for addressing this today? Real life has intruded this month and I am feeling guilty. But I will not let Real Life buck me from the saddle. I intend to immerse myself in my characters and re-enter that made-up world. I am on my second murder mystery in a series of books, so there’s no halting the process now.

It has, and always will be, hard to say “No.” It is difficult to turn down invitations from friends, requests from a volunteer group, etc. But the reality is, a writer’s time is his currency, his lifeblood. Writers have to write. There simply is no option.

So put your writing time near the top of the list, especially if you are a beginning author. And here’s a free tip. Put writing time on your daily calendar, just as you would any other appointment. When someone inevitably asks for your time, it is easier to decline with, “Oh sorry, I’m booked then. Is there another time…?” etc.

You get the idea. Good luck!

Writers or Pickpockets, it’s in the details…

If writers are more observant than other people, which seems likely, their craft may be continually fed by the details, the ephemera, the detritus of life’s events. Authors may unconsciously employ the trait to craft and tweak their work. 

On the other hand, pickpockets are probably more observant than the regular guy on the street. They, too, employ their powers of observation to do their work.

Now that we’ve established the wide spectrum of society in which the observant can flourish, let’s hone in on the writers’ use of the skill. 

A skill it is, one that may arise at a young age, but one that also sharpens with use. It is a considerable tool when combined with good recall or spectacular note-taking ability.

An observation noted is one that can be recalled and used with flavor and wit.

I try to write down odd or humorous things I see, if only to provide color in my dark stories of murder and mayhem. Once, in a mountain resort town, I followed an old car in traffic. Bored by the delay, I noticed the car sported a sign warning ‘CAUTION! STUDENT DRIVER!’ When the driver pulled ahead slightly, I noticed the tailpipe was the size of a coffee can. Out came the pencil and notebook.

As a teen, I worked in a mountain town as summer help. There was a rumor of a guy who lived in his car, which was stuffed with junk, and held a dead calf in the back seat. It freaked out every teen who heard the story.

One day, we saw him! He existed. The rusted blue sedan, paint job long oxidized, was crammed with junk. The windows were filthy. But as he drove slowly past, I peered into the back seat, almost fearful of what I’d see. It was stuffed with trash, newspapers, boxes, but no calf, I am happy to report.

Writers can sometimes be in a crowd of people and feel an undercurrent or see two people communicating in subtle ways. They can spot the unhappy face in an ocean of joy.

Then again, writers can simply be in a crowd, enjoying the event like everyone else.

Nothing wrong with that.

Just look out for pickpockets.

Writing fiction: How much description is enough?

Writing a fictional story is a revealing activity. The author’s writing ‘voice’ invariably becomes a unique one, telling a story in a way that no other writer could. But a novice writer’s voice evolves, alters, refines, as it grows in experience.

A dinner conversation with an aspiring author sparked a question: What is the right amount of description to use? When is enough enough?  

The aspiring writer (I have only just left that category with publication of ‘The Murders at Elk Bend,’ or I would include myself in this spot) was concerned that he would not be able to help the reader draw a precise mental picture of the setting of his novel. He was comparing his descriptive abilities to that of famous and popular Western writers of past days. Dazzled by their descriptions of desert, mountain or prairie locations, he was worried about offering his readers a similar experience.  Plot, characters, dialogue offered no worries to him. He was solely concerned about how much literal description would be expected.

I spoke reassuringly of every writer’s unique voice and how that overrode most readers’ critical eyes for detail. I encouraged him to simply begin to type out that story, bit by bit, so he could see the results. I’m sure when he does, he will be delighted with his production. If he has no worries about plot, characters or dialogue, he already has many of the tools he needs to create the story.

The reality is, writing is a craft that must be practiced.

I tend to over-write descriptive passages that become obvious upon subsequent readings.  So, out comes the editor’s pencil.  After I have whacked unnecessary adverbs and so on, I am much happier with the flow of words. 

I enjoy descriptive writing in others’ books, and it is natural that descriptions of setting, clothing, cars, weather, physical characteristics will make their way into my writings.

I just have to play the heartless editor a little more than I would like.