Category Archives: Writing

Writers, watch out for those troubling anachronisms

Oh, dear. Like any reader, I enjoy reading other writers’ works. But I don’t like to come across obvious anachronisms in a novel that takes place in the past.  All can be forgiven, I suppose, if the plot takes off like a rocket, throws you side to side in your seat and deposits you, breathless, at a welcome pausing point.

But, really, mentioning a place or incident that didn’t exist when the story takes place means an author didn’t do homework. Can he or she be be trusted with further suspension of disbelief? Let’s be clear, I am speaking of mysteries, crime novels, or thrillers rather than science fiction, which is a free-for-all from the start (no offense to sci-fi writers! If I’d read more, I might know where Google Glass will take us!).

For example, I write my novels set in the Rocky Mountains, about a reporter named India Katherine Banks, with a setting of pre-2001. I am careful to mention only the newsroom technology known and used at the time, even allowing for older equipment which might have been in use in a small-town news operation. There was no Twitter around then, trust me. ‘Mobile phones,’ certainly.

But I am reading another author’s work that is popular, presumably best-selling, and yet running across many oddities that jump off the page.  Such as incredibly powerful cell phones that act like iPhone5 rather than Nokias of the day.  Or, mention of a dinner that cost about the same as [insert brand-name shoes here] by a virtually unknown designer of the day.  But today, the shoes are a household name. Oops… I’m also reading mention of technology and computer equipment in popular use waay too early, well beyond the floppy disks in wide use at the time.

As a writer of mysteries, I will no doubt stumble on this creative bump from time to time. But I certainly strive to do homework to prevent it.

I owe it to my readers.





Writers are always turfing up plot ideas

Creative inspiration is everywhere. The writer’s trick is to filter the chaff from the sublime.  And sometimes it takes a while to realize the merits of an idea that’s fallen from heaven.

Does the new idea fit or blend into another plot that’s on the agenda? Does it provide a needed twist or fillip to the ending you’ve planned? Mull it over for a bit.  Sometimes quiet manual work gives the brain opportunity to concentrate on inner thoughts. Forget housework! I have in mind potting plants, raking the yard or walking alone on a trail with no obstacles so your mind can wander.

Sometimes a new plot idea can serve to take a series forward. I already have two full plots for books that will follow “The Murders at Elk Bend” which was published in November. A series brings new writing challenges, but endless opportunity to try new story lines.

I suspect plots need to be edited just as words do. They need to be kept fairly simple, driven competently to a finale, but with spice thrown in.

As a writer, I tend to overcomplicate a plot trying to weave in more story lines than necessary. On the other hand, as a reader, I know I don’t want to guess the action too far in advance. I like a full cast of characters and I don’t want to know, without some initial puzzling, what’s going to happen too easily. I appreciate a little weaving and bobbing on the part of the writer.

And I very much appreciate the effort it takes an author to provide a terrifying twist or two!  Readers will keep coming back to a writer who surprises them.


Can a writer be productive when tired, weary?

Writing a dream novel on a part-time basis has plenty of challenges. Keeping all the characters sorted, staying true to the planned plot, getting to the keyboard every day present my top three hurdles.

But when life gets complicated, the day job gets demanding or someone in the family falls ill, the insurmountables seem to stack up.

How can a writer stay on course to completion?

One solution seems to cleave to a routine — like a sheepdog focused on the sheepfold. Get those words, and sheep, in there, pronto! Just herd ’em right in there! Every day.

But if one is tired, grumpy or in just plain need of rest, there is no shame in taking a break for a day. Getting outdoors relieves most people’s ennui and rejuvenates the thinking bits upstairs.

A deadline can trump all distractions when it needs to. Writers seem to flay themselves when the clock is narrowing the window of writing time. The ability to focus that intently on the work, to meet a strict deadline, is the hallmark of the professional.

Pants on chair + fingers on keyboard = completion almost every time. Good luck, there, writers!

How can fiction writers tackle research?

Last week, I listened to three best-selling novelists talk about their research habits. They all stressed that every writer must determine his or her own best practices.

The first writer creates stories featuring a female protagonist. The writer himself is a man. So how on earth does he create a believable  character when his own lifestyle is far different?  He finds a model.  He happens upon a wonderful real-life character who inspires him as he goes on to create three novels with her personality as the centerpiece.

The second writer captures the local color of his culture and city with such exacting veracity that his books could be paintings. He does it by paying attention and listening. Whether he is in a coffee shop or visiting a school, he pays attention to the carriage and habits of the people around him. He is always observing. And remembering.

The third writer advises only doing enough research to suit the purpose. And she often researches her areas after she has written portions of her books.

Wait, what? She does just enough research to illustrate her subject, then refines and adds a little more homework after she knows where her story is going.  She says, and she is correct, that too much research elbowing its way into a story is disruptive, not helpful or enhancing to the reading of the novel. And she, too, makes use of every minute in a coffee shop, or in line as she waits for something to get rolling. Every conversation she hears is fodder for her imagination to rework or repeat.

So, dear writers, do as much research as you feel is needed for you to master your territory. Sadly, much of that information will never meet the readers’ eyes.

All the better for your writing to shine.