Tag Archives: mysteries

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.

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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.

A novel’s setting is vital, in my book

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As a writer of mysteries, I think the setting of a novel is just as important as the main characters.  Think of the mood a writer can set by constructing well-crafted descriptions of a street, town or countryside.  Is it a dark and brooding place? Are the town’s streets wide and comfortable? Complacent, perhaps?

Characters don’t operate in a vacuum. The place in which they live and interact influences their movements.

In my new murder mystery, ‘The Murders at Elk Bend,’ the setting is a mountain town, an old resort that has seen a hundred years of returning visitors each summer. At the height of the season, it is a bustling, crowded place of busy commerce and leisurely pursuits.  But in winter, tourists vanished, it is a different town. Empty streets, a very slow pace of business, and closed shopfronts greet the occasional arrival. “See you in Spring!” declare the signs in store windows.

Extremes of weather visit the town, depending on season. The first of my Elk Bend novels takes place at the peak of tourist season, and action is capped by a violent incident on the Fourth of July. The sun is fierce overhead, and the runoff of melted snow has been as violent as anyone remembers. Shops along the river running through town have used sandbags to avoid flooding.

The terrific roaring of the river is a sound I know to be true, because I was at a location similar to my setting during a high-runoff year. The color of the foam, the tornadic spiral of the water as it thundered through hidden boulders is not to be forgotten.

It is the details of a setting that give versimilitude to a writer’s tale. Try to experience the setting you are attempting to recreate in your book. Readers will be glad you did.

Chatting about characters… From where do they come?

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Book writers unwittingly have a store of characters sitting in their heads.  All their lives they observe, remember, mull other people’s behaviors. When they sit down to actually create a character for a book or novel, a picture of the ‘new’ person may be fully formed.

Some writers have described their stories as moving through their minds like movies. They can see the beginning, middle and end of a book plot, as if it moves reel by reel. Writers who sit down to record the movie in their heads have challenges making the keyboard keep pace with their mental pictures.

I would imagine there are writers who start a book with no idea where they are going to go with it, but that certainly doesn’t work for me.

I think several plots ahead, just as if I’m playing chess or 6-wicket croquet, in order to move characters toward the more distant goal as well as the immediate.

Are there other interesting work-ways employed by writers of novels?

‘The Murders at Elk Bend’ for Amazon Kindle readers

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A copy can be downloaded at the link below.

Newspaper reporter India Banks has returned to an old mountain resort in the Rocky Mountains where she spent many youthful summers. She brings her big-city investigative expertise to this small town where a series of killings is causing a crescendo of fear.

http://www.amazon.com/Murders-India-Murder-Mystery-ebook/dp/B00AG0LRW4/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1356817928&sr=1-1&keywords=paden+webb