Tag Archives: novels

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.

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.

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.