Due Dates

Leaning back in my recliner, I’m typing this post on November 25, the day after Thanksgiving 2022, as the world spins like the blurry view from a municipal park merry-go-round every time I move my head. I’m suffering another bout of vertigo.

Adding insult to injury, I ache all over with a flu virus the Bride contracted from one of the grand-critters a few days ago, before passing it on to me.

Each time I get up, I stagger like a college freshman on spring break, but thanks to the benefits of modern chemistry, I’m now able to keep my stomach from turning wrong-side out.

It’s not a great day to write, but here I am, because I have a deadline for this blog on Saturday, November 26.

I first started showing symptoms of this most recent bout of vertigo three days ago and as luck would have it, I had a newspaper column deadline to meet. Propped up in the bed up at our Lamar County cabin in Northeast Texas (five miles from the Red River and Oklahoma), I kept my eyes closed and pecked out a nine hundred-word Thanksgiving recollection from fifty years ago.

Finished, I hit send after a cursory scan and faded into a deep sleep. Far from recovered the next day, the Bride drove us home. That’s when everything in my body started aching.

Vertigo isn’t something new for me. The first time it attacked was maybe five years ago in Key West, while we were on vacation with the Gilstraps. John and I have a tendency to wreck our livers when we’re together, and early one morning I rose to find myself on the deck of a ship in high seas. Bouncing like a pinball from a wall, to a chair, and finally the bathroom, I upended the contents of my stomach and wondered how much I really drank.

Wait, I’m not in college anymore.

Flipping through mental files with one cheek on the cool toilet seat, I counted up the number of drinks I’d consumed the night before and realized the symptoms weren’t alcohol related. The Bride located a Doc-in-the-Box a mile away and I soon joined the flow of a dozen college kids reeking of booze and heading for the front door. As one, we staggered into the waiting room and the participants collapsed on the nearest horizontal surface.

In once instance, a young lady curled up in the fetal position on the floor and wept.

The tired doctor surveyed the room, took note of my age, and after a flurry of questions, escorted me into an examination room.

“Lay back on this table and turn your head to the right.”

Urk!!!”

“I thought so. You have vertigo.”

He was glad to see something besides alcohol poisoning and sever dehydration which seemed to be going around that January. After poking a handful of pills down my goozle, he gave me a prescription for dizziness and nausea and launched me back into the world where I managed to function with respectable fortitude for the remainder of our trip.

My second round of vertigo happened again nearly two years later when I was the master of ceremonies at one of the world’s largest book club conferences held by the Pulpwood Queens in Jefferson, Texas. Again, I slept flat on my back the night I arrived and the next day stumbled into the enormous hall containing 500 attendees to take the stage.

I told them up front I wasn’t drunk, though I wished I was. I played off the symptoms, and many thought the organizer, Kathy Murphy, brought in Foster Brooks’ son as the MC. I introduced a panel every hour on the hour beginning at nine that morning, then wove my way outside to sit behind the wheel of my truck and doze for fifty minutes until time for the next panel to begin.

Some of the ladies took pity on me after the second hour and poured copious amounts of coffee into this bod so I could hold up my end of the bargain over a three day period. If memory serves, and recollections are somewhat fuzzy, I ended the conference to a standing ovation.

But that might have been a hallucination.

Today I told you that, to emphasize this. If you’re going to be a writer, or become involved in any aspect thereof, you have to meet deadlines. Whether it’s a weekly newspaper column, a magazine article, a personal appearance, a Zoom panel, a conference, or the delivery date for a book, you must meet that deadline.

Show up for work. Play hurt, or don’t play at all.

Again with John Gilstrap, I wrote a newspaper column at four in the morning, riding in the backseat of an SUV, on the way to join up with a Florida SWAT team and participate in the arrest of an accused purveyor of kiddie porn. We were there to train with those fine men in blue, I had to get it written, because I was on deadline.

I’m close friends with a well-respected, successful novelist and he managed to bring in a novel after building a house, moving twice, attracting Covid, and surviving a disastrous injury to a family member. Because of his track record, his publisher granted a small deadline extension which he met, and he survived with his reputation intact.

I suspect that because that request was granted because he’s been meeting other deadlines for about twenty-five years, or more.

Writing is a business, and we can’t let the public or publishers down because of a few unanticipated obstacles.

And with that, I’m going through the required steps to post this blog, and leaving this stable chair for the rolling deck of my living room. If I make it far enough, I’m crashing again until the crystals stabilize inside my skull.

Even if I’m not completely up to snuff, I’ll write tomorrow, propped up in bed like Mark Twain with his newfangled typewriter, because I have a March 1 deadline for the second Tucker Snow novel.

That’s what I do.

Oh, and Happy Holidays to you all!

 

Reader Friday – Black Friday

Black Friday

You’ve survived Thanksgiving by kicking back in your recliner to watch the football game while you enjoyed the tryptophan-induced coma, but today it’s Friday and you have to face the mob. It’s time to battle the traffic, find a parking spot at Wally World, and push your way through the masses to get that gizmo for your child or grandchild, the one that is discounted 30%, the one everyone is fighting for, and the one you won’t be able to find for this price after today.

So…you flip on your flashing light-siren (the one Cousin Larry built for you) and race down the street as everyone pulls to the curb to get out of your way.

In the parking lot, you turn on the loud speaker in your Larry device and announce a bomb threat. “Everyone, please leave the parking lot, and remain calm.”

Inside the store, you pull out your phone and hack into the Wally World PA system to announce a special offer on aisle 13.

When you reach the gizmo, there are still three determined mamas fighting over the last one. You wouldn’t dare take them on, so you don your gas mask and deodorize the area with tear gas.

As you head for the checkout with the precious gizmo, you keep your bear spray unholstered for anyone who is foolish enough to try to jump you.

And as you drive out of Wally World’s parking lot, merrily whistling, you dream of new ideas for your next book.

So, TKZers, how do you fight the Black Friday battle? Or give us some creative ideas for surviving the war for the gizmo. After all, you write fiction.

True Crime Thursday – Thanksgiving Pie Survey

By

Debbie Burke

@burke_writer

Photo credit: Dennis Wilkinson on Flickr

Happy Thanksgiving! 

Thanksgiving dinner without pie would be a True Crime.

So let’s take a pie poll. Which is the best: pumpkin, apple, pecan, sweet potato, mince, or something different? 

Please vote for your favorite pie and feel free to include the recipe, too! 

One of the many blessings I give thanks for is being part of the terrific Kill Zone community. 

Wishing you and yours a day filled with love, fellowship, and good food. 

Being Thankful – Writer’s Edition

Being Thankful – Writer’s Edition
Terry Odell

Here in the US, tomorrow is Thanksgiving, a day where families often gather around a groaning table, eat way too much, and maybe watch a little football. At one point during the holiday, most people share something they’re thankful for.

In her post on Monday, Kay asked readers what they were thankful for. While we routinely mention family, friends, health, creature comforts, and maybe a pet or two, I thought we could lighten up and look at things less lofty. Little things, “writer-specific” things.

Here are a few of the little writerly things I’m thankful for, in no particular order

  • No work wardrobe
  • No commute to work
  • Post-it notes and foam core boards
  • Legal tablets, red pens, and highlighters
  • Red squiggly lines
  • Word’s Read Aloud
  • Indie publishing
  • Critique partners
  • Draft2Digital’s free conversion software
  • My editor
  • My readers
  • Books

What about you? What writer-specific things are you thankful for?  (Note: TKZ is a given!)

And Happy Thanksgiving, everyone!


Now Available: Cruising Undercover
It’s supposed to be a simple assignment aboard a luxury yacht, but soon, he’s in over his head.


Terry Odell is an award-winning author of Mystery and Romantic Suspense, although she prefers to think of them all as “Mysteries with Relationships.”

Negotiation Secrets for Writers

 

By Debbie Burke

@burke_writer

 

“Make him an offer he cannot refuse.”
Vector image CC BY 4.0

Whether you’re buying a car, arguing with a boss, or making a deal with your kids to do their homework, most interactions in life are negotiations. Each of us wants to get our own way.

Humans live in a constant state of imbalance, jockeying back and forth to gain the upper hand.

That usually translates into attaining power over someone else. That power can be immense or tiny.

Learning to exploit power imbalances is an effective technique for writers to ramp up the tension in fiction.

In most stories, one character has certain goals while another character has different, conflicting goals. That leads to negotiations between characters that can be physical, verbal, social, or psychological.

The goal can be large scale (world domination) or small scale (spouses arguing whether the toilet seat should be up or down).

One character usually starts out dominant; the other is in an inferior position and wants to rise to the superior position. Their struggle creates tension and suspense as the reader wonders who will prevail.

Each scene in a novel is a micro power struggle between characters. Those struggles can be shown in different ways:

  1. A character has superior knowledge, ability, or position that the other character attempts to gain.
  2. One character wants to control another.
  3. A character takes action that appears to mean one thing but actually means something different.
  4. A character’s dialogue is different from what they’re actually thinking.

Seller says: “I’m offering you a fabulous deal on this 911 Porsche.” Seller thinks: The price is ten grand higher than market but he’s salivating. He won’t leave without the car.

Buyer says: “Forget it. I won’t pay a dime over $$.” But Buyer thinks: I’ve always wanted a 911. If he comes down a grand, I’m snapping it up.

Boss says: “Management told me to cut expenses ten percent across the board including your salary.” Boss thinks: With three kids, she doesn’t dare quit. A ten percent cut means a bigger bonus for me.

Worker says: “That’s unacceptable. Besides, I have a better offer with a twenty percent increase and three weeks paid vacation.” Worker thinks: Can she tell I’m bluffing? What if she fires me?

Anyone who’s ever been a parent can fill in their own examples of negotiations with their kids!

In thrillers, mystery, suspense, sci-fi, and fantasy, typically the antagonist is stronger, richer, smarter, more ruthless, or more determined than the protagonist. The protagonist spends much of the story trying to keep from being squashed and defeated.

Character A may start out in control at the beginning of a scene but Character B has leverage because of superior knowledge or ability that reverses the power by the end of the scene. Then in subsequent scenes, A must scramble and come up with new strategies to regain control while B fends off efforts to topple him/her.

One of my favorite stories is O. Henry’s “Ransom of Red Chief,” first published in the Saturday Evening Post. [Note: some language from 1907 is no longer acceptable today]. It is a detailed blueprint of negotiation among characters who jockey back and forth for power. Demands are made. Counteroffers follow. Demands change, resulting in counter-counteroffers and counter-counter-counteroffers.

Here’s the story premise: Two ruthless criminals, Sam and Bill, decide to kidnap the only son of wealthy Ebenezer Dorset and hold him for a ransom of $2000. Surely Mr. Dorset will immediately cave into their demands and pay. Sam and Bill believe their scheme can’t lose.

When the redheaded ten-year-old victim beans Bill in the head with a brick, that physical act is the first hint of a potential power shift. Nevertheless, Sam and Bill are still in control as they subdue him and spirit him off to a cave hideaway.

However, in the cave, the kidnappers discover their hostage is a handful and they must maneuver to maintain physical and verbal control over him. Bill plays a game of make-believe with the boy, who’s dubbed himself “Red Chief.” In the game, Red Chief captures Bill and ties him up. Soon the kid “…seemed to be having the time of his life. The fun of camping out in a cave had made him forget that he was a captive himself.”

“Red Chief,” says I to the kid, “would you like to go home?”

“Aw, what for?” says he. “I don’t have any fun at home. I hate to go to school. I like to camp out. You won’t take me back home again, will you?”

We weren’t afraid he’d run away.

Although Red Chief remains their prisoner and no longer resists, he has verbally prevailed over Sam and Bill.

Red Chief’s physical harassment of them escalates. The kidnappers’ confidence begins to crack.

During the first night, Sam has a dream that illustrates Red Chief’s growing psychological power: “I had been kidnapped and chained to a tree by a ferocious pirate with red hair.”

Later, terrified screaming wakes Sam.

“Red Chief was sitting on Bill’s chest, with one hand twined in Bill’s hair. In the other he had the sharp case-knife we used for slicing bacon; and he was industriously and realistically trying to take Bill’s scalp.”

Red Chief’s attack demoralizes Bill who asks Sam, “Do you think anybody will pay out money to get a little imp like that back home?”

Their prisoner has taken psychological control of the situation.

Sam leaves the hideout and returns to town, expecting to find villagers in an uproar and frantically searching for the missing boy. He had anticipated the kidnapping would give the criminals social control over the community. Instead, all is calm. Their original premise, that Mr. Dorset will be desperate to get his son back, isn’t happening as planned.

Uh-oh.

Back at the cave, Sam finds Red Chief has further injured poor Bill. Sam tries to regain physical and verbal control.

I went out and caught that boy and shook him until his freckles rattled. “If you don’t behave,” says I, “I’ll take you straight home. Now, are you going to be good, or not?”

Red Chief appears contrite and apologizes. Sam believes he and Bill are back in the driver’s seat.

But the kidnappers’ determination falters when Bill, who can’t take any more abuse, begins to negotiate with Sam to reduce the ransom terms.

“…it ain’t human for anybody to give up two thousand dollars for that forty-pound chunk of freckled wildcat. I’m willing to take a chance at fifteen hundred dollars. You can charge the difference up to me.”

They agree to lower the ransom. Their foolproof, get-rich scheme is losing ground.

Next, Sam delivers the threatening note:

If you attempt any treachery or fail to comply with our demand as stated, you will never see your boy again. If you pay the money as demanded, he will be returned to you safe and well within three hours. These terms are final, and if you do not accede to them no further communication will be attempted. Two Desperate Men.

Although battered, the disheartened criminals are still holding onto their victim and believe Red Chief’s father will agree.

Instead, Mr. Dorset responds with a counteroffer:

I think you are a little high in your demands, and I hereby make you a counter-proposition, which I am inclined to believe you will accept. You bring Johnny home and pay me two hundred and fifty dollars in cash, and I agree to take him off your hands. You had better come at night, for the neighbours believe he is lost, and I couldn’t be responsible for what they would do to anybody they saw bringing him back. Very respectfully, Ebenezer Dorset.

With a classic O. Henry twist at the end of the story, Bill and Sam are out-negotiated. The kidnappers become the victims and must pay Mr. Dorset to take back Red Chief.

To incorporate negotiation in your own stories, ask these questions:

  1. What are each character’s goals?
  2. Which character is in a stronger position and which is weaker?
  3. How do they negotiate with each other to shift power to achieve their goals?
  4. Do they ask, plead, implore, barter, demand, or threaten?
  5. Do they slyly seduce their opponent? Or beat the snot out of them?
  6. Do they feign defeat to fool their opponent into dropping their guard?
  7. Do they bluff and posture, claiming strength or power they don’t actually have?

The more your characters negotiate with each other, the more the power shifts between them, raising tension and suspense. Readers turn pages to find out who wins. When you keep readers interested, they become fans who buy your next book.

Make your readers an offer they cannot refuse. 

~~~

TKZers: Please share negotiations and power struggles between fictional characters that made an impression on you. Use examples from published stories, films, or your own WIP.

~~~

Debbie Burke is making an offer you can’t refuse:

For only $.99, try out the award-winning Tawny Lindholm Thriller series.

Special price for Thanksgiving week only. 

Amazon sales link

A Special Thank You

A couple of years ago, I was invited to participate in the creation of an anthology dedicated to honoring U.S. military veterans who had served during wartime. I accepted that invitation and agreed to write the story of 98-year-old WWII veteran Charlie Henderson.

I couldn’t conduct the interviews with Mr. Henderson in person because it was the summer of 2020, the first year of Covid, and we were separated by a couple of hundred miles, so we arranged to talk on the phone. Charlie’s age hadn’t affected his hearing, and we spent several hours in conversation about his life before, during, and after the war.

Charlie wasn’t thrilled when he was drafted into the army in 1942. He came from a close family in Mississippi, and he hated to leave, but he answered the call and spent most of his service in Europe. He was assigned to the 449th Gasoline Supply Company, a dangerous situation since the Germans wanted to destroy all gasoline supply depots. Charlie talked openly about the fear he felt when he and his fellow soldiers heard the sound of buzz bombs overhead, but he was proud of the part he played in delivering gasoline to the Allied front lines during the Battle of the Bulge.

After we completed our interviews, I sent Charlie and his nephew, John, the first draft of my article. They made suggestions and corrections and we repeated the process until we were all satisfied with the results. I sent the final copy to them and to the editors of the Forever Young Veterans Anthology.

* * *

Charlie’s nephew called me about a year ago to tell me Charlie had passed away at the age of 99. John wanted me to know how grateful Charlie was to me for having written his story. He had even asked John to hand out copies of the article at his funeral.

I was humbled that Charlie was grateful to me while it is I who owe so much to him.

I wrote a story. He fought a war.

As Diane Hight writes about our veterans in the Introduction to the Forever Young Veterans Anthology, “… many returned home to suffer silently and bury the pain of combat and war.”

* * *

 

In this season of Thanksgiving, I’d like to offer my special thanks to all U.S. military veterans. The Forever Young Veterans Anthology was released on November 2, 2022.

 

 

I’ll be traveling on the day this post appears, but I’ll check in when I can. An early Happy Thanksgiving to you all.

TKZers: What are you thankful for? Do you owe a special thank you to any person or group?

Down in the Writing Weeds

by James Scott Bell
@jamesscottbell

I love talking to fellow writers who are craft nuts. I love getting into the weeds to discuss things like adverbs, POV violations, and whether you should use a comma in the phrase “Oh God.” (On that last one, strict rules of style say yes. I say it depends on how the character is reacting—somberly or fearfully?)

Today I want to discuss four weed words (and I’m not talking about euphemisms for a certain plant). This is about as granular as you can get, but where else but on a famous writing blog can all this be hashed out? Try discussing dialogue attributions with your insurance agent, or exclamation points with your CPA!

So, TKZ community, let’s hack some weeds.

Then

I sipped my flat Coke and gave her the head start she’d asked for. Then I picked up my change and left a buck on the bar. I went out the door, up the stairs to the street. (Lawrence Block, A Ticket to the Boneyard)

The word Then is used here for rhythm. The action isn’t “hot.” The author is controlling pace. I do this myself. When the action is hot, I don’t use Then. I cut sentences to the bone. But if things are a bit slower it comes in handy.

There’s another use of the word then I like. It’s when you want to emphasize an emotional moment.

She came to me then and put her arms around me.

Strictly speaking, you don’t need then. But then again…ahem…it has a subtle and enhancing effect.

Suddenly

This word gets a lot of chatter down here in the weeds. Some say you never need it, as the action itself should prove the suddenness. One of Elmore Leonard’s “rules” (discussed here this past week) is: Never use the words “suddenly” or “all hell broke loose.”

First off, this “rule” can confuse newbies, who might think you should never use suddenly at all, not even in dialogue. Obviously false.

But Leonard was talking about narrative. We have to remember that he wrote his books in 3d Person. In 3d, the word Suddenly is coming from the author. It’s a “tell.” There are better ways to convey such moments (see commenter Marilynn Byerly’s examples in Brother Gilstrap’s post).

But in First Person, Suddenly is perfectly acceptable. In my latest thriller, Romeo’s Rage, I have a scene with Mike and Sophie at an eatery where a minor protest is happening. Mike is confronted by the gadflies and their upraised camera phones. He starts confounding one of them with verbal jiu-jitsu.

“Shut up!” shouts the gadfly, and it looks like things might get heated.

Suddenly, Sophie was by my side and looking at the cameras.

That’s how Mike experiences the moment. It’s like an internal thought. And since this is First Person, we can go there. Without the Suddenly, readers might think Sophie was standing next to Mike all the while, instead of showing this new side of her—a willingness to jump into a fray.

Here’s another example of an internal thought, from another Mike. Hammer, to be exact, in Mickey Spillane’s Kiss Me, Deadly. In chapter one Hammer has picked up a mysterious woman wandering on the road. He is going to take her into New York to drop her off, but another car speeds in front of them and stops, causing a crash. Mike jumps out of his car, and so do men from the other. Gun shots. Mike takes a sap to the head. Down he goes. As he fights to come to [italics in original, and notice our friend Then making an appearance]—

It was like a sleep that you awaken from because you had been sleeping cramped up. It was a forced awakening that hurts and you hear yourself groan as you try to straighten out. Then suddenly there’s an immediate sharpness to the awakening as you realize that it hadn’t been a bad dream after all, but something alive and terrifying instead.

Now, just for the heck of it, let me say something about all hell broke loose. I think most of us would agree it’s a cliché and that it’s better to show what the breaking hell looks like.

But in First Person you can use a cliché if you freshen it up, as in All hell broke loose and kicked every dog in the neighborhood.

That’s fun to do.

Very

This one I usually avoid. It’s flabby and indistinct. An exception is when it’s used sardonically in First Person POV, as in: Needless to say, when he saw the toilets, Sarge got very upset.

And, of course, a character might use it in dialogue.

But in narrative portions, don’t write: He was very big. Instead, write something like: He was the size of a beer truck.

Had

This one is constantly overused by writers when the narrative goes into the past. Consider:

She had grown up in Boston. When it came time to apply to college, she’d chosen Wellesley and Bryn Mawr. and Yale. That didn’t please her father, who had made his sentiments known to her in no uncertain terms. They’d had a lot of arguments over that.

Here’s a rule for you (that’s right, I said rule): Use one had to get you into the past, but after that you don’t need it.

She had grown up in Boston. When it came time to apply to college, she chose Wellesley and Bryn Mawr. That didn’t please her father, who made his sentiments known to her in no uncertain terms. They argued a lot over that.

Nothing lost, and the narrative is crisper.

I now put down my Weed Wacker and invite comments. What other weed words or phrases do you see popping up in our wonderful craft garden?

Archetypes; Unmasking Your Villain; and the Final edit

I am currently in the throes of rewriting my mystery novel and doing some deep character work on my hero. A couple of Sundays ago, Jim mentioned Victoria Lynn Schmidt’s 45 Master Characters in a reply to a comment by me. Years earlier I had tried reading the first edition of her book, but it hadn’t clicked. This was back when I tried learning craft by osmosis, rather than by application and practice. After Jim’s mention, I decided to give 45 Master Characters another try and picked up a copy of the revised edition.

This time, it’s resonating deeply with me. Her take on mythic character archetypes, as well as the heroine and hero’s journeys, is brilliant, and I’ve been using the book to get a better handle on my sleuth and the supporting cast.

That got me thinking about today’s TKZ Words of Wisdom, and I dove into the archives to look for posts on character archetypes. So, the first excerpt today is from a post by Jordan Dane describing twelve character archetypes, providing a goal and a fear for each. The second excerpt is from Joe Hartlaub and deals with unmasking a previously hidden villain at the end of a book–the Scooby Doo reveal. The third, by Clare Langley-Hawthorne, discusses the final editing pass of your novel. As always, each excerpt is date linked to the original post. Please jump in with your thoughts on any or all of these.

Let’s take a closer look at character archetypes. In researching this post, I found a more comprehensive list of 99 Archetypes & Stock Characters that Screen Writers Can Mold that screenwriters might utilize in their craft. Archetypes are broader as a foundation to build on. Experienced editors and industry professionals can hear your book pitch and see the archetypes in their mind’s eye. From years of experience, it helps them see how your project might fit in their line or on a book shelf.

But to simplify this post and give it focus, I’ll narrow these character types down to Swiss Psychiatrist Carl Jung‘s 12-Archetypes. Listed below, Jung developed his 12-archetypes, as well as their potential goals and what they might fear. Goals and fears can be expanded, but think of this as a springboard to trigger ideas.

TYPE/GOAL/FEAR

1.) Innocent

  • GOAL – Happiness
  • FEAR – Punishment

2.) Orphan

  • GOAL – Belonging
  • FEAR – Exclusion

3.) Hero

  • GOAL – Change World
  • FEAR – Weakness

4.) Caregiver

  • GOAL – Help Others
  • FEAR – Selfishness

5.) Explorer

  • GOAL – Freedom
  • FEAR – Entrapment

6.) Rebel 

  • GOAL – Revolution
  • FEAR – No Power

7.) Lover

  • GOAL – Connection
  • FEAR – Isolation

8.) Creator

  • GOAL – Realize Vision
  • FEAR – Mediocrity

9.) Jester

  • GOAL – Levity & Fun
  • FEAR – Boredom

10.) Sage

  • GOAL – Knowledge
  • FEAR – Deception

11.) Magician

  • GOAL – Alter Reality
  • FEAR – Unintended Results

12.) Ruler

  • GOAL – Prosperity
  • FEAR – Overthrown

Jordan Dane—April 4, 2019

 

Scooby Doo is firmly ensconced in the American culture. The plot of each cartoon episode is very similar, with a crime occurring, Scooby and his pals investigating, and the villain of the piece being unmasked, literally, at the end. I think that I first heard this type of climax referenced as a “Scooby Doo” ending during the second of the three climaxes to the film Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure. It has been a vehicle used in mystery novels long before that. There’s nothing wrong with it at all, except that 1) it sometimes doesn’t work and 2) sometimes it needs a little work. I ran across an example of the former several months ago while reading a thriller that was one of the many nephews to The Da Vinci Code wherein the protagonist’s adversary was running around killing people while wearing a tribal mask and attempting to obtain an instrument of antiquity which would permit him to destroy the universe. The protagonist got the mask off of the evildoer near the end and the book ended. “Rut row!” The book was okay, but the ending was a total disappointment.

That brings us to a book I read this week in which the author uses the Scooby Doo ending to great effect by taking the story a step or two beyond it. The author is the morbidly underappreciated Brian Freeman and the book is Season of Fear, the second and latest of the Cab Bolton novels. (Please note: it’s not quite a spoiler, but there’s a general revelation ahead. Read the book regardless). The premise is fairly straightforward. Ten years ago a Florida gubernatorial candidate was assassinated by a masked gunman, throwing the election into chaos. A suspect was identified, tried, convicted, and jailed. In the present, the candidate’s widow is running for the same seat when she receives a threatening note which purports to be from the same assassin. Indeed, he eventually turns up, and his identity is ultimately revealed in a grand unmasking. But wait. Freeman, after giving the reader enough action to fill two books and expertly presenting a complex but easy to follow plot, gives the reader more to chew on. Things don’t end with the revelation of the identity of the doer; instead, Freeman moves us a couple of more steps forward, revealing a potential unexpected mover and shaker who was a couple of steps ahead of everyone, including Bolton. This has the double-barreled effect of making the climax much more interesting and setting up a potential adversarial setting for Cab Bolton in a future novel. Nice work.

Again, Scooby Doo endings are okay. They’re fine. But if your particular novel in waiting has one, and seems to lack pizazz, don’t just take the doer’s mask off, or reveal their identity, or whatever. Take things a step further just as the curtain is going down, and reveal who is pulling the cord, and perhaps yanking the chain. It may be a character that was present throughout your book, or someone entirely new, or…well, you might even want to create a character and work your way backwards with them. But stay with the mask, and go beyond it.

Joe Hartlaub—March 14, 2015

 

I’m on the final round of revisions to my current manuscript and considering a new editing process. In the past I have always tended to bite off more than I can chew when revising – trying to look for plot inconsistencies, character missteps (blue eyes one chapter, brown the next), typos, repetition, dull dialogue, boring exposition and errors all at once. What I’ve found is that about midway through the process, I get completely mired in the editing process and start dismantling what is essentially the final version of the novel, as I lose confidence in both the story and myself (you know, the usual author angst!). This time, however, while I am waiting for beta reader feedback, I am looking at adopting an alternative approach and would love some advice.

My current system involves editing throughout the writing process – from editing the first draft (which pretty much equals rewriting) to doing a final line edit on the completed manuscript before I turn it in to my agent. It’s what happens in these later stages that I need to refine. What I am considering is parsing the final editing into multiple discrete re-reads looking for:

  1. Plot/timeline issues alone – checking for holes, inconsistencies, and errors.
  2. Character issues alone – checking for inconsistencies, misdescriptions etc.
  3. Stylistic issues – repetition, boring/dull descriptions etc.
  4. Final line-edit – looking for grammatical and spelling errors and typos.

Although I’ve looked at all these areas already (multiple times!) while editing previous drafts, with the final version, it’s time to have one more look as invariably I still find errors. My concern is that trying to re-read the final manuscript multiple times to look for these discrete set of issues will be time-consuming and slow (and may possibly drive me demented!).

What I’d love is feedback/comments on what final editing process has worked for you.

  • Do you try and do everything all at once?
  • Do you reread with specific areas in mind?
  • Do you get others to do a final line-edit?
  • How do you balance the need for one last look at all the critical areas in a manuscript against being driven crazy after the 50th reread?

Clare Langley-Hawthorne–January 12, 2012

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So, there you have it. Jungian archetypes, Scooby Doo-style reveals, and the final editing pass.

  1. Have you ever created or revised your characters through the frame of archetypes?
  2. Have you ever done a Scooby Doo style reveal of a villain in one of your novels?
  3. How do you handle your final editing pass?

Text-to-Speech for Editing

Text-to-speech (TTS)– also called Read aloud technology–is a popular assistive technology in which a computer or computerized device reads the words on the screen aloud to the user.

TTS is used for many things, and the number of applications is increasing. If you like rabbit holes, there’s a lot here to investigate. Just Google it and you’ll be amazed. But today let’s talk about TTS in the context of editing. PCs, Macs, Chromebooks, Word, Scrivener, Google docs, and LibreOffice all have it built into their programs. Open Office and WordPerfect do not. Code can be inserted into WordPerfect for TTS, but it sounds complicated.

There are long lists of programs which are supposed to be better than the TTS built into the programs above. Many of them advertise as “free,” but most are only free for a trial period.

We’ve been told to read our manuscript out loud as part of our editing, or have someone else read it to us. I’ve found that even when I read out loud, I still skip over incorrect or missing words and letters. And good luck finding someone else with enough time and patience to read your manuscript to you.

Debbie posted a wonderful article on editing two years ago – https://killzoneblog.com/2020/09/help-i-have-flies-in-my-files.html – including using TTS, but, today, let’s focus on TTS in our editing routine.

Please share your knowledge:

  1. Do you use TTS in your editing process?
  2. In which program do you use it?
  3. Where or when in the editing process do you use it?
  4. How useful do you believe it is?
  5. If you use one of the “monthly fee” programs, which one did you choose?

Clue — Analyzing the Board Game’s Murder Weapons

Recently, a writer from the online humor site Cracked contacted me with a fun proposal. JM McNab wanted to do a Cracked piece on how effective the murder weapons were in the board game Clue. You remember—the lead pipe, the rope, the knife, the wrench, the revolver and—who could forget—caving a guy’s head in with the candlestick.

JM McNab found me through a Google search. He was looking for an “expert” in murder weapons, and I fit his bill. We had a great phone conversation resulting in this Cracked article being published this past Sunday. With JM’s and the Cracked editorial department’s permission, I’m sharing it today on the Kill Zone:

Which ‘Clue’ Weapon is Best, According to a Former Homicide Detective

Since none of Monopoly’s property disputes end up with grisly stabbings on Park Place, and as far as we know, Candyland isn’t secretly littered with sugary corpses, no doubt the most thematically-intense family board game in history is Clue, in which players are tasked with solving the murder of “Mr. Boddy” in a remote, two-dimensional country manor.

Winning the game means puzzling out the identity of the murderer, which room the crime took place in, and which of six potential deadly weapons was used. Admittedly, this a baffling premise for a murder mystery story; after all, even a drunken party guest should be able to quickly eyeball between a knife wound and a strangulation, right? Yet somehow, all of these confusing elements were skillfully weaved together in the comedy classic that is 1985’s Clue.

So we couldn’t help but wonder; in the world of Clue, given these options, which weapon would actually be the best and most effective choice for the fictitious killer; the rope, the candlestick, the revolver, the wrench, the knife, or the lead pipe? To get to the bottom of this pressing issue, we spoke with Garry Rodgers, a retired homicide detective and coroner, as well as a current best-selling crime writer.

As Mr. Rodgers pointed out, the six weapons fall into different categories; the candlestick, wrench, and lead pipe are all “blunt edge objects,” whereas the knife is a “sharp edge object.” The rope is a “ligature” and the revolver, of course, is a “firearm.”

In terms of the first category, the weapons that could be used to bash someone’s head in, any of these could conceivably be used as an instrument of death – but as Rodgers points out, “human beings are notoriously hard to kill” and can “take a wicked beating.” Using any of these effectively, not to mention discreetly, would be difficult because it might require a lot of work, and the victim could conceivably become “defensive,” either by fighting back, or by just running away at the first sign of an attack. And no one wants to play a round of Clue where “Mr. Boddy bolted out the front door” is the solution.

Rodgers reasoned that if the killer was wielding a lead pipe, approached the victim from behind and “gave a good whack” they ”could probably kill them with one blow.” The same goes for the wrench if it was big enough, since you would need “enough bulk” to “transfer the kinetic energy” and land a fatal blow – although it might be “hard to swing.”

The candlestick was ranked by Rodgers as the worst of all the Clue weapons, since it’s oddly-shaped, could be difficult to handle, and wouldn’t result in a “sharp directed transfer of energy to a particular spot” the way, say, the pipe would. And while Rodgers has investigated cases involving every other Clue weapon, he couldn’t recall any real life murders involving  candlesticks – which, incidentally, doesn’t mean that there aren’t similarly wacky murder weapons in the real world. Rodgers described one case where someone was stabbed with an oyster shucker, and another where the victim was beaten to death with a “bag of frozen pork chops,” AKA the reverse-Rocky.

Then we have the rope, which also has its major issues. For one thing, the killer would have to “overpower somebody to be able to get that rope around the neck” and there would likely have to be “some element of surprise in it.” This is why most strangulations are manual strangulations, as in by hand, “to start off with … followed up by ligature strangulation.” In other words, killers choke their victims until they black out, then finish them off with the ligature. But still “strangulations take quite a bit of time,” which could be a big problem if you need to hurriedly duck into a secret passage and head back to the Conservatory before anyone notices you’re gone.

As for the knife, it’s certainly deadly, but “people can take a lot of slashings with a knife.” So in addition to the fact that “you’re going to have your victim screaming” there would be “blood all over the place.” Meaning that Prof. Plum would have a tough time maintaining his innocence with Mr. Boddy’s innards Jackson Pollock-ed all over his evening wear.

Rodgers concluded that the revolver, of all the Clue weapons, would be the “most effective.” And, really, if there’s a gun in the house, why is anybody running around bludgeoning folks with a candlestick? While it’s noisier than some of the other weapons, “you can easily muffle it by shooting it through a pillow.” Although the further away one is from the target, the less accurate the shot – and accuracy would be key to ensuring that Mr. Boddy goes down for good.

All that being said, were one to attend a secluded country manor with murder on their mind, the ideal weapon would be … none of the Clue weapons. According to Garry Rodgers, the Clue murderer’s best course of action would have been to simply dose the victim with a little bit of poison, which is bafflingly not an option in the game. Of course, Clue obsessives may recall that poison was added as a weapon in the expanded version of the game, 1988’s Clue Master Detective – but then again, so was a horseshoe, which is just as goofy as a candlestick.

Kill Zoners — Who can name the six original suspects in Clue (without Googling them)? And if you were realistically rewriting the game ala 2022, what murder weapons would you retain, what would you change, and with what?