Color Cues

Nancy J. Cohen

I can see colors fine except when I have to write them in a story. Then I’ll say a character has brown eyes, is wearing a green top with khakis, and has her nails painted red. What is wrong with this picture? Rainbow colors don’t do justice to the myriad of shades out there. So how do you get more specific? Here are some helpful aids. Think in categories.

Jewels—pearl, amethyst, emerald, ruby, sapphire, jade
Flowers—rose, lilac, daffodil, lavender

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Food—grape, cherry, orange, lemon, lime, cocoa, coffee, fudge, chocolate, blueberry, avocado, strawberry

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Minerals—onyx, copper, gold, silver, malachite, cobalt
Nature—slate gray like a thundercloud, leaf green, walnut, coal, ivory

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But sometimes my mind goes blank, and so I turn to the most creative resource of all—a department store catalog. You can’t get any more imaginative than this, whether it’s towels or tops or sweaters. Here are some descriptive colors from a recent newspaper insert:

Heather gray, apple green, aquatic blue, berry, coral, cornflower blue, charcoal, navy, banana, raspberry, tropical turquoise, sky blue, stone gray, violet, burgundy, claret, evergreen, marine teal, sand, ocean aqua, pewter, snow.

You get the idea. And so I’ve created a file listing descriptive adjectives under each basic rainbow color. Here is one example:

BROWN

chestnut, auburn, mahogany, walnut, hazel, fawn, copper, camel, caramel, cinnamon, russet, tawny, sand, chocolate, maroon, tan, bronze, coffee, rust, earth, dusty, mud, toffee, cocoa

Thus when I am stuck for a particular shade, I can hop over to my color chart and pick one out.

Colors descriptions also convey emotions. For example, mud brown, toad green, or cyanotic blue have a less pleasant connotation than chocolate brown, sea green or ocean blue. So choose your hues carefully to enhance a scene.

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What’s your secret to describing colors?

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Real Life Characters

Nancy J. Cohen

She looked like a witch straight out of the Harry Potter series. Wild curly blond hair. All black outfit including a jacket with unusual cuffs and an odd pendant necklace. Black boots. I did a double take when I saw her. Had a Harry Potter store opened in the Mall at Millenia where I was shopping? Or had she come from work at Universal Studios, still in her costume?

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This strange apparition strolled through the mall to the apparent indifference of anyone except myself. And this reaction brought home the claim I’d made in Warrior Prince, my first Drift Lords adventure that takes place in Orlando. People are so used to seeing themed characters in this city that they don’t think twice about someone striding around in costume. Thus when my space-faring warriors show up in their uniforms and bearing arms in this story, no one reacts to their unusual attire.

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I am still curious about this person I saw in the mall. Was this the way she normally dressed? Did she believe herself to be a witch like in the Potter saga? Or was she an employee who needed to stop off at the mall before going home to change? That mass of blond hair could easily be a wig. The only thing missing was a magic wand. Or is this my imagination taking flight?

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It’s not the first time I’ve been inspired by a random character. This happened to me once before on a cruise. I noticed a beautifully dressed older woman with a head of white hair and designer duds. I turned her into a countess in my cruise ship mystery, Killer Knots. It’s just so exciting to see someone who can inspire one’s creativity. Our writer’s voice whispers in our ear: “What if…?” What if this costumed character is an evil superhero from another universe? Or a nutty theme park employee who believes herself to be her fictional character? Or…the possibilities dazzle me.

When have you been inspired by a real life character you’ve encountered?

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Writing in Two Genres

Nancy J. Cohen

It’s not an easy path to follow to write in two separate genres. You have a different readership to satisfy. You have different reviewers to court. You have to promote to two entirely different audiences. And you have your own branding to consider. So why diversify from the original path you’ve chosen?

In my case, it was more a matter of career survival than choice. We didn’t have the publishing options present today when I made the switch from romance to mystery and back again to romance. If I wanted to keep my career alive, I had to write what would sell. Besides, I found that writing too many books in one genre makes me restless. I get the urge to do something totally different, and this switchover helps to keep my writing fresh. If I write so many mysteries in a row that I can’t come up with another single motive, then it’s time for a change.

HangingbyaHair

My mysteries are grounded, logical, easily researchable in my surroundings. In contrast, my romances might proceed in a logical manner but they include wild adventures, scenes of passion, and imaginative forays into scifi and fantasy realms. I can let loose in these novels in a manner that’s not possible in a modern day mystery.

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So how do you brand yourself when you write in different genres? By sticking to your core story. My readers know to expect fast-paced action, suspense, and mystery. There won’t be anything truly horrifying happening in my books or any favorite characters killed off. Humor is always a part of my books and so is romance. And I like to write a meaty story, not mere fluff. Even my romances have complex plots.

Is there hope for cross-readership? Of course there is, but I know my most vocal readers want me to write more mysteries. This feedback matters a great deal to me. So perhaps I’ll offer a second mystery series once I have time. The best part of publishing today is having options.

Even though some seasoned authors might advise you to stick to your brand and continue writing the same types of stories to build your readership, I say that once you have a few books under your belt, write the book of your heart. It’ll refresh you, lift your spirits, and diversify your repertoire. However, don’t lose sight of your loyal readers and continue to produce the stories they request. Be responsive and grateful for feedback. But above all, love what you write.

Do you feel it’s best to stick to one genre to build your brand or to diversify?

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Writing in Two Genres

Nancy J. Cohen

It’s not an easy path to follow to write in two separate genres. You have a different readership to satisfy. You have different reviewers to court. You have to promote to two entirely different audiences. And you have your own branding to consider. So why diversify from the original path you’ve chosen?

In my case, it was more a matter of career survival than choice. We didn’t have the publishing options present today when I made the switch from romance to mystery and back again to romance. If I wanted to keep my career alive, I had to write what would sell. Besides, I found that writing too many books in one genre makes me restless. I get the urge to do something totally different, and this switchover helps to keep my writing fresh. If I write so many mysteries in a row that I can’t come up with another single motive, then it’s time for a change.

HangingbyaHair

My mysteries are grounded, logical, easily researchable in my surroundings. In contrast, my romances might proceed in a logical manner but they include wild adventures, scenes of passion, and imaginative forays into scifi and fantasy realms. I can let loose in these novels in a manner that’s not possible in a modern day mystery.

WarriorLord_w8513_750

So how do you brand yourself when you write in different genres? By sticking to your core story. My readers know to expect fast-paced action, suspense, and mystery. There won’t be anything truly horrifying happening in my books or any favorite characters killed off. Humor is always a part of my books and so is romance. And I like to write a meaty story, not mere fluff. Even my romances have complex plots.

Is there hope for cross-readership? Of course there is, but I know my most vocal readers want me to write more mysteries. This feedback matters a great deal to me. So perhaps I’ll offer a second mystery series once I have time. The best part of publishing today is having options.

Even though some seasoned authors might advise you to stick to your brand and continue writing the same types of stories to build your readership, I say that once you have a few books under your belt, write the book of your heart. It’ll refresh you, lift your spirits, and diversify your repertoire. However, don’t lose sight of your loyal readers and continue to produce the stories they request. Be responsive and grateful for feedback. But above all, love what you write.

Do you feel it’s best to stick to one genre to build your brand or to diversify?

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Discovering Story

Nancy J. Cohen

Part of the creative process is Discovery. I’m in this phase now, which is when the beginning of a plot swirls in my head. I have a title for my next mystery, so I have to work the murder around it. Thus I’ve made an appointment for a facial. I know, research can be tough but someone’s got to do it. And my Bad Hair Day series is centered around a beauty salon.

Often I’ll start the plotting process with the victim. As shown in my book, Writing the Cozy Mystery, I draw a circle in the center of a paper and put the victim’s name inside. Around that go spokes like on a wheel for each of the suspects. Then I connect the spokes together so it becomes more like a spider’s web, where the suspects relate to each other in some manner.

For now, I know my victim’s basic identity. Her job is what gets her into trouble, and so the suspects develop from among her business associates. Who might want her dead and why leads me to motives. At this point, preliminary research is in order. I need to look up the world surrounding her business and learn more about it.

beauty pageant

But that’s not all. I am driven to acquire new knowledge about a subject for each book. What will it be for this one? What issue interests me, or what news article have I filed among my clippings that I might want to pursue? This factor is what propels me forward and underlies the plot. It hasn’t come to me yet for this story.

My victim is co-sponsor of a beauty pageant. I search online and fine headlines like “Top 10 Beauty Pageant Scandals.” Bingo! Before looking these over, I realize I have a problem. Most pageants likely take place over a weekend. How can I get this group of people to stay in the Fort Lauderdale area for a week or two so my hairdresser sleuth, hired to do the contestants’ hairstyles, can ferret out clues?

I’ll deal with that problem later. Meanwhile, I look at the scandals online regarding beauty shows, and nothing strikes me in terms of issues I’d want to pursue. The problems encountered don’t seem worthy of murder. And do I really want to write a whodunit variation of Miss Congeniality?


Miss Congeniality

Hey, what if I do a fashion show instead of a beauty pageant? My last Bad Hair Day mystery, Peril by Ponytail, takes place in October. I could set the new story in December. I’ve done Thanksgiving in Dead Roots but never Hanukah or Christmas. So how about a charity holiday ball with a fashion show? Using a local designer would keep the action in town, and I’ve already done the preliminary research by going backstage at a designer showcase. This will give me the personal angle of Marla and Dalton dealing with the holidays while also picking a charity whose cause I can support. If Marla has a connection to the charitable organization through her friends or relatives, this would give her an added incentive to get involved in solving the murder.

I like this idea. It’s starting to get me excited, whether or not it pans out. At least, it’s a start in the right direction.

So what advice do I have for you based on this experience? When you begin to think about the next story, let ideas flow through your brain. Pick the one that excites you and do your preliminary research. If you find some meaty material, go with it. If not, let the idea float away but keep the story in your mind. Your subconscious will present the next idea. Or thumb through your files and see if one of your clippings or news pieces stimulates a train of thought.

Do you start story development with an issue, a character, or a setting?

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Where Do You Get Your Ideas?

Nancy J. Cohen

At book events, someone in the audience always asks the author, “Where do you get your ideas?” As a writer, I don’t understand why it isn’t obvious. Ideas are everywhere. It’s having the time to write them all into stories that is the problem. But if you really want to know our secret, here’s where you might pluck an idea out of thin air.

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Newspaper and Magazines

Even in this digital era, I like to clip articles from print newspapers and magazines. Sometimes the subject is relevant to a current plot. Other times, I’ll file the clipping for later when I might need a motive for a suspect in a mystery or a scientific explanation for one of my paranormal romances. Don’t forget to look in the freebie community newspapers, too. Also check out your local library. Some of them have book sales where gently read magazines are available for a good price. Printouts from the Internet can serve a similar purpose, but they’re not the same as discovering random articles in a magazine. Instead, you’ll have to search for a specific subject, unless you have one of those applications that compile daily news for you on selected topics. Or you’ll have to scan the headlines. If so, you’ll be missing the thrill of turning pages in a print publication and discovering an article of interest. I always read the Sunday newspaper with scissors in hand.

Television and Movies

A TV show can stimulate your train of thought. For example, you may like the premise of a particular episode, but if you wrote the story, it would turn out differently. Or maybe the social issue or theme of a show inspires you. A news report might elicit an emotional response that makes you want to include the topic in a story. You never know when inspiration will strike.

Dreams

Do you dream in detail with color and dialogue? If you can remember your dream, write down the sequence of events as soon as you wake up, before reality pushes away the cobwebs of sleep. I used to have story dreams that were detailed enough for me to write several pages. A dream inspired my first published novel, Circle of Light. Lately, my dreams have been a continuation of thoughts or concerns I’ve had during the day, so I seem to have lost this source of creativity. If you have a good dream, write it down. Or consciously direct your thoughts at bedtime to a plotting problem you are having, and let your brain work on it while you sleep.

Books

Do you ever get an idea for a story while reading someone else’s work? Or maybe their book stimulates a new plot thread for your storyline. Ideas cannot be copyrighted. How you develop your characters and plot will differ from anyone else and will be unique to your voice. If you find that a story fires your imagination, scribble down notes and then return to the book you’re reading.

People You Meet

Friends, relatives, and even strangers can provide inspiration. They might generate an idea for a plot twist or give you thoughts on character development. A woman whose bearing and clothes I’d admired on a cruise became the Countess in my cruise mystery, Killer Knots. People who helped me with my research for Peril by Ponytail, my next Bad Hair Day mystery, serve as the model for some of the folks in this story. And I’d better not mention how real life experiences inspired Hanging By A Hair. The lesson learned here is that if you befriend a writer, you might become fodder for her stories.

Personal Experiences

Our life experiences cannot help but influence our stories. With the exception of murder, many of the incidents in my mysteries stem from real life. Naturally, you have to alter the people and the settings, but the actual events might remain similar. Certainly the antics of my late dog are reflected in Marla’s poodle, Spooks. And many of the other things that happen in her life have happened to me. Infusing these experiences into your stories will enrich them. You cannot better describe events than having known them first-hand.

Suited up for copper mine like in Peril by Ponytail

Writing Techniques

If you’re totally stuck for ideas, various writing tools can help. You’ll find each writer has a favorite how-to book or software program for generating plot ideas. Check out the reference section in your local bookstore or library, or go online and ask on your writer loops for what other authors use. You’ll get as many varied responses as there are subgenres.

So where do we writers find inspiration? It’s everywhere—in the air we breathe, in the people we meet, in our dreams, and in the stories we read or see on the big screen. The problem isn’t finding ideas. The problem is having enough years of good health and peace of mind in which to write them.

So where do YOU get your story ideas?

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And Introducing my New Release!
Hanging By A Hair, Bad Hair Day Mystery #11 

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Marla and Dalton Vail move into a new neighborhood and discover a murder next door.

Amazon Hardcover: http://www.amazon.com/Hanging-Hair-Nancy-J-Cohen/dp/1432828142
Amazon Kindle: http://www.amazon.com/Hanging-Hair-Bad-Day-Mysteries-ebook/dp/B00JJ2XVUQ/
Barnes and Noble: http://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/hanging-by-a-hair-nancy-j-cohen/1116603785

How well do you know your neighbors?

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Racing Toward the Finale

Nancy J. Cohen

As you near the finish line for your Work in Progress, the tendency is to speed things up. You can’t wait to be done and take a break. You’re tired of the story and want to end it already. Or you’re approaching your deadline and have to finish in a hurry.

And yet this is when you need to slow down and let the finale unfold in exquisite detail. Haven’t you watched a TV show that ties up all the loose ends in the final two minutes? How annoyed does that make you feel? As for a book series, fans of Harry Potter felt frustrated by the brief epilogue. They wanted more explanations of what would happen to the characters in life beyond the book. So slow down when you approach completion.

The heroine’s confrontation with the villain should reveal every heartbeat, every pulse-pounding moment of fear. This is when you want time to slow so you can catch every nuance. Yes, the pacing must be quick, but you shouldn’t cheat the reader out of emotional reactions, either during the scene or afterward. And the fight sequence, if there is one, shouldn’t be rushed.

The End

What about when the villain has been defeated? I always like to have a Wrap Scene where quiet reflections on lessons learned, a review of events, and/or a self-revelation occurs. This is where you tie up loose ends and perhaps frame the story with the same people or setting as the opening sequence. Make sure your readers go away with a sense of satisfaction.

Putting some distance between yourself and your work will help you gain perspective. Go back after two weeks, if you have that luxury, and read the ending again. Flesh out any spots that are sparse and be sure you’ve covered all the bases. Your finale will dictate what impression readers take away when they close the book.

Do you tend to race ahead when you’re approaching the finish line?

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Three Stages of Writing

Nancy J. Cohen

In my view, story writing has three essential stages: Discovery, Writing, and Revision.

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Discovery is the process by which you discover your story. Bits and pieces of character and plot swirl around in your subconscious before you put words to paper. Consider it creative energy at play rather than feeling guilty that you’re not being productive. This can be the break you need before starting the next novel. It’s time well spent to refill your creative pool and to gather ideas.

Doing a collage, watching movies, listening to music, working on a hobby, walking outdoors, or reading for pleasure are some of the ways you can stimulate your creativity. Cut out photos from magazines of celebrities who look like your characters and fill out your character development charts. Search for relevant articles to your storyline and sift through them. Thus begins your research. Often this prep time can take weeks or even a month or two. If you’re a seasoned writer, you’ll know how long you need. Be sure to factor this in when you determine your target goal of completion for your project.

When these ideas coalesce in your head and your characters begin to talk to you, you’re ready to start writing. This is when I sit down and write an entire synopsis. The synopsis acts as my writing guideline, so I always know where I’m going even if I don’t quite know how to get there. This still allows for the element of surprise. The plot may change as the story develops.

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At this stage, set yourself a minimum daily quota. I have to write at least 5 pages a day or 25 pages a week. Beginning a book is the hardest task. It might take until the first third of the book for you to get to know your characters. Give yourself permission to write crap during this heated storytelling phase. Once the book is written, you can fix it. Just get those words down on paper and move forward until the draft is done.

When you finish the first round of storytelling, it’s a good idea to put your book aside so as to gain some distance from it. You’ll be better prepared for revisions with a fresh viewpoint. Use the time to plan your promo campaign, to jot down blog topic ideas, or to write reader discussion questions. When you find yourself eager to tackle the story again, move on to the next phase.

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Now come the heavy revisions. This can get intense, because you need to keep a sense of the whole story in your head. You can’t stop, or you’ll lose your train of thought.  But you also shouldn’t rush this process if you want to produce what editors call a “clean” copy.

When you set deadlines, be sure to allow a month or so for revisions, because you’ll need to do several read-throughs. My first round of revisions focuses on line editing. Then I’ll read through for smoothness and consistency. The final reading is to catch any remaining errors, typos, or repetitions. You can run your material through one of the online editors like Smart-Edit software or Pro Writing Aid.

I guarantee you’ll always find things to correct, but at some point you’ll be too close to the material to see straight or too sick of the project to work on it any more. Then the book is ready to submit. But don’t worry, likely you’ll have a chance to fix things again when you hear from your editor.

Send it off, clean up your desk, file away your mounds of papers. By now you’re thinking about the next book and are getting ready to start the process anew. Force yourself away from the office and take some time off. You’ll return with fresh ideas and renewed energy.

Now I have to quit procrastinating and get back to the writing stage. After being away for a week, it’s hard to get back in the groove.

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Survival Guide

by Clare Langley-Hawthorne


The holidays are almost upon us and it’s the time of year where we all tend to take stock of the year that’s passed and start thinking about resolutions for the year to come. For me this typical means riding a roller coaster of emotions regarding my own writing – I berate myself for all things I failed to achieve, didn’t seem to get around to doing, resolutions I failed to fulfil…then I come back up and feel good about all that I did manage to do, the accomplishments and for the progress made. Then I go back around for another ride:) Ah, the holidays…

It’s also the time of year when, at various holiday events, I meet people who cross-question me about what it means to be a ‘writer’. These tend to be divided into two camps – the first who think it must be nice to sit around all day daydreaming and having fun and the second who can’t imagine how anyone could possibly have the self-discipline, patience or confidence to be a writer at all. I’m never quite sure how to respond to either camp because, as Jim said in yesterday’s post – the publishing industry seems like such a crap shoot sometimes. It involves personal tastes, fads, uncertainties as well luck and often the decisions made don’t make much sense at all. We’ve all wondered why some books are published and others rejected, why some books are successful and others aren’t…and most of the time, when people ask me why, I can only shrug my shoulders and say “that’s the industry for you!” 

So today, I thought I’d outline some tips for coping with those myriad of questions you get around the holidays about what it means to be a ‘writer’ – a survival guide if you will – for a time of year when, let’s be honest, we often question why the hell we do what we do!

Firstly, don’t be honest (well not entirely)….people don’t want to really know about the angst, self-doubt and hair-pulling we go through as writers. They want it to sound easy – something they could do, if they just had the time to do it. So I tend to smile when I’m asked ‘what’s it like to be a writer’  and  say it’s great, and move on – because unless you’re actually in the trenches as a writer, you have no idea what it really means. 

Second, ignore all the crap about ‘success’ as it’s impossible to talk about when you’re going to be on the New York Times bestseller list or when some one’s going to make a movie of your book…likewise don’t talk about the ‘numbers’ because I think authors can go crazy enough thinking about sales numbers without getting into a competition about it. Which leads to…

Third, don’t go into promotion overload. Some amount of self-promotion is fine, but just because its the holidays doesn’t mean you have to feel the need to go into a promotion frenzy.

Fourth, start setting realistic goals for the next year. Patience, persistence and writing the best damn book you can is really what you need to aim for, but I find it helpful to set measurable goals for the following year (that helps too, when you start riding that roller coaster of emotions). My first blog post for the new year will probably identify some of these goals but in the meantime my plan is to hunker down, meet my writing targets for the rest of the year and try to stay sane…

Anyone got any other tips for my holiday survival guide for writers??



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When is “Dark” too dark?

Nancy J. Cohen

One of the words I’ve been repeating in my works lately has been “dark”. You know, the man swung his dark gaze her way. He wore a dark suit. He had his dark hair brushed back over a wide forehead. Shadows darkened in a corner as he gave her a dark scowl.

Ouch.

This can be considered lazy writing, except I hadn’t even been aware of this fault until I ran one of the self-edit programs described in my personal blog at http://bit.ly/12iU9nZ. I embarked on a search and find mission to replace as many of these weak terms as possible.

Let’s start with clothes. Face it, men wear dark suits. To get a better idea of colors, I accessed this website: http://lawyerist.com/suit-colors-for-the-clueless/. Ah, now it became clear which colors are popular for men and suited to business. My descriptions of dark suits changed to black, charcoal, slate or navy. That’s a lot better than “dark”, isn’t it?

charcoal blazer

If you want to get even more particular, go online to a department store site like Macys.com and put in the search feature “suits, “blazers”, or “sportcoats” and you’ll get a wide variety of colors.

navy blazer

What about the character who has dark hair? Is it black or dark brown? Check this reference:
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Human_hair_color. Instead of black hair, give your character raven, ebony, or onyx hair. Varying the descriptions adds spice to your story.

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Also watch out for redundancies like dark shadows & dark scowl. Both of these work well without the “dark” element.

Despite its ambiguity, this word is popular for movies. Witness Batman’s The Dark Knight; Thor: The Dark World; and Star Trek into Darkness.

The filmmakers can get away with it, but as a writer, you cannot. What other ambiguous words like this might you want to change?

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