Self-Discipline for the Writer

Nancy J. Cohen

Writers sit in a chair for hours, peering at their work, blocking out the rest of the world in their intense concentration. It’s not an easy job. Some days, I marvel that readers have no idea how many endless days we toil away at our craft. It takes immense self-discipline to keep the butt in the chair when nature tempts us to enjoy the sunshine and balmy weather outside.

We don’t only spend the time writing the manuscript. After submitting our work and having it accepted, we get revisions back from our editor. This requires another round of poring over our work. And another opportunity comes with the page proofs where we scrutinize each word for errors. How many times do we review the same pages, the same words? How many tweaks do we make, continuously correcting and making each sentence better?

These hours and hours of sitting are worth the effort when we hold the published book in our hands, when readers write to us how much they enjoyed the story, or when we win accolades in a contest. As I get older, I wonder if these hours are well spent. My time is getting shorter. Shouldn’t I be outside, enjoying what the community has to offer, admiring the trees and flowers, visiting with friends? Each moment I sit in front of the computer is a moment gone.

But I can no more give up my craft than I can stop breathing. It’s who I am. And the hours I sit here pounding at the keyboard are my legacy.

BICHOK is our motto: Butt in Chair, Hands on Keyboard. This policy can take its toll on writers’ health with repetitive strain injury, adverse effects of prolonged sitting, neck and shoulder problems. We have to discipline ourselves not only to sit and work for hours on end, but to get up and exercise so as to avoid injury. This career requires extreme discipline, and those wannabes who can’t concentrate for long periods of time or who give up easily will never reach the summit. They can enjoy the journey and believe that’s where it ends, but they’re playing at being a writer and not acting as a professional.

We’re slaves to our muse, immersed in our imaginary worlds, losing ourselves to the story. And then we have to revise, correct, edit, read through the manuscript numerous times until we turn it in or our vision goes bleary. We are driven. And so we sit, toiling in our chairs (or on the couch if you use a laptop). Hours of life pass us by, irretrievable hours that we’ll never get back.

So please, readers, understand how many hours we put into this craft to entertain you, to educate you, and to illuminate human nature in our stories.

And this doesn’t even count the time required for social media.

I put myself in the chair until I achieve a daily quota. In a writing phase, this is five pages a day or twenty-five pages per week. For self-edits, I aim for a chapter a day but that’s not always possible. I do this is the morning when I’m most creative. Afternoons are for writing blogs, social media, promotion, etc.

How do you get yourself to sit in the chair day after day? Do you set daily goals? Do you offer yourself rewards along the way? Do you ever doubt the time you sacrifice to your muse? Or do you love the process so much that you’d not trade those hours for anything else?

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Books That Inspire

Nancy J. Cohen

My daughter, who is a busy career woman, would rather watch TV to relax than read a book. No matter how much I try to convince her that reading novels can be valuable, she is not a Fictionista. I started thinking how books have influenced my life.

In the early days, I read Nancy Drew, Cherry Ames, and Judy Bolton mystery series. This initiated my love for the genre but it did more than that. Reading about Cherry Ames made me want to be a nurse. I wanted to ease people’s fears in the hospital and help them deal with illness. And so I volunteered in the local hospital and took employment, when of age, as a nurse’s aide for a summer job. Nursing school loomed in the future following high school.

A career choice faced me. I was also a student of ballet and could have auditioned for a professional company, but that would have meant daily rehearsals and giving up my ambitions to be a nurse.

Nursing won out, and I graduated with a bachelor’s degree. If you take a look at a site like www.testprepselect.com/medical-nursing/best-mcat-books/, you’ll get an idea of the sort of books that I would have had to read while I was at nursing school. As I am a big fan of reading, I did not find it boring or hard work. In fact, it kept me going. Plus, I was constantly learning something new daily.

Meanwhile, I was still an avid reader and had even tried my hand at some short stories. But it wasn’t until grad school in nursing that I decided to write a novel. Stories by Mary Stewart, Victoria Holt, and Phyllis Whitney inspired me to write romantic suspense. I bought a book called Structuring Your Novel and that’s how I learned to write a full-length book. I wrote six books before one sold. My romantic suspense never got anywhere. When I combined my love of scifi with romance, that’s what sold. Now I had two blossoming careers. What next?

I discovered humorous cozy mysteries with Jill Churchill. Oh, my. These were great. I liked the humor. I liked the structure. And so I wrote one. That sold, and the Bad Hair Day mysteries were born. Now I’m retired from nursing but the writing career is still going strong. Thanks to these books I’d read, not only did I become a writer, but I practiced ten good years as a registered nurse.

What books have inspired you in life? Have any of them led to a career other than writing?

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Blending Sex and Suspense

Nancy J. Cohen

How do you fit romance into a non-stop thriller? These genres are not mutually exclusive. Look at your movies for examples. Romancing the Stone with Kathleen Turner and Michael Douglas, and The Librarian: Quest for the Spear with Noah Wyle and Sonya Walger are two of my favorites. What recent thrillers have you seen where a romantic relationship is involved? How did the film get this across to viewers?

Here’s how to start with your own story: Give your characters internal and external conflicts to keep them apart. The external conflict is the disaster that will happen if the villain succeeds. The internal conflict is the reason why your protagonists hesitate to get involved in a relationship. Maybe the heroine was hurt by a former lover and is afraid of getting burned again. Or she has a fierce need for independence. Why? What happened in her past to produce this need? Maybe your hero doesn’t want a wife because his own parents went through a bitter divorce, and secretly he feels unworthy of being loved. Or maybe he feels that his dangerous lifestyle wouldn’t suit a family. Keep asking questions to deepen your people’s motivations.

Your characters will be immediately attracted to each other through physical chemistry. This pulls them together while the inner conflicts tear them apart. Soon the benefits of a relationship begin to outweigh the risks. Perhaps they have to work together to rescue a hostage or to escape the bad guys. As the story progresses, they become emotionally closer as they progress through the stages of intimacy. In a thriller, this might happen at a faster pace than other genres. But even thrillers need down times from the tension.

Here’s an abbreviated version of the stages of intimacy:

1. Physical awareness: Your characters notice each other with heightened sensitivity.
2. Intrusion of thoughts: Your character begins thinking about this other person often.
3. Touching: First, it may be an arm around the shoulder, lifting a chin, touching an elbow. They come closer until the desire to kiss is almost palpable. Rising sexual tension is the key here, not so much the consummate act. Your couple can have a stolen moment when they’re being chased by the villain and are forced into close proximity, for example. Even if it’s a momentary diversion, you’re advancing the level of awareness.
4. Kissing
5. Touching in more intimate places
6. Coupling: Focus on the emotional reactions of your characters. Avoid clinical terms or use them sparingly. This is lovemaking, not just sex. For it to be romantic, think “slow seduction”, not “slam bam, thank you ma’am”, unless the scene or characters warrant this behavior. If a sex scene doesn’t fit into the story’s pacing, leave it out. Or maybe all they have time for is a quickie. In that case, let’s see the emotional aftermath. Maybe the hero acts out his concern for the heroine’s safety after they’ve been together.

When all seems to be going well, throw a wrench into the relationship. Perhaps it appears as though the heroine betrayed the hero. Or he walks out on her because he fears his own vulnerability. Finally, they both change and compromise to resolve their differences by the story’s end.

Keep in mind that I’m writing this advice from a female viewpoint. Also, I write romance in addition to mysteries, so I have the mindset for that genre.

I used to read spy stories and men’s adventure in my younger days. Those were guy novels with a woman of the week. None of those relationships were meant to last. I suppose this is what makes the difference. If you don’t care about your two characters ending up together, then the woman may merely serve as a sex object. And that might not endear you to your female readers (who happen to buy more books than men).

As for series, people read ongoing series for the characters and want to see them grow and change. Giving us relationships we care about is what will encourarge readers to buy your next book. So think about your purpose before going into the story. Where do you want these two people to go? Why can’t they get there? What do they have to overcome in order to be together? And if they don’t end up as a couple, then what purpose does their relationship serve?

Here’s an example from Warrior Rogue, my next release. The hero and heroine have just met when they’re involved in a mid-air terrorist attack aboard their private business jet. This is from the heroine’s viewpoint. They’ve landed on a beach on a remote Pacific island.

“Come on, we can’t waste time.” Paz signaled to her from the open hatchway.

She staggered toward him. Peering outside, she was glad to note they didn’t need the emergency chute. They could easily jump the short distance to the ground. Holding her long skirt, she leaped after Paz onto the beach.

He caught her in his muscular arms and gently eased her down. His tousled hair, determined jaw, and ocean blue eyes had never looked better.

“Thank you. You saved our lives.” On impulse, Jen rose on her tiptoes and kissed him.

She’d only meant it to be a brief expression of gratitude, but Paz’s gaze intensified. He swept her into his arms and gave her a passionate kiss that left her breathless.

“We’re safe now.” He broke away with a regretful expression. “At least, for the moment. But we shouldn’t linger.”

“For the moment? What does that mean?” The memory of those ugly men who’d attacked them returned with full force. “You know who assaulted us, don’t you? When are you going to tell me what’s going on?”

“Let’s summon help first. I need to put my comm unit back together. If we can hook it into a local network, you can call your people.”

“I have my cell phone.” She patted her purse.

His hand clamped onto her arm. “We should scout around. Our landing probably attracted attention, and we don’t want the wrong people to find us.”

Note how their level of intimacy advances in this short scene. If you’re writing from the male viewpoint, when Paz catches Jen, he could get a whiff of her scent.

So how do you work romance into your fast-paced thriller?

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Cutting the Cord

Do you feel jittery if you’re away from your cell phone or computer more than an hour? Get withdrawal symptoms if you haven’t checked your email recently? Find yourself longing to get back to work when out with friends? If so, you need a vacation.

I approached our recent ten day cruise with trepidation. How would I exist without the computer? Could I go without checking my email for even one day? What would I do with all that leisure time? I’d get bored out of my mind during four days at sea. Oh yes, I had books and newsletters on my iPad and Kindle to bring along, but how long can you sit and read without getting antsy?

If you share these concerns, believe me, they will evaporate once you’re out on the high seas, ski slopes, beach, or wherever you choose to go. Out of sight is out of mind. As soon as we set sail, I powered down my iPhone and locked it in the cabin safe. No more email, until I signed on to the ship’s WiFi for quick checks later during the week. I found enough to do that I didn’t miss my inbox.

I had to make myself go online to use up the minutes I’d purchased. Even reading newsletters became too much like homework. I stuck to the fiction I’d loaded onto my Kindle and vegged out on a lounge chair to read, or otherwise I spent my time chatting with other guests, eating, walking around the decks, eating, climbing stairs to wear off the calories, sipping cocktails, eating, watching a couple of movies, and—wait for it—relaxing.

Is the “R” word not in your vocabulary? Then you definitely need to take a break. Just make sure your vacation is sufficiently long to give you time to unwind, play for a few days, and then prepare to reenter reality. And who knows, inspiration might hit along the way.

I got inspired by one lady on a prior cruise. Based on her elegant appearance, I created the countess in Killer Knots, my cruise ship mystery. This time was no exception. When my husband and I both saw this woman, the word “witch” came to mind. Likely she’ll end up in one of my paranormal romances. But even better, the cruise ship captain was a woman. Change her to a spaceship captain and we’re off and running with another story. So give your brain a rest and take a trip away from home. You’ll come back relaxed, refreshed, and inspired.

If you’re the type who loves to hang out and avoid work entirely, this article isn’t for you. You’re the one who needs a kick in the pants to sit down and write. But that’s another topic.

When you find  yourself (if you do) glued to your electronics, how do you break away?

And since tomorrow is Thanksgiving, let’s be grateful for friends and family and things that enrich our lives that don’t depend upon electricity. Including you, dear readers. Thank YOU for visiting our blog throughout the year!

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Keeping a Dirt File

By Nancy J. Cohen

For mystery writers, having a dirt file is akin to keeping a gold mine in your house. What is it? I’m referring to a folder full of clippings you’ve taken from the newspaper or magazines that may be relevant to your work someday. I get out a pair of scissors whenever I read a paper copy of the Sunday newspaper. A recent issue’s headline caught my eye: Bomb Case Awash in Mystery.
newspaper
As soon as I saw mention of a pipe bomb found under an SUV in a suburban neighborhood, I knew I’d hit gold. Suspect A noticed something strange under his car. It turned out to be a homemade bomb. He accused his wife’s lover of planting the device. This man, suspect B, said that he was framed by Suspect A and the wife. But it didn’t help his claim of innocence when the wife was found to have a $500,000 life insurance policy on her husband. Then the lover’s DNA was found on the bomb. But was it rigged to go off, or was it set as a false trail? To complicate the issue, police discovered videos of Suspect B and his stepdaughter having sex. Oh, man. I couldn’t have made this up! You know how truth is stranger than fiction? Here’s a perfect example.

When might I use this information? When I’m determining the suspects in my next mystery. I’m always looking for motives and secrets people may hide. Or an article like this might kick off a new plot. Think about the puzzles here. It seems an open-and-shut case about the wife and her lover trying to do away with the husband. But what if it’s really the husband and wife trying to frame the lover? Why would they do that? What if…? And here we go. Our imagination is off and running.

Stockpiling clippings doesn’t only apply to the mystery genre. For my science fiction romances, I obtain articles on futuristic technology, whether it’s on flying cars or electromagnetic weapons. Even the power of invisibility has a basis in reality. I have articles to show for these topics. I also cut out stories of true adventure travel. You never know when my hero might have to explore a volcanic crater or traipse through a jungle. Even off the beat pieces that tickle my fancy go into a general research file. You might need inspiration and one of these printouts could fire your imagination.
  
So are you a crazy clipper like me? I make sure my husband reads the newspaper first before I put holes in it. What kind of dirt do you look for?

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First Page Critique: DON’T SAY A WORD

by Michelle Gagnon

Today’s first page critique submission is entitled, DON’T SAY A WORD. As Joe said yesterday, we’re accepting 350 words max of works in progress. We aim to provide an overall assessment of the work based on what we’ve learned through our own publishing experiences. We hope it will be helpful not just to the author of each work, but to all of our readers.

DON’T SAY A WORD

“All right, Marconni, see Valentino. There. Mickey’s the one in the red silk,” I said, pointing to the three gang members of the Valentino family gathered in the New York City Italian restaurant.

Assistant FBI Director John Marconni drew in a deep breath as we watched the surveillance feed. The lights inside glowed dim, and the closed sign appeared in the window with the red checkered curtains two hours ago. The last public patrons were long gone.

“They won’t be there long. Valentino doesn’t socialize well,” I said, running a hand over my neck, massaging the tight muscles.

Marconni nodded. “He’s not slipping out this time, Aiello.”

“You won’t take him alive,” I said, shaking my head, “he’ll never testify.”

I grimaced and felt adrenaline pumping into my system. At least at this hour, whatever went down, no more civilians would die at Valentino’s hands.

Marconni raised his hand and spoke into the mike. “Hold, Team one. Eyes open, Team two!”

I saw it.

Movement on the street caused Marconni’s hesitation.
A figure appeared out of the shadows and walked toward the restaurant. A woman, dressed to the nines, clingy red scrap-of-a-dress, four inch heels, body to die for. Long brown tresses cascaded to her waist. She fished in her purse for something.

“We got her, boss. She’s going in. Team two, hold position. We got a renegade on approach.”

My heart slammed into my chest.

She inserted keys into the lock and for a fraction of a second, as she opened the door to the Valentino hideout, the dim lights inside illuminated her face.

“You seeing this, Tony?” Marconni asked.

“I see it,” I growled, the recognition flooding into me, twisting my gut.

I watched as the woman walked over to Mickey Valentino. He pulled her into his arms and they embraced. Kissed. His hands roamed all over her, and I watched with revulsion as she responded to him.

“We gotta go in, Tony. I’m sorry,” Marconni whispered where only I could hear. Then he spoke into his mike, “Go, Team Two. Take ‘em alive. All of them.”

As an opening page, I really enjoyed this submission. The author does a good job of dropping the reader into the middle of a scene without an inordinate amount of exposition. The stage is set nicely for whatever is about to transpire.

I do wish that I was given a better sense of where the narrator is vis a vis the action; is he in a van? I assumed so, based on the surveillance feed line, but a single sentence of clarification would be helpful. What does it smell like inside the van? Maybe it reeks of take out, since they’ve been there for awhile. Perhaps our narrator is hungry, since he’s been stuck there for hours. Also a few lines about the restaurant, and/or the surrounding area. Is there anyone else outside? Is it summer, spring, fall? This is another opportunity to provide a few key details that really set the stage. I understand that it’s late; can he hear garbage trucks collecting trash from dumpsters? A few cabs sliding past on the nearly empty streets? Are homeless people dozing in nearby doorways?

And what does Marconni look like? Is he in a sharp or rumpled suit? Old, or young? Again, just adding in a sentence here or there to build a sense of what the characters look like and what they’re feeling would be helpful.

There’s a nice noir feel to this piece, and I think it would be great to expand on it a bit. But some of the phrasing is a bit trite: grimacing, heart slamming into my chest, adrenaline pumping into my system. These are all nice and descriptive, but a bit overused. I would aim for more subtlety, and coming up with a way to illustrate these sensations that is more original.

All in all, I would definitely keep reading. I’m curious to find out what the narrator’s relationship is to this woman, and to discover what’s about to happen in the restaurant. Well done.

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Opening Chapters

Throughout my years as a published author, I’ve participated in various mentoring programs. This past weekend at the Space Coast Writers Guild Conference. I was assigned to mentor three writers for a total of six hours. This being my first such experience at a conference, I wasn’t sure what to do. Guidelines would have been helpful, but I was out there on my own. So I started by asking my subjects how far along they were in the writing process and what they wanted to learn.

The eager writers were nearly done with their manuscripts and wanted to hear writing tips and how to submit their work, where to find agents, what to do in terms of author branding. So we talked about all of those topics. Then they gave me about 30 pages each of their work to read. It would have been helpful to have had those pages emailed to me before the conference, because after going all day from around 9 to 7 or so, I wanted to relax. But I diligently read through and critiqued their manuscripts that evening.

Sunrise (800x600)
SUNRISE ON THE BEACH
Lois Winston (800x600)
LOIS WINSTON AND NANCY COHEN

Each person wrote fantasy or science fiction so we had those elements in common. That was up my alley since I write sci fi and fantasy romance in addition to cozy mysteries. As for the basics of fiction writing, it doesn’t matter what genre you favor. The principles are the same.

When I read their work, I found the world building blocks to be solid. The problems they shared involved pacing in the first chapter.

Either I found too much backstory repetitively entwined through the current action, with snippets of dialogue from prior conversations running through the protagonist’s head in the middle of a fight scene, or prolonged chit chat between characters that could be shortened. In a couple of cases, I suggested moving up the beginning to the point where my interest really kicked in.

These are not uncommon problems. I’ve revised my own openings endless times, haven’t you? And nowadays, when on Amazon potential readers can sample your first chapter and determine on that basis if they’ll buy your book, these first few pages are critically important. This experience also shows why it’s good to work with critique partners who can view your opening from an objective perspective and tell you if it works or not. So here are the basic points I’d like to reiterate about first chapters:

  • Start with action or dialogue. If you absolutely must begin with a description, make sure it is emotionally evocative from the main character’s viewpoint.
  • Leave backstory for later or weave it in with dialogue. Or drop it in a line or two at a time in the character’s head if it relates to the action.
  • Make sure all conversations serve a purpose.
  • Remember to include emotional reactions during dialogue between characters.
  • Make sure your characters are not talking about something they already know just so the reader can learn about it.
  • Keep the story moving forward.

Are there any other points that you would add?

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Opening Chapters

Throughout my years as a published author, I’ve participated in various mentoring programs. This past weekend at the Space Coast Writers Guild Conference. I was assigned to mentor three writers for a total of six hours. This being my first such experience at a conference, I wasn’t sure what to do. Guidelines would have been helpful, but I was out there on my own. So I started by asking my subjects how far along they were in the writing process and what they wanted to learn.

The eager writers were nearly done with their manuscripts and wanted to hear writing tips and how to submit their work, where to find agents, what to do in terms of author branding. So we talked about all of those topics. Then they gave me about 30 pages each of their work to read. It would have been helpful to have had those pages emailed to me before the conference, because after going all day from around 9 to 7 or so, I wanted to relax. But I diligently read through and critiqued their manuscripts that evening.

Sunrise (800x600)
SUNRISE ON THE BEACH
Lois Winston (800x600)
LOIS WINSTON AND NANCY COHEN

Each person wrote fantasy or science fiction so we had those elements in common. That was up my alley since I write sci fi and fantasy romance in addition to cozy mysteries. As for the basics of fiction writing, it doesn’t matter what genre you favor. The principles are the same.

When I read their work, I found the world building blocks to be solid. The problems they shared involved pacing in the first chapter.

Either I found too much backstory repetitively entwined through the current action, with snippets of dialogue from prior conversations running through the protagonist’s head in the middle of a fight scene, or prolonged chit chat between characters that could be shortened. In a couple of cases, I suggested moving up the beginning to the point where my interest really kicked in.

These are not uncommon problems. I’ve revised my own openings endless times, haven’t you? And nowadays, when on Amazon potential readers can sample your first chapter and determine on that basis if they’ll buy your book, these first few pages are critically important. This experience also shows why it’s good to work with critique partners who can view your opening from an objective perspective and tell you if it works or not. So here are the basic points I’d like to reiterate about first chapters:

  • Start with action or dialogue. If you absolutely must begin with a description, make sure it is emotionally evocative from the main character’s viewpoint.
  • Leave backstory for later or weave it in with dialogue. Or drop it in a line or two at a time in the character’s head if it relates to the action.
  • Make sure all conversations serve a purpose.
  • Remember to include emotional reactions during dialogue between characters.
  • Make sure your characters are not talking about something they already know just so the reader can learn about it.
  • Keep the story moving forward.

Are there any other points that you would add?

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Real-Life Characters

Have you ever met a person who is so interesting that you had to incorporate him into a story?

We’ve just returned from a one week cruise on Allure of the Seas. My review and photos can be followed on my personal blog. It was a fabulous trip on the largest cruise ship in the world. But despite its size, we often ran into the same people.

We first saw the man at dinner. Although we had My Time Dining, we’d reserved a spot at 5:45 in the Adagio Dining Room, deck 5, each evening. My startled gaze landed on the guy as we passed him by seated at a table with a younger man.

His shoulder-length wiry black hair inevitably drew my attention. He had a black moustache to match that curved down to the edges of his mouth. His dark eyes and facial features were Asian. My imagination instantly pegged him as a karate master. Was that his young disciple with him? The younger guy had light brown hair in a short cut with sideburns and looked like some fellow you’d meet on the street in the States. A more unlikely couple couldn’t be found.

What were they doing on a cruise together? The long-haired man looked like he’d stepped out of a movie screen. He could have played an ancient conqueror, a great warrior who’d landed incognito into our time. Or perhaps he really was a foreign film star and the young man was his manager. Then again, maybe he was a secret agent or private investigator on a case and the younger guy was his sidekick, likely a computer expert. 
 
Oh, my. I could create so many stories just from this one person. This had happened to me once before on a cruise. I saw a lady with coiffed white hair and a perfectly made up face who wore elegant Parisian ensembles. She became a countess in my cruise mystery, Killer Knots. How could I use my karate master? Time will tell, but no doubt he’ll show up in one of my books. And his role will be a lot more glamorous than in real life, where he probably was on a pleasure cruise with his partner.

Have you ever met a character so compelling that you had to put him into a book?

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Cornered

Have you ever written yourself into a corner? Have you progressed at least midway through your story and then realized your hero is going down a black hole and you don’t know how to get him out?Recently, I found myself in this situation. In my synopsis, which acts as my writing guideline, I was up to the part where the hero, Lord Magnor, goes to the underworld to obtain a sacred book stolen by Hel, Queen of the Shades. To get there, he has to die. Circumstances with the heroine make him despair of their future together, and so he takes a poison pill that another character has given him.

Here is what my synopsis said:

He awakens underground in front of an iron gate. This leads to a gold-paved bridge that crosses the river Gjoll. Beyond is Helheim, where Hel resides. A giantess guards the gate and asks him for the password. If he fails to give the right answer, she’ll toss him in the river and it will carry him to the land of fire and eternal torment.


Magnor figures out a way past and meets Hel. She isn’t willing to give up the Book of Odin, not even for the mead he’s brought. So he creates a diversion and steals the sacred book.

Now this presented several problems. How does he get past the giantess when he fails to give the right password? How does he get into Hel’s palace? What kind of diversion does he create, and how does he steal the ancient relic?

I printed out these questions and sat on my “thinking couch” until the answers came to me. First of all, if he fails to give the right password, the giantess won’t throw him in the river. Instead, she’ll doom him to spend eternity in the company of other lost souls.
At that point, he has to find another way past the gate. He doesn’t have any cutting tools or acid to break in at some point farther down the line. And even if he could do so, how would he cross the raging river? What he does have are his wits, so he eases into the shadows and cheats by climbing up the rocky wall lining the chamber and gaining access to the opposite bank that way. In other words, he goes up and over instead of across. It’s the Kobayashi Maru solution from Star Trek. If you’re in a no win situation, change the rules.

So what about confronting Hel? He decides upon a frontal approach, stating his business to the palace guards in such a confident manner that he convinces them to allow him an audience with the queen. I’m glossing over the details but suffice it to say he states his case to her and she refuses to comply. Now we need a distraction so he can steal the book that rests in a glass case.

In the story, I’ve already planted the seeds for this solution. He’s been given a magic horn that is supposed to sound a warning when the demon, Loki, is near. But what will happen if Magnor blows the horn within Hel’s palace? He does so, and glass shatters throughout the hall, including the case protecting the sacred book. He snatches the artifact as Hel’s minions surround him.

Now what? The heroine has been told she must obtain a golden apple from the Fae to revive him. But fairies aren’t part of Norse mythology, which my story is based on. Here is what my synopsis says:
Erika must return him to the land of the living. She realizes how much he means to her and won’t risk losing him. However, reviving him isn’t easy. Aware that she only has a certain window in which to resuscitate the warrior, she saves him just in time.

Okay, how does she save him? Anytime you leave things vague like this in your synopsis or writing outline, eventually you have to come up with the details. Again, I’d already sowed the seeds within the story. Erika, a descendant of Odin, has inherited some of his shapeshifter powers. She cannot change her own form, but she possesses the power to manipulate the earth.

Odin also had the “breath of inspiration”, and this reminded me of the breath of life possessed by the Mord Sith in Terry Goodkind’s Sword of Truth series. What if, instead of going to the Fae, Erika is inspired by the figurines of fairies she’s designed in her pottery studio? Fairies might not be real, but what about fairy dust? And so she uses her innate power to revitalize the hero with the magical dust she breathes into his mouth.

As you can see, whatever corner you back your hero into, if you’ve laid the proper groundwork for your story, the solution will arise from material you’ve already planted. So go ahead and gloss over these details in your selling synopsis, but be assured when you come to them in the story, the muse will help you fill in those plot holes. You can rewrite your synopsis accordingly.

So who else has backed a character into a corner, and how did you get him out?

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