It’s Winter break here at the Kill Zone. During our 2-week hiatus, we’ll be spending time with our families and friends, and celebrating all the traditions that make this time of year so wonderful. We sincerely thank you for visiting our blog and commenting on our rants and raves. We wish you a truly blessed Holiday Season and a prosperous 2015. From Clare, Jodie, Kathryn, Kris, Joe M., Nancy, Jordan, Elaine, Joe H., Mark, and James to all our friends and visitors, Seasons Greeting from the Kill Zone. See you back here on Monday, January 5. Until then, check out our TKZ Resource Library partway down the sidebar, for listings of posts on The Kill Zone, categorized by topics.
Often people will start reading a series with book number one. “You can begin with any story,” I’ll tell folks interested in reading my Bad Hair Day series. But they insist on starting at the beginning. “That’s fine,” I’ll say, but is it really?
I am thinking how that first book is not the best example of my writing skills today. How long ago was it published? In 1999. And the book had probably been in production for a year before. So that means I wrote it sixteen or more years ago. Don’t you think my writing has improved since then? Yet here is this potential fan evaluating my entire series based on that one book. You’d hope she would cut me some slack.
At least I got the rights back to my early futuristics. I revised those stories before making them available in ebook formats. No problems there.
I do not have the same opportunity with my mysteries. But even if I did, would it be a good use of my time to revise all of my earlier stories? Or is it best to leave them in their pristine state, an example of my earlier writing style? If so, let’s hope that the readers out there coming to my series for the first time will approve and understand.
Sometimes the opposite is true. A writer’s early works are his best efforts, before he gets rushed to meet deadlines or to quicken production. In such cases, the later writing might suffer. I’ve seen this happen with some favorite authors.
So what do you think? If you want to read a new series, do you begin with book one or with the latest title?
Usually when I’m giving advice to aspiring authors, I name the 3 P’s as Practice, Persistence, and Professionalism. In his recent post, James Scott Bell mentioned his 3 P’s for writers: Passion, Precision and Productivity. These are all valid and equally important.
It helps if you set a daily word count or page quota and a weekly quota, then put yourself on a strict writing schedule. This gives you definitive goals. Keep moving forward. If you get stuck, either you haven’t laid the proper groundwork or you are letting outside distractions snag your attention. Don’t get hung up on self-edits until you finish your first draft. It’s easier to fix what’s on the page once the story is complete. The point here is to write on an ongoing basis. Then follow James’ advice about Precision by learning how to hone your skills. Attend writing conferences. Read Writer’s Digest. Enter contests with feedback. Join a critique group. Go to meetings of your local writing group and sign up for workshops. And keep writing.
Persevering at this career despite rejections, bad reviews, poor sales, and other setbacks is critical to success. If you drop out, you have only yourself to blame. Keep at it, and your skills will improve along with positive responses from readers, critique partners, and editors. “Never give up, never surrender.” That holds true for a writer same as for the crew of Galaxy Quest. Have faith in yourself. If you have the drive to write, you can improve your craft and learn marketable skills. The more books you have out there, the more chances you have to gain a following. Keep going despite the odds, and be versatile. At times, you may have to try something new and different. Don’t be afraid to take risks. Whichever route you take, quitting isn’t an option.
Always be polite and gracious, even when you get a bad review or a rejection. It’s hard not to take these personally, but they’re aimed toward your book and not you. You don’t want anyone saying you’re a gossip or you bad-mouthed your publisher or you made condescending remarks toward another author. It’s better to be known as someone who shares her knowledge, is helpful to her peers, and is a consummate professional in her dealings with editors and agents. If you need someone to hold your hand, turn to your critique group and not your publisher or agent. With their busy lives, these people don’t care to take on needy writers. They want career authors who will persistently turn in polished manuscripts, who establish and maintain a platform, who are active online, and who understand the publishing world. Act toward others as you’d wish to be treated. You never know when a writer friend from today might become your editor tomorrow, or an editor might become an agent, or a reviewer who raked your previous books over the coals might give you a rave review. The old adage, “Don’t burn your bridges,” holds true here, too. Be polite, courteous, and helpful at all times.
Follow the P’s along the track of your writing career. If you have to step off for a brief interval, be sure to hop back aboard the train before it gathers speed and steams ahead.
Only 2 more days to enter the Booklover’s Bench July Contest to win a $25 Amazon/BN gift card or free books by our authors: http://bookloversbench.com/contest/
Nancy J. Cohen
While researching my mysteries, I often need information that you can’t go around asking writer friends in public. Imagine discussing these topics in a restaurant. What kind of poison can I use that will kill someone right away and is easily obtainable? How can I stage a crime scene by hanging the victim to make it look like a suicide? Does firing a .38 give much of a recoil? What happens when a detective is personally involved in a murder case? What kind of poisonous snake can I have the bad guy put in my hero’s suitcase? Often, I’ll need specific advice to help me set the scene with as much authenticity as possible.
Fortunately, mystery writers have a range of resources available besides your friendly cop on the local force. These are some of the sites where you can get useful information and answers to your research questions. Also listed are well-known mystery conferences. Check out the links. They’ll lead you to informative websites and blogs.
Bright Blue Line: http://scottsilverii.com/
Crime Scene Writer: http://tech.groups.yahoo.com/group/crimescenewriter/
Florida Chapter of MWA: http://www.mwaflorida.org/
Florida Sisters in Crime: http://floridasistersincrime.com/
Independent Mystery Booksellers Association: http://www.mysterybooksellers.com
In Reference to Murder: http://www.inreferencetomurder.com/
International Thriller Writers: http://thrillerwriters.org/
Killer Nashville: http://www.killernashville.com/
Kiss of Death: http://www.rwamysterysuspense.org
Left Coast Crime: http://www.leftcoastcrime.org
Malice Domestic: http://www.malicedomestic.org
Murder Must Advertise: http://groups.yahoo.com/group/MurderMustAdvertise/
Mystery Writers of America: http://www.mysterywriters.org
Sisters in Crime: http://www.sistersincrime.org
The Graveyard Shift: http://www.leelofland.com/wordpress/
The Writer’s Forensic Blog: http://writersforensicsblog.wordpress.com/
Write Crime Right: http://writecrimeright.blogspot.com/
Writers Police Academy: http://www.writerspoliceacademy.com/
Note that most of these are listed in my writing guide, Writing the Cozy Mystery.
What sites do you find helpful in your crime-related research?
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.
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.
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.
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.
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|
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?
And Introducing my New Release!
Hanging By A Hair, Bad Hair Day Mystery #11
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?
Creating a hook at the end of a chapter encourages readers to turn the page to find out what happens next in your story. What works well are unexpected revelations, wherein an important plot point is offered or a secret exposed; cliffhanger situations in which your character is in physical danger; or a decision your character makes that affects story momentum. Also useful are promises of a sexual tryst, arrival of an important secondary character, or a puzzling observation that leaves your reader wondering what it means.
It’s important to stay in viewpoint because otherwise you’ll lose immediacy, and this will throw your reader out of the story. For example, your heroine is shown placing a perfume atomizer into her purse while thinking to herself: “Before the day was done, I’d wish it had been a can of pepper spray instead.”
This character is looking back from future events rather than experiencing the present. As a reader, you’ve lost the sense of timing that holds you to her viewpoint. You’re supposed to see what she sees and hear what she hears, so how can you see what hasn’t yet come to pass?
Foreshadowing is desirable because it heightens tension, but it can be done using more subtle techniques while staying within the character’s point of view. Here’s another out of body experience: “If I knew what was going to happen, I’d never have walked through that door.” Who is telling us this? The Author, that’s who. Certainly not your character, or she’d heed her own advice. Who else but the author is hovering up in the air observing your heroine and pulling her strings? Same goes for these examples:
“I never dreamed that just around the corner, death waited in the wings.” [okay, who can see around that corner if not your viewpoint character? YOU, the author!]
“Watching our favorite TV program instead of the news, we missed the story about a vandalized restaurant.” [if the characters missed the story, who saw it?]
“I felt badly about the unknown victim, but it had nothing to do with me. Or so I thought.” [speaking again from the future looking back]
“I couldn’t possibly have been more wrong.” [ditto]
“I was so intent on watching the doorway, I didn’t see the tall figure slink around the corner.” [then who did spot the tall figure? You got it–the author]
Although these examples are given in first person, the same principles apply to third person limited viewpoint. Your reader is inside that character’s skin. She shouldn’t be able to see/hear/feel beyond your heroine’s sensory perceptions. By dropping hints about future events, you’re losing the reader’s rapt attention. Stick to the present, and end your chapter with a hook that stays in character.
Here are some examples from Permed to Death, my first mystery novel. These hooks are meant to be page turners:
“This was her chance to finally bury the mistake she’d made years ago. Gritting her teeth, she pulled onto the main road and headed east.” (Important Decision)
“There’s something you should know. He had every reason to want my mother dead.” (Revelation)
“Her heart pounding against her ribs, she grabbed her purse and dashed out of her town house. Time was of the essence. If she was right, Bertha was destined to have company in her grave.” (Character in Jeopardy)
“She allowed oblivion to sweep her into its comforting depths.” (Physical Danger)
Personal decisions that have risky consequences can also be effective. For example, your heroine decides to visit her boyfriend’s aunt against his wishes. She risks losing his affection but believes what she’s doing is right. Suspense heightens as the reader turns the page to see if the hero misinterprets her actions. Or have the hero in a thriller make a dangerous choice, wherein he puts someone he cares about in jeopardy no matter what he decides. Or his decision is an ethical one with no good coming from either choice. What are the consequences? End of chapter. Readers must keep on track to find out what happens next.
To summarize, here’s a quick list of chapter endings that will spur your reader to keep the night light burning:
4. Another character’s unexpected arrival
5. Emotional turning point
In a romance, end chapter with one viewpoint, and switch to partner’s viewpoint in next chapter. Or end a scene of heightened sexual tension with the promise of further intimacy on the next page.
Sprinkle the lucky seven judiciously into your story and hopefully one day you’ll be the happy recipient of a fan letter that says: “I stayed up all night to finish your book. I couldn’t put it down.”
What other techniques do you use?
How do you drop hints for a sequel into your current story, not only to let readers know more books are coming but also to whet their appetite for the next installment?
You can (1) title your book as part of a series, (2) include an excerpt for the next book after the last chapter, (3) plant clues foreshadowing another problem to come, or (4) drop an overt hint toward the end of your story.
Number four is what I did in Hanging By A Hair, book #11 in my Bad Hair Day mysteries due out on April 18th. At the end of this story, I drop a hint that leads directly to the sequel, Peril by Ponytail. The mystery in Hanging By A Hair is solved, so readers go away satisfied, and the main character learns a lesson. But anticipation is half the fun, and I’m hoping fans will be eager for the next installment. I did the same thing in Killer Knots when Marla announces she and Dalton have set a date for their wedding. That leads into Shear Murder, the wedding story and #10 in my series.
But what if you haven’t plotted the sequel, written the first chapter for it, or even planned on one? And then suddenly readers are demanding the next book. What do you do?
Hopefully, you can still make additions in your current WIP. So here are some tips on how to drop in some subtle hints of what’s to come:
- First plot your overall series story arc for the next few books.
- Identify the main characters. Is this a series with a single protagonist in each volume, or are the stories spin-offs, wherein secondary characters in one story become the heroes in another? Either way, try to determine what personal issues will be driving these people in the next book.
- Write the opening scene to get a feel for the story.
Now go back to the WIP and look for places where you can drop in hints of what’s to come.
In the Drift Lords series, a sweeping battle between good and evil is heralded. What happens after this battle when my heroes triumph? Is the series over? Not necessarily, because you all know that after one bad guy goes down, a worse one pops up to threaten humanity.
Spoiler Alert! I created an unusual situation by writing my first three books in chronological order because the story comes to its rightful conclusion in this trilogy. The next three books, as I’ve planned it, will take place in the same time period as books 2 and 3. I know it’s confusing, but bear with me. What will make this next set of books special, if fans know our main villains get vanquished in book 3? It appears our Drift Lords are not finished just because they’ve prevented disaster. A worse villain awaits them around the corner.
I created a new story arc for books 4 through 6. Look at Star Wars. George Lucas made a wildly popular trilogy. Then he did another 3 movies, calling them prequels. Now the series will continue with a new story line into the future.
I drop hints in Warrior Lord (Drift Lords book #3) for the next trilogy in my series. I see them as sets of three with the potential for a total of seven or more. And like Terry Goodkind’s excellent Sword of Truth series, just because one nasty bad guy is defeated doesn’t mean there aren’t more waiting in the wings. Is evil ever truly vanquished?
Do you like hints of what’s to come in stories subsequent to what you are currently reading? I’m not talking cliffhanger endings here. I hate it when the main story isn’t finished, and you have to wait for the sequel. But personal issues can continue in the next installment, or new problems might arise that cause trouble. One has to be careful not to frustrate the reader by leaving too many threads loose, but it’s good storytelling to offer a teaser about what may be in store. Just make sure you bring the current story to a satisfying conclusion.
NOTE: This post originally appeared on my personal blog at http://nancyjcohen.wordpress.com
Recently I have released my first nonfiction title. This came about because numerous aspiring authors kept asking me how to write a mystery. So I compiled my teachings into an easy-to-read booklet with concise instructions on Writing the Cozy Mystery. Here is a distillation of the steps I followed to produce this work.
Please note that today I am en route to Orlando for SleuthFest, and I may not be able to reply to comments in a prompt manner. I will look at them later and do my best to respond in a timely fashion.
Hire a story development editor and a copy editor. Polish your work to perfection.
Insert front and back material into manuscript.
Write back cover copy.
Create a publisher name and register with your State as “Doing Business As” title. Or create an LLC if you prefer. Check with your accountant for more info.
Put a Legal Notice in your local newspaper if required by the State.
Apply for a county business license/tax receipt. Note: if you’re 65, you may be exempt from fees but you still have to apply. Renewal is annual.
Open a business bank account under DBA title. As sole proprietor, you don’t need an EIN number. Use your own SS number.
Order checks for new account.
Buy ten ISBNs from Bowker.com.
Hire a cover designer for ebook cover and trade paperback cover.
Determine book price for digital edition.
Assign an ISBN number to the digital edition at MyIdentifier.com (if you’ve bought them from Bowker). You will need to upload the cover and give the price.
Hire a formatter after inserting the ISBN into your copyright page. Note that the print edition will have a separate ISBN from the ebook edition so you’ll need to send the formatter two different files or pay for a correction later.
Upload your e-book to Amazon, Apple, BN, Kobo, Smashwords, AllRomanceEbooks/OmniLit. It may be easier to hire your formatter to upload to iBooks since I believe you need to own an Apple device to do this step.
*File for copyright now so you don’t have to send two print books to the copyright office.
Upload to Createspace for a print edition. If you use their ISBN, you can sell your CS book to libraries. If not, librarians will have to get your book through another source or buy it through normal channels. Consider Lightning Source and Espresso Machine as other print options.
Consider an audio edition via ACX with another ISBN assignment and a cover resized to this format.
Order print materials to promote your work, i.e. bookmarks, postcards, etc.
Consider doing a virtual blog tour.
If you set a particular release date, hold an online launch party.
Post your release news and book cover on all your sites.
Solicit Customer Reviews.
Run a Rafflecopter Contest.
Consider if you want to give away free copies or promote a bargain/sale price.
Join indie author forums online for more tips.
Obviously, marketing could be a whole other topic as could each one of these sections. I do plan to blog about this process in more detail at a later date on my personal blog. Meanwhile, these steps will get you started in the right direction. Those of you who have been through this journey might have more to add.
Writing the Cozy Mystery is a valuable guide on how to write a traditional whodunit. This concise tool will show you step-by-step how to develop your characters, establish the setting, plot the story, add suspense, plant clues and sustain your series. You’ll find everything you need to know in an easy-to-read, clear manner to write your own whodunit. http://nancyjcohen.com/books/nonfiction/
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.
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?
It’s Winter break here at the Kill Zone. During our 2-week hiatus, we’ll be spending time with our families and friends, and celebrating all the traditions that make this time of year so wonderful. We sincerely thank you for visiting our blog and commenting on our rants and raves. We wish you a truly blessed Holiday Season and a prosperous 2014. From Clare, Jodie, Kathryn, Kris, Joe M., Nancy, Jordan, Elaine, Joe H., Mark, and James to all our friends and visitors, Seasons Greeting from the Kill Zone. See you back here on Monday, January 6. Until then, check out our TKZ Resource Library partway down the sidebar, for listings of posts on The Kill Zone, categorized by topics.