Enough Already

Enough Already
Terry Odell

info dumpingI talked about repetition in my last post. Today, another peeve along similar lines, triggered by the same author that bugged me enough to write that previous post. I understand (and agree) that sometimes telling is more efficient than showing. But how much? While I can understand an author’s  desire to make sure the reader understands background, I’m not fond of his technique, which is to step in as the author and provide details that don’t seem worth stopping forward motion.

Michael Connelly feeds in background, but it never pulls me out of the story. This author, also writing a police procedural, isn’t pulling it off as well.

The two cops in the story—typical detective tropes: old, fat, donut eating guy just counting down to retirement, and the young, attractive female, recently promoted to detective—answer a call to a home where a neighbor says she saw blood. The cops take a look, and the newbie says, “Exigent circumstances?” Now, both cops know what this means, but the author decides to spend a paragraph explaining it. If the author wants to show the reader, why not have one of the cops explain it to the neighbor who wants to know why they’re not rushing right in?

Then there’s stopping the story for reflection. Two cops looking into a possible murder scene. Is this the time for one of them to reflect on what her siblings dressed up as on Halloween? And do we need to know the ages of those siblings? Is it important? Maybe. Is it important now? I don’t think so. Skimming right along.

Given the possible victims have connections to the movie industry, one of the witnesses mentions a possible suspect who’s a grip. She very nicely explains that a grip “moves lights and carries stuff on movie sets.”

That’s fine. Makes sense for her to explain it to the cops, but then the author takes us on another trip down memory lane while the rookie cop reflects on a family member who was also a grip, and how he was related, how often he visited, and what he brought them for Christmas. I’d call this a “stay in the phone booth with the gorilla” moment.

Details about what kind of magnets are holding up what kind of artwork on the fridge don’t move the story forward. The fact that there’s blood spatter on one of those pieces of art does.

In an attempt to give the readers information, the author has a scene between the rookie detective and the head of the Crime Scene Unit. It’s clear the author has researched the subject and wants to make sure readers know it, but how many readers care that the techs test stains they think are blood with tetramethylbenzidine? Just “We ran a test to confirm they’re blood” would probably work for 90% of readers. And do I want to know that they used HemDirect to tell if the blood was animal or human? Again, a simple “We determined the blood was human” would probably be sufficient. And this type of conversation went on and on for the entire chapter. We see the rookie detective using her knowledge, but her thoughts seem to be on the page as a way to explain—or over-explain—things for the reader. Or, worse, showcase the author’s research. Research should be like pepper. You don’t want to overwhelm the dish.

I’m also bothered by a lot of the roadmap descriptions. I don’t really care what street a sheriff’s station is on, or that the street runs alongside the southern edge of the 101 freeway. I’m direction-challenged, so telling me a hotel is seventy miles north of Los Angeles (even through I grew up there) doesn’t add anything. It makes me stop and try to imagine a map, thus pulling me out of the story. Unless you’re familiar with the city, seeing the turn-by-turn route a character takes won’t add anything to the story. Going into detail about how long it would take to get from point A to point B in varying traffic conditions, unless there’s a plot-related reason is just another speed bump. Even the Hubster, who has a much higher tolerance level for things that bother me, complained about the overdone roadmap scenes.

Where do you draw the line between description and info dumping?  Genre matters, of course, but in commercial fiction, especially mysteries, thrillers, and action-adventure, too much might be as bad as too little.


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

Deadly Options

Are Gordon’s Days in Mapleton Numbered?

Deadly Options, a Mapleton Mystery/Pine Hills Police crossover.

+12

Reminders or Repetition

recorder

Image by Andreas Lischka from Pixabay

When I was finally able to travel after my vaccinations earlier this month, I visited my mom. She’s 95 and has cognitive issues. (And vision issues, and hearing issues, but she’s 95 and has survived COVID.) Carrying on a conversation with her is a challenge. She’ll ask a question, you’ll answer, and a minute later, she’ll ask the same question. It doesn’t take long before you feel like you could record your answer and set it to play back while you go do something else. Of course, she has no idea she’s repeating herself.

Repetition is something to watch out for in our writing as well. One lesson learned early on was, “Don’t tell readers something they already know.” But, as writers, we often want to make sure our readers understand a point we’re making, and we repeat it. But when is it too much? What’s the best way to handle it?

repetition or reminderAn extreme example: A long time ago, in one of my first critique groups, one author’s character was an activist, giving speeches all over the country. The author had done a good job of writing the speech and the readers ‘heard’ it all on the page (or several pages, as I recall). But then, when the character made the next stop, the author repeated the entire speech verbatim. You can imagine that by the third or fourth delivery of the speech, the reader was tuning out. Now, the author was also adding some new material to the speech, but would the reader stick with it to get to the end of the already way-too-familiar territory to see what was added? Probably not. The group suggested that the only thing the author needed to show was the new stuff.

I’ve been seeing the same issues in a series of mystery novels I’ve been reading. Cop Bob interviews a suspect, Jim. Then, when he reports to his partner—let’s call her Mary—he repeats all the information he’s gleaned. Skim time.

If you’re writing multiple points of view, any time your POV characters are separated, only one of them knows what’s going on. If you’re in a Bob POV scene, it’s easy enough to handle. But what if you’re Mary’s POV when Bob tells her what Jim said? You don’t want to repeat the conversation. AND, you don’t want to repeat the same plot points from the previous scene. No matter what the “rules” say, there’s nothing wrong with telling in order to get information to the reader—it’s when the telling becomes back story dumping that you’ll run into problems.

You need to move things forward. You can recap in narrative in a few words. “Mary listened as Bob told her Jim had admitted to being in the shop when the robbery took place. She cut him off before he went into every detail about who else had been there, and who bought what.”

Start your showing from there, dealing with the critical plot points for this particular scene.

An example from In Hot Water, one of my Triple-D Ranch romantic suspense books. In the genre, it’s expected to have alternating POVs. Here, the heroine, Sabrina, isn’t always with Derek, the hero. When the hero’s scene has him learning about a possible attack on his ranch, he and his team go over the possible ramifications, discuss plans of action. Now, when Sabrina gets her POV scene, the reader already knows all of this. But in her POV, she’s learning all new stuff. She needs to be brought up to speed. There will have to be some repetition, but it’s also important to have her add something to the mix. Does she bring up a point the guys didn’t think of? (One hopes so!) Is this attack going to affect her differently than it does the men? Show that.

Another aspect of repetition is to remind readers of things they might have forgotten, especially if they’re going to be important later. Did you foreshadow it? How long has it been since this information was relayed to the reader? Do they need a reminder? After all, much as an author hates to admit it, readers don’t always sit down with a book and read from page one to the end in a single sitting.

In a mystery, the cops/detectives are going to be reviewing the case, recapping old information along with introducing new facts. This can help the readers remember. It also lets the author sneak in red herrings and hide the “real” clues in plain sight.

Bottom line: Give the information in a new way. Add something new beyond straight repetition. Keep moving the story forward.


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

Deadly Options

Are Gordon’s Days in Mapleton Numbered?

Deadly Options, a Mapleton Mystery/Pine Hills Police crossover.

+12

Fun Hunting A Killer

Fun Hunting A Killer
Terry Odell

Hunt a Killer

(No, I haven’t forgotten that it’s St. Patrick’s Day. More about that at the end of this post).

Thanks to stumbling across a friend’s post on Facebook, the Hubster and I discovered a new project. We’d gone the jigsaw puzzle route, but this was something different.

What are we doing? Solving a murder. It’s called Hunt A Killer. What is it? A detective game. You can play alone or with others.

Here’s the setup:

Private investigator Michelle Gray needs your help with yet another perplexing mystery. A woman named Julia Adler has recently found a mummified corpse in the attic of her family-owned theater. The remains belong to the famed actress Viola Vane, who notoriously disappeared in 1934. Now that Vane’s body has been unearthed after decades, you can finally investigate the million-dollar question: Who orchestrated the vanishing of Viola Vane?

Here’s how it works:

Each episode ends with your action to piece together another aspect of the overall mystery. In Curtain Call, this isn’t just about finding evidence and eliminating suspects. You’ll be called upon to uncover all aspects of the case – including the suspects’ secrets and their relationships to Viola, as well as to one another. Follow your contact’s assignments to advance the investigation, but examine every document closely to reveal the full story of the Cadence Theatre.

Hunt A KillerOnce a month, for six months, we get a box of evidence and clues. Of course, some will be red herrings. Each box comes with an objective. For box one, it was to determine the murder weapon. We sifted through forensics reports, newspaper clippings, theater programs, stage notes. There are more clues on the website dedicated to each crime. Of course, finding the monthly objective isn’t enough, because each month’s evidence will build on the previous months’.

Hunt A KillerWe’ve set up a murder board (honestly, I think this is what convinced the Hubster this could be fun), solved different kinds of ciphers, started a timeline, come up with potential suspects, worked on the relationships between everyone…and there’s more.

Since this is an 80-year-old case (created for the game), there are no survivors who can answer questions. We have to rely on what’s in our evidence boxes, or on the website where some more transcripts and pictures might be hiding more clues. Oh, and there are Facebook groups for each episode where people can ask questions if they’re stumped. It’s moderated to avoid spoilers.

Did the forensic anthropologist leave out relevant information? Who wrote the rehearsal notes? Is the shopping list jotted in the middle of those notes a clue? Do the dog roses refer to an incident in the play as an inside joke for the cast and crew, or will they be important? What about the letters to “Dear Dorothy” in the newspaper clipping? Why did the understudy take over Viola’s role? There’s a ton of information to sift through, and this is only box 1!

In addition to the game itself, they give you drink recipes and a Spotify playlist to get you in the mood. And gifts. We got a cocktail recipe book and two copper mugs.

Hunt A KillerWe’ve been having as much fun testing the libations as we have trying to interpret evidence.

We’ve only completed the first box so I can’t go into much more detail. If you want to move faster, there’s the option to expedite the next box once you’ve met the objective, but we’re letting things play out on the monthly schedule because there’s so much more to ferret out. I’m not going to go into specifics about what we’ve discovered in case anyone here at TKZ wants to give this a try. If you’re writing mysteries, you should already have the mindset for crime solving, and it’s a great way to keep those deductive processes honed.

Disclaimer: I’m sharing this because the Hubster and I have been having so much fun, and I thought some TKZers might like to know about it. (Of course, there are probably a bunch of you out there who wonder why I’m so late to the party.) I get nothing from the company for talking about their program.

St. Patrick's Day

As promised: Since it’s St. Patrick’s Day, I thought you might be interested in how it’s celebrated in Northern Ireland, where my daughter lives. Hint: There’s no green beer.


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

Deadly Options

Are Gordon’s Days in Mapleton Numbered?

Deadly Options, a Mapleton Mystery/Pine Hills Police crossover.

+5

Branding. It’s Not Just for Cows.

Branding. It’s Not Just for Cows.
Terry Odell

Author BrandingWhat is author branding? When I attended a SleuthFest conference, one of the invited guests was Neil Nyren, a top gun at Penguin Putnam. I did a workshop on Point of View, and served on several panels. My latest releases that year were my three Triple-D Ranch books, and when I was “working” I wore my cowboy boots and hat. (I live in Colorado: the boots are my dress shoes, and the hats are common attire.)

The next day, I wasn’t on any panels, and I’d left my hat in the room. I strolled across the lobby, and Mr. Nyren called out, “Terry. Where’s your hat?” (First shock was that he knew my name, because I was too far away for him to read my nametag.) I said it was in my room, because I wasn’t on any panels, and he said, “It’s your brand. Wear it.”

Needless to say, when a top gun at a major publishing house gives you advice, you take it. So, I went upstairs, got my hat, and wore it through the rest of the conference. Side perk—saves time and trouble messing with your hair.

Author branding can be how an author dresses. But that’s not all, especially now that we’re not getting out and about much.

Used to be, you looked at books in a bookstore window, on special displays, or on the shelves, where the ones placed face out could catch your eye. If you were looking at spines, perhaps a title caught your eye, or the name of a familiar author. If the cover enticed, you’d move to the back cover copy, or the jacket flap copy, and then maybe flip through the book. But, odds are, it was the cover that started the process.

Now, even though many book purchases are made from on-line bookstores, the cover is still vital, because books have an everlasting shelf life. Even “old” books are new to many readers. And the cover is just as important, if not more so, than in the brick and mortar stores.

If your publisher creates your cover, you probably have very little input on covers. For most traditional publishers, their stand is usually, “Did we spell your name right? Is the title right?” Beyond that, you learn to live with it.

But if you’ve got rights back, or are creating an original title to publish yourself, you have to understand the importance of good, professional-looking cover art.

I published three books in a romantic suspense series for a traditional publisher that sold primarily to libraries. Although they employed an art department, the tended to look at each book as an island unto itself. This is what they did for my three books with them:

Author BrandingAlthough there’s nothing “bad” about any of the covers, there’s no continuity. No author branding. Nothing that says ‘This is a Blackthorne, Inc. book by Terry Odell.’ And with all the competition out there, you need that author branding.

As digital rights for each book became available to me, and as I continued the series as an indie author, I hired a cover artist to try to make them look more connected, while keeping the same overall design. (And, it never hurts to get an award noted on the cover.)

Author BrandingAn issue I discovered came after Amazon added an “Action Adventure” category under the romance umbrella. I was picking up readers who were unaware they were getting a romantic suspense, and they were leaving reviews saying they didn’t approve of the sex. Romance readers not only don’t mind, most expect it. Thus, it’s important that the cover reflect the genre.

Even though these were romantic suspense books, I wasn’t a romance reader, and didn’t care for covers with couples embracing, or, as was popular at the time, the “floating heads.” (See Where Danger Hides in the first iteration.) I had my cover artist get rid of that right away.

It’s a hard lesson, but authors need to learn that a book cover is a marketing decision, and requires an entirely different skill set from writing. Finding that perfect scene to depict on the cover isn’t necessarily a wise move.

So, even though I had my cover artist redesign my first three Blackthorne books to connect all of them, and do an original cover for the 4th, it wasn’t until I wrote book 5 that I accepted  the reality that a “hunk” on the cover was more indicative of a romance, plus, research showed that readers liked to connect with a “character” so I followed that for subsequent books.

After all, the cover needs to clue the reader in to the genre of the book, and based on reviews, a lot of people weren’t expecting the romance–and they were vocal about it. (They could have read the book description, but we won’t go there!)

My concern before changing any covers, which is why I delayed the process as long as I did, was I didn’t want readers to think I’d put out a new book and then be upset when they found out they’d already bought it. However, for the sake of author branding, I decided it was time to take the plunge, and I would add a note to the book descriptions of all the titles with revised covers that it was simply a new cover, not a new book.

Decision made, I asked Kim Killion of The Killion Group to bring things up to speed, and she revamped the first four in the series to bring them up to speed with the last four. I wanted the romance angle more up front, and for the books to say “series.”

Author BrandingAny authors whose branding resonates with you? What’s your brand?

**After Debbie’s great post about character interviews yesterday, I thought I’d share a couple of auditions I did with my characters for their roles in When Danger Calls. It was a freebie for newsletter subscribers a while back. If you’re interested, you can find it here.


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

Deadly OPtions e-Reader
Are Gordon’s Days in Mapleton Numbered?

Now available for pre-order. Deadly Options, a Mapleton Mystery/Pine Hills Police crossover.

+7

Beware the “ING” Construction

Beware the “ING” Construction
Terry Odell

ING constructionI know this topic was mentioned recently, and apologies for not being able to find the post to credit the author. Perhaps it came up in the comments. No matter the source, I thought this craft topic worth another look, especially after a recent read.

We all have our favorite sentence construction. For the author in question, the book was overrun with sentences starting with gerund phrases – those “ing” words.

At the very first writer’s conference I attended, an agent said she would reject a query with more than 1 sentence beginning with the “ing” construction. Her explanation—it’s too easy to make mistakes with that sentence structure.

What mistakes? We’ve been told that construction with “was/ing” is a sign of weak writing. He was running. She was dancing. It’s stronger to say “He ran” (or sped, or rushed). Or “She danced” (or pirouetted, or waltzed, or sashayed) But there are more ways overusing gerunds can get you into trouble.

Dangling and misplaced modifiers. (Note. You don’t have to be able to know which is which, as long as you know they’re wrong and how to fix them.) A misplaced modifier is too far away from the thing it’s supposed to modify, while a dangling modifier’s intended subject is missing from the sentence altogether.

First, the misplaced modifier. In my first crit group, I held the prize for creating an answering machine that gave neck massages. I’d written, “Rubbing her neck, the blinking red light on the answering machine caught Sarah’s eye.” Ooops. (But I would like a machine with that function!)

Make sure the noun or pronoun comes immediately after the descriptive phrase. Thus, the above example could be “Rubbing her neck, Sarah noticed the blinking red light on the answering machine.”

And example of a dangling modifier: “Walking into the room, the smell was overpowering.” Corrected, it could become, “Walking into the room, they encountered an overpowering smell.”

Next, and the one this post-inspiring author was most guilty of: the non-simultaneous action. “Running across the clearing, John dove into the tent.” Or, “Opening the door, Mary tripped down the stairs.”

John can’t be getting into the tent while he’s running across the clearing. And Mary needs to open the door before she goes downstairs.

When you’re looking over your manuscript, you might want to flag words ending in “ing” and take another look to be sure you haven’t made any of these basic errors.

ING Construction

If you’re using Word, you can do a “find” using wild cards to flag words ending in “ing.” In Word, which is what I use, it’s Edit/Find/More. Then check the “use wildcards” box, and then special, where you’ll find the command for end of word, which is the > symbol.

That means, you should type ing> into the search box. Then you can either look at them one at a time, or check the “highlight all items found in:” box. True, you’ll get words that aren’t gerunds that end in ‘ing’ – thing, building, etc., but it’ll give you a place to start.

Any examples to share–from your own reading or writing?

OK, one more thing, a brag moment. The Mapleton Mystery Novellas was selected as a top pick for 2020 at Kings River Life Magazine.

 

 


Deadly OPtions e-ReaderAre Gordon’s Days in Mapleton Numbered?

Now available for pre-order. Deadly Options, a Mapleton Mystery/Pine Hills Police crossover.

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

+13

Playing Tricks With Editing.

Playing Tricks With Editing.
Terry Odell

Playing Tricks With EditingFirst–Happy New Year, everyone, and welcome back to TKZ.

Over the break, I finished my personal edits on the manuscript of my next Mapleton Mystery, and I thought I’d share some of the tips I’ve discovered over the years for that final pass before turning the manuscript in.

We want to submit the cleanest possible manuscript to our editors, agents, or wherever you’re submitting. By the time most of us hit “The End”, we’ve been staring at the manuscript on a computer screen for months. We probably know passages by heart, we know what it’s supposed to say, and it’s very easy to miss things.

What we need to do if fool our brain into thinking it’s never seen these words before.

Editing TipsTip #1 – Print the manuscript. It’s amazing how much different it will look on paper.

Tip #2 – Use a different font. If you’ve been staring at TNR, choose a sans-serif font. In fact, this is a good time to use the much-maligned Comic Sans.

Tip #3 – Change the format. You want the lines to break in different places. I recommend printing it in 2 columns, or at least changing the margins. That will totally change the line scan, and it’s amazing how many repeated words show up when the words line up differently.

Tip #4 – Read away from your computer. Another room, or at least the other side of the room.

The above are all “Fool the Brain” tricks. Moving on to my basic process.

Tip #5 – Read from start to finish.

As I read, I have a notepad, highlighters, red pen, and a pad of sticky notes. This pass isn’t where I fix things; it’s where I make notes of things to fix. I don’t want to disrupt the flow of the read by stopping to check out if the character drove a red Toyota or a green Chevy. I have a foam core board by my chair, where I’ll post my sticky notes. Also, because it’s a hard copy, there’s not simple “Find” function.

When repeated words or phrases jump out, I note them on a sticky for a future search-and-destroy mission. I’ll circle or highlight words that could be stronger, or places where I might be able to come up with a metaphor that doesn’t sound writerly.

I’m also critical of “does this move the story?” as I’m reading. The beautiful prose might not be all that beautiful when reading it in the context of the entire novel. Don’t be afraid to use that red pen. On the flip side, you can also note where a scene needs more depth, or something needs foreshadowing. Are characters behaving consistently? Or do their personalities change because the author needs them to do something for the plot.

Another thing I look for is named characters. Naming a character tells the reader “this is an important person.” Do they play enough of a role in the story to earn a name? Can they be deleted, or referred to generically?

Once I’ve reached the end, I’ll go back to the computer and deal with the notes I’ve made.

The last pre-submission editing chore for me—and it’s a tedious one—is to let the computer point out all the clunkers I’ve missed. Because, despite all the ‘trickery,’ the story is still familiar enough that I don’t catch everything.

For this, I use a program called “Smart Edit.” (I might do a full post on this software another time.) I use the version that’s a Word add-on, and run its checks. I know I have my standard crutch words, but it seems that every manuscript brings a few new ones that I lean on too heavily.

Once I’m finished with the Smart Edit purges, the manuscript goes off to my editor. My work up front means she should be able to spend more time looking at the story, and less time dealing with clunky prose.

The last step for me, which comes right before I’m ready to publish, is to let Word read the manuscript to me. I’ve talked about that before, and using ears instead of eyes is another way to trick the brain into thinking the story is new. And yes, I still find things to fix.

What about you? How do you deal with whipping your manuscript into shape before submitting it?


Heather's ChaseMy new Mystery Romance, Heather’s Chase, is available at most e-book channels and in print from Amazon.

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

+9

Dreams, Goals, and a Gift

Dreams, Goals, and a Gift
Terry Odell

This is my last official post of 2020, but the official TKZ Winter Hiatus doesn’t start until December 21st, so don’t stop visiting.

Is it too early to think about the New Year? Are you already thinking about the tradition of making resolutions? With a new year come new beginnings. Fresh starts. We all enter a new year filled with hope and promises to make it better than the last one.

And, usually, by the end of January, all those good intentions have gone by the wayside. I gave up making resolutions long ago (although I occasionally make them for the Hubster—less chance of me breaking them that way). What I’ve learned, is that if you want to see success, you have to narrow your focus.

These resolutions don’t work:

  • I resolve to be a best-selling author.
  • I resolve to write three novels this year.
  • I resolve to make $100,000 selling my e-books.

Why don’t they work? They’re dreams.

Dreams are wonderful. Dreams are things you’d love to have, but they’re also things over which you have no control, because they depend on other people. You need goals.
Goals have to be measurable. I learned that way back in college when I was getting my teacher certification. The course was “Behavioral Objectives” and we learned to set ways to measure whether we were getting through to our students. We could set a goal that at least 90% of our students would score at least 80% or better on an exam. This was a measurable outcome. If they didn’t, we’d have to go back and figure out why. And, frankly, the usual answer would be “because I didn’t teach the material effectively”, NOT “the students were lazy slackers.”

Another thing I learned in that course was that you had to take small steps. You had to figure out what skills were required for a student to answer a question on that exam correctly, and then work on practicing those skills. (Not teaching to the test—teaching skills.)

How do you turn those dreams into goals? Break them down into things you can do in small increments, and that you can measure. Being a best-selling author isn’t measurable. (Can I call myself a best-selling author if I pay for an ad and my books hit the number 1 slot on a very small niche at Amazon for a week? Some authors do, but that’s not something I’m comfortable with.)

Those who say, “I’m going to write three books this year” are likely to fail if that’s as far as they go. What does it take to finish the book? You take that lofty goal, break it into small pieces, and then figure out what you can do to achieve each piece.

Write X words/pages a day/week until you’re done. That’s something you can track. You can see your success. You have a specific goal each day/week.

And, most importantly, you can reassess and adjust these goals over the course of the year. Are you making your word count goal by 10 AM? Maybe it’s too low. Are you staying up until 3 AM and still failing? Don’t be afraid to lower it. Of course, you’ll want to take a hard look at why you’re not meeting your word count goals. If it’s because you’re spending 8 hours a day on Facebook, you might want to cut back on your social media time!

As for making $100,000? That’s a dream that depends on others. You have no control over who buys your books. You can develop a marketing plan, a budget, hire a publicist, but the sales are out of your hands. The one thing you can do, however, is to use the best marketing tool out there. Write the next book!

Whatever you’re looking for in the new year, I wish you the best in attaining it.

(Did you forget about the word “Gift” in the title? If you’ve read this far, I’ve got one for you.)

TP MenorahTomorrow is the first night of Hanukkah, which is the winter holiday my family celebrates, although there’s likely to be a different slant on the retelling of the “miracle” this year.

Because I consider everyone at TKZ, on both sides of the site, my family, I thought I’d offer you a gift as my last TKZ offering of 2020.

Deadly Production by Terry OdellMy gift to you: Enjoy a free download of Deadly Production, Book 4 in my Mapleton Mystery series. You can find your gift at Book Funnel. You can download an epub, mobi, or PDF file. If you have trouble, the wonderful folks at BookFunnel will be happy to help. (Download deadline is December 18th.)

Have a wonderful and safe holiday season.


Heather's ChaseMy new Mystery Romance, Heather’s Chase, is available at most e-book channels. and and in print from Amazon.

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

+10

That’s That

That’s That
Terry Odell

First, for those of you who celebrate Thanksgiving, this year presents special challenges. I wish all of you a safe and sensible holiday.

That's ThatAh, those overused words. Little ones. Almost invisible ones. Ones we take for granted. One of my critique partners pays her editors by the word, so getting rid of unnecessary words is high on her priority list.

One word that creeps into our prose is “that.” An obvious reason is that there are different ways it can be used (you’ll notice I used it in this sentence). That can be a pronoun, an adjective, an adverb, or a conjunction. It’s the pronoun usage that can cause problems (and there’s another that!). When I finished the first draft of one of my Mapleton novels, I found 902 instance of that. And yes, I did look at each one to see how it was used, and if it was needed. Here’s one example of a before and after:

The mayor interrupted. “I’ve assured Marianna that you will provide traffic and crowd control for any of her shooting. In return, she’s assured me that there will be as little disruption as possible to the normal, everyday routines of the citizens of our city.”

The way McKenna said city belied that Mapleton was hardly more than a small town. But one thing Gordon had learned was that regardless of the political head of the city, it was all about revenue. He imagined that some heavy-duty discussion of financial arrangements had already taken place, and that his life was about to become much more complicated.

Here’s the version after I went through zapping that:

The mayor interrupted. “I’ve assured Marianna you will provide traffic and crowd control for any of her shooting. In return, she’s assured me there will be as little disruption as possible to the normal, everyday routines of the citizens of our city.”

The way McKenna said city belied that Mapleton was hardly more than a small town. But one thing Gordon had learned was that regardless of the political head of the city, it was all about revenue. He imagined heavy-duty discussions of financial arrangements had already taken place, and his life was about to become much more complicated.

In my editing pass, I eliminated 4 of the 6 usages in those two paragraphs. Rule of thumb is to read the sentence with and without the that. Is the meaning as clear without it? Could I have deleted the remaining two? Maybe. My editor hasn’t seen this yet, and she might decide they can go as well. Or, maybe she’ll put some back. The rules here aren’t cut and dried.

Here’s another sentence where I kept the that.

We’ve found that locals are generally receptive to appearing as background characters, and property owners are well-compensated for any disruptions to their lives or livelihoods.”

When reading it without that, it’s easy to read it as finding locals, as if they were lost. When you read the rest of the sentence, you have to readjust your thinking, and you don’t want to slow a reader down.

Here’s another place where that helps clarify:

Gordon didn’t have the heart to tell Angie that Cassidy Clarke had little, if any, authority in deciding where scenes would be shot and who would be in them.

Without the that, it would read Gordon didn’t have the heart to tell Angie Cassidy, and with the names Angie and Cassidy Clark right next to each other, a reader might be confused and have to read the sentence twice.

The goal of an author is to keep the reader engaged in the story. Anything that pulls the reader away while they figure out what that sentence really means should be avoided.

But there’s another use of that I’ve seen lately that goes against everything I was taught in school, and I’ve been seeing it in books published by major publishing houses, and written by best-selling authors.

I was taught that for things and who for people. Now, admittedly, it can get tricky with nouns that don’t refer to specific people, but in my head, if that noun is made up of people, then you use who, not that. Examples: doctors, police officers, teachers, etc.

Here are a few examples from recent reads:

  • But maybe you’ve seen strange people around. You know, shady characters that might be involved.
  • I thought it was the girl’s father that was the real worry.
  • Older guys that we know.
  • Are you an author that has more than one book in a series?

And, what about this one?

I know rules can change, so I sent my editor a couple examples and asked her whether I was somehow behind the times.

Here’s what she said:

I’m not surprised that the books were published with “that” in the sentence. It’s becoming more and more common. A lot of authors don’t use “who” when they should. I think it may be partly because of today’s current English language and the way we talk today, and how authors write their stories. “That” is familiar. It’s a passive word and is overly used in most writing, so it’s a comfortable word. “Who” on the other hand is becoming a more formal choice, so it’s not used as often.

In 90% of the manuscripts I work on, “that” is used in similar examples in the original unedited version of the manuscripts. Is it the right thing to do? No, “who” is the correct choice. Unfortunately, or fortunately, depending on your perspective, I don’t think many readers notice the “that” versus “who” issues, so what happens is “that” becomes transparent within the manuscript in these types of examples whereas “who” sometimes stands out more in the sentence, making it less transparent and possibly “stopping” the reader in their read.

What’s your take? Does something like “John was a man that loved to fish” bother you? Do you even notice? Is this another gray area of grammar?


Heather's ChaseMy new Mystery Romance, Heather’s Chase, is available at most e-book channels. and and in print from Amazon.

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

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What Winnie the Pooh Taught Me About Writing

What Winnie the Pooh Taught Me About Writing
Terry Odell

First, on this Veterans Day, a thank you to all who have served.

Winnie the Pooh and WritingWhen I was a child, my dad would read Winnie the Pooh (the REAL one, not the Disney version) to me and my brother. I loved his voices (Years later, when an old movie was playing on the television, I heard Eeyore’s voice. I ran out to look and it was a W.C. Fields movie. I didn’t know my dad had been doing “real” voices when he read—but I digress.)

Another thing I remember from my dad’s reading was the way he began each chapter in a Very Important Voice. And the way each chapter was titled, “In Which…” followed by a few words telling us what the chapter was about.

Winnie the Pooh and Writing

(Kind of like “circles and arrows and a paragraph on the back of each one…” but I digress again.)

Although I certainly don’t title my chapters, the “In Which” approach helps make sure I’m putting something on the page that belongs there.

Too often, it’s easy to get carried away with description, or dumping in some back story, or including that “wonderful” scene that came to you when you overheard a conversation at the coffee shop, or salon, or when you were people watching and saw someone who just had to be in the book. So you write it, and it’s wonderful, and you’ve captured the moments perfectly. But is it moving the story. Is it something worthy of including in your “in which” summary of the scene.

Because you should be summarizing the scenes, either before or after you write them. And there need to be plot points (which is the official writerly term for “in which”). You’ll notice I used the plural. A scene had better be carrying more than one. While there’s no rule, and no exact number, I’d recommend shooting for three. Scene length, of course, can cause variations, but whatever happens in that scene needs to relate to the story.

Which brings me to kinds of scenes. Here’s a quick summary, gleaned from a RWA workshop, although most will carry over to any genre.

  • Prologue – not required. In fact, unless there’s a huge time gap between this and the opening, it should probably be Chapter One. There’s also a difference of opinion as to whether agents want to see prologues when you’re submitting.
  • Opening – should draw the reader in.
  • Set-up  — foreshadows something to come
  • Validation – shows the character at work
  • Conflict
  • Push – moves characters apart
  • Pull – moves characters closer together
  • Reaction – also referred to as “sequel” (or shower scene, where the character would reflect on what just happened). These can slow the pace, so they’re falling out of favor. If you need one, make sure it’s important, and don’t linger too long.
  • Flashback – use sparingly – they’re often found in reaction scenes
  • Flash forward—rarely used in romance; author intrusion. Tends to be omniscient POV, which can intrude as well.
  • Reversal/Black moment – everything goes wrong
  • Climax – characters must make choices
  • Conclusions – wrap up those dangling threads
  • Epilogue – not required. Common in romance (although I’m not fond of them, personally)

Do you ever find scenes in books you’re reading, even very well-written scenes, that leave you wondering what they’re doing there? Have you found them while writing your own books?


Heather's ChaseMy new Mystery Romance, Heather’s Chase, is available at most e-book channels. and and in print from Amazon.

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

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Tips for Distant Settings

Things I’ve learned about setting a book in real places, especially distant ones.

Distant SettingsWhen the Hubster and I decided to celebrate our 50th anniversary with a trip to the British Isles, of course I had “book” in the back of my mind. However, an international setting wouldn’t have worked with any of my existing series, and since I never plot in advance, I decided to enjoy our tour, taking pictures and notes of what we were seeing and doing and just wait and see what might bubble to the surface.

Distant SettingsOur trip began in Northern Ireland with a visit to our daughter, who had pointed out that she moved there 12 years ago and we’d never visited. From there, we had a couple days in London where I got to meet one of my critique partners face to face for the first time. Given we’d been in our little group for about 15 years, that was another “it’s about time” moment.

From there, we visited Scotland, and then Ireland. When we got home, I decided I’d write a short and sweet romance. Write it quickly, understanding that it’s not my true “brand” but that I had to publish something to justify writing off at least part of the trip.

Well, I soon discovered I’m not a short and sweet romance author, and mystery elements insisted on working their way into the story. What I ended up with is Heather’s Chase: an International Mystery Romance which is closer to my brand, although it’s a stand alone and still a bit of a one off. Nevertheless, it was an educational experience.

My Tips

Distant SettingsLess is more. My first drafts went into phenomenal detail about absolutely everything. Airports. Train stations. Hotels. Food. All the places we stopped, what we saw on the drives. Given we were traveling for well over two weeks, that would have been a LONG book. A sense of place is good. Overwhelming readers is not. I had to keep reminding myself to make sure everything related to the plot and characters. I wasn’t writing a travelogue.

Stay true to time. Readers familiar with the area will know that you can’t get from A to B in two hours, or that when you’ve had your characters on their bus for five hours, it’s really a twenty-minute drive.

Distant SettingsYou’ll always miss something. Unless you’ve got your plot mapped out before your trip, once  you start writing, you’ll have a scene to write and—lo and behold—you missed taking a picture, or didn’t take the right notes. I spent a LOT of time on the internet rechecking facts, looking at maps, and refamiliarizing myself with some of the attractions we visited. If I couldn’t find exactly what I needed, I reminded myself I was writing fiction—another reason not to name real places. On the occasions where my characters were eating in real, named places, I made sure I had pictures and menus. Same for attractions.

Distant SettingsDon’t make up real stuff. One of the reasons I made this book a stand alone was because our trip didn’t include visits to police departments (although I snapped a picture of a vehicle in Ireland, “just in case”). Also, it would be unrealistic for my American characters to have any access to law enforcement in several different countries.

Be nice. I also opted not to name the specific hotels or restaurants (mostly). For one thing, it gave me the freedom to change the décor, layout, amenities, or the restaurant menus. And, if something “bad” happened, I wasn’t going to incur the wrath of those establishments.

It’s about flavor. Although my characters didn’t visit Northern Ireland, I did include a character from the same town we’d visited when we stayed with my daughter. I made sure she vetted all his dialogue. For example, people in Northern Ireland use the word “wee” as a meaningless adjective. I was asked for my wee credit card, given a wee receipt, offered a wee bag for my purchases. My British critique partner was very helpful with vocabulary as well.

All in all, I had a great time ‘revisiting’ my trip to the British Isles while I was writing the book, and being able to incorporate my experiences into Heather’s Chase.

Want to see more pictures? Click on the book cover below, then scroll down to “Special Features.”


Heather's ChaseMy  Mystery Romance, Heather’s Chase, is  available at most e-book channels. and in print from Amazon.

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

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