After the Hiatus

Wednesday, November 30, 2022

Although I’m tagging this as a Writing Diary entry, it’s more of a post about writing-related things I’ve been doing this month.

The biggest accomplishment, of course, was writing, revising, proofreading, and publishing Bury Me Not, the second novel in my Rainbow Ranch Mysteries. This was a difficult book to write. I think it’s because I’m excited by character growth more than the puzzle of a mystery story now. Unless, of course, the solving of the mystery also involves character growth, like that of Titus Strong and Elisabeth in the Shipwreck Point Mysteries.

If you read the African Violet Club series, you know that Lilliana had a definite character arc that came to an end in Holly Green Murder. I thought I had an idea for a new arc for her in this series, but that wasn’t prominent in Bury Me Not. I’m going to have to think long and hard about the future of this new series.

The second thing I’ve been working on is designing and developing my new website. That’s been both a lot of fun and a lot of work. Fun because I enjoy doing computer stuff. Work because I’m learning a new program to do the site, and I have to create all new graphics to suit the sizes of various images on the new site. To be honest, one of the reasons I’m writing this blog post is because I want to test what it’s like to post a blog on the new site. (Don’t try to find it. Since the site isn’t published yet, it won’t show up in any searches.)

And last, but certainly not least, I’m starting to plan my writing for next year. One of the things I want to do is try a new genre. I’m not going to say much about that other than because it’s so different from my mysteries, I’m going to use a pen name on those books. (Notice the optimism. “Books,” indeed!) I’m also going to write another Shipwreck Point book. I’m eager to get into the research for that one.

And that’s all for now.

Hello Again

Wednesday, October 26, 2022

I’ve fallen behind on my writing diary lately, ironically because I’ve been having trouble writing. As I’ve probably mentioned before, I decided to write this book by “writing into the dark”, aka “pantsing.” In other words, I didn’t write an outline for this book before I started writing. Not even a tiny one.

I took a class on this technique with Dean Wesley Smith this past year. One of the things he has you do is try both ways with short works. You set a timer and see how long it takes you to get a set number of words with planning ahead and without. Or, more accurately, doing the planning as you write the scene. For me, it took the same amount of time both ways. Now, since the actual writing is a lot more fun than thinking hard about what should happen, I decided to write this book the second way rather than the first.

Bad idea.

You see, a novel is a very different thing than a short scene. As a rule, you can keep all the details of a scene in your head. That’s not possible with a novel-length work. At least, not for me. So I did a lot of backtracking to find out if a character was in a scene and so had some knowledge or conveyed some information to the sleuth then so I could write a scene fifty or a hundred pages later that used that fact. And if the character hadn’t done that, I had to rewrite part of that old scene so I could write the new one.

And then I had a second Bad Idea.

I decided to give myself a deadline to finish and publish this book by setting up a pre-order on Amazon. Now, that sounds good in theory, because that looming deadline is a big motivator to put your butt in the chair and start typing. On the other hand, as the deadline approached and I started realizing I was probably not going to make it (which has a severe penalty from the ’Zon), I experienced brain freeze. I couldn’t figure out what should happen next, much less how it fit in with what I’d already written.

I started coming up with all kinds of excuses not to work on the novel. There were the baseball playoffs on TV. There was an exciting, free plotting summit! (More irony there.) It ran for five days, and although I didn’t attend all the sessions, there were actually several very good ones. But I wasn’t writing then, now, was I? There were more diversions, but I won’t bore you with them.

So, late yesterday, knowing the pressure was getting to me, I pushed out the deadline for the pre-order. Per Amazon, you’re allowed to do this ONCE in your life, and only for a maximum of 30 days, but I decided this was my once.

And, of course, the minute I gave myself more time, I relaxed and could set about working toward the finish of this novel. Insurmountable problems became not so insurmountable. And once I publish this sucker, I’m going to reward myself with taking another paid writing class. And not even thinking about starting another novel until 2023. By creating an outline. And character sheets. And maps and floor plans. And all kinds of planning stuff.

Unstuck

Wednesday, September 28, 2022

Well, that didn’t take long.

Over the weekend, I decided to listen to some of the writing and marketing podcasts I used to follow religiously. I stopped doing this because I’d listened to so many podcasts, read so many blogs, taken so many courses, and yes, written so many books, I knew just about everything they told me. The problem with that is it’s easy to forget what you once knew when you’re focusing on publication deadlines and building your mailing list and all the other things that are not writing.

In the process of listening, things that were covered in the podcasts reminded me of what I already knew, but my conscious mind had forgotten. And I realized that what Bury Me Not was missing was an emotional hook. 

Now, plot is important, particularly in mystery novels, but what keeps the reader’s interest—and the author’s as well—is what’s going on with the characters. I was spending all my brainpower on trying to visualize the plot for this book. But I didn’t really care about what happened because it didn’t matter to any of the characters. Not in a real, engaging sort of way. That lack of emotional resonance should have been as obvious as a blood trail on six inches of new fallen snow, but it wasn’t until I heard something like it on one of those podcasts.

Sometimes this is called the theme of the book. I generally haven’t written with theme in mind because I didn’t usually have to think about it. It just shows up organically in the writing. For some reason, that didn’t happen this time. So I started thinking about that. As a jumping off point, I reminded myself of what it had been in Homicide on the Range. Once I had that, I realized I could continue from there in a similar vein. I just wasn’t sure how.

That was where the second new old idea came in. Something I read or heard during this phase mentioned journaling and the lightbulb went on. When I used to have trouble writing a book, I’d get up from my computer, go sit at my dining room table with a notebook and pen, and free write about whatever the problem was. Writing by hand uses a different part of the brain than typing does, so it often pulls out different ideas. I decided to try that.

Pretty soon, all kinds of ideas were flowing out of that pen, and I knew exactly what I needed to write next. So today I wrote 2,000 words and I wasn’t fighting myself to get them.

Don’t cancel that pre-order yet.

September 22, 2022 - Struggles

Thursday, September 22, 2022

What was that I said about the story going much faster now?

That was optimistic. And untrue.

I find myself avoiding getting to my computer and actually writing this week. After a few days of struggling to write Bury Me Not, I realized something was wrong, especially when I started spending my time reading blog posts and attending webinars and looking at more classes. So I knew I had to figure out why I’m avoiding this story.

I was so excited when I came up with the idea for the Rainbow Ranch Mysteries. I bragged about having ideas for seven books in the series. I still think they’re good ideas. But they’re not getting me excited now. Worse than that, I started getting tension headaches. When I got a full-blown ocular migraine last week, I knew I had to ease off on myself. But I still want to write.

Well, what did I want to write then?

I thought about the Shipwreck Point Mysteries, and yes, I really do want to write The Case of the Impossible Illusion, but not just yet.

Then one day an idea drifted through my mind, and I was filled with excitement. It was the genre I wanted to write when I first started, but I failed miserably at it, which was why I stopped. I didn’t know how to write it or what flavor or subgenre was calling me. I still have those problems, but there’s a way to fix that.

One thing I need to do is read a bunch of books that are not cozy or historical mysteries. I bought a few of the bestsellers in the new genre this week and have started reading one of those now. The other is a plan for how to make this new venture a reality for me, by adding a writing group or course or something to the mix. I’ve been researching that this week and might have one possibility. (It’s more fun than writing right now.)

I will finish and publish Bury Me Not on schedule. I believe in keeping commitments. But there’s a good chance I’ll tell people to cancel their pre-orders and not spend money on it. Unless I surprise myself and the book turns out to be good despite my struggles.

But after that, I’m going to change up my routine. I’m going to do that reading and studying, exploring the possibilities. And get my website and newsletter revised. And maybe try writing some short stories as a challenge.

Bear with me. I’ll figure it out. Eventually. And, hopefully, I will come out with the best series I’ve ever written in the end.

The End of Act One

Friday, September 16, 2022

I use a four act structure to write my mystery novels. It makes more sense to me than calling it a three act structure and having two halves of act two, which means act two is twice as long as the other two acts. It doesn’t really matter, except for the fact that one rule of thumb for mysteries is that the murder should occur in the first quarter of the book, which just happens to coincide with the end of act one.

As the title of this blog says, I reached that point in Bury Me Not today. Yay!

Of course, I should be a lot further along if I want to finish the book by the end of this month, but beginnings are hard. First of all, the characters have to take shape in my imagination. I generally have to come up with the cast of characters, including pictures of what they look like, before I start writing. I also frequently have to add characters as I go, but those are usually minor rather than major characters.

I almost always know who the victim is. Sometimes I know why he or she was killed, but not always. This is where those characters come in again. Most of the new characters are suspects, and each one has to have a unique motive to kill the victim. That means they each have a history, which is a lot of what I think about at the beginning of a book.

That gives me the first of the three elements of a crime: motive. Next up is means: the way the victim was killed. That also goes along with the suspects. You can’t have a person who’s squeamish about blood stab someone to death or hack them apart with an ax. And last is opportunity. It has to be likely that the circumstances of the crime fit where the suspect was at the time and what they were doing.

That’s why the first part of a new book takes so long to write. The rest of the story generally goes a lot faster. At least, I’m hoping it will. And so are my readers.

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