How to Harness the Difference between Plot & Story with Steve Alcorn

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How to Harness the Difference between Plot and Story with Steve Alcorn

 

 

Original air date Feb. 15, 2018 TCK Publishing Epi. 176

Duration 32 min

Full Transcript

 

 

Steve Alcorn Author pic

 

 

Steve Alcorn is the author of a wide range of fiction and nonfiction works. His novels include the mystery A Matter of Justice, the historical novel Everything In Its Path, and the romance Ring of Diamonds (under the pseudonym Sharon Stevens). His best-selling history of the Imagineers who built Epcot, Building a Better Mouse, was co-written with author David Green.

During the past decade Steve has helped more than 30,000 students turn their story ideas into reality, and many of his students have published novels they developed in his classes, taught through http://writingacademy.com

When he isn’t writing and teaching, Steve is the CEO of Alcorn McBride Inc., a leading theme park design company.

 

 

 

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The Clue to Character by Mystery Writer Daniella Bernett

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The Clue to Character
Daniella Bernett

 

Where would a story be without a character? Character is the engine that drives the narrative. For me, it is a magical process. Imagine having the omnipotent power to create and mold a person on the page. Not only do I get to conjure up the character’s physical attributes and such details as a birthdate, but I have the opportunity to develop his or her personality. Evil or noble? Intelligent or foolish? Witty or dull? Take a smidgen of this and add a pinch of that, and voilà a person starts to emerge. To be believable, the reader must be given intimate insight into the character’s thoughts and emotions, likes and dislikes. One has to understand the motives behind why a character reacts a certain way. Of course to be fully formed, the author must imbue the character with both admirable qualities and flaws. After all, in real life nobody is perfect. So too must it be on the written page. Once the author is satisfied with the character sketch, then the real fun begins: unfurling the imagination to weave the tale.

 

When writing a mystery series, the essential component is a sleuth to solve the crime. Here, the author is presented with two possibilities: professional detective or amateur sleuth. It all circles back to character and the story that the author has in mind for him or her. For my series, I chose the amateur sleuth. My protagonists are journalist Emmeline Kirby and jewel thief Gregory Longdon.

 

 

Business, internet, technology concept.Businessman chooses Inves

 

 

 

 

Why a journalist? A journalist is inherently curious about many subjects. His or her job is to ask questions to uncover the truth and ensure transparency. Naturally, a journalist would be intrigued by crime, especially murder. The determination to find answers and see that justice is served are all important.

 

Now, how does a jewel thief fit into the model of a sleuth? Aren’t lying and evading the law a thief’s modus operandi? Isn’t this in stark contrast to a journalist’s reverence for the truth and justice? Most definitely, but that’s exactly the point. A portrait in contrasts. Who better than someone on the wrong side of the law to discern the twisted workings of a fellow criminal’s mind? A thief immediately recognizes things that the honest person would never even contemplate. In Gregory’s case, he has a certain code of honor. Murder is an offensive transgression. A line that should never be crossed. Thus, I have two diametrically opposed sleuths who are of one mind when it comes to the taking of a human life: the culprit must pay for the crime, otherwise chaos would reign in the world.

 

Meanwhile to round out my ensemble, I have Chief Inspector Oliver Burnell and Sergeant Jack Finch of Scotland Yard. They represent “the law” in all its gravitas. While their job is to hunt down criminals, sometimes the law’s constraints chafe and make their task more difficult. That’s why I have Gregory. He is Burnell’s nemesis. They have an adversarial, cat-and- mouse relationship. As a thief, Gregory has more flexibility to maneuver and never misses an opportunity to needle the chief inspector. Burnell, for his part, has been thwarted in his many attempts at catching Gregory red-handed. Will he ever succeed? The jury is out on that question.

 

There are myriad things to consider when delving into the essence of what makes a captivating and appealing character. The author must much achieve a delicate balance of shadow and light, intrigue and clarity, to give the story meaty substance and an air of authenticity. It’s an ongoing challenge, but one that you as a writer have to explore in every book as you seek to make readers truly care about your characters. Once readers make an emotional connection, you have them hooked because that means they want to know the story behind the character.

 

 

 

 

Daniella Bernett Author Photo

 

 

 

Daniella Bernett is a member of the Mystery Writers of America NY Chapter. She graduated summa cum laude with a B.S. in Journalism from St. John’s University. Lead Me Into Danger, Deadly Legacy and From Beyond The Grave are the first three books in the Emmeline Kirby Gregory Longdon mystery series. She also is the author of two poetry collections, Timeless Allure and Silken Reflections. In her professional life, she is the research manager for a nationally prominent engineering, architectural and construction management firm. Daniella is currently working on Emmeline and Gregory’s next adventure.

 

Visit www.daniellabernett.com or follow her on Facebook at Facebook or on Goodreads

 

 

 

 

What Is Suspense by Crime Writer Sue Coletta

Suspense film. Serie géneros cinematográficos.

 

 

What is Suspense?

 

Suspense arises from our readers anticipation of what’s about to occur. They worry, even fear, what will happen to the characters they love.

To build suspense, we need to raise our readers concern over how our POV characters’ plans can go array. Ever hear this comment when talking books with a friend? Nothing really happened so I stopped reading. I’ve put down numerous books for the same reason, and some by authors who are household names, authors who should know better. But that’s the thing about suspense. It’s not easy to hold our readers hostage for 300 pages. By employing the following techniques we have a better shot of grabbing them by the throat. Then it’s just a matter of not letting go.

 

“Show that something terrible is about to happen, then postpone the resolution to sustain the suspense.” ~ Writer’s Digest

 

 

 

Promise Word on Green Puzzle.

 

 

 

Promises, Promises

Every book makes a promise to the reader. The difference between concept and premise is, something happens to the main POV characters that disrupts their lives. If you’re not familiar with the difference between concept and premise, there’s no one better to learn from than Larry Brooks. He has several posts on the subject, including this 3-minute workshop video.

Rather than asking yourself, “What should happen next?” Try: “What can I promise that’ll go wrong? Problems that will bring my characters to their knees.”

The central dramatic story question promises an intriguing quest.

By making promise after promise, we keep our readers engaged. Don’t tell the reader, of course. Instead, hint at the trouble to come; tease the reader into finding out. Do it right away, too. We need to establish our CDSQ on page one. If we can accomplish it in the first paragraph, all the better.

Every promise, no matter how minor, should either setup or pay off a future scene. Once a promise is paid, make another. The largest promises, like the central dramatic story question, should be paid off in the climax.

For an example of a CDSQ, let’s look at Wings of Mayhem.

After unknowingly stealing his trophy box, can Shawnee Daniels a forensic police hacker by day; cat burglar by night, stop the serial killer who’s destroying her life before he murders everyone she loves?

If your story drags, it’s often due to the lack of tension and/or suspense. In other words, you haven’t made your reader worry enough. How can we fix a dragging plot? By making bigger, more important, promises. Promises that will devastate our hero and secondary characters. Promises they might never recover from.

 

 

 

Strategy on Pocket Watch Face.

 

 

 

Don’t Give Away Too Much Too Soon

This is a story killer. Don’t explain what’s happening, or why. Trust the reader to figure it out on their own. I realize it’s not always easy. After all, we know what will happen next (at least we should), and we can hardly wait for the reader to find out.

Trust me on this. Keep it to yourself for as long as possible.

No info. dumps! Just because we know our characters’ backgrounds does not mean our readers need to know it. Share what’s relevant to the story, or enough about the POV characters so the reader can empathize with them. Sprinkle the information throughout the story rather than dumping it all at once.

 

Characters’ Goals

“To create powerful suspense, make your hero face her greatest fear, and risk losing the thing that matters most to her.” ~ Dan Brown

No matter how we try to build suspense, if our readers don’t care about our characters, we’re sunk. Contrary to belief, the reader doesn’t have to like our characters, but they do need to empathize with them. That’s the key word: empathy.

For three-dimensional characters, we need to know their backgrounds, flaws, world views, religious beliefs, causes they support/protest, fears, concerns, mannerisms, dialect, profession, childhood, history with other characters, how they look, how they act in difficult situations, how they dress, nervous tics, scars, tattoos, favorite music, food, I could go on and on. We don’t need to show all these things, but we do need to know our characters as well as ourselves in order to slip into their skin.

To build suspense the character must have goals that really matter to them. What does she want it, and why? What happens if she doesn’t get it? What’s standing in her way? A strong hero needs a strong opponent. If our character is more timid, then we better make sure she desperately needs to achieve her goal. If she doesn’t do X, then Y will happen. Y is bad. The reader doesn’t want Y to happen. Hence, they stiffen up and pay attention. Bam! You’ve just built suspense.

 

 

“A murder is not suspense. An abduction with the threat of a murder is.” ~ Brian Klems

 

 

Violence, Where and When?

I love this quote from Brian Klems, because it’s so true. The act of violence isn’t suspenseful. The snapping of twigs as our character stumbles through the darkened forest, knowing the killer could attack at any moment is suspenseful. Or the squeaky floorboard on the second floor when the character is home alone. The phone ringing in the middle of the night. A knock at the one door the character never uses. Footfalls gaining on the character when they’ve wandered off the hiking trail. Tires screeching around the corner, the headlights appearing in the rear view mirror seconds later. The click of a shotgun in the deadly quiet milieu. A single flame that shoots from the tip of a lighter in the dark. The possibilities are endless.

 

 

Sentence Rhythm

Our sentence rhythm should match the reader’s emotion. Many of us do this automatically. Ever notice when you’re writing a suspenseful scene how you’ll pound the keyboard? When you’re slowing the pace, your fingers glide over the keys. Same holds true for sentence rhythm. Fragmented, staccato sentences quicken the pace. Long, run-on sentences tend to slow it down. As with most things in writing, though, there’s an exception. You can use run-ons to increase suspense if you vary the sentences with shorter ones.

 

Example from MARRED:

Adrenaline masked my pain, and I sprinted from room to room, closed and secured all the windows and double-checked the locks on the front and back doors, bolted upstairs, and pressed my foot on the sliders’ security bar. Colt and Ruger watched me zip around the house, not knowing what was wrong. Ruger gave up and laid his head on crossed paws while Colt bounded over and stayed on my heels.

When I returned to the kitchen table, the phone rang again. My gaze locked on the handset, and I froze. Colt’s face ping-ponged between me and the phone. He put the pieces together in his mind, trotted over, and knocked the receiver off the cradle, gently clasped the handset in his lips and carried it to me. By using his training to aid me, he was trying to help, but at that moment, it was the last thing I wanted him to do.

I didn’t speak.

Mix staccato and fragmented sentences with longer sentences to create an overall effect of balance and maintain rhythm in your writing. Is every sentence in the scene the same length? The reader will fall asleep.

 

 

 

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Scene and Sequel Structure and Motivation-Reaction Units

I’ve discussed these subjects several times, so I won’t repeat the tips here. You can find a couple of the posts here: Importance of MRUsScene and Sequel in Action.

 

Start Late, End Early 

Start each scene with a story question, intrigue, or conflict. Our goal is to arouse the curiosity of our reader. Keep them guessing. (Start late) If we make it easy on them, and answer all their questions at once, there’s no reason for them to keep reading.

We can’t wrap up our scene in a nice little bow, either. That’ll undo everything we’ve worked so hard to accomplish, to hook them in the first place. Rather, end on a note of uncertainty, or with a new challenge. (End early)

 

Scene Cuts or Jump Cuts

This is a cinematic technique that can work in any genre. Create a series of short, unresolved incidents that occur in rapid succession. Stop at a critical point and jump to a different scene, maybe at a different time and place, maybe with different characters.  For example, we could pick up a scene where we left off earlier. Or switch from protagonist to antagonist. Or from one tense scene to another. Rapid alternations keep the reader in a state of suspense.

 

Micro-Tension

Micro-tension is the moment-by-moment tension that keeps readers in suspense over what’ll happen in the next second. The Fire in Fiction by Donald Maas is a fantastic resource that discusses micro-tension. When the emotional friction between characters reaches a boiling point we’ve built suspense. Keep in mind, the characters don’t have to be enemies. Husband and wife. Tension between partners. Parent and child. Micro-tension is added in numerous ways. An easy way is with dialogue.

 

 

 

Sue Coletta author pic

 

Member of Mystery Writers of America, Sisters in Crime, and International Thriller Writer, Sue Coletta is a bestselling, award-winning author of psychological thriller/mysteries. In 2017, Feedspot awarded her Murder Blog as one of the Top 50 Crime Blogs on the net. Sue’s also the communications manager for Forensic Science and the Serial Killer Project. She’s also a proud member of the Kill Zone, where she blogs every other Monday. Learn more about Sue and her books at

 

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Breaking News: On Becoming Jessica Fletcher by Jon Land

Breaking News Screen over red background

 

 

 

ON BECOMING JESSICA FLETCHER

 

I got the call from my agent on a Sunday afternoon last May.

“Don Bain isn’t well,” he said, referring to another client who’d penned all 46 titles in the Murder, She Wrote series. “He’s not going to be able to write the MURDER SHE WROTE books anymore. Would you be interested in taking the series over?”

It took me all of two seconds to respond. “Absolutely,” I said.

Of course, at that point I had no idea what I was in for because I’d never read a single book in the series, although I was a huge fan of the spectacularly successful television show on which they were based. I’d also never written in first person, much less from the viewpoint of a woman in her 60s. As a thriller author, I’d also never written a mystery, never mind a cozy.

 

 

 

Detective man and dangerous woman with a gun

 

 

 

Go figure, right?

But this isn’t a market to look a gift horse in the mouth. The opportunity was too great to pass up and I proceeded to craft a compelling argument to Don Bain, who I knew and greatly respected as a writer, that I was the right author to replace him, even though I couldn’t be sure at that point I was.

Fast forward almost a year . . . My first effort, A Date with Murder, will be published May 1 and response so far has been astoundingly positive. And I just turned in my second book writing as Jessica Fletcher, Manuscript for Murder, which is slated for publication in November. What’s happened in between has been among the best, and most fortuitous, experiences of my entire career.

How exactly, though, does a long-time, hardcore thriller author transition to softer mysteries with a far lower body count and when the country or even the world are not at stake?

 

 

 

 

Plot - Gold text on black background - 3D rendered stock picture.

 

 

 

Glad you asked! Fortunately, Don had worked with his grandson Zach, who’d become a crucial collaborator for me, on the first 60 or so pages of A Date with Murder. Enough to give me a notion as to the story and, more importantly, a direct link to Jessica’s voice. Finding that voice myself, in my own head, became the first challenge. But it was one that came to me with surprising ease and in true organic fashion. Getting into Jessica’s head became as simple as channeling Angela Lansbury from the classic TV show. I pictured her behind every page, speaking every line.

My mother was also a fan of the show and she plays a big part in all this too, thanks to her subscribing to the Mystery Guild, a book club that provided front list titles in special editions. So our bookshelves were full of classic titles by Agatha Christie, Rex Stout, Earl Stanley Gardner, Ed McBain and many more, and in my early teens I devoured more of them than I can count. I can still remember some of those tales and I decided in writing the MURDER, SHE WROTE series that I’d try to recapture the same feeling I got in reading them.

No easy task, given the fact that Jessica Fletcher is almost without question America’s most famous (amateur) detective. More well-known than Hercule Poirot, Perry Mason and maybe even Sherlock Holmes, never mind the slew of wonderful modern-day sorts from Robert Parker’s Spenser to Sue Grafton’s Kinsey Milhone to Patricia Cornwall’s Kay Scarpetta. That’s a huge challenge for any writer, much less one used to penning only thrillers.

 

 

 

Don't Limit Your Challenges - Challenge Your Limits - Workout Motivation - Fitness Center - Motivational Quote - Sport Illustration - Inspirational - Card Calligraphy Art - Typography

 

 

 

Meanwhile, finding Jessica’s voice might’ve been my first challenge, but the next one was blending it with my own. My style makes great use of hooks, cliff-hangars, and plot twists—often so many of them you have to stop to catch your breath. Almost overnight, A Date with Murder transformed into a hybrid mystery-thriller. A mystery because Jessica is trying to solve the murder of a trusted friend; thriller because she ends up risking her own life to expose a nefarious plot connected to a sinister Internet dating service. I wasn’t going too far out on a limb because Don Bain’s books had often cast her in the role of crusader, solving a murder that hits close to home.

I went into the series knowing that first and foremost I needed to capture the series’ core audience that loves the bucolic setting of Cabot Cove and the regular, established cast of characters Jessica interacts with and plays off of. For the dialogue, I relied on the quick, tart and witty exchanges between Angela Lansbury and the late, great Jerry Orbach as Harry McGraw or Ron Masak as Sheriff Mort Metzger. I wasn’t out to reinvent the wheel, you see, just make it churn a little faster. I’m not sure what was more amazing: How swiftly I took to the process or how naturally Jessica’s words and thoughts started to flow for me.

I wanted to make the series mine, put my stamp on it. But MURDER, SHE WROTE doesn’t belong to me and never will. It belongs to the tens of millions of readers and viewers who’ve come to cherish the stories, watching or reading them over and over again while trying to keep up with Jessica Fletcher. Like all great fictional heroes, she’s timeless, ageless, eternal. After me, someone else no doubt will take the reins of this series. While they’re in my hands, though, I’m grateful for the opportunity enjoy the ride at the same time I give you and all readers the best one I can.

So is A Date with Murder a cozy, a mystery, a thriller? You know, I’m not sure. I do know that I had a blast writing it and here’s hoping you have a blast reading it.

 

 

 

 

Jon Land Author pic

 

 

 

Since his first book was published in 1983, Jon Land has written twenty-eight novels, seventeen of which have appeared on national bestseller lists. He began writing technothrillers before Tom Clancy put them in vogue, and his strong prose, easy characterization, and commitment to technical accuracy have made him a pillar of the genre.

Land spent his college years at Brown University, where he convinced the faculty to let him attempt writing a thriller as his senior honors thesis. Four years later, his first novel, The Doomsday Spiral, appeared in print. In the last years of the Cold War, he found a place writing chilling portrayals of threats to the United States, and of the men and women who operated undercover and outside the law to maintain U.S. security. His most successful of those novels were the nine starring Blaine McCracken, a rogue CIA agent and former Green Beret with the skills of James Bond but none of the Englishman’s tact.

In 1998 Land published the first novel in his Ben and Danielle series, comprised of fast-paced thrillers whose heroes, a Detroit cop and an Israeli detective, work together to protect the Holy Land, falling in love in the process. He has written seven of these so far. The most recent, The Last Prophecy, was released in 2004.

Recently, RT Book Reviews gave Jon a special prize for pioneering genre fiction, and his short story “Killing Time” was shortlisted for the 2010 Dagger Award for best short fiction and included in 2010’s The Best American Mystery Stories. Land is currently writing Blood Strong, his fourth novel to feature Texas Ranger Caitlin Strong—a female hero in a genre which, Land has said, has too few of them. The second book in the series, Strong Justice (2010), was named a Top Thriller of the Year by Library Journal and runner-up for Best Novel of the Year by the New England Book Festival. The third, Strong at the Break, will be released this year, and the fourth, Blood Strong, will follow in 2012. His first nonfiction book, Betrayal, written with Robert Fitzpatrick, tells the behind-the-scenes story of a deputy FBI chief attempting to bring down Boston crime lord Whitey Bulger, and will also be released in 2011.

 

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Talks on Reading & Book Recommendations with Cozy Mystery Author Ritter Ames

Recommendation / Würfel mit Symbole

 

 

 

 

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Today we some great book recommendations from Author Ritter Ames. 

 

Ritter Ames is the USA Today bestselling author who writes the fast-paced suspense Bodies of Art mystery series and the cozy Organized Mysteries series. She focuses most of her time and writing energies on globe-trotting the world via her keyboard to create memorable characters and fascinating fiction novels for readers.

 

“You enter a new world every time you open a book.” – Kiersten Fay

 

 

 

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One of the biggest drawbacks of getting a writing contract—and I’m not the only author who’ll tell you this—is that it really cuts back on your reading time. I mean, I started writing to help justify and pay for the cost of my reading habit, and while I love writing, I really miss all the extra reading time I used to have, sitting in my comfy reading chair. Each evening, however, I make sure I allocate time to read, no matter how busy I am or how many deadlines I’m working under—because, truly, no one wants to be around me if I have to go too long without reading a good book. There are some books and authors I simply have no willpower when there’s a new book in the offing. Here are a few I can never wait to read…

 

I’m an eclectic reader, but since I write mysteries, I tend to read more of that genre than anything else. Right now, I have the ARC of the newest Larissa Reinhart series calling out to me, THE CUPID CAPER, and I’ve already read the first scene and cannot wait to read more. I also have to read the latest Bryant and May title by Christopher Fowler as soon as it’s released—while the next isn’t due out until December, I may have to reread a few of the older titles while I’m waiting. And speaking of new titles waiting, I reread a favorite series each summer and this year was already scheduled for the Amelia Peabody series by Elizabeth Peters (I have all but the first three in hardcover), but when THE PAINTED QUEEN by Joan Hess was release last year I almost caved and reread the series early to prepare for it. However, I was already committed to rereading the Jackson Brodie series by Kate Atkinson—the series starts with the book CASE HISTORIES—and my best-laid plans won out, so now I have my summer plans set and THE PAINTED QUEEN waiting to finally be read about a year after purchase. But before I start my summer reading binge, I’ll be cracking open CHARMED BONES, the spring release by Carolyn Haines in her Sarah Booth Delaney series—one of my absolute favorites.

 

 

 

 

The cupid caper Larissa Reinhart

 

 

Available April 24, 2018 Pre-order now

 

Sassy, Sexy, Southern Suspense
She uses her criminal past to catch crooks. He wants her back. In the grift. And in his life. Can Finley Goodhart convince Lex that doing good is the greatest hustle of all?

Ex-grifter Finley Goodhart may try to stay on the straight and narrow, but walking that thin line becomes wobbly when she believes her friend Penny was murdered. The last thing she wants is to work with her ex-partner (and ex-boyfriend), the brilliant (brilliantly frustrating) British con artist, Lex Leopold. However, when it appears Penny’s demise might be related to an exclusive matchmaking service for millionaires, Fin needs Lex’s help to pull a long con to get the goods on Penny.

Romance is in the air for hustlers, gangsters, and their marks. Unfortunately for Fin and Lex, infiltrating the racket doesn’t make for a match made in heaven. This Valentine swindle could stop their hearts for good.

Related subjects include: crime capers, soft-boiled mysteries, organized crime, amateur sleuths, mystery caper, Atlanta-based mystery, light noir, cozy mysteries, women sleuths, murder mystery series, whodunit mysteries (whodunnit), humorous murder mysteries, book club recommendations, amateur sleuth books, small town humor, Southern humor, comic (humorous) crime and mystery, con artist, small town and rural.

 

 

 

Hall of Mirrors

 

Available Dec. 4, 2018 Pre-order now

 

The year is 1969 and ten guests are about to enjoy a country house weekend at Tavistock Hall. But one amongst them is harbouring thoughts of murder. . .

The guests also include the young detectives Arthur Bryant and John May – undercover, in disguise and tasked with protecting Monty Hatton-Jones, a whistle-blower turning Queen’s evidence in a massive bribery trial. Luckily, they’ve got a decent chap on the inside who can help them – the one-armed Brigadier, Nigel ‘Fruity’ Metcalf.

The scene is set for what could be the perfect country house murder mystery, except that this particular get-together is nothing like a Golden Age classic. For the good times are, it seems, coming to an end. The house’s owner – a penniless, dope-smoking aristocrat – is intent on selling the estate (complete with its own hippy encampment) to a secretive millionaire but the weekend has only just started when the millionaire goes missing and murder is on the cards. But army manoeuvres have closed the only access road and without a forensic examiner, Bryant and May can’t solve the case. It’s when a falling gargoyle fells another guest that the two incognito detectives decide to place their future reputations on the line. And in the process discover that in Swinging Britain nothing is quite what it seems…

So gentle reader, you are cordially invited to a weekend in the country. Expect murder, madness and mayhem in the mansion!

 

 

 

The Painted Queen

 

Amazon

 

Amelia Peabody #20

 

Egypt, 1912—Amelia Peabody and her dashing archeologist husband, Radcliffe Emerson, are once again in danger as they search for a priceless, stolen bust of legendary Queen Nefertiti and Amelia finds herself the target of assassins in this long-awaited, eagerly anticipated final installment of Elizabeth Peters’ bestselling, beloved mystery series.

Arriving in Cairo for another thrilling excavation season, Amelia is relaxing in a well-earned bubble bath in her elegant hotel suite in Cairo, when a man with knife protruding from his back staggers into the bath chamber and utters a single word—”Murder”—before collapsing on the tiled floor, dead. Among the few possessions he carried was a sheet of paper with Amelia’s name and room number, and a curious piece of pasteboard the size of a calling card bearing one word: “Judas.” Most peculiarly, the stranger was wearing a gold-rimmed monocle in his left eye.

It quickly becomes apparent that someone saved Amelia from a would-be assassin—someone who is keeping a careful eye on the intrepid Englishwoman. Discovering a terse note clearly meant for Emerson—Where were you?”—pushed under their door, there can be only one answer: the brilliant master of disguise, Sethos.

But neither assassins nor the Genius of Crime will deter Amelia as she and Emerson head to the excavation site at Amarna, where they will witness the discovery of one of the most precious Egyptian artifacts: the iconic Nefertiti bust. In 1345 B.C. the sculptor Thutmose crafted the piece in tribute to the great beauty of this queen who was also the chief consort of Pharaoh Akhenaten and stepmother to King Tutankhamun.

For Amelia, this excavation season will prove to be unforgettable. Throughout her journey, a parade of men in monocles will die under suspicious circumstances, fascinating new relics will be unearthed, a diabolical mystery will be solved, and a brilliant criminal will offer his final challenge… and perhaps be unmasked at last.

 

 

 

Started Early Took my dog new pic

 

Amazon

 

Tracy Waterhouse leads a quiet, ordered life as a retired police detective-a life that takes a surprising turn when she encounters Kelly Cross, a habitual offender, dragging a young child through town. Both appear miserable and better off without each other-or so decides Tracy, in a snap decision that surprises herself as much as Kelly. Suddenly burdened with a small child, Tracy soon learns her parental inexperience is actually the least of her problems, as much larger ones loom for her and her young charge.

Meanwhile, Jackson Brodie, the beloved detective of novels such as Case Histories, is embarking on a different sort of rescue-that of an abused dog. Dog in tow, Jackson is about to learn, along with Tracy, that no good deed goes unpunished.

 

 

 

 

Charmed Bones

 

Available May 15, 2018 Pre-order now

 

USA Today bestselling author Carolyn Haines will once again delight readers with Charmed Bones, the next sparkling Sarah Booth Delaney mystery.

Zinnia, Mississippi is rife with quirky characters, but the arrival of three sister witches—and their intention to open a Wiccan boarding school—sets the small town on its ear. And bodies begin to accumulate as a result. Faith, Hope, and Charity Harrington are sexy and smart. They’re setting up their boarding school in an old dairy—a piece of property with tremendous development potential. And they’re standing in the way of “progress,” according to some in the town.

When young Corey Fontana goes missing, Delaney Detective Agency is hired to find the youth—who’s well known as a local hooligan. His mother, Kitten Fontana, who is married to the kind of land development, believes the witches have abducted her son and makes no bones about it. She’s willing to pay hard cash to find her son, especially if she can implicate the witches in his disappearance.

When Sarah Booth Delaney and her partner, Tinkie Richmond, find Corey, unharmed, it is only the beginning of a series of events that include midnight dances under a full moon, love potions, and murder. Are the sister witches criminals… or victims? Do they truly have magical powers, as they claim? Sarah Booth and Tinkie must find the answer before more people are harmed.

 

 

 

friends reading under sunshine lying on the meadow

 

 

 

 

 

An Ode to the Career of Narrator Dick Hill

Broadcasting.

 

 

 

*What experiences led you to become a narrator?

I was working onstage in a regional theater.  A colleague, a Brit, had been recording occasional classics (perhaps that should be “occasionally recording classics”.  As is it seems a bit unclear, like visiting a furniture store or brothel in search of an occasional piece.)  The audio publisher, Brilliance, was just moving from public domain work to newly published books.  They were looking for an American voice to record some sort of WWII combat novel, and he suggested I grab something in that genre and send them a demo.  I did that, on a crappy cassette recorder, recording in a closet.  I got the gig, and never looked back.  Much as I enjoyed conventional acting, I found this work much more appealing.  One of the chief attributes in my reckoning was that I got to play all the parts.  I always felt, completely unjustifiably, that’s what I should have been doing anyway.  (I am ruefully and somewhat embarrassingly chuckling as I write this)  Another great advantage was that the pay was better.

 

 

 

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*How long have you been narrating?

Thirty some years?  Not really sure.

 

*Was it hard to retire after being so successful?

Not in the least.  I’d had a long career, been lucky enough to garner some awards, and made a decent living.  We live a fairly modest lifestyle, so I think we’ll be okay without the income.  Although there was great fun and reward in meeting the various challenges, doing the best job possible serving some great, even brilliant works, or facing the task of elevating some not so great, I was ready to move on to the different challenges of becoming an artist.  In that pursuit I know I will never rise to the level of competence, or garner the awards and recognition I achieved behind the mike, that’s okay.  The exhilaration I find painting, the freedom to tackle anything I want in any style I want, is fulfilling.  No chance I’ll ever become complacent, little chance I’ll ever rise above the level of enthusiastic amateur, but that’s okay.  And luckily I don’t need to make money at it, though there’s a special rush the few times someone wants to buy a piece.  I am quite excited at the prospect of  dismantling my recording booth and claiming the extra space to make my studio/office a bit larger.   

 

 

 

mixing paint

 

 

 

*What are some things you’ll miss the most? 

The people.  Authors, directors and other narrators I’ve come to know, many wonderful folks at the various publishers I’ve worked for.  Most of those relationships are online for the past dozen or more years because I built my own home studio where I work with my wife Susie Breck (an award winning narrator and director in her own right) and simply upload the work to the east or west coast and points in between.  I’ll maintain those.

 

 

*Name some things you’ll miss the least. 

The occasional clunkers.  Although I jealously guarded right of refusal on works I found objectionable (the biography of Sheriff Joe Arpaio?  Not a feckin’ chance boy-o) or revealed themselves as being inferior or not to my taste, some so-so or worse stuff gets through.  Having worked with so many truly gifted authors and accomplished pros we are acutely aware of those who fall too short of that level.  And poorly edited work.  Even the best writers may sometimes have some little problematic thing, typos, a misstated fact etc.  The top notch pros were happy to hear from us if we came across something, and quite willing to fix it if the determined we had something that needed fixing, and weren’t just full of shit.  Proud to say that didn’t happen often.  However a surprising number of works come through with not just typos, spelling errors, but terribly clumsy downright crappy groaners and plotting and pacing sins that jumped off the page.  We’d sometimes wonder who the hell, if anybody, edited the work.  

 

 

 

 

Grief, man covering fsce and crying

 

 

 

*Did you have any favorite characters?

Indeed.  Jack Reacher certainly is a favorite, by dint of long association the great skill Lee Child has in creating this dependably interesting and satisfying anti-hero.  Lee’s rhythms lend themselves to audio.  Stephen White’s Dr. Alan Gregory series featured a supporting character that may have been an all time favorite in Detective Sam Purdy.  I’ve done over a thousand books and found great characters to voice in many of them.  I did Ed McBain’s 87th Precinct books, thirty or so, the first ensemble police procedurals, that featured a score of characters who showed up regularly, and who we really got to know and cultivate.  Voicing some of the classics, Dickens, some of the Russians, gave me the opportunity to do some of the all time greats of literature.  And Twain, particularly Huck and Jim.  I recorded that, my favorite work in the world, three times for different publishers.  I think some are still available.  That work was not only great, it was and is important.  Never told the publishers, but I’d have done that one for free.  

 

 

 

The Midnight line auido image

 

 

 

Reacher takes a stroll through a small Wisconsin town and sees a class ring in a pawn shop window: West Point 2005. A tough year to graduate: Iraq, then Afghanistan. The ring is tiny, for a woman, and it has her initials engraved on the inside. Reacher wonders what unlucky circumstance made her give up something she earned over four hard years. He decides to find out. And find the woman. And return her ring. Why not?

So begins a harrowing journey that takes Reacher through the upper Midwest, from a lowlife bar on the sad side of small town to a dirt-blown crossroads in the middle of nowhere, encountering bikers, cops, crooks, muscle, and a missing persons PI who wears a suit and a tie in the Wyoming wilderness.

The deeper Reacher digs, and the more he learns, the more dangerous the terrain becomes. Turns out the ring was just a small link in a far darker chain. Powerful forces are guarding a vast criminal enterprise. Some lines should never be crossed. But then, neither should Reacher.

 

 

*What was it like working with so many great authors? 

Great.  Great authors tend to be great professionals and generous open minded people eager to collaborate when needed, willing to recognize that a narrator can bring something of value to the table, and to trust us at what we do.  Some authors try to direct with precise suggestions about how the work should be handled.  Those are usually hacks.

 

 

*What’s next for you?

Painting.  Every day painting.  I fall asleep thinking about it, wake up, brew coffee, and get into it.  Not always putting paint on the canvas, but staring at the pieces I have going, noting fuckups, determining what to do next, lamenting the limitations of skill and understanding, marveling at the work of others so available online, speaking with artist friends and learning from them, cursing the tremor I’ve had for decades.  Sometimes doing something I’m actually pleased with.  It’s an all engrossing, exhilarating, marvelous pursuit.  I also greatly enjoy working in the kitchen, not a gourmet cook, but a pretty decent one who delights in having good knives and cookware, a decent stove, and ready access to an incredible variety of wonderful mostly organic foods.

 

 

Paint splash

 

 

 

 

Oil painting of  eiffel tower, france, art work

 

 

 

Dick Hill has had the pleasure of working with authors such as Michael Connelly, Lee Child, Arthur C. Clarke, Tim Tigner, Greg Iles, Douglas Preston, Lincoln Child, Randy White, Bill Walsh, Dean Koontz, W.E.B. Griffin, Nora Roberts, Andrew Peterson, Randy Wayne White, Terry Brooks, F. Scott Fitzgerald, Anne McCaffrey, Mark Twain, Bob Knight, J.A. Konrath, Rad Bradbury, Catherine Coulter, David Ignatius, Fyodor Dostoevsky, Ed Mcbain, Stephen Coonts, David Ellis, Jack Higgins, Russell Blake, Stephen White, Nelson Demille, and many more!

 

He has narrated everything from the Bible, history, sports, mysteries, thrillers, fantasy, comedy, religion to Plato.  When I first approached Dick for an interview after his retirement I had no idea how decorated he actually was. Legendary actually. His body of work is truly amazing and will be a voice not soon forgotten.

 

 

 

 

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Writer’s Block: Can You Use it as a Tool? By Melinda Leigh

Metallic Wrecking Ball Shattering Wall

 

 

 

Writer’s Block: Can You Use it as a Tool?

Writing is both fulfilling and frustrating. There are days, that no matter how much I want and need to make progress on a book, I am unable to put words on the page. Or, if I do force myself to write, every word feels wrong. I know I’ll be deleting most of them the next day.

When I first starting writing, this terrified me. But over the past ten years, I’ve learned that writer’s block is my subconscious telling me that something has gone wrong in my book. There a plot hole issue or a problem with a character arc. I need to back up and reassess.

 

 

 

The 3D guy got over the challenge

 

 

 

I often will go back to the beginning and read the entire manuscript. So that I don’t feel as if I’m wasting time, I use this time to edit. When I return to the stopping point, sometimes I’ve recognized the problem and put the book back on track. If I’m still stuck, I reach out to a writer friend and talk through the issue.

So next time you’re struggling with writer’s block, give your WIP a good edit. Reassess your plot, make sure your characters are following their arcs, and then reach out to a friend to talk about why you’re having trouble. It’s possible your story has wandered off course and needs to be redirected.

 

 

 

 

Traffic cop

 

 

 

 

 

 

Melinda Leigh image

 

Amazon Charts and Wall Street Journal bestselling author Melinda Leigh is a fully recovered banker. A life-long lover of books, she started writing as a way to preserve her sanity while raising her kids. Over the next few years, she learned a few things about writing a book. The process was much more fun than analyzing financial statements, and she decided to turn her hobby into a career. Melinda’s debut novel, SHE CAN RUN, was nominated for Best First Novel by the International Thriller Writers. She is a RITA® Award Finalist and has earned three Daphne du Maurier Award nominations, Two Silver Falchion Awards, and Two Golden Leaf Awards.

Melinda holds a 2nd degree belt in Kenpo Karate. She’s dabbled in Arnis stick fighting, studied Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu, and taught women’s self-defense. She lives in a messy house in the suburbs with her husband, two kids, a couple of shelter dogs and two rescue cats who clearly run the show. With such a pleasant life, she has no explanation for the sometimes dark and disturbing nature of her imagination. Find out more about Melinda by visiting melindaleigh.com.

 

 

Interview with Author Caroline England

Interview Microphone Cord Wire Word Radio Podcast Discussion

 

 

 

Caroline England author image

 

 

Born Yorkshire lass, Caroline studied Law at the University of Manchester and stayed over the border. Caroline became a partner in a Solicitors’ practice and started writing when she deserted the law to bring up her three lovely daughters. In addition to the publication of her short story collection, Watching Horsepats Feed the Roses by ACHUKAbooks, Caroline has had short stories and poems published in a variety of literary magazines and anthologies. Her debut novel, Beneath the Skin, was published by Avon HarperCollins on 5 October 2017. My Husband’s Lies will be published by Avon HarperCollins on 3 May 2018

 

 

How are things in the UK? Greetings from Ohio!
Greetings from Manchester! Things are great, thank you, though you know that us Brits have to talk about the weather! We’ve had late snow and a lot of rain so far this year. Spring is trying to push through, but it’s still pretty soggy. Still, I can hear the evening birds singing as I type.

 

*What attributes best characterize your writing style?
The more I write, the more my conversational style of writing kicks in. I think this comes from writing in a close third person point of view. I hope this helps readers to become intimate with my characters and be able to get under their skin.

 

*Describe how you came to name your book Beneath the Skin and how it relates to the story.
This follows on nicely from your previous question! I felt Beneath the Skin was a perfect title on various levels and I was so pleased that the publishers didn’t want to change it. Firstly – for the reason I just mentioned – I wanted to explore what was going on inside the character’s heads – their motivations, their weaknesses, their fears and desires. The veneer of each character was different to how they actually were. For example (without giving spoilers!) Antonia was apparently ‘perfect’ but she felt damaged inside; David’s bonhomie hid a childhood tragedy; Sophie’s nonchalance concealed her real fear of losing her man; Sami’s arrogance and conceit masked the fat spoilt child he once was; Mike’s Irish blarney hid the black dog of depression; Alice’s impatience disguised her loss of identity as a individual rather than just a mum. Other title-related themes were self harming by cutting skin, beauty only being skin deep and the colour of skin/racial identity.

 

*What’s your process like for writing books?
I mull for a while and have some vague ideas of characters and where I’d like the story to ultimately go. Then I start to write, get beneath the skin (there we go again!) of the characters and let them take me on a journey to the end of the story!

 

 

 

Process Definition Magnified Showing Result From Actions Or Functions

 

 

 

*Do you have a fascination with secrets?
Clearly I must have. All my novels have them! However…Everybody has a secret. Yes, you do! A study revealed that the average person keeps thirteen secrets, five of which he or she has never shared with anyone. Go on, count them! They can range from those little things many people do that don’t really feel illegal, such as nicking a five pence plastic bag without paying, or exaggerating expenses at work, to major crimes such as hit and run incidents or even murder. Then there are affairs, betrayals and hidden relationships, with devastating consequences, to easy small lies to cover up mundane events such as covertly looking for another job or concealing the early weeks of a pregnancy. Or perhaps a person’s secret is simple unhappiness. Don’t we all do it sometimes? Put on our bright facade for the Facebook posts and photos to hide the occasional dissatisfaction with our lives?

Then there’s those family secrets which only come out when great Auntie Ethel has too much sherry at Christmas. You know, when you spurt out your bucks fizz in surprise – your Grandad was a bigamist; your dad and mum married when she was five months pregnant with your older sister, your cousin’s on the game…

 

*In your new book, My Husband’s Lies, who are Nick & Lisa?

 

Known as the A Team at school, Nick, Dan, Will and Jen have been close friends for years. Although Nick has an older brother, he found it difficult to break free from his parents until he met Lisa, a no-nonsense nurse. The story opens at Nick and Lisa’s wedding, a happy day which is thrown into chaos when a guest is spotted on the reception hotel window ledge, ready to jump.

 

 

 

 

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*How do you create characters? Are they based off of real people?

 

I’m a bit like Frankenstein, I build my characters from scraps of people I know, people I read about and listen to, things I watch on the TV or read in newspapers, mixed with a huge dollop of imagination. They’re certainly not based on one real person, so if anyone out there thinks a character is them – no they are not!

 

*What’s the core dilemma in this book?

 

Making choices! Seminal events occur at Nick and Lisa’s wedding which causes their lives to dramatically change and secrets unravel. By the end of the story Jen, Nick, Will and Dan have to make touch choices. Though they are now in their early thirties, I see this as a coming of age drama in many ways – finally growing up.

 

*The title My Husband’s Lies says a lot. Can you say a bit more about this?

 

The title is generic – it doesn’t apply to one character! It’s a ‘domestic noir’ story, a compelling tale of friendship and love, secrets, betrayal and lies with an LGBT element. When the A Team gather for Nick’s and Lisa’s wedding, their ordinary lives are thrown into chaos. As the unstoppable chain of events ensues, untruths, family secrets, illicit love and perfidy are unravelled, pushing their relationships with their partners to the limit.

 

*Do you think you’ll ever write a legal thriller?

 

I have! I have written two books called Time is of the Essence and Truth is a Complete Defence which I would love to see published! The sardonic protagonist is lawyer called Natalie Bach who returns to her old law firm after a five year absence and a broken heart. Practising her self-styled feminism, she faces personal and legal conundrums. With the help of her old law college pal Gavin Savage, she eventually unravels complex cases and crimes!

 

 

Caroline England author image

 

 

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Beneath the Skin

 

Amazon | Goodreads

 

 

My Husband's Lies

 

 

Release date May 17, 2018 Pre-order now

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Book Recommendations with Fictionophile – Part 2

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“A library is a hospital for the mind.” 

 

 

 

Hospital surgery room image MTW

 

 

 

Book blogger and reviewer Lynne (a.k.a. Fictionophile)  shares with us some great book recommendations. I don’t know about you, but I LOVE a good recommendation. Have at it!

Fictionophile – noun – a lover of fiction; one who loves to read, discuss, and collect novels. 

 

 

Sometimes I Lie amazon image

 

Amazon

 

My name is Amber Reynolds. There are three things you should know about me: 
1. I’m in a coma. 
2. My husband doesn’t love me anymore. 
3. Sometimes I lie. 

Amber wakes up in a hospital. She can’t move. She can’t speak. She can’t open her eyes. She can hear everyone around her, but they have no idea. Amber doesn’t remember what happened, but she has a suspicion her husband had something to do with it. Alternating between her paralyzed present, the week before her accident, and a series of childhood diaries from twenty years ago, this brilliant psychological thriller asks: Is something really a lie if you believe it’s the truth?

 

 

 

The New Neighbors

 

Amazon

 

The Girl Before meets The Couple Next Door in a Hitchcockian thriller about a couple who moves into their dream neighborhood only to discover nothing is as it seems…

The perfect couple. The perfect house. The perfect crime.

Londoners Jack and Syd found their dream home: lots of space, a great location, and a friendly owner who wanted a young couple to have it.

Everything is exactly what they hoped for when they move in–except Jack makes a disturbing discovery in the attic, and Syd begins to wonder about the girl next door. And they each keep the other in the dark.

A mistake.

Because someone has just been killed outside their back door, and now the police are watching them.

This is their chance to prove they’re innocent–or to get away with murder.

Whose story do you believe?

 

 

 

Snap by Belinda Bauer

 

Available July 3, 2018 Pre-order now

 

‘The best crime novel I’ve read in a very long time.’ VAL MCDERMID

Snap is the best kind of crime novel – it gives you chills, it makes you think, and it touches your heart. I loved it!’ SARAH PINBOROUGH, No.1 bestselling author of Behind Her Eyes

SNAP DECISIONS CAN BE FATAL . . .

On a stifling summer’s day, eleven-year-old Jack and his two sisters sit in their broken-down car, waiting for their mother to come back and rescue them. Jack’s in charge, she said. I won’t be long.

But she doesn’t come back. She never comes back. And life as the children know it is changed for ever.

Three years later, mum-to-be Catherine wakes to find a knife beside her bed, and a note that says: I could have killed you.

Meanwhile Jack is still in charge – of his sisters, of supporting them all, of making sure nobody knows they’re alone in the house, and – quite suddenly – of finding out the truth about what happened to his mother.

But the truth can be a dangerous thing . . .

‘Original, pacy and thoroughly entertaining . . . a cracking read.’ CLARE MACKINTOSH, bestselling author of I Let You Go and I See You

PRAISE FOR BELINDA BAUER:

‘Belinda Bauer has shifted the boundaries of what makes a truly gripping, terrifying thriller. Imagine Thomas Harris crossed with Kate Atkinson and you still won’t be close . . . will leave you breathless.’ Daily Mirror

‘Belinda Bauer is a marvel. Her novels are almost indecently gripping and enjoyable.’ Sophie Hannah

‘Bauer’s victims are so beautifully illuminated . . . you sense their fears oozing off the page.’ Daily Express

‘Bauer sees deeper than most into people’s emotions.’ The Times

‘One of the leading names in crime fiction.’ Stylist

 

 

 

Anything for Her

 

Amazon

 

You’d do anything for the one that got away . . . wouldn’t you?

When Billy Orr returns home to spend time with his dying sister, he bumps into his ex-girlfriend Aimi, the love of his life. He might not have seen her in eleven years, but Billy’s never forgotten her. He’d do anything for her then, and he’d do anything for her now.

When Aimi tells him that she wants to escape her abusive husband, Billy agrees to help her fake her own death. But is she still the Aimi that Billy remembers from all those years ago?

Once Aimi disappears, Billy has to face the possibility that perhaps she had different reasons for disappearing – reasons that might be more dangerous than she’s led him to believe . . .

Sometimes trusting the one you love is the wrong thing to do.

 

 

 

Her Dark Retreat

 

Amazon

 

The coastguard’s residence Chamber Cottage, which sits high up on the North Yorkshire cliffs, overlooking The North Sea, holds many dark secrets.

Alec and Peggy are struggling to overcome their marital problems. Both damaged by issues from their childhoods, they are trying to get on with their lives. But this is hard for them to do when they both believe they are being watched. As a result, Peggy, who has terrible scars on her face, becomes more agoraphobic.

To make matters worse, Peggy discovers her estranged mother is stalking both she and Alec, claiming she has a dark secret that is putting Peggy in danger.

What caused the scars on Peggy’s face? Is Alec really the monster Peggy’s mother believes him to be? And what secrets does Chamber Cottage hold?

 

 

 

The Good Liar

 

#1 New Release Amazon

 

Can you hide a secret with the whole world watching?

When an explosion rips apart a Chicago building, the lives of three women are forever altered.

A year later, Cecily is in mourning. She was supposed to be in the building that day. Instead, she stood on the street and witnessed it going down, with her husband and best friend inside. Kate, now living thousands of miles away, fled the disaster and is hoping that her past won’t catch up with her. And Franny, a young woman in search of her birth mother, watched the horror unfold on the morning news, knowing that the woman she was so desperate to reconnect with was in the building.

Now, despite the marks left by the tragedy, they all seem safe. But as its anniversary dominates the media, the memories of that terrifying morning become dangerous triggers. All these women are guarding important secrets. Just how far will they go to keep them?

 

 

Book Recommendations with Fictionophile – Part 1

 

 

 

 

Writing, Rewriting, and Craft with Elena Hartwell

Colorful creative word

 

 

 

Writing, Rewriting, and Craft

By Elena Hartwell

As a novelist and playwright, I’m often asked where I get my ideas. Almost every writer I know gets this question, and I think we all feel the same. Ideas are never the problem. That’s the easy part. Ideas are a dime a dozen. The hard part, the magic part, is turning the idea into a polished, final manuscript.

 

The writing process varies wildly from author to author. Some write extensive, detailed outlines. Others sit down with an idea and write scenes on the fly. A number of writers fall somewhere in between, while they may not outline, neither do they sit down and write completely organically. They might write a synopsis or outline a chapter in advance.

 

The various combinations of these methods all work, depending on the writer and the project. There is no “wrong” way to write a novel. The “how” a writer works isn’t why their manuscript sells or doesn’t sell. The primary reason an author’s work has not yet sold is a lack of craft.

 

People who lack craft skills rarely sit down to write a novel. Or if they do, they can start, but never finish. Or if they do finish, they don’t rewrite. Or if they do rewrite, they quit after a single pass. Or, if they do continue to rewrite, they aren’t aware enough of craft to recognize the flaws in their own work. You get the picture. The problem is the writer stops too soon.

 

As a writing coach—I do one-on- one manuscript critiques as well as teaching workshops—there are some fundamental issues I see repeated in early drafts, over and over. These same issues show up in my own work, and probably on some level, in the early drafts of every writer out there. So the first thing aspiring writers can do to increase their chances of writing a successful manuscript, is learn how to identify these problems.

 

 

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The first is a lack of clear objectives, obstacles, and stakes. It’s not enough to have a dead body to write a mystery. Someone has to investigate the murder. The person investigating the murder has to need to solve the crime. If they don’t need to solve the crime (objective) there’s no tension about the investigation. If the solution doesn’t matter to the investigator, it won’t matter to the reader.

 

The sleuth also can’t solve the crime easily, that’s not dramatic. Various impediments (obstacles) have to appear, one after the other, to prevent the protagonist from catching the killer. The more the investigator has to overcome, the more satisfying to the reader when they do.

 

Lastly, it has to matter (stakes). For example, the protagonist with an internal struggle, coinciding with their investigation, is far more interesting than someone who simply goes through the motions of solving a crime.

 

The more important solving the case is to the protagonist, the more dangerous or difficult the journey, and the greater the importance to find the guilty party, the more invested a reader will be. That’s what keeps a reader turning pages.

 

 

The 3d guy got over the challenge

 

 

 

Complex protagonists will also have personal objectives, obstacles, and stakes to go along with their investigation. For example, a crumbling marriage, a child in danger, or overcoming an addiction are common tropes within the genre. When we know an investigator has to choose between catching a killer and saving their marriage, the stakes are high and we breathlessly turn each page waiting to see what the character chooses.

 

Another common error I find is a lack of structure. All stories have an underpinning structure. While there are variations to that structure, for the most part, especially in crime fiction, we start with the world as we know it, which is disrupted by a specific event, followed by rising action, where events pile one on top the other, each more important than the one that went before. This ends with a climactic scene, with the maximum danger to our hero or heroine, followed by a glimpse into the new world order for our characters.

 

If any of these parts are missing, the story can feel unfinished. For example, if we don’t have some sense of what the character’s life was before the intrusion, we don’t know what they are putting at risk. The “world before” can often be well hidden, it might not appear in the first chapter, but later in reflections the character makes as the story progresses, but usually a reader can identify it if they look for it.

 

The middle of a manuscript might falter if a lot of exciting things happen at the beginning, then nothing exciting follows. Rising action is important, because it builds dramatic tension, making it impossible to put the book down.

 

 

 

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Lastly, an ending can feel unsatisfying if we have no sense of the outcome. Readers don’t need everything tied up in a bow, but they do want the primary threads to be resolved enough to know what the character’s lives will be like after they read “the end.”

 

Dialogue can also be difficult to master. One of the most common problems I see is when authors have their characters say exactly what they feel and exactly what they mean. That doesn’t ring true. People lie all the time. We lie because it’s expedient, it benefits us in some way, it keeps us from hurting others, or we don’t want to get in trouble. We rarely say what we mean, we obfuscate, we dither, we agree out loud when disagreeing feels like a mistake. Dialogue works best when each character speaks distinctly from the others, through word choice, sentence length, grammatical accuracy, and the use of slang.

 

If a writer can identify just these specific problem areas in their own writing, their next draft will be a much tighter, more polished manuscript. It can feel overwhelming to try to identify and fix all the issues I’ve outlined at one time. My recommendation for writers is to choose one aspect and rewrite just for that. Heighten the stakes in one rewrite. Focus solely on dialogue for the next. Breaking down the process into smaller chunks can make each rewrite a more successful venture. This will help the writer get through a series of rewrites rather than attempting one and feeling like the mountain is too high to climb. My final piece of advice. Don’t give up. That’s the only difference between a published author and an unpublished one.

 

 

 

Elena Hartwell author photo with horse

 

Elena Hartwell was born in Bogota, Colombia, while her parents were in the Peace Corps. Her first word was “cuidado.” At the age of nine months, she told two men carrying a heavy table to be careful in their native tongue. She’s been telling people what to do ever since. After almost twenty years in the theater, Elena turned her playwriting skills to novels and the result is her first book “One Dead, Two to Go,” followed by “Two Heads Are Deader Than One.” “Three Strikes, You’re Dead.” For more information on Elena, please visit elenahartwell.com or like her Facebook Page ElenaHartwell/Author. You may get to see cute pictures of her dog and her horses.

 

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