Writing, Rewriting, and Craft with Elena Hartwell

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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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Blog Tour: Murder in the Mansion by Faith Martin

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Blog Tour BANNER - Murder in the Mansion

 

 

 

 

MURDER IN THE MANSION by Faith Martin

Looking for a brilliant best-selling murder mystery with a feisty female detective?

Meet DI HILLARY GREENE, a policewoman struggling to save her career and catch criminals.

Mattie Jones is found brutally stabbed to death in her palatial home. Hillary Greene is called in to investigate the murder of this wealthy woman.

Hillary discovers that Mattie’s snobby attitude had made her many enemies. Mattie was also going through a messy divorce and had a secret lover.

Meanwhile, in a terrifying turn of events, police officers are being gunned down outside their stations. A sniper is on the loose.

Can Hillary cope with the enemies within, a complex case, and the whole force under attack?

 

 

Police Faith Martin

 

 

 

BOOK REVIEW

 

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DI Hillary Greene is back in the saddle with the latest crime to solve in book 8, Murder in the Mansion. I love navigating crimes alongside Hillary, even as she deals with relationships in the department, including dumping one of her lovers! A well written story with a skilled plot woven with great characters.

 

 

 

MURDER IN THE  MANSION is the eighth in a series of page-turning crime thrillers set in Oxfordshire. Perfect for fans of Agatha Christie, Colin Dexter, or Ruth Rendell.

 

 

Mansion Faith Martin

 

THE LOCATION

Many villages on the borders of the Cotswolds have more than their fair share of large, impressive, Cotswold stone ‘mansions’ – homes in times past to the professional classes and farmers.  Large, mostly Georgian, with traditional kitchen gardens, orchards, and ornamental plantings, they are quintessentially English.

 

 

Mansion Location Faith Martin

 

 

THE DETECTIVES

DI Hillary Greene

An attractive woman in her forties, Hillary Greene is a police officer of many years’ experience, and came up through the ranks. Consequently, she knows how the system works, and is fiercely loyal to the force without being blinkered to its faults. She is a long-standing friend of her immediate superior officer, ‘Mellow’ Mallow and enjoys a rather enigmatic relationship with the steely Superintendent Marcus Donleavy. Popular with the rank and file for her no-nonsense attitude and competence.

DCI Philip ‘Mellow’ Mallow

Mel appreciates Hillary’s first-rate ability to solve her cases, and isn’t happy about her harassment by the officers from York. Known for his sartorial elegance and laid-back manners, he has a sharp mind, and an eye for the ladies. A good friend and ally for Hillary in her recent tribulations, he’s determined to keep his best investigator focused on the problems at hand.

 

 

 

 

Detective Faith Martin

 

 

PLEASE NOTE THIS IS A REVISED EDITION OF A BOOK FIRST PUBLISHED AS “DOWN A NARROW PATH.”

 

 

Dive into the action!

 

Diving Faith Martin

 

Amazon

DI HILLARY GREENE SERIES

BOOK 1: MURDER ON THE OXFORD CANAL
BOOK 2: MURDER AT THE UNIVERSITY
BOOK 3: MURDER OF THE BRIDE
BOOK 4: MURDER IN THE VILLAGE
BOOK 5: MURDER IN THE FAMILY
BOOK 6: MURDER AT HOME
BOOK 7: MURDER IN THE MEADOW
BOOK 8: MURDER IN THE MANSION
Books 9-11 coming soon!

 

 

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AUTHOR BIO

Faith Martin has been writing for over 25 years, in four genres and under four different pen names. She was born in Oxford and sets most of her crime novels within sight of the city of dreaming spires. A real nature lover and afficionado of the countryside, descriptions of wildlife and native flora often find their way into her manuscripts. Right now, JOFFE BOOKS are re-issuing the first eleven of the DI Hillary Greene novels in new updated editions! The first 8 books in the series are available now. Books 9-11 coming soon!

Her romance novels, written under the name of Maxine Barry, are now available from Corazon Books. IMPOSTERS In PARADISE, and HEART OF FIRE are both out, and others will very quickly become available in the future.

Her first foray into writing ‘spooky’ crime, (and written under the pen name of Jessie Daniels) comes out in November 2017. THE LAVENDER LADY CASEFILE is published by Robert Hale, an imprint of Crowood Press.

As Joyce Cato, she writes more classically-inspired ‘proper’ whodunits. So if you like an amateur sleuth, plenty of clues and red herrings, plus a baffling murder mystery to solve, these are the books for you.

Jill Burkinshaw

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jill@booksnall.blog

https://booksnall.blog