What’s Next for Caitlyn?

Caitlyn Jamison is in Virginia’s Northern Neck working a cold case. Will she do this alone or will Ethan show up? Stay tuned!

I decided to start another book (series?) set in Savannah, Georgia. I don’t have a title, but the proganist is named Emilie. Emilie is a mystery book author and also runs a bed and breakfast in the city. What will be challenging about this book is I want to try to write it in first person. My Caitlyn Jamison series is in third person. Wish me luck.

Showing rather than telling is a 
challenge writers have to face and then conquer. I’m working on that skill and get better with each book. I have to remember that my readers have to come away with a deep sense of my characters and the setting. Some ways of accomplishing this is to keep descriptions short and specific, but at the same time don’t turn a character's description into a litany of eye color, height and weight. That isn’t how your friends would describe you! So how would they describe you? Your sense of humor, stance, fashion sense, unkempt hair, etc. Utilize the senses - how does something look, smell, touch, sound or taste? And remember that setting can also be character - think of Louise Penny’s Three Pines, or Jan Karon’s Mitford. I think Elizabeth Sims’ quote says it best: “Readers’ love writing that bring the world in your head to life in theirs.” [Writers Digest January 2013] That’s our job. [Posted 9/17/2018]

Writing Mysteries
I’ve been asked to make a presentation to each of the three CRRL Inklings writing groups about writing mysteries. In developing a talk on that subject I realized that the basic elements of mystery writing is the same for all prose. A book needs characters, setting, plot/storyline, and action. Whatever genre, it’s important to hook the reader on the first page. We’ll talk about developing characters, having a mirror character - someone for the protagonist to confide in, and then go into what’s the protagonist’s goal. When that is determined, who/what will keep the character from easily achieving the goal. How are red herrings woven into the story, and ways to create tension. I’m learning a lot from this exercise and I hope those in the writing groups will as well.  [Posted 21 August 2018]

Anatomy Lesson

I’ve been putting a lot of thought into what I would cover in my first Fiction Writing Critique group that will meet one month from now. There is so much information to share on writing the question is, where do I begin?

It occurred to me I should start out with an anatomy lesson. The first question is what is their genre? Is it romance, mystery, cozy mystery, thriller, sci-fi, fantasy, or literature? Maybe they don’t know yet, but I think it’s helpful to have a genre roadmap. And that roadmap should include geographically where the action takes place. If the story is sci-fi and another world is developed, that world has to have rules. Know what those are.

Stories are made up of scenes. I recently read an informative blog by Rebecca Monterusso on Jane Friedman’s site. The blog is titled: “What does it mean to write a scene that works?” Rebecca states that a book is made up of multiple scenes. It’s the time when the character is pulled out of their comfort zone. Scenes are the basic building blocks of the story and together they build the novel.

Which brings me to pacing. No matter what genre you are writing, some tension, stress, force for change has to happen. Pacing means keeping paragraphs tight, chapters of varying lengths. If the tension is too high, readers will need a chapter with a slower pace for some relief.

Character development has to be done first. Who is the protagonist? Their mirror character? Supporting characters? A writer needs to understand the characters, their physical characteristics, their emotions, psychological profile, and their history. If the writer knows their characters, he/she will know how they will react in various situations.

What is the plot line (s) of the story? How will your character work through the situation?  And how will it be resolved? If more than one plot line will they connect at the end or resolve separately?

I also want to cover formatting. I’m a visual person. When I’m writing I need to have the manuscript look like a book. I format when I start – for a 6 x 9 trade paperback, which my books are, the perfect margins for publishing through CreateSpace are: Left: .8; Right .8; Top .95; Bottom .8; Header and Footer at 1.0.  I also number chapters as go – although this is sometimes time consuming when I’m moving chapters around, I find it is helpful to find my place when I return to the manuscript. I also page down with each chapter, keeping everything consistent – four returns from the top with chapter number centered on that fourth line. Then two returns before first line of text, with that line starting on the third return. The first line of text for each chapter is aligned on the left margin, with following chapters indented one half inch. I’ve trained myself to this consistent formatting which saves me a lot of time and effort at the end.

Everyone writes differently, but I hope these guidelines will be helpful to the critique group. [Posted 1 July 2018]

Short Story Writing

The Central Virginia Sisters in Crime of which I am a member is in the process of producing another short story anthology. I decided to submit a story with the theme Deadly Southern Charm. I never realized know how different writing a short story would be from writing full length novels. Thanks to our Inklings writing group, our May meeting featured guidelines for writing short stories

Develop the characters and setting early in the story and both have to be indepth and real. Understand the plot line and make sure there is some kind of conflict involved. This can be against another character, society, nature, or even the protagonist him/herself. The best short stories have an underlying theme. Think about what that will be and follow your characters’ lead.

I plan to finish the first draft this weekend, and then go through a fiction critique checklist. I’ll ask questions such as: Is the reader immediately drawn into the story, is there a connection with the characters, is there conflict, is pacing right, and how do I feel at the end of the story?

Once those questions are answered and the story is edited several times, I’ll put it through the Prowritingaid software for the technical stuff - grammar, style, pacing, etc. 

My story is set in Fredericksburg (rules state the story has to be set in the southern states). At this point there are three characters, but I may develop a fourth. The word count is only 2,000 - 4,000 words so I will have to be concise, which is the challenge of writing a short story. 

An aside: I started another short story set in Savannah, Georgia. When I talked with a friend about it, she said, no. This is not a short story. This is another book series. 

I’ll let readers know how I make out. Whether my story is selected for the anthology - or not. Either way, it is a great writing exercise and something I have never done before. [Posted 9 June 2018]

Let’s Talk Marketing

During the CRRL Writers Conference on November 11, 2017 held at the Porter Library, I was on the panel that was asked to cover the topic of marketing as well as the topic of traditional versus self publishing (or Indi publishing). 

Marketing requires a whole other skill set for writers, and one in which many writers are not comfortable. But if you want to develop a following, it is something an author has to do. 

Social media is at the top of the list. Develop a website, blog, Facebook page, LinkedIn account, and Twitter. I started a Facebook page and blog right way, and recently decided to take the plunge and develop a website to feature my Caitlyn Jamison series.

As a self-published author, I had to create a marketing plan that I am comfortable with. I am in the process of building a list of venues in which I can feature my books.

Sign up for a table at local book festivals, connect with local newspaper journalists that will write an article on your book, develop an author presentation and reach out to book groups and libraries, offer to do a guest blog for a genre-related blog, and don’t forget to alert your email contact list that your new book is available. Run contests. 

Space the events out to keep sales coming. When at events, have someone take a photo of you to post on Facebook to remind Friends and their Friends (ask FB Friends to share) of your book.

I was pleased that the traditionally published authors on Saturday’s panel dispelled the myth that publishers do all the marketing - not. The authors were brutally honest about what they went through to get published, and then what they have to do to continually market their books. If you don’t want to do your own marketing, there are marketing firms that you can hire, but as one panelist said, after a bad experience and losing thousands of dollars, buyer beware. Just because you hire a firm, doesn’t meant they are going to do right by you and your book.

For additional articles see the Caitlyn Jamison Mysteries blog.

Character Development
Mystery author Elizabeth George states “Story is Character,” and I have found that to be true. So how does a writer develop characters to have an impact on readers?

First, a thorough and thoughtful, physical, emotional, socio-economic description has to be developed for each character. Once that is developed, the author knows how each character will react to situations. It also keeps the author on track so a mistake isn’t made by having a character’s eye color at the beginning different than at the end - assuming contact lenses aren’t involved - smile. 

A character can be described from another’s point of view. That description can include how the person presents with regard to stance, expression, speech. You can sometimes tell a person’s age just by the words they use. 

And then you live in their skin. As you write and get into the “groove,” you will become that character. It is then the character’s thoughts feelings, voice, emotions pour out. Let it. That is when your characters come “alive.” It is an amazing feeling to give birth to characters and have them develop right before your eyes.

The Importance of Plot
A good story will transport the reader to places he/she has never been. The writer’s job is to develop an interesting plot and character (s) that compels the reader to keep turning pages. So where do plot ideas come from? The answer is, everywhere. 

One of my plot ideas came from my passion and desire for justice. Too many people were getting away with ruining lives and not suffering the repercussions. [Think 2008 financial crisis]. Other plot ideas came from my passion for teaching people about a little known mental health disease, current social issues, and about my genealogy hobby. 

The key word here is passion. A writer has to have a passion for the story and their characters. When that mix happens, plus some good use of grammar … the book is a winner. 

Point of View
Understanding point of view is probably one of the most difficult lessons a writer has to learn. Rule of thumb is to have one point of view per scene. In other words, one person leads the conversation. There can be more than one point of view per chapter, and those are separated by a couple of lines. But then you don’t want to have too many points of view. What I have done to provide myself an overview of how the book is progressing, and also to track point of view, is I made a chapter by chapter synopsis that includes from whose point of view the information is coming. A glance through this synopsis document tells me I have several people featured in the first few chapters. The question is - will those different voices confuse readers, or will it introduce the characters, which is what I intended. I have to give this some more thought.

A Writer’s Journal
I keep a writer’s journal for each book. The first page has a working title and some plot ideas. Since this is the second Caitlyn Jamison mystery, I have bios on the main characters. The supporting cast will be developed as I go along. The second page has the publishing stats of the first book, i.e. margins, pagination, author price (I learned the more pages in the book the lower the royalty-Fatal Dose is about 40 pages longer than Unexpected Death, so my royalty for Fatal Dose is about 40 cents less.) I also jot down the ISBN number of each book and the number of pages in each.

On the following pages I continue to jot down plot ideas, and introduce characters. Plots change as the characters are developed, so my “Idea” entries change as the book progresses. 

While working on the third book, I am busy marketing the first two. Those venues with contact information is captured in my journal. Also captured are books with citations that I use for research. 

When I get well into the story I start tracking my word count. I keep a listing of each day’s progress with notes on what needs to be done. 

When I get stuck, I review the notes in my journal. An interesting way to see how thought processes change as the book matures. [Posted 3/31/18]

© Ray & Mary Maki 2017