Saturday, June 29, 2013

When All You Hear is the Boo

by Kelly Miller    

Lance Armstrong, seven-time winner of the Tour de France, has said, “A boo is louder than a cheer. 
If you have ten people cheering and one person booing, all you hear is the booing.” A year ago, I was the type of person who obsessed over that one boo. But I’ve done a lot of work on my attitude, and now the boos are barely whispers. 

There’s a concept I learned during a book study on The Divine Conspiracy by Dallas Willard—one that I’ve been working on adopting into my own life. I say working on because it’s a difficult concept to put into action. It’s the inability to be offended. 

Think about it. Wouldn’t it be nice to be so sure of yourself, so confidant in who you are that what others think of you doesn’t impact the view you hold of yourself? I’m not talking about narcissism, just a strong sense of self-esteem taken to the next level. The key is not to be influenced by the good or bad. That way the ego won’t swell when presented with a compliment nor will it be bruised by the negatives.

Authors should try putting this new concept into practice the next time they read a review of their latest novel. Instead of agonizing over the thought of reading the latest Amazon comment, give yourself a pep talk. Remember you can’t be offended. This way the praise won’t cause swelling of the head, and on the flipside, a negative comment won’t ruin your whole day. 

What kind of person are you? Do you focus on the cheers or the boos?

Download a FREE copy of Kelly Miller’s debut novel, Dead Like Me, on the Kindle on June 29 and 30 ( Kelly lives in Tampa, Florida where her novel is set. She’s a SAHM of three children and also takes care of a black Labrador and a husband. Kelly is a member of the Florida Writer’s Association. Her debut novel, Dead Like Me, won second place in the Best Mystery category of the 2011 FWA Royal Palm Literary Awards Competition.


Friday, June 28, 2013

OMG Hollywood is Calling!

By Sheila Lowe, forensic handwriting examiner and author

A few months ago I was signing at Bank of Books, an indy bookstore that opened in Malibu last fall. I was delighted to be invited to give a talk, but it’s been more than two years since my last Forensic Handwriting mystery was released, so I didn’t expect a huge turnout, and I must admit, my expectations were met. But I appreciate the people who showed up, and we were having a good old chat when a couple came in and sat down.

After a few minutes, the man asked me, “Have you ever considered turning your series into a TV show or movie?” I had to smile. What author hasn’t envisioned their character as the next Magnum P.I., Jim Rockford, (or Jessica Fletcher if you write cozies)? I’ve always envisioned Minnie Driver as my protagonist, Claudia Rose, and as long as I'm dreaming, John Cusack would work well for Detective Jovanic. I told the man that a film rights agent had indeed gone out with my series, which is psychological suspense featuring a forensic handwriting expert, but by the time I parted ways with the agency, she hadn't sold it.

The man handed me his business card and said, “I’m a producer, and I’ve been reading about you. I think your series would be great for TV or movie.”

Naturally, I rushed home and asked Uncle Google about him. I found that, not only is Tony Eldridge a producer on Denzel Washington’s next picture, The Equalizer (yep, based on the old TV show), but his company, Lonetree Entertainment, sold a series by Heather Graham for TV development. Looked like I would be in pretty good company.

We made a phone appointment for a Monday, but when I called, my call went to voicemail. I figured, “Oh well, that’s Hollywood—love ‘em and leave ‘em.” But wait...that was the day of the Boston bombings, and it turned out that Tony’s son had run the marathon, and he and his wife Tori were waiting to hear whether he was okay. Later they learned their son had finished the race an hour before the bombings and was at a cafĂ© a short distance away when the blasts occurred.

Our phone call happened eventually, and a few minor tweaks later, I signed the option agreement. Now comes the hard part; the wait and see part; the pins and needles will it happen or won’t it part. Having several friends who have optioned books without seeing the hoped-for results, I’m not jumping up and down yet. But I am totally jazzed that a producer with real connections sought me out and after reading my books, was excited about promoting them to studios. Maybe if we all collectively (that’s Crime Fiction Collectively, of course) cross our fingers and toes, he’ll make the deal of the century and I’ll be able to say, “Coming to your screen soon, Claudia Rose and friends—stay tuned!”

For anyone signing a book contract, whether it’s with a literary agent or a film producer, I’ll leave you with an important piece of advice from a talk I attended at my local Mystery Writers of America chapter. Literary attorney Jonathon Kirsch’s warning, ‘don’t sell your characters,’ was worth several times my dues. Read those contracts carefully. You may find that rather than simply licensing the use of your characters, you’re given up the rights to them, which could potentially have a big impact on your future career and earnings.
Four Claudia Rose books are currently in print (Poison Pen, Written in Blood, Dead Write, Last Writes). The fifth, Inkslingers Ball, is in the works. You can read excerpts here:

Meanwhile, I’ve written a standalone about a young woman with amnesia, in which my series characters, Claudia Rose, Detective Joel Jovanic, and psychologist Dr. Zebediah Gold, play important an role. What She Saw is about to be released to Kindle....any minute now. Stay tuned.

Oh, one more thing--I'm truly honored to be invited to join CFC. Looking forward to sharing with all of you.

Thursday, June 27, 2013

Listen, Do you Want to Know a Secret?

by Teresa Burrell
Author of The Advocate Series 

Here’s my secret. I spend so much time on the road that if I didn’t listen to books I would get to read very little. As it is, I manage to complete a novel at least once a week. I do it all from my iPhone through Audible, and it’s affordable. I remember when I use to spend $40 for the CDs for audio books. I couldn’t afford too many at that rate.  I love technology! 

Two weeks ago, I read (listened to) “Defending Jacob” by William Landay. Great book by the way. The ending was predictable, but the book was well written and kept me on the edge. Last week, it was “The Confession” by John Grisham. Again, I thoroughly enjoyed the book.  Now, I’m listening to “Innocent” by Scott Turow.  Love those legal suspense novels. 

I’m thrilled to be able to read as I travel (or when I take my walks) but I have to admit it’s not quite the same as reading it myself.  I’m not even quite sure what it is, but maybe it’s because I can’t put the voice I want with the character. It’s also more difficult to look back at something if I need clarification. The other thing that bothers me is that there are so many authors whose books are not in audio form (including mine.) I still manage to read a few of those, but I have to be very selective just because time doesn’t permit it. 

A while back, I started to read the Stieg Larrson trilogy and then changed to the tapes. That was one set of books that I preferred to have on tape because I didn’t have to concern myself with how to pronounce the names. 

What is your experience? Do you ever listen to books? If so, do you receive the same satisfaction from listening as you do reading?

Tuesday, June 25, 2013

The UnDone Book Paradigm Shift

Kimberly Hitchens is the founder and owner of, an ebook production company that has produced books for over 1500 authors and imprints.

Hey, gang!  The full title of this post is actually "The UnDone Book Paradigm Shift and Why It Will Kill Your Authoring Career Faster Than Carbon Monoxide," but Google gets cranky about really, really, reeeeeeeeeaaaallly long blog post titles, is as you see it.

Some of you may remember a blog post of mine from February, entitled "Amazon Ain't EBay, Folks," at which time I discussed the epidemic of "good-enough-itis."  That being, a sea change in the minds of people who are currently typists, who decide to become writers, and from there to authors...without stopping along the way to be absolutely sure that what they are publishing isn't merely "good enough," but is, rather, the very best that they can write. Today's blog post is about this also; it's about the phenomena of rewriting your books, after they've been published, which is part and parcel of this illness.

While I Was Minding My Own Business...

...playing hooky on a geek forum, I was involved in a discussion that started out as a request, from a new user, to "make light modifications onto mobi [A Kindle book] while [she was] reading them on [her] Paperwhite."  Now, mind you, this wasn't the author; this was simply a reader.

The discussion went back and forth a bit, with some of the geekier folks talking about how it would eat the battery, etc., even if it could be done, but the gist was, this was a reader who wanted to make changes to the author's original text.

The net result was that she was told that it couldn't, realistically, be done. However, another member piped up, saying:

"What would be good would be a mechanism (in the Kindle software) to report errors easily back to the publisher anonymously.

"Amazon could easily do this. Publishers wishing to join could provide Amazon with a 'typos' email address, and any reported typos could be automatically sent to the publisher with the exact location of the error.

"I would use it! Reporting typos to publishers is a tedious process. To be able to do it quickly and while reading would be splendid. And then if I ever re-read the book, the publisher will have (I hope) issued an update from the crowd-source proof-reading.  

"But I don't see that happening either, although it would be almost trivial for Amazon to implement."  [Italic emphasis added]

When I Picked Myself Up Off The Floor...

...after having nearly fainted, I decided to compose a reply.  Now, I know this poster, fairly well; he's an intelligent, thoughtful person.  I'm quite sure that any contributions he would make to a book would be of value.  However, after giving this some thought, here was my reply:

 "Oh, PLEASE, please, please, do not suggest that to Amazon, or even promote it as a good idea.

"Nothing against you, my friend; I'm sure your edits would be great. But as someone who often receives these little billet-doux from (authors who have received them from) Amazon, please don't encourage this. I can't tell you what it's like to get notices from Amazon to fix two 'typos' (one a British usage, BTW), in a 226K-word book. Or, to make changes because ONE letter is missing from a backlist book of 140K words, that was scanned and OCR'ed.

"I've ranted about this, privately, to Amazon, because it's the worst possible scenario--the dreadful books, those that are unreadable, receive no notices, no edits at all. Why? Because nobody reads them, thus the reading public doesn't submit errors, and Amazon doesn't (essentially) forward them. The amazing irony of the situation is that it's the popular books, the best books--the books that were edited in the first place, carefully constructed, formatted, etc.--that get read, and thus get these 'helpful hints' from readers. 

"So, the books that need it the most, don't get it at all, and the books that need it the least, do. Authors feel compelled to make the edits right away, and so end up remaking books more than once a year. And I'd point out: this never would have happened a mere 10 years ago; hell, not even five. The 'immediacy' and instant gratification of the digital age seem to imply that authors and publishers need to make those edits right away. Ten years ago, publishers would have taken any letters that they'd received about typos, stuck it in a file, and made the edits--if ever--when a second edition was published. Not even a second print run.

"While I see the advantages, to some publishers, of essentially 'crowd-sourcing' the proof-reading for a book, the change in the publishing world about 'instantly fixing typos' seems to me to be absurd, for, as I say, merely a decade ago nobody would have had their knickers in a twist about a few typos in a book. Now readers submit them as if they are the beta readers or proofreading personnel for a publisher--not the consumers. It's a paradigm shift, and I'm not sure it's a good one. 

"It's contributing to new phenomena in which the book is never done. We see books being updated, re-uploaded, authors imploring Amazon to send notices to the people who've already bought them--it's contributing to an environment in which Indy authors, particularly, have begun to think of Amazon as their critique group; that it's okay to put up a book that's not "really" done. It's not serving either the authors or the buyers/readers well. 

"I can see the point in sending notices to Amazon about a book that's rife with errors. But the types of notices we see, at least, are as I described above--1 or 2 errors in books of over 140-220K words. It's ridiculous. And as I said, I think it's contributing to a mindset that isn't serving either side of the equation very well, because when a reader buys a book, s/he should not be expected to contribute to the perfection of the book; it should be a complete work. That's what we thought ten years ago, and it's what we should think now. Amazon and Nook, Kobo, Diesel, et al, should not be Wattpad, and when an author/publisher puts a book up for sale, it should be polished, complete, and DONE."

Now, the poster to whom I was replying responded, saying he'd seen some good points my response, indicating his clearly superior intelligence (ha!), but I'm deadly serious about this.  At our shop, we see a plague of rewriting.  An absolute plague.  I mean, hell, we're easy--we'll take money to remake books all day.  But this mindset--that the book is never done--is a real detriment to authors.  An author should be working on her next book--not rewriting her last one.  Certainly not over and over.  

Nor should authors and publishers be falling prey to a mindset in which instant gratification needs to be indulged over a handful of typos.  It's simply not warranted.  We wouldn't be republishing a book in print, over those same typos, and it's flatly ridiculous to keep making changes of this nature just because a book is available digitally.  Why be held hostage to this?  A reader doesn't expect you to make changes today, if the book is in print, so why would you do it just because you are selling a book on Kindle?  

When that baby is done being birthed, authors need to stop trying to stuff it back into the womb.  If the baby is full term, great, give birth.  But if it isn't, stop pushing.  If all the labor is over, and the kid is out in the world, then get pregnant with your next.  Don't keep trying to re-birth that last book.  

So what's the message?  Deliver the very best book you can--but deliver it once. Not twice, or three times, or more.  Don't expect paying customers to be your beta readers, and don't rewrite the book once you've published it.  If you polished it enough before you published it in the first place, then you are doing nothing but distracting yourself from your real work, which is writing your next book.  If it's so awful that it warrants rewriting, you shouldn't have published it in the first place--and there's no excuse.  As discussed in my February blog post, there are tons of critique groups that are perfectly free, and plenty of sites like Goodreads and Wattpad upon which you can publish works-in-progress and get feedback.  

My blog post in short?  A book is not a Word document.  It's a BOOK. The faster you think of it as a book--as something that will be in print, immutable and stamped forever in history as your contribution to literature--the better an author you will be.

Monday, June 24, 2013

Listening to Mysteries

The Boyfriend by Thomas Perry (Tantor Audio book, 5 March 2013).

Reviewed by Marlyn Beebe.

I feel very fortunate to be able to download e-galleys of books from various publishers through services like Edelweiss, and I'm always delighted when I'm granted access to a title I've requested.  Even more so when it's by one of my favorite authors.

I love Thomas Perry's Jane Whitefield series, but it's been over a year since Poison Flower was published.  When I thought I saw the availability of a galley of The Boyfriend (which I mistakenly thought was a standalone), I jumped at it.  When I received approval, I was surprised to realize that it was an audiobook.  I reserve book listening for  driving, but since my trips are seldom very long, it doesn't seem worthwhile.  However,  I gamely downloaded the book, and though it took me 6 weeks, I managed to listen to the whole nine hours without too much confusion.  

The protagonist of the story is Jack Till, a former Los Angeles police detective turned P.I. (who first appeared in 2007's Silence).  In The Boyfriend, Jack lives still lives in the L.A. area.  He has a 24-year-old daughter named Holly, who has Down Syndrome and lives in a group home not far from her father's home.

Jack is visited at his office by a couple who ask him to find the killer of their daughter, Catherine Hamilton.  Mr. and Mrs. Hamilton believe that because Catherine was an high-class call girl, the police are being lax about their investigation.  Jack takes the case, and soon discovers that young women who share Catherine's profession have been murdered every few months in cities around the country.  At first, there doesn't appear to be anything linking these women, apart from their appearance: they are all strawberry blonde, and similar in features and build.

But as Jack digs deeper, he learns that they were all killed in the same manner, with a 9 mm handgun, and probably by the same guy.  Jack calls him "the boyfriend", but has difficulty finding information on the man's background.  As he follows the boyfriend across the country, he discovers a seriously disturbed and dangerous man who just may be Till's match.

Robert Dean has a deep, compelling reading voice, which is a good match for the suspenseful story, and more than once I found myself sitting in my driveway waiting for a chapter to end.

FTC Full Disclosure:  My thanks to Tantor Media and Edelweiss for the audio-download of the book.

Friday, June 21, 2013

Writing Naked

by C.J. West
Ever dream you’re standing in front of your locker back in high school then look down and discover you forgot your pants?

How about the one where the college semester is almost over and you haven’t been to class for two months? When I have this dream, I can’t remember which classes I am registered for or where they convene. It’s very distressing to be lost and afraid.

When I was a new writer I had these dreams all the time. There is something scary about opening yourself and your work up to criticism. In today’s world of anonymous feedback on Facebook, Amazon, and via email, it is so easy for someone to tell us how awful our work is. That makes it risky to send our work out into the world, or even to get it down on the page.

I remember being in the “first novel” group on Yahoo for years. So many of us looked at the blank screen and sat there. It might have been fear that kept our word count so low or it might have been uncertainty about how to put a novel together. Back then I would have killed to have an established author show me his writing process.

That’s what I’m going to do this year. Starting in August, I’m going to write and release my novel Two Bags Full as it is written. Not a polished draft, but my first draft the way I normally write a first draft. Each day, I’ll chat with readers about the story and characters. We’ll talk about what is happening at a time when the story is still changing. I think this is a unique experience to talk with the author about a book while it is still being written.

Readers will get to see the evolution of the book from draft to draft. To hear my plans for each draft from beginning to end and to see the tools I use to keep track of my work. As we go along we’ll remove the mystique so many people have about writing a novel and share the story in a way readers of the finished book never experience.

The discussion will be held in a private group funded by this Kickstarter project. If you would like to take part in the experience you need to register right away. No one will be admitted once the project begins.

The great thing about Kickstarter is that this project won’t begin unless we reach the funding goal, which means there will be about 1,000 people taking part in the project. With that many people coming along, there will be a good group to talk to anytime you want to discuss what is happening

I hope you’ll join me.

When the project is done and you go back to writing, you might feel like you’re naked, but at least you’ll know you’re not alone.

C.J. West is the author of eight suspense novels, one of which was optioned for film. A former computer systems consultant and blog talk radio host, C.J. has been writing novels since 1999. Find him at or on Facebook.

Thursday, June 20, 2013

A brief story of my wandering mind

By Gayle Carline
Author of Mysteries, Humor, and Whatever She Damn Well Pleases

We writers are a funny lot, especially those of us who write mysteries and thrillers. A hike through the woods has us thinking about all the places we could hide a body. When we take out a knife to slice an apple, we often caress the handle and study the blade - could this penetrate deeply enough to cause instant death? Medicine cabinets are like treasure chests. Ah, the drugs!

Apparently, not everyone shares our imagination. My husband, Dale, needed his car serviced recently, so we traded vehicles for the day and I drove to my favorite mechanic, Allen. His employee, Bob, changed my oil and rotated my tires while I waited.

He backed my car out of the service bay and came in to tell us it was ready. I watched him look back, out the door.

"Oops," he said.

It's not a word I like to hear, but I'd rather hear it from a mechanic than, say, my surgeon. It seems there was a brown, greasy trail on the garage floor, leading out to my car. After some investigation, he discovered a bad O-ring and went to work fixing it.

Allen and I walked out to see what had happened and I saw the trail of oil. It was a dark dribble straight to my vehicle. Gayle the wife who helps her husband disappeared. Gayle the mystery writer (whose stories are set in her hometown) entered.

"You know, this looks like it could be a blood trail. Allen, there may be a murder in your garage soon."

He laughed.

My brain didn't stop there, so neither did my mouth. "You come in one morning, open the big door, and see this dribble all over your floor. You're all mad, thinking, 'darn that Bob, leaving a mess for me to clean up' and you start mopping it. Then when you get to the car, you look underneath and surprise, there's a body wedged under that Ford."

Allen laughed again, but from more of a distance.

"Of course, you've just destroyed a bunch of evidence," I continued, "but hopefully a good CSU could find the blood trace with luminol."

Now he was across the parking lot from me.

"I don't know," he said. "The floor is epoxy with a coating of degreaser. There may not be any blood left."

He was either trying to discourage me or shut me up, but it wasn't working. I was on a mission.

"Not unless you used bleach to clean it," I told him, then suddenly realized how macabre I sounded.

Making up stories is half the fun of being a writer. Sharing them with others is the other half, however, you may not want to share them before they're in your book. You might give someone the wrong idea.

Wednesday, June 19, 2013

Rules and breaking them

by Jenny Hilborne
Author of mysteries and thrillers

Someone once said (or wrote somewhere) that there are only so many plausible plot lines for writing mysteries and thrillers. When I'm watching TV, I see truth in that statement. Mysteries can be formulaic with similar and overused plot lines.

A while ago, I came across a list of mystery writing "rules" on another blog post, where one of the rules was to "not reveal the bad guy too early on, or the reader will have no reason to continue reading." In this same list of "rules", the writer was also advised to not wait too long for the big reveal, or the reader will feel cheated. It's confusing and a challenge for the mystery writer. Following "rules" can make a book or a movie predictable. I've read plenty of comments about predictability in various negative reviews left by readers.

As a mystery/thriller reader, as well as a writer, I enjoy pitting my wits against the detective and trying to solve the crime first. I also enjoy the satisfaction of seeing the bad guy get his comeuppance. However, I also enjoy reading books by writers who break the "rules" and tell me upfront who the bad guy is, or dare to write their book with mixed 1st and 3rd person points of view. Harlan Coban does this brilliantly.

At my book events, I ask mystery readers what kinds of mysteries they like. Some are clear in their answer and name the sub genre or the authors they enjoy. Others aren't as aware of the sub genres that exist within the mystery/thriller genre, which opens the door for a great discussion. For me, and a lot of readers I talk to at events, the most important part of a mystery is the plot. It has to be plausible and contain lots of fast moving action.

When I wrote Stone Cold, I had the plot in mind, and the sub plot, but I wanted to include chapters in the killer's point of view. I wanted to try something different and reveal the killer's identity early on in the book. This goes against the "rules" I've read for writing mystery, but perhaps not for writing suspense, or a thriller.

The reviews, so far, have been mixed. Some readers I talk to believe if you know who the bad guy is upfront there is no mystery. Knowing who the villain is early on is one of the differences between a mystery, and a suspense or a thriller. Stone Cold is a psychological thriller. It delves into the motivations of each of the characters. It is not a mystery and the detective is not the main character. Not everyone likes it (I knew that would be the case going in).

When we know the bad guy upfront, a book (and a movie) can still be loaded with tension and suspense. It lies partly in the chase; how will the villain be captured? Will he be captured? As one reviewer for Stone Cold wrote: "Justice is a strange commodity and it isn't always served."

Psychology is a fascinating subject. Psychological thrillers are always filled with tension. It isn't always what a villain does that's so shocking, but why they do it. What makes them behave this way? How many lives will be put at risk when they take the law into their own hands? The 'why?' was likely the most fascinating aspect of the Jodie Arias trial. We know upfront what she did. Viewers found it riveting to watch the trial. We all wanted to know why.

Villains have different motivations. Maybe Jodie Arias is plain evil, but not all villains are. When a villain has redeeming qualities, it causes conflict. In fiction, the villain is not always placed in the book to create hurdles for the hero/heroine. In Stone Cold, there are three villains, all with different motivations, and each one provokes a different level of either sympathy or abhorrence in the reader, necessary for the story.

An interesting villain should be able to fool readers into believing there is an element of good in their character. Their true intentions, and the motivations behind them, often lay hidden until much later. This creates complex layers to the story and more suspense, even when we know their identity early on. The hidden traits of the villain are still a mystery. When we know his identity upfront, we can see more easily that he is a skilled and cunning liar, and we can see his determination. He may not always win, but he will test the hero/heroine.  

Readers: how do you feel about knowing the identity of the villain early on in a thriller? Do you find the chase compelling?

Writers: do you follow the "rules" when writing mysteries or thrillers?

Tuesday, June 18, 2013

Females in Mysteries...the Cliches.

Tom Schreck, author of the Duffy Mysteries

Novels are full of cliches—it's the place where lazy writers go. In our genre women characters seldom get the full range of development. Sometimes it's the protag and sometimes it is other characters.Here's my take on the top 10 female cliches in the mystery genre.

1. Men can be hard guy PI's and be drunks or recovering drunks but, just like in society, women aren't allowed. Women can be PI's but they aren't allowed to drink too much and definitely not allowed to be addicted.

2. Attractive women are manipulative and not to be trusted.

3. They are also either sluts or totally out of reach sexually.

4. All are obsessed with shoes and fashion

5. They love to get together with friends—usually three others—and eat at a fern bar type restaurant.

6. They are fixated on their dads.

7. Their relationships are never happy and its either because the men they date are assholes or because the woman just can't give of herself fully.

8. Female PIs don't have children.

9. They can beat men up.

10. They have male authority figures in their lives who are totally unreasonable.

Once again, to me, cliches just mean lazy and unimaginative writing. Why not make every person a unique individual, like, you know, life?

Any to add or subtract?

Sunday, June 16, 2013

Big-Picture Problems to Look for in Your Novel

New edition of e-book and in print today.
by Jodie Renner, editor & author

Has anyone told you your almost-done story is too long, confusing, or just doesn't grab them? Here are some typical “big-picture” weaknesses to watch out for in your novel and correct before publishing it or pitching it to an agent. These types of glaring gaffes in writing, pacing, plot, or structure will bog down your story and could sink your reputation as a novelist. Fortunately, they can all be remedied at the revision and self-editing stages.

~ Overwriting. Not enough self-editing.
Today’s bestselling thrillers are mostly between 70,000 and 90,000 words long. Unless you’re an absolutely brilliant writer, and experts in the business have told you so, if your manuscript is over 95,000 words long, it definitely needs tightening up.

~ Meandering writing – the main story question / problem is fuzzy or buried. 
What’s the protagonist’s main goal and fear, and his main problem? This should be obvious early on and be the overriding driving force behind your whole story. Don’t let it get lost in meandering writing, too much backstory, frequent info dumps, too many characters, too many subplots, and unrelated plot details. 

~ One unrelated thing after another happens.
Don’t get caught up in “and then, and then, and then,” with a bunch of sub-stories or episodes that aren’t related to each other and don’t directly tie in with the main plot problem and story question. Your events and scenes need to be connected by cause and effect. Each scene should impact the following scenes and complicate future events. 

~ Dog’s breakfast 
A common problem is too many characters crowding the scenes with no elbow room, and readers getting confused and frustrated trying to remember who’s who. Or maybe you have too many subplots that veer off in different directions and confuse the issue. Or a convoluted story where many issues or subplots don’t tie in with the main character and their overarching problem. 

~ The main character is flat, unsympathetic, predictable, or wishy-washy.
Readers want a protagonist they can bond with and root for. Create a lead character who is smart, likeable, and charismatic, but with inner conflict and a few flaws.

~ A thin plot
This is where the premise / story line is obscure, with all kinds of unrelated happenings and way too much yak-yak dialogue that doesn’t have enough tension, conflict, or purpose. Also, often the issues and stakes aren’t serious enough. Anything that doesn’t directly relate to your major story problem, develop your characters, or drive the story forward should be cut. 

~ A predictable story line
Write in some twists, surprises, reversals. When a character has to make a decision or her actions cause repercussions, brainstorm for all possible consequences and choose one readers won’t be expecting. Add in reversals here and there that force a change in goals, actions, reactions, or consequences. Don’t overdo this, though, and be sure your reversal makes sense and is in character, or your readers will feel manipulated or cheated.

~ Flat scenes
When scenes are boring, it’s because there’s not enough conflict, tension, suspense and intrigue. Make sure every page has characters interacting, with action, dialogue, conflict and tension. Every scene needs a focal point or a “hot spot” – its own mini-climax. Also, be sure to start scenes late and end early. And don’t tie everything up with a neat little bow at the end. End with the protagonist in more trouble (most of the time), or with a cliffhanger.

~ La-la land
Everybody’s getting along so well. What’s wrong with that? It’s great in real life, but in fiction it’s the kiss of death. Why? Because it’s boring. Conflict is what drives fiction forward and keeps readers turning the pages.

~ Overkill: Nonstop action
Unrelenting chases, explosions, and violence, with a constant break-neck pace, can numb readers. Vary your pacing, and write in some quieter moments here and there for variety and breathing space between high-action scenes.

~ Plot holes
Watch for those actions, events, character reactions, and other details that just don’t make sense for one reason or another. Look for any inconsistencies, illogical details, or discrepancies. Make sure all your story questions are answered at some point.

These types of gaffes are often difficult for the author to see, so this is where your critique group or beta readers can be invaluable, especially if you specifically ask them to flag anything that doesn’t make sense for any reason. 

~ A sagging middle 
It’s easy to get bogged down in the middle and turn it into a muddle. If you’re losing interest or inspiration, go back to where the story really grabbed you, and consider what came between that and the scene you’re at now. Can you oomph up, change, or delete the scenes in between? 

~ No noticeable character arc
With the exception of action-adventure or military stories, most compelling novels show the main character undergoing change, caused by the adversity they’ve gone through and the resources they had to pull out of themselves to overcome adversity. They’ve developed and matured, and are now more confident and hopefully happier, which is satisfying to readers. 

~ An unsatisfying ending
This can be caused by a number of factors, such as: 

– The protagonist succeeds through coincidence, an Act of God, or help from a minor character. He should attain his goal through his own resourcefulness, cleverness, determination, courage, and inner strength.

– The ending is tragic, and the protagonist is unhappy. Unsatisfying and disappointing. Leave that for literary fiction. Or if you must make her lose or suffer in one way, make her win/gain in another way.

– Ending is too predictable. Brainstorm for possible ways to add a surprise twist at the end.

– Logic flaws – the ending doesn’t really make sense given the details supplied earlier.

– Things wrap up too suddenly. Don’t be in a hurry to finish your story – make sure all the story questions are addressed and all the elements of the ending make sense.

– Things dribbling on for too long after the resolution. Know when to stop.

The fix: To remedy these kinds of gaffes, be sure to enlist some savvy beta readers who read popular novels in your genre. Then contact a well-respected freelance editor with good credentials and references to go over your manuscript.

Readers and writers – Can you think of any other big-picture errors to watch out for at the revision stage?

Jodie Renner has published two books to date in her series, An Editor’s Guide to Writing Compelling Fiction: Writing a Killer Thriller and Fire up Your Fiction (Style That Sizzles & Pacing for Power), which has won two book awards so far. Look for the third book in the series, out soon. For more info, please visit Jodie’s author website or editor website, her other blogs, The Kill Zone and Resources for Writers, or find her on Facebook, Twitter, and Google+. And sign up for her newsletter.


Friday, June 14, 2013

And-A-One, And-A-Two, And-A-Three

by Peg Brantley
Evocative Characters. Intriguing Crime. Compelling Stories.

From The Black Box by Michael Connelly:

Harry wasn't exactly sure what the word ethereal  meant, but it was the word that came to mind. The song was perfect, the saxophone was perfect, the interplay and communication between Pepper and his three band mates was as perfect and orchestrated as the movement of four fingers on a hand….Powerful and relentless and sometimes sad.

… He had "Patricia" on other records and CDs. It was one of Pepper's signatures. But he had never heard it played with the same sinewy passion.


It occurred to me when I read this that as writers we have it all over live performers. We just need to dig down and get it right once. Okay, it may happen several times in a novel, but to become powerful and relentless and filled with sinewy passion in a particular scene? Just once.

But live performers, musicians and actors, have to dig for that crazy depth constantly. Every performance. They are judged each time, and comparisons are made to earlier renditions and other versions and even other performers.

I'm so glad I can become powerful and relentless and filled with sinewy passion privately. More or less.


In other news… I have a new website I'm feeling pretty good about, and want to share it with our CFC readers. Click here.

Thursday, June 13, 2013

Just the Facts, Ma’am

At some point while writing a novel, the author has to decide whether to use real cities, real streets, real places, and real things. I’ve often thought it would be fun to create a whole new world such as fantasy or science fiction writers have to do. But since I’m not ready to embark on that journey yet, I just need to decide how much of the real world to use.
My books are set in San Diego with streets and buildings that many people recognize. I think that was a wise choice as I often receive comments from readers who have visited my city and they tell me how fun it was to read about places they had frequented. I make every attempt to describe these settings accurately. On occasion, I need a restaurant or some other building that requires a different exit, different lighting, or whatever. When that happens, I choose to make up the whole setting rather than distort the real one. I have one such restaurant in my first book, but most of my places are very real. All the other restaurants are genuine, the courthouses are genuine, and the streets and highways are all real.
My “legal” mind says “don’t distort the facts.” But then I remember I’m writing fiction. Hello. I’ve already made up a whole book, what difference does it make if I make up a set of stairs, or an information desk, or another exit? I realize, of course, that many people wouldn’t know the difference, but what if they do?
What do you do as an author? Do you use real places? If so, are the details accurate? As a reader, which would you prefer, or does it even matter? 

Teresa Burrell
Author, Attorney, Advocate