Writing the Novel – Developing the Crime

This blog is a way for me to share the experience of writing a novel with anyone who happens upon my posts.  It isn’t meant to teach anyone how to write a novel.  There are plenty of classes by qualified teachers you can attend and of course you can read every single book about writing a novel you can get your hands on, like me. 

I am following a book on how to write a mystery – chapter by chapter – step by step.  The last few days, I spent developing my sleuth.  She is a romance writer who’s career is failing.  Her editor has said they don’t plan to offer her another contract.  Her agent is encouraging her to complete a novel she seems to be struggling with trying to finish. In the meantime, her fiancee dies in the arms of another woman.

My character’s name is Rachel Miller/Rachel St. James.  She chose a pseudonym because she felt her name was too plain. Her motivation is to continue her writing career even though she is feeling blocked with the current project.  Now she is also mad and hurt because  Bradley, her fiancee had obviously been cheating on her.  I do know that Bradley’s death will not be of natural causes, as everyone first assumes and that Rachel will become a suspect in his murder.  That is why she is the sleuth.  She has to solve the mystery as to who killed Bradley and is it the same person who eventually starts threatening her. She is early 30’s and I picture Sandra Bullock as I am writing the story. 

On another note about naming the character.  The book I am using suggested you list 8 qualities this character has and then pick five first and last names that reflect those qualities.  The next step was to go to the internet and google the names.  See how many people have that name.  If there are too many maybe you should pick another name.  The only problem with doing this was that every name I chose was out there, alot.  So in the end, I chose a name that I liked and I thought I would like to spend time with.  If you have any suggestions about naming characters, check in and let me know how you do it.

That is about all I can share with you so far about this character.

Now I am on to developing the crime and victim’s secrets. 

If you want to follow along, you need to develop your premise. If you write it tightly enough, you could use it later as an elevator pitch.  If you don’t know what an elevator pitch is, let me know and I will explain.

By now you should also have created your sleuth (protagonist).  You should know what he/she looks like, his/her background, his/her goals and motivations, and whatever else you think is necessary for you to round out this character.  There are lots of examples of templates either in writing books or on the internet, so find something that you feel will suit your needs.

I will blog after completing each step.  I will never do more than one step per day and I will try to blog at least once a week. I plan to continue blogging about this experience until I have a completed manuscript, through revision and on while I am sending it out. 

Feel free to comment or discuss anything along the way. In the meantime, Happy Writing!

Virginia

P.S. Next month my author interview is with Kylie Brant.  Find out how a published author writes.  Check out Terms of Attraction – one of Kylie’s novels that comes out this month and then watch for her new Mindhunters trilogy in Sept- Oct- and Nov of this year.

Find future author interviews  blogs in the write a book with me series follow me at www.virginiasviewonnovelwriting.wordpress.com

Writing the Novel – The Premise

I guess that I should have given some advice as to how to develop the premise.  Look for ideas where you normally look, newspapers, magazines, people you know, what you overhear in a crowded place, whatever jumps out at you as a possible story idea.  When you develop a premise you are taking an idea and developing it into what your story is about within a few sentences. It is the basic core of your story.

Since I am using Hallie Ephron’s book Writing and Selling Your Mystery Novel, here is what my premise looks like:

Suppose a failing romance author’s fiancee dies in the arms of another woman.  What if because of her pride, she lets everyone think he was with her and all seems fine until the police determine that he didn’t die of natural causes and she becomes a suspect?

Nothing is ever set in stone at this point but this is my starting off point.  Now I am going on to Chapter 2 – The Mystery Sleuth.  For the next few days I will be using the templates to develop who this character actually is.  Her physical appearance, likes, dislikes, background, everything that has made this character who she is at this point in her life.

Does what I’ve covered so far make sense?  Do you see anything that isn’t logical?  Do you understand how to develop a premise and create a character? Feel free to comment at any time. 

For now, I’m going on with the story and will be back as soon as I get past this section.

If you’d like to see how other authors write, check previous interviews within this blog. So far I’ve interviewed Lois Greiman, Carla Cassidy, Franscesca Hawley, Cheryl Saint John, and Dennis Maulsby. After you’ve read their interviews, you might take it a step further and read some of their work.

You are keeping me accountable and I hope to hear from some of you too.

Until next time,

Virginia

For future blogs in this series follow me to www.virginiasviewonnovelwriting.wordpress.com

Want to Write a Book With Me?

I started the 90 Day Challenge thinking I could write a novel without any planning.  I can’t.  I need a story line and some kind of direction or it feels like all I’m doing is counting words. 

I had signed up for the newsletter at Cheryl’s Learn to Write Fiction site and have received lots of information.  I also liked Holly Lisle’s – Write a book with me series that she is doing now.  She has cut the word count back to a minimum of 250 words per day, 5 days a week.  That is very doable but as I said I need some structure.  I’ve attended lots of workshops and read lots of books so I have a pretty good idea what I need to do, so here is my suggestion – If you have struggled like me to complete something, only to have half a dozen projects half finished, I am inviting you to join me in this quest. 

I will blog once a week, at least, telling you what I am doing in the coming week and setting my weekly goal.  I am punting here so bear with me and hopefully I can make each post interesting enough for you to continue with me.

I am starting from the very beginning with the idea.  Each week, at the end of the week or as I complete a chapter, I will blog again to tell you what I accomplished and what my next week’s goal is. 

Since I haven’t been real successful in the past, I am open to your suggestions.  Or if I run into a snag, I may ask for your advice.  In the same vein, if you have something that is holding you up, send it to me and I will either offer advice or find out the answer for you. 

Of course, I’m hoping this project will help me complete a novel but I would also like it to help you complete your project too.  Feel free to comment, offer advice, ask a question. 

Okay for this week’s goal, I am working on my story idea.  I am wanting to write a mystery, hopefully a series so have decided to use Hallie Ephron’s book ‘Writing and Selling Your Mystery Novel’.  I will be creating the templates as I go and work through the book chapter by chapter.  Since I want to get to the actual writing as soon as I can, I will work on each section each day until I get through the book.  I will post at least once a week and maybe more frequently as I complete chapters. 

So for now, I will be starting with Chapter 1 – The Premise. 

Once I’ve developed the premise, I will make a new post.

Wishing everyone out there who wants to complete a novel and hasn’t success.

Virginia

P.S. Continue to watch for my author interviews.  This month was with Dennis Maulsby a local poet.  Next month I will be interviewing Kylie Brant.

Happy Writing!

Find future author interviews and blogs in the write a book with me series at www.virginiasviewonnovelwriting.wordpress.com

Do Your Deadlines Whoosh By?

“I love deadlines. I like the whooshing sound they make as they fly by.” -Douglas Adams

I always start a project full of energy.  I can visualize where I want it to go and that enthusiasm carries me until life gets in the way.  Suddenly my real estate business picks up and I have to change gears to work with either a new buyer or seller and my writing has to wait.  At this point in my life, the real estate business has to come first, that is where I make my living.  It’s not unusual for me to be working with several clients at a time.  So why do I always seem to drop my writing before I can complete a project? 

It’s because, my clients are my priority.  I plan to work with them.  I schedule appointments with them.  I schedule time to take care of their needs.  Why can’t I do that with my writing?

I can. It’s all a matter of planning and prioritizing.  I’ve taken the Franklin Planner class and I understand how to use it so I have decided to apply it to my writing.  My writing project has become my new client.

If you’re dealing with some of the same issues I am, maybe you can benefit by some of my suggestions.

  • Schedule your writing time into your planner.  Even though I use a Blackberry, I still like my paper planner.  I use the larger Monarch size.  It allows me a large space for writing notes and tabs to keep track of my clients.  I include a tab for my current scene that I’m working on.  I’m a fairly patient person but sometimes I end up waiting for appointments and it’s nice to have something to work on while I wait.
  • In that tab, I also keep a writing journal.  It keeps me on track.  It’s nothing fancy, just lined note paper.
  • With each journal enty, I write the date at the top. By writing the date, I can keep track of my writing success.  If my last journal entry is a week old, I can tell that I’m having problems focusing and need to address it.
  • I also make a note as to how long I plan to write on the journal page as well as my calendar for that day.  I block the calendar time just like any other appointment.
  • I then make a note of what I plan to accomplish during this writing session, in my journal. If I’m writing a new scene, I write a brief description of that scene.  If I’m revising, I have notes about what I want to do to make the piece better.
  • At the end of my writing session, I try to determine how it went.  Did I accomplish what I wanted to for that day and if not, where did this session leave me for tomorrow.
  • My last journal entry is where I plan tomorrows writing session.  I give a brief description of what I plan to do and then I flip back to my calendar for tomorrow and note the time I plan to work.

I run my real estate business by planning the night before what I want to accomplish.  Over time, I’ve discovered that planning ahead can help me be more successful.  Writing is like any other business so now I look at it as a business.  With real estate, I keep notes of my conversations and activities with clients.  With writing, my notes are my guideline to the end and my journal keeps me on track.

As always, I’m interested in what other writers do.  If you would like to share your approach to the writing process, please feel free to comment.

Oh, and by the way, this month I have been working on chapter three. My day job as a Realtor has limited my writing time but now that I have a plan, I plan to implement it. 

Until next time,

Virginia

Rome Wasn’t Built in a Day!

“Without goals and plans to reach them, you are like a ship that has set sail with no destination.”

                                                                                Fitzhugh Dodson

I have been gradually whittling away at writing a novel now since Nano in November.  I can’t say that Nano gave me anything close to a novel.  It did give me a boost of self esteem that – yes I can write that number of words.  It did give me a lot of scenes for a novel but no where near a complete novel.  During December, I was able to assimilate all that writing and see what I really had and I discovered that I have been trying to write the same novel for quite some time. Each time that I tried something new, I found myself headed in the same direction.  It felt like an epiphany.  I hadn’t really been starting over, I had been writing the same story from different starts.  Each attempt gave me a little more of the story that I wanted to tell and Nano gave me a hugh chunck.  So during December, in between the holidays and gathering with friends and family, I came up with a more cohesive story idea.  I was able to take a story that I played with earlier in the year last year and by using scenes from my Nano project, I feel like I can moosh it all together into something that looks like a book.  That has been my journey since my last post.  I have been working on the plot and characters and I have written the first two chapters.  This weekend, I’m meeting with my writer’s group and will be sharing chapter one.  I plan to keep notes on their critique but do not plan to make any changes until I complete the novel.  I know deep down within my writer’s soul that I have to complete the project before I can revise otherwise I may miss writing the story that I am meant to write. 

My goal for the year, is to complete a novel.  I do not expect perfection.  I do expect to revise and edit a lot.  I will know when the project is complete and then I will set my next goal of sending it out for publication.  It is a lofty goal and I know it will not be easy but I will continue to take small steps until I am done.  I will stay focused and not be drawn off track.  I will report in each month and hope you will be cheering me on. 

If you have completed a novel and have any advice, please feel free to comment and share.  I know that I am very interested in learning more about the process. 

Virginia

Yin – Yang of 2008

It’s already December 20th, Christmas is almost here and New Years is around the corner.  It has been a year of Yin and Yang.  The year started out in February and a visit to the Emergency Room.  After a cat scan they diagnosed Diverticulitis and Gall Stones.  They treated me for the Diverticulitis and they set up an appointment with a surgeon for the Gall Stones.  Between the weather and a horrifying experience with a surgeon, I will not name, surgery was delayed for several weeks.  By the way, my experience with the first surgeon is grist for a horror story someday.  I survived the surgery only missing 4 weeks of work (Two after the emergency room visit and two after surgery).  That was the Yin.  The Yang is that I now know that I need to take care of myself and am on a path for a healthier lifestyle.

 By then it was April and my husband lost his job after being with the company for twenty years.  He was out of work for three months and has since started his own business as a General Contractor and also started building homes for another home builder. That was a Yin.  The Yang is that now he has his own business on the side and who knows where that may lead some day.

 June came and I lost a relative who had been as close to me as any of my own siblings.  Because of my illness, I wasn’t well enough to travel out of state to his funeral.  It still hurts that I was unable to tell him goodbye. The only Yang I can come up with for this experience is that I will try harder to be closer to my loved ones.

 July followed and my husband accepted his new job.  That Friday of his first week at his new job, I had sold a house and was driving to the office to deliver an earnest money check when someone ran me off the road.  I hit the curb and a utility pole, totalled my car and I got banged up and bruised a little.  Thankfully the driver realized what had happened and stopped.  Her insurance took care of everything and I was able to purchase another new vehicle.  The Yang is that the other driver did stop and take responsibility.  It could have been a lot worse because, though I was run off the road, our vehicles never actually touched.

Finally in November, I participated in the Nanowrimo program for the second time.  This time I was successful.  It was very cathartic.  I was able to focus on writing and during that time, not worry about anything else.  It was a positive outlet for any anxiety.  I quit worrying about what could happen and focused on what I needed to do.  It also gave me the opportunity to become closer to my writing friends and to meet new ones.  I feel like Deanne (another blogger on this post) and I have become much closer than we were before Nano and that is definitely a blessing. 

The whole year wasn’t a total bummer.  I do feel as though I’ve turned a corner to something better.  I realize that I haven’t got control of most things in my life, the only thing I do have control of is how I react to those situations.  I’ve always looked for humor and honestly haven’t found much in this past year.  This is one year I really do want to put behind me but with that same desire to forget, I have enthusiasm to start over, in 2009.  I do believe in the Law of Attraction and I’m trying to visualize the positive in everything.  I know that this bad year was not unique to me.  Everyone I know has had it rough, especially my friends and colleagues in the real estate and housing industries but I do know that it will get better. I also know that when it changes it will be fast and it will be good.  I may not have the time to write, like I do now, so I am taking advantage of that.  I am making writing part of my daily life, more so than ever.  It is one thing I do have control over, it gives me joy, and I plan to take advantage of it.

 I may not have finished a true novel with the Nano project but I do have something to work with this year.  As to what I’ve done this past month, besides completing Nano, I did let it sit for a while.  In the meantime I’ve been reading everything I can get my fingers on regarding writing.  (Story, The Hero’s Journey to name a couple of books.) I am now fleshing out characters and developing my storyline so that as I re-write, I will have a cohesive story.  I’m not looking too far into the future at this point.  For January and probably February I plan to re-write.  That’s as far as I’m willing to look for now.  My goal for 2009 is to complete a novel as quickly as possible.  I will keep you informed each month, as to what I am doing to make this happen.  If you have any suggestions as to how you may have completed a writing project, please feel free to comment.  I believe we all have to find what works for ourselves but I do think it’s interesting to see how others do it.  My gift to you is 2009 – a new year to start over.  

Wishing you a Joyous Holiday and a Happy New Year!

Virginia

Short and Sweet

Sorry guys but my little brain can handle only so many words in a month and I am also doing Nano.  I have attempted this before in 2006 but didn’t come close to finishing it.  That was because I expected every word I wrote to be wonderful.  This year I found out it can be crap.  As Deanne already explained, our region’s theme this year is Yea Crap!  And we are, as a group, writing lots of it.  If you check the Nano boards at www.nanowrimo.org, you will see just how much crap, as a group we have written.  We are part of the Central Iowa group.  The write-ins have been inspiring and they have been a great way to network.  someday when we have a completed, published novel, we now have a group of raving fans who will hopefully spend their cash to help support us, as well as spread the word to everyone they know – to buy our books. 

All kidding aside, there are a couple of valuable lessons I am getting from this crazy exercise. One is that it is okay to write a bad first draft.  I’m fairly sure that when the dust settles in December and I have a chance to really look at what I’ve written, I will find a few noteworthy gems, as far as my storyline, within all that crap.  And the second lesson is I am learning to write every day.  It is becoming a habit.  One that I will want to continue.  If I miss a day, I know it.

Okay time for a confession.  I have had one bad experience.  This is the only thing so far that has been a bummer.  I have been using an Alpha Smart Neo to write on.  If you don’t know what that is, check out any issue of Writer’s Digest or The Writer and it’s usually on the front inside cover.  It’s a great little word processor that runs on three little batteries.  The batteries are supposed to last over 700 hours.  I have had the Neo for over a year now and have yet to replace them.  Since I am writing so much away from home though, I’ve decided to carry new ones in my purse, in case of an emergency.  And yes, I’ve taken some flack from my Saturday Writer’s group for always having batteries handy, but that’s another story. The Neo is great for being handy but this morning without thinking, I deleted three days worth of Nano writing.  Luckily it was three of my less productive days.  So I rushed to my office and quickly downloaded the rest of the files so it wouldn’t happen again.  I thought that I had lost 1200 words. But after downloading to my desktop, I was grateful to find out that the word count on my Word document was only 470 less than I had calculated.  Don’t know how that happened but I do know that God works in mysterious ways. (I always think of Rowen Atkinson in the movie Keeping Mum, when I say that. If you haven’t seen that movie, check it out. Besides Rowen Atkinson – is that the right name? I am terrible with names. Well besides him, Patrick Swayze plays a slime ball golf pro.  It also has Maggie Smith and lots of other great actors.  And now I confess, I’ve shown you another way to help get your word count up in Nano. Tangents can be helpful.)

Must go for now.  Need to save this crap for Nano.  Have a great month and I will talk at you later…

Writing the Novel Journal 2

I wish I could say this past month had been really productive but to be honest I can’t.  I still have a huge desire to write but am finding it difficult to go forward.  I hate to say it but I think I am dealing with the nasty B word and I don’t mean B**ch, I do mean Block).  If there is a B**ch involved in this process, it’s me.  I’m letting everything that I have no control over, control something that I do have control over.  I can write if I just allow myself to sit down and do it but my anxiety about the current ecomomy has made it difficult for me to accomplish anything.  You could say that my life is out of balance and until I can swing the scales back a little more, I feel lost in most areas of my life. 

In my day job I’m a Realtor and my listings are down, the buyers I do run into can’t get financing and even the transactions I do get involved in fall apart the day before they’re supposed to close. 

I’ve been attending Weight Watchers and for the past couple of months, I’ve been watching my weight go up instead of down.  All of this is affecting my attitude and I admit, I need an adjustment. 

I keep telling myself, I need to take advantage of this time when it is a little slower and spend it writing but every time I tell myself it’s really okay to write, I feel guilty because there must be something else I can do to create business which is the one thing I do that supports my writing habit.  Which makes perfect sense now.  My writing is like a drug.  When it’s going well, I’m happy and all is well with the world.  I’m missing my fix.  I’m in withdrawal from writing. 

Okay, now that I’ve made my breakthrough.  Here is my confession about what I have accomplished this month.  I’ve been reading lots of books on writing, including Making Scenes, Writing the Wave and 101 Habits of Highly Successful Novelists.  All have been inspirational.  I did attend a retreat that was refreshing for my spirit if nothing else.  I wasn’t able to check in until 5:00PM on Friday and that was when everyone was getting together for evening activities so really didn’t have time to write that day but the evenings were interesting.  Got to get to know some people in the writer’s group a little better, having joined it recently.  We did some plotting with a book called Writer’s Brainstorming Book, as a group.  I did have Saturday to write and got 5 pages written.  I had hoped to get a lot more accomplished but realize now that it needs to be a daily habit, not something I put off for when it’s convenient.  All in all, the retreat was good because time spent with other writers always is time well spent. 

All together this month, I’ve written 11 good pages which sounds pathetic for 30 days of work.  I have spent quite a bit of time developing characters and the story.  I have tried critiqueing part of it with a friend and have decided to hold off on that until the first draft is done.  I hate trying to defend a story that is neither complete nor set in stone yet.  The person I critiqued with made it feel like she was trying to take off with my story in another direction and I found it difficult to stop that without hard feelings.  I don’t think she meant it but that was how it was perceived. 

It has been a rough month but I am determined to get this done and this coming month will be better.  I will have more to report next month. 

Wow, I think this could be better than therapy.

Please feel free to share your experiences with developing a new story and finding time to write with me.  I would love to hear them. 

Virginia

Writing a Novel Journal Post 1

This month I’ve decided to do something a little different.  Though I’ve been involved with several writer’s groups and organizations over the years, I have yet to complete a novel length project. There, I said it. Whew, that feels better. I have published a short story and for a time had a column in a local newspaper yet I feel that my knowledge about novel writing is lacking.  What I can do is share what I am doing each month to finally complete a novel. Hopefully you can learn from the things that I do right as well as from my mistakes.  My plan is to tell you what I have or haven’t accomplished each month and also ask for any advice or suggestions.

I am a Realtor so I do have flexible hours but I do have a problem with making writing a priority.  I feel I need to focus on what pays the bills first and my writing project usually comes after work and family.  

I understand time management and that if I don’t schedule it into my day and even if I do schedule it into my day, it doesn’t always get done.  My affirmation is: I will make writing a commitment.  I will schedule time into each day to write, starting now.

This past month was spent developing my story and main characters so my page count is not very impressive, 6 pages.  My writing project is a Women’s fiction story with a paranormal twist.  I have a younger woman and an older woman who are being pulled together by the spirit of a third woman.  Because the third woman is in spirit form, I think I made the mistake of not working on her character.  I will be developing her character more this month.  I wasn’t exactly sure how to use this character but because I have been catching up with the Desperate Housewife series, I like how they used Mary Alice’s voice as the opening and closing of each episode.  I’m thinking I might let this character make an introduction and then go on to my other main characters and let them finish telling the story.  I trust I will figure it out. 

Since I feel so insecure about the whole process and like the idea of having someone to hold my hand, I am working with a book.  It’s Book in a Month by Victoria Lynn Schmidt Ph.D. 

My working title is Finding Faith.  Faith Mercer is a misfit.  She has never felt as though she belonged.  It is about her search for family.  Another key character is Rose Abbott, an older woman who is lonely but won’t admit it.  Because of grief, she has pushed people out of her life and feels that it’s too late and resists any urge to reach out.  I’m playing this whole journal thing by ear.

Next month, I am planning to attend a writer’s retreat so hope to have a lot more to share next month.

How do you begin your stories? Do you start with the plot or the characters? Do you use an outline or write the story as you go? I really am curious.

Until next time.

Virginia