14
Mar

And Then There Was a Tiger

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Then there was a tiger ….

As every author knows, we, who manipulate the keys on the computer are not always in charge of the words that end up on the page.

This AM, while working on my third Mrs. Odboddy adventure…which I must admit is coming along very slowly thanks to the characters dragging their heels with less inspiration than I’m used to getting from my imaginary crew…

In this final sequel, I had every intention to wind up the series, finalize the romances outlined in book one, bring the culprit from book two to justice, and have Agnes unravel another Nazi-conspiracy.
We were at a crucial point in the story where someone has framed my protagonist for burglary, another character was just whacked in the head, and another couldn’t decide which of two men she loved and … And then…there was a tiger. Literally! A living, breathing striped tiger!

Who knew?

Well!!

Throw out the rule book. Toss away the outline. Forget the red herring that I was just about to add to page 109, because now…there is a tiger.
Not that this is the first time a character has changed the direction of my story, but I have to admit, this is the first time there was a tiger. Now I have to figure out what to do with a tiger, in small town CA, during WWII.

Really? Come on guys!

I’m sure you’ve all experienced this to some degree. How many of you, while writing your Great American Novel, (or facsimile) have had a plan for where a particular scene should go when suddenly…the character takes over and drives the scene in a completely unexplained or impossible direction?

21
Jun

He said… She said. Why does it matter?

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Readers love books with lots of dialogue and not so much narrative. Good dialogue should never just be idle chit-chat or casual conversation. Dialogue moves the storyline forward and is written specifically to create a certain mood.

In the following edited conversation between Brett and Kimberlee, from Black Cat’s Legacy, she shares her darkest secret.

Kimberlee took a deep breath and sighed. “I’ve had nightmares all my life. I never thought they had anything to do with my father’s death.”

“Nightmares?” Brett wrinkled his forehead. “Go on.”

“I remember now. In my dream…maybe it wasn’t a dream... My father is lying at the foot of the stairs and there’s someone standing in the shadows!”

Brett leaned across the table and took her hand. “You were there? You saw the killer?” His grip tightened on her hand. “You know who it was?”

She shook her head. “I heard voices. I came down the stairs. I remember something red, maybe a piece of clothing? I heard a shot and then I saw his…his… body. That’s all I remember.” She laid her head on her arms. “I never realized what it meant. I thought it was just a nightmare.”

“I can’t imagine how you must feel. I want to help get to the bottom of this. What can I do?” Brett’s voice shook
.
She lifted her head. Tears ran down her cheeks. “There is one thing, but I hate to ask.”
“Anything. Just name it. How can I help?” A flicker of concern swept across his face. He squeezed her hand.

“Maybe get me a tissue?” Her eyes crinkled in a smile.

What does this dialogue reveal?
In a few short sentences, we learn that Kimberlee never understood the connection between her nightmares and her father’s murder. We feel empathy for her pain. We see Brett’s increasing attraction to her, and suddenly during this tense moment, she delivers a one-liner that hopefully, if I did my job well, makes you smile.

Even more than the narrative in a story, good dialogue can create drama, romance, angst, or humor. If you can put it all in one conversation, go for it!

The reader doesn’t understand the creative effect of what a writer has done or admire their skill of their craft. They just know that as they read, the dialogue makes them feel they are watching the scene unfold, or better yet, they become one with the characters, feeling their joy, their pain, or their sorrow as they are pulled into the story.

The mark of a good book is when the reader reaches “THE END” and wishes there was another 100 pages. The mark of a GREAT book, is when that same reader searches for the sequel or another book by this same author.

Beyond a good plot, a charming setting or appealing characters, writing dialogue that sings is essential to creating this kind of reader’s response. It contributes to the success or failure of a book and to the writer’s career.

25
Jul

Why Are All Mystery Novels So Similar?

Avid mystery readers, whatever version of mystery they prefer, whether Thriller or Cozy mysteries, read multiple books each year. They acquire their reading material through book sales, garage sales, the library, borrowed from a friend and sometimes, though rarely, actually purchased from the author. At least there is a demand, so there is a need for supply.

Let’s pretend for a minute, we’re an author desirous of launching a new mystery series.

After careful analysis of a number of mysteries, we see a tried and true template; apparently we must follow to guarantee success.
Our story needs a female sleuth, preferably blonde and beautiful. She has a German Shepard in order to capture the animal lovers out there. The dog doesn’t have to help solve the crime, but if he can, so much the better. Now she needs an unusual job or hobby so she can encounter the crime which the inept police force can’t solve. Don’t forget the sweetheart somehow connected to the police department, otherwise how could she access the official information generally withheld from the public?

Sadly, most of the best jobs or hobbies have been taken by other mystery series’. We already have book store owners, catering services, coffee houses, writers, and private detectives, to name just a few. We need a career that hasn’t been done to death, but one that will give our sleuth access to plenty of material. It is going to be a series, after all.septic tank px

How about a lady sewer technician who pumps out septic tanks? She’d be in plenty of back yards spotting nefarious going’s-on, or how about the Jehovah’s Witness that goes door to door handing out literature. Plenty of opportunities to look beyond the screen door and see someone bound and gagged…

Maybe not. Let’s stick with the 'sewer-pumper-outer'.

So let’s see…to follow the template formula. The plumber and her quirky sidekick (did I forget the quirky friend?) find a body in the pump house. Proceed to red herrings, a romantic interlude, unrequited love, and suspicious characters, all with alibis. Lots of flavor of plumbing tossed in, stopped up toilets, overflowing bathtubs, (a humorous scene or two), and move right on to the climax where our heroine goes alone to meet the villain in a warehouse, but doesn’t tell anyone where she’s going. She is captured, strung up by her thumbs to the rafters, death being imminent until her detective boyfriend and her dog burst down the door and save her life. The murderer is revealed, every toilet is unstopped, every drain unplugged and the heroine and detective ride off into the sunset in the sewer-truck. The end.

That’s the template. Lots of ways to change up the various topics; hobbies, quirky friend, red herrings, suspects, romantic interludes, murder, theft, kidnapping, contraband, illegal alien housekeeper, secret message or what-have-you that begins the mystery, identity of villain (always the most unexpected member of the cast) and final climax, etc. This is the formulaic template, with assorted variations, that most mysteries novels follow.

When will a brave author be willing to break the mold, or at least one who dares to write a mystery that doesn’t end with the heroine strung up in the barn (figuratively speaking)? Sadly, as long as the public is willing to buy these trite storylines, mystery books will continue to follow the same template.

What are your thoughts about books with similar storylines?

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