Writing a Mystery Novel – Plot 101 or Where to FInd Ideas

Writing DeskToday, we will begin a series of short blogs on how an author can craft and sell a novel, beginning with where a writer can find plot and character ideas.

Most simply, just do what you are already doing, such as reading other books. Of course, do not plagiarize but use these readings of the famous and not-so-famous as a springboard to build your own unique images, situations, dialogue or characters.

Next, close your mouth and listen. The world is not a still nor a silent place. In most public areas, some action or form of conversation is going on, from the hair salon, the checkout line at the market, at church or a little league baseball game, in the queue at the movie theater or yes, even sipping a double-mocha skinny latte at the dank coffeehouse where the one-armed guitar player hangs out. (Bet she has some tales to tell.)

Got Texts? Everyone is on the phone these days, playing games, tweeting, reading books or just clutching their devices like their lives depended on them. Maybe you overhear one-sided conversations and your imagination fills in what you don’t hear – sobs, cursing, yelps of joy, utter disgust, or just breathing because you have stumbled across a couple in love.

Maybe the boob tube keeps you warm on those rainy winter nights, or awake on those lazy Sunday post-brunch afternoons. The medium is a 4-season, ripe for the plucking, tree of ideas, from reality shows, interviews on talk shows, news reports, crime dramas, soap operas and dare I say, even sporting events. Think of a crowded stadium with 90,000 in attendance – a body is found in a bathroom after a match or game. How many suspects will there be? How many witnesses and how does a resolute crime-solver even begin paring down the list? Suppose a human flies to the ground from an upper balcony, was it suicide or murder, or just someone who had too much to drink?

Look around your neighborhood. Become privy to the backyard gossip and drama that often courses just below the surface of even suburban areas with well-manicured lawns, 3 SUVs in the garage and two cats in the yard. Maybe Jane’s gardener does takes twice as much time with her yard as he does with everyone else, or that Bob is always loading golf clubs into the trunk of his car – at night, or that often the Smith’s house sounds like a carnival shooting gallery in the wee, still hours after midnight, when dishes break on the Mexican tile floor with no regrets, and shadowy figures crash hard against ivory balloon shades and bold epithets hang cocked like shiny copper skillets in the tense kitchen air.

Or, maybe you live in the woods in a tent with no modern conveniences and your only burglar alarm is Fido and a ring of tin cans, begging to be kicked. Yeah, beyond that natural realm at the end of your grimy fingertips, is a world filled with your unique forays though life. It has been repeatedly said that authors create from what they have experienced. Perhaps you remember as a small child venturing beyond an unlocked door into a world of wonder that teemed with danger (at least to the adults searching for you) or the first time you drove a car by yourself and the pride you felt in returning home, with you and the car in one piece..

There is nothing wrong with digging a little deeper too. Why not mine your subconscious by keeping a pad and paper, recorder or your cell phone handy to record your dreams when you awaken. Use these inner glimpses as building blocks, tunnels or apertures for your ventures into a forbidden fantasy world. Keep a notebook of these dreams, put them on a flash drive, or on note cards and file them as fodder for those hopefully few times when you are searching for writing inspiration.

Above all else, enjoy the journey. Treat this process as absolutely necessary for your writing to grow and evolve, but delight in it, roll in it as if it were a field of your favorite wild flowers and be happy to be alive.

‘Till next time. Happy Writing.

R.R. Harris, Author of Double Take: An Island Travel Mystery of Lively Romance and Deadly Betrayal.       http://amzn.to/1l4uFak

Double Take Kindle Cover

THE MARRIAGE OF BELIEVABLE CHARACTERS AND ENGAGING SETTINGS

Screen shot 2012-04-16 at 5.23.25 PMWhat makes a character come alive in a news report, work of fantasy, memoir or mystery-thriller?

Readers say they enjoy their lovers and villains, mothers and neighbors to be complicated, passionate, painted in vivid hues, believable and consistent, even if being constantly inconsistent is the character’s only consistency.

“Sitting in black revolving chair, my chin in a rest, my forehead against a strap, and facing an intense light about to be shined on my inner eye, while the doctor at his illuminated glass counter made entries into my record, I turned pessimistic.” ~ Harriet Doerr

The reader could cut the palpable tension in the narrator’s mind with a dull scalpel. Why is Ms. Inner Eye even in the doctor’s office? What conflict(s) might be poised to leapfrog from languorous lounging on a lily pad to violently and irreparably shatter the pristine surface of the pond that has pooled her mundane and entirely matronly 57 years?

We simply have no choice – we must keep reading. We care what happens to this woman. Indeed, she has entered the open door of our hearts as brazenly and uninvited as Goldilocks, is getting comfortable in our heads and is warming her size 10-AA feet on the crackling fire of our curiosity. She is no longer a character in a story, she is someone we either know, or must get to know. Now!

READ ON

Please enjoy the following examples, chew them slowly, savoring every intriguing bite.

“I opened my eyes to the sound of new people brushing past my aisle seat. And looked up to see a colored woman holding a large sleeping baby, who, with the heaviness of sleep, his arms so tight around her neck, seemed to be pulling her head down. I looked around and noticed that I was in the last white row.” ~Grace Paley

“They sat at the Martinique Café, a café frequented by mulattos, prize fighters, drug addicts. He had chosen dark corner of the café and now he bent over and began to kiss her. He did not pause. He kept his mouth on hers and did not move. She dissolved in this kiss.” ~Anais Nin

“I was sitting in a taxi, wondering if I had overdressed for the evening, when I looked outside of the window and saw Mom rooting through a Dumpster. It was just after dark. A blustery March wind whipped the steam coming from the manholes, and people hurried along the sidewalks with their collars turned up. I was stuck in traffic two blocks from the party where I was heading.” ~ Jeannette Walls

“Did Will love Emma? I’m certain he did. The memory of his hand wrapped around my arm and his whisper, this part of her makes you want to hold on, still makes me shiver sometimes when others touched me there, because I remember the longing in his voice to touch his wife there when he was touching me.” ~ Sarah Blake

“I was coming back from the grocery store with two bags of groceries when I saw her there with her dirty-faced toddler. I offered her an orange, then my loaf of bread and jar of peanut butter. I nearly croaked then I heard the sound of crying coming from the cooler on the ground behind her, looked inside to see a baby.” ~ Yvonne Daley

“Blond hair and anorexia were passed down like family jewels to my sisters, but not to me, the brown-haired blob. I did not know who I was or wanted to be, but then again, neither did my parents. My grandparents anglicized their names and left their Jewish heritage behind when they fled Poland to America years before. And don’t even ask me about my immediate family. They just mimicked the Long Island losers they befriended at the WASP Country Club; no, that wasn’t its name, but it should have been.” ~ Becca Chopra

Thanks for visiting. Please come back often and tell all of your friends and colleagues about our Editing Services.

 R. R. Harris

Author of Double Take, a mystery set on the Big Island of Hawaii and set for publication on Amazon, Fall 2013.

Info@Indie AuthorCounsel.com

http://www.IndieAuthorCounsel.com

‘Twas a few days before Christmas and Five Top Authors Rock the House

Every idea is my last. I feel sure of it. But I don’t just wait for ideas. I look for them constantly. ~Peg Bracken

I’m still learning what it is about the past I want to write. I don’t worry about it. It will emerge. It will insist on being told. ~ Frank McCourt

Slow down now, touch what is around you, and out of care and compassion for each moment and detail, put pen to paper and begin to write. ~ Natalie Goldberg

Suppose instead of the Three Wise Men, Peg, Frank and Natalie came bearing nuggets of wisdom to inspire you to craft a work that someone other than your Grandmother will care about. Do you have what it takes? Nora Roberts says the essentials are drive, discipline and desire and that talent alone will not get anything done.

So that holiday gift buyers (including fellow authors) may know what wonderful reading choices they have this year, I am participating in a blog hop started by visionary author, Gary Markwick. To keep it going,  I am going to answer the questions below, tag a new set of 5 Authors, who will then answer, tag 5 more authors …

What is the working title of your book? Double Take 

Where did the idea come from for the book? From Hardy Boy mysteries to Edgar Allan Poe to Hitchcock, James Bond and Maya Angelou, to people I have known or heard, or wished I had known or heard.

What genre does your book fall under? Mystery Thriller.

Which actor would you choose to play your protagonist in a movie rendition? Matt Damon would be great as my Sleuth.

Could Matt Damon be cast as the dashing Carter Woods in R. R. Harris’ Mystery Thriller, Double Take?

Elevator Pitch: Double Take, a suspenseful action thriller with more twists and turns than a Coney Island roller coaster, is set on the Big Island of Hawaii and loosely defined by a Cain-Abel fueled love triangle; a budding romance goes horribly sour and devolves wickedly into a red-hot flow of despair, frustration and betrayal.

P.S. I am looking for Beta Readers for this work, after the Proofreading phase has been completed, so if you are interested in participating in my creative journey, please write to me at: info@IndieAuthorCounsel.com

Thanks for stopping by and Happy Holidays!

Must-Read Authors (Hint: Think Holiday Presents)

Marcie Brock, Book Marketing Maven, blogging at: http://marciebrockbookmarketingmaven.wordpress.com/

Gary Sanders, author of Work in Progress, Love Ya Baby, Five Modern Noir Short Stories, blogging at: http://thegarysandersshow.com/

Jeff Mazza, writing a story of love, loss and life at http://www.cognitivecompost.com/

Alisa Singa, author of Unparallel Worlds.

Three Quick Tips for Writing Mystery, Suspense and Thriller Novels

Double Take, a mystery thriller set on the Big Island of Hawaii is loosely defined by a love triangle that devolves wickedly into a red-hot flow of despair, frustration and anger.

Let’s (including me) spend less time dreaming about writing our books and more time constructing and writing them. We all know that if you fail to plan, you plan to fail. Why not craft a well-thought out stew of emotions, chocked full of juicy motivation and lip-smacking conflict and topped with a generous dollop of intrigue with just a twist of red herring, the maelstrom of flavors melded in such a way that readers pant for more?

I am nearing completion of my first draft on Double Take, an action adventure set on the Big Island of Hawaii, which is loosely defined by a love triangle that devolves wickedly into a red-hot flow of despair, frustration and anger.

Point of View: What captivating character in each scene has the most to gain or lose? For several scenes, I chose a third-person narrator, a travel writer cum-detective, who happens to be on-island researching a magazine article and is sucked into the sides of the triangle unwittingly.

Sparks: What would intrigue a reader about this story? For Double Take, a tragedy that occurs early in the novel lights a fire and ratchets up the suspense while a romance between the narrator and a single, (both literally and one not in a relationship) family member of two sides of the triangle kindles, yet muddies and sustains it as the story unfolds. And still later, as loose ends are stitched up, and all is right with the world, oh $#$@ …I hope that you read to find out.

Setting: Be it the musty library where mustachioed Colonel Mustard did the deed with a well-polished candlestick or maybe, a spider-webbed graveyard backlit by a full moon of terror, settings must be cohesive with, drive and enforce the characters, conflict and suspense, as well as provide fertile ground for them to flourish. Yes, a tall order indeed, but instead of being just mere descriptions, settings are used to up the ante on the story, to bring it to center stage, to showcase what matters most to the character who is describing the scene. Double Take takes place on several actual, mostly, well-visited places on the Big Island and the character’s verbal descriptions are buttressed by photos and fast facts in a quick and entertaining style.

By the way, I will be looking for Beta Readers once Double Take has completed the Final Draft stage, so if you are interested in being part of my creative writing journey, please write me at Info@IndieAuthorCounsel.com and visit http://www.IndieAuthorCounsel.com

Thanks for stopping by and Happy Writing!

Sincerely,

R. R. Harris

Writing a Mystery or Suspense Novel – Suppose, What if and Why?

“Don’t forget things that were painful or embarrassing or silly. Turn them into a story that tells the truth.” Paula Danzinger

One of a writer’s most precious resources is the world that lives beyond the creaking gate, borne in a fog of ideas that seeks the low places. Here, sometimes in the din of dank recesses, other times in bright, golden light, march a legion of the hopelessly lost and unceasingly forlorn. They bang their dented tin cups so that we might notice them. Their tatters of spirit overpower and wrest control of the rules of engagement we have posted in our heads and tattooed indelibly across our common sense. Yet, we ensnare and assail them without conscience. The meat of their souls will sustain us until we have had our fill.

Pen and paper, recorders and our brains are the simple tools we have packed for this hunt. When we return from the fray victorious, our prey in hand, chafed but unharmed, the camp is pitched with sturdy folders, and staked in neat rows by organizational software. Lieutenant Scrivener cages our captures, tarping the rough edges with a well-stitched backstory, calming, nurturing, grooming them. No meal tonight, only a fortune cookie that teases, promising ultimate release into the light of day. Cynics among the group argue that this is largely hot air and not to be trusted.

Suppose they escape while we go about our daily affairs? It simply will not happen. Resolutely prepared for their struggles, we observe them unnoticed, peripherally, boldly, one eye to life’s knothole. They huddle as if to gain strength by association and we hear their whispers, indistinct and largely unintelligible. We bait them to be more forthcoming and revealing by releasing a few of them at a time. Wary of yet another trap, at first, they peek out with pinpoint pupils. Once they see the fire-breathing dragon is only papier-mache and has human feet with yellowed toenails, they rush out pell-mell, leaving behind a boneyard of dangling participles, split infinitives and tired cliches. Their fires of determination are stoked with dreams of literary stardom, their tickets punched on express trains to glory.

It’s like the stories are already there. What they pay me for is the leap of faith that says: “If I sit down and do this, everything will come out OK.” Stephen King, author of 11/22/63: A Novel

Need Marketing, Editing or Proofreading Services – Professional Quality, Quick Turnaround, Reasonable Prices? Doors open early at our May Madness Sale.

Happy Writing!

R. R. Harris

www.IndieAuthorCounsel.com

Novel in a Month – Describing the Setting

Settings literally provide a stage for your story – a meeting place for characters, conflict and suspense to meld, wrestle like cats in a bag or become the best of friends.

Tips to keep in mind when writing descriptions of your work’s setting: Keep it simple so that the reader is not overwhelmed. Engage your reader not with flowing prose that aches to be set to music, but instead, let your character’s voice reveal details that energize the piece.

Allow the reader to close her eyes and hear the character’s drunken drawl, to be choked by the grit that lies heavily, permanently in the tropical air, or to be disgusted by the stench of the unbathed villain with one eye.

From Rebecca in The Chakra Diaries: “Julie arranged my soft Indian mats in a perfect circle of color before collapsing like a lifeless marionette, center-stage in the middle of the rainbow, smack on the bright green cushion.”

From Sarah’s diary: “From across the field, my youngest sister and I saw the unbalanced red tractor rear like an unbroken colt, pawing the air, its rubber feet spinning dew-damp hay in rainbow arcs.”

Remember to pace yourself. Your work is a marathon of sustained maximum effort and should be unveiled or doled out, slice by delectable slice. Tease and entice the reader so they must know what happens next.

Close your eyes and let your mind paint the details and color the mood. Look for relevant details that cry out to be noticed, to be included without fail. Keep in mind that an out-of-work actor may describe a scene entirely differently than a street painter, soccer mom or fashion photographer. Certain details may be “left out” of a setting by one character only to be introduced later by another, IF the added details advance the story or deepen the character.

They lived in a Moorish tower that they had bought for very little money. The old doors did not close well, and the wind opened them over and over again. I sat with them in a big circular room with peasant furniture. Anais Nin

One last tip is that a well-written setting description allows the reader a peek into what the character sees while it enhances the mood of the piece, as subtly as a first kiss or as violently as a train wreck. No character sees everything. She only focuses on what is important to her at that moment. If the added details do not further develop the plot, leave them out.

Thanks for stopping by. If you’d like to join me in and write your NOVEL IN A MONTH, click here: http://www.novelinamonth.com/?afl=90058

Becca Chopra, author of The Chakra Diaries

www.TheChakras.org

www.IndieAuthorCounsel.com

Novel in a Month – Day Two, Character Sketches

Today, let’s talk about character building. We will start with identifying the main characters, and color in their personalities, challenges and individual attributes.

Before you proceed any further, you will need to decide whether you are following an outline or not. It will help if you have both primary and secondary characters. Too many may turn your work into a Shakespearean play and you may lose the reader by page eight.

Introduce characters into your story plan by listing their name and role in the story. Think ahead to ways you will let the reader inside their heads by showing their fears, vanities, quirks, flaws, hobbies, even secrets that can help mold your story.

“I am going to write about people with faults, with nasty tempers, men and women of all classes and conditions, with love and hate and fears and gripes against each other. People I can believe in because I know and understand them.” Leigh Brackett

Maybe the kill-without-a conscience mob assassin has a soft spot for kids because when he was four, his own father’s blood crimson-stained his just-finished sand castle at a family beach outing. Now he has an unwritten rule never to hurt a parent in front of their child.

In The Chakra Diaries, Rebecca is the main character but she introduces and is enveloped by a cast of sub-primary characters who are participants in her Chakra Healing workshop.

All of the characters in The Chakra Diaries need to build a strong Root Chakra foundation before they move on to achieve what they want in life. Yet, Estrella, a young woman from Long Island, especially experiences the frightening feelings of isolation and abandonment by those who profess to love her. In response, she grows a thick outer shell literally by gaining weight to physically push others further away and emotionally by trusting no one and fearing everything. Every minute of every waking day and, often in her dreams, she searches for the safe haven within herself that she never found growing up.

Blond hair and anorexia were passed down like the family jewels to my sisters, but not to me, the brown-haired blob… My carbon-copy mom and sisters all followed the Atkins Diet, exclaiming with drooling delight over blue cheese bacon burgers (buns aside – too many carbs). I had to supplement family meals with goodies I hid in a stash under my bed to keep my ethnicity – the zaftig curves, remnants of old-country Europe and appropriate only for my grandmothers… My father refused to accept my collect call, screaming, “Star made her bed with the bus boy, let her lie in it.”

Julie is the poster girl for an unbalanced fourth or Heart Chakra, a noxious cocktail of anger, depression, grief, despair, jealousy and sadness that is neither shaken nor stirred. She so desperately needs to learn forgiveness in the course of healing her chakras, and to free her life from the suffocating restraints of negativity. Her tainted soul lies bruised and sore, cast away from the mainstream of life and out-of-reach of her body’s innate healing energy.

A sense of peace washed over me as I imagined the cool, dark, soothing embrace of the ocean’s depths. Depths where this earthly pain could not exist… The doctor said the cancer had spread way beyond the lump on my thigh. Far beyond the scope of simple surgery or mainstream chemo… It’s probably a blessing that Mark confessed to sleeping with Rebecca.

Thanks for stopping by. If you’d like to join me in trying to write your NOVEL IN A MONTH, click here:

http://www.novelinamonth.com/?afl=90058

Becca Chopra

www.TheChakras.org

www.IndieAuthorCounsel.com