Simple Mystery Plots, Part 1: The Mistake

I’m slowly getting a grasp on (some) types of mystery plots.  Here’s my first one, which I’m going to call The Mistake.

  1. A crime occurs.
  2. There are three suspects.
  3. The criminal is not one of those three suspects.
  4. The solver rotates through investigating the three suspects, and may even form a valid-sounding theory about one of the three suspects as the criminal.
  5. Then something knocks everything over for the solver and they realized they were wrong all along, and the criminal was this other person.
  6. Big reveal, wrapup, the end.

I’ve been doing this one mostly in ghostwritten cozies, so I can’t direct you toward any that I’ve written.  Yet.  You’ll see this one mostly in cozies (although it certainly isn’t the only possible cozy plot!); it’s good for distracting the reader without leaving an area.  Agatha Christie likes to make the criminal one of the initial suspects, “prove” that they couldn’t have done it somehow, then actually prove later that they did.

Increasing Wordcount Means…All the Drama

It’s not you, or rather it’s not you you.

Every time you want to change a habit, there’s a price to pay.  The number of days before you can establish a habit varies wildly.  Adding workload to your brain uses a disproportionate amount of calories.  The cycle of adapting to change is practically the same one that you go through for grief.  It’s so close that businesses are advised to use the Kubler-Ross model of the five stages of grief in order to coach their employees through a big business change.

So.

Every time you try to bump up your wordcount, you are:

  • Trying to establish a new habit
  • While effectively on an unexpected diet
  • While going through a grieving process.

I’m trying to bump up my wordcount–to make it more consistent.  I’m going through all this.  It’s drama.  I’m trying not to splatter it all over my family and friends.  But I still feel it.

This is hard, and some of the mechanics of your brain are fighting you on a subconscious level.  You’re not a bad writer, this isn’t pointless, and yes, you can do this.  Probably you should expect to eat a few extra cookies while you’re doing it, though.

 

Book Business Idea If You Want One: Tailored Indie Book Boxes

I’ve never understood Book of the Month clubs.  But then…I read a lot of books.*

I signed up for a clothes of the month club, basically.  AND WHOAH.  THEY SEND ME CLOTHES I LIKE AND I DON’T HAVE TO BE OVERWHELMED WITH ALL THE SHOPPING AND MORE OFTEN THAN NOT THEY FIT.

Am I willing to pay a premium for that?

Insert whimper-nod here.

Inspired by my clothes-of-the-month boxes, I’ve gone onto Amazon to look for more clothes.  Yay!  Clothes!

I have yet to buy clothes for myself from Amazon.  Too much stuff, no way to tell if it fits, NO accounting for tastes or quality, oh ye gods too much stuff.  Meh.

I’m not sure what that means for me, personally, but I think there’s room out there for a similar service that does indie books.  Indie book boxes, catered to your individual tastes.  Not “everyone read the same book this month” club.  But “I read some Le Carré the other day and liked it.  What have you got like that in indie?” club.  Say one print or e-book a month, selected by readers in the genre, with the option to hit a button and have the rest of the series sent to you automatically–all at once, when they come out, or one a month, whatever.

Charge the authors a nominal reading fee and Bob’s your uncle.

 

BUY MY CRAP:  I have a new short story out, “The Foundations.” When your basement is haunted in your brand-new house AND THE CONSTRUCTION COMPANY WON’T DO ANYTHING ABOUT IT.  Short horror story, 99c. Click here.

 

*I used to be part of the Science Fiction Book Club, back when I lived in a small town with an underfunded library and an hour’s drive to the nearest bookstore (and was like, “OMG!  Only an hour!” because we’d moved from somewhere even more remote).   This was before Amazon.  I still have my collected Amber series hardbacks.

Breaking the System: When Your Series Sneaks Up on You

So I’m working on a series, A Fairy’s Tale, which so far is made up of a bunch of loosely related twists on ’80s-style horror novels/movies.

Books have rules, right?  Things like, “The magic system, if any, is X” or “The main character gets the most POV chapters” or “The writing style in this book has a 1920s flavor to it, see?”  What the rules are doesn’t matter–as long as they’re appropriate for that book.

I knew that series would have rules, too, but I had no idea how deep that would go.

  • All plots based on ’80s-style horror.
  • The main character is a woman with agency, not just a screaming victim.
  • The “magic” is some kind of weird extra-dimensional science.
  • There are extra dimensions that interact with our own.
  • The “fae” are extra-dimensional beings.
  • The stories center around an unnamed Midwestern college town in the middle of nowhere.
  • It’s easy to cross from the fae dimension to this one in certain areas, of which the town is one.
  • The fae have been trying to hack human genetics so they can long-term make the jump out of their own universe before it gets destroyed.
  • The fae can only stay in our universe so long before they start to fail.  Like days at most.
  • The fae have “powers” that allow them to manipulate non-animate object to make them animate.  The more I find out about the universe, the more I realize this is because the fae, for all that they are afraid of the “Others” destroying their own universe, are using the Others’ techniques–because the imps are definitely something that only the Others should be able to do.
  • The Others want to destroy existence, Cthulhu-style.

TL:DR – Worldbuilding stuff about the rules of the world.

What I didn’t realized was that the series is also built so:

  • There are certain locations in town that have to be mentioned in any modern story, like Betty’s diner and The Page Turner bookstore.
  • If I don’t, the plot gets stuck.

I’ll probably find more things like that.  The subconscious.  It has plans that I know nothing about.  You can find the first novel, One Dark Summer Night, the you-done-meddled-where-you-shouldn’t novel, here.  I’m currently working on Under Twilight’s Spreading Blight, which is the on-a-dare-let’s-go-to-the-haunted-house-for-a-sleepover-what-could-possibly-go-wrong novel.

How Not to Write Horror

Bone to pick.  Not gonna name names, because it’s all too common.

All writers have ethical choices to make.  Not all stories are ethical to write.  But let’s stick with horror today.  A story that makes a reader want to die, for example, is an unethical story.  A story that makes a reader want to become a no-shit serial killer.  A story that makes a reader want to hurt someone for the fun of it, that dehumanizes a class of people, that whips up fear and hate, that celebrates abuse or despair.

Those things are unethical.

Either words have power, or they don’t.  And if you think they don’t, that this is all nothing but harmless entertainment, then you can get out of the writing business:  no big loss.

Writing horror, you learn how to play with both your own fears and other people’s.

Don’t abuse that.

Plus…why do you think horror doesn’t sell that well, as a genre?  Could it possibly be because some of the writers–not King, not Koontz, not even (ironically) Ligotti or Lovecraft–make their money off treating their readers and even their characters with contempt?

Why love someone’s work, when they see you as just another button to push?

Why trust a genre?

I’m steamed up this morning and it feels ugly to say, “Click this and give me money.”  So I won’t.  Tomorrow.

How to Plot a Mystery in Reverse

I’m working on writing better headlines, using info from Copyblogger.  Sorry if this gets weird…

Whodunnit?  That’s the major question of most mysteries (leaving aside thrillers and suspense for now).  And yet, most of the advice about writing a mystery that I’ve read is about hiding clues in your work–one of the least important parts of writing a mystery, in my opinion.  (They hide themselves, really.)

So how do you pick who did the murder, when you’re writing a mystery?

My advice here:

  • Pick the person who, when the solver finds out who did the crime, it increases the stakes.  Either the knowledge puts the solver in more danger, or bringing the criminal to justice is waaaay more painful than the solver expected–for example, the criminal is their only child.
  • The criminal is connected to many other characters by personal relationships.  That is, the criminal isn’t a stranger or outsider.  The criminal is, in fact, right in the middle of things in one way or another.  (Otherwise, the reader could feel cheated if they invest all that mental energy in solving a murder…and a random mugger did it.)
  • The criminal’s motive isn’t just for personal gain, but for some strongly emotional reason–personal gain AND revenge, or personal gain AND fear that they’ll never get what they “deserve” from their day job.  Personal gain AND pride.  It’s never just the inheritance, but the inheritance and that one time that dirty so-and-so insulted your salt-and-pepper shaker collection.
  • “Crazy” just isn’t good enough.  The motive has to be a reason that the audience can understand.  God help you if the whodunnit rests on something like, “The character was crazy because they were mentally ill, gay, or trans.” I will burn you.  Because that kind of thing is about the audience being unable to handle reality, not the “criminal.” Most people with mental illness as well as people who are gay and trans are far, far more likely to be victims than to be criminals. I promise you, you can find a better motive.  AND IT’S BEEN DONE.

People want to feel things in books; the best criminal in a whodunnit is the one who ends up giving the characters (and the audience) all the feels.

Now, because you don’t mind spending two seconds to make me feel better about my day, click HERE to sign up for my newsletter.  You get a free book and a really stupid pun every once in a while, in exchange for your immortal soul email address.

Thanks!

 

 

SEVEN REASONS TO MILLION DOLLARS AND YOU CAN TOO

I’m trying to go through the Copyblogger archives, can you tell?  I’ve determined that the most valuable thing I can do, from a marketing standpoint, is clearly establish in my own mind what value my writing has for other people.  In my most objective, reasoned observations:

  • My writing has no value.  None whatsoever.

Now, I realize this is not the case, but ugh, is that what it feels like.  Marketing is often aimed toward people selling products and information, not fiction, and may the gods help people writing poetry.  What will this do for your audience?  Will it help them save money on their tax returns?  Will it prevent ingrown hairs?

WILL IT MAKE THEM LAUGH OR CRY?

I wish I could just say something like:

READ THE BOOK THAT MADE THE AUTHOR LAUGH AT HER OWN JOKES, AND CRY WHEN SHE KILLED OFF HER FAVORITE CHARACTERS TODAY!

and have that work for me.  Or:

NOW YOU, TOO, CAN HAVE THE EXPERIENCE OF NOT KNOWING HOW THIS WILL ALL COME OUT AT THE END

Or:

WHAT NOT TO DO IN CASE OF MEETING A SUPERNATURAL CREATURE WHO HOLDS YOUR LIFE IN HER HANDS

Actually, that one might not be so bad. I might test that one out on an ad.

I’m also supposed to go back to doing “asks.”  Here’s my ask:  subscribe to my newsletter, so I can tell you when I have new stuff coming out.  I have new stuff coming out in a couple of days, so you should sign up now.  CLICK HERE.

I’m telling you, this marketing stuff is easier than it looks.

LET ME TELL YOU HOW…hahahaha…

November Writing Updates

November was a busy month.  No NaNoWriMo, but I still accomplished about 130,000 words this month all told.

  • Finished the ghostwritten adventure thriller, finally. WHEW.  Soundtrack:  Vocal Sea Shanties.
  • Finished the ghostwritten cozy (second in its series) on time, although with changes to the plot.  The stuff in the outline wasn’t working, and the client indicated several times that delays were unacceptable, so I fixed it on the fly, which seems to have worked out after some drama.  Soundtrack:  The Roaring Flapper Playlist.  No flappers were harmed during the course of this story.
  • Started a ghostwritten near-future thriller, the second in its series. I LOVE this series, and it disappoints me not to be able to brag about it.  I’m listening to Psybient’s Greatest Anthems as I write.
  • Getting ready to write the outline for the next in the adventure thriller series.  The client’s high-concept pitch on this was amazing.  I can only hope to hit that someday.
  • Got a delay on a short story that ran long, another episode in the A Fairy’s Tale series.  Next time I start a series, I’m gonna come up with a better damn series title.  This story is called By Winter’s Forbidden Rite.  Soundtrack:  House on the Hill from Tabletop Audio (scroll down).
  • Finished an actual short story in a possible new YA paranormal series, which I don’t generally write.  (Wait…I should come up with a good series title, shouldn’t I?  I haven’t yet.)  A kid who feels like his life is a dead end finds meaning in swindling people for money using some bullshit fortune-telling skills and a few nudges from his Holmsian little brother.  Doctor Rudolfo Knows All.  This is based on the Grimm’s fairy tale “Doctor Know-All.”  Soundtrack:  This one was short enough and came out fast enough that I didn’t have one.
  • Back to writing Under Twilight’s Spreading Blight finally, from the A Fairy’s Tale series.  See, just don’t start your series names with “A,” because it gets lame typing that out every time.  Just don’t.  This book is upsetting to write, because it features all the love and backstab.  Soundtrack:  Shostakovich!  Waltz #2 and String Quartet #8.
  • Finished multiple flash fiction pieces, because I was enjoying the October flash fiction so much.  They’re out on submission and are mostly short SF things.

November Wrap-Up

November was a kind of tipping point for me, although what it is exactly that I tipped between, I’m not sure.  It feels like I tipped between “not confident” and “confident” on a personal level, as in, “She is a confident person.”  But where that came from or what it means, I don’t know.  It’s probably a bunch of little things getting resolved or addressed over time.  I had to say “no” to several people on a personal level; I brooded on the matter for some time, but eventually came to the conclusion in various cases that I didn’t have time for drama, but I did have time to shop for clothes.  Plus I took a personality quiz that said I was confident now, and you know how those are always accurate.

I’m looking ahead to next year already (as you do), and I’ve decided that I need to spend more time working on my own writing, and less time getting my own writing out–that is, I need to get my writing out, but I need to be more efficient about it.

Methods I’m currently testing out:

  • Write 3K a day of my own stuff, first thing in the morning.  Results so far: GREAT.  This has been taking me 70-80 minutes in 10-minute bursts.  The fingers are FLYING.  A drawback is going, “Uh…you finished this story with 600 words to spare.  Now what?”  Answer:  Flash fiction.
  • Start stripping down existing processes to a simpler routine/template in order to save time.  Results so far:  I’m dropping Smashwords and Kobo in my direct uploads process.  I’m still uploading to Amazon and Draft2Digital.  The Kobo promo pages haven’t been doing much for me, so I feel that I can move Kobo direct sales over to D2D without much of a loss.  Smashwords has never done me a whole lot, and I’m finally just saying, “That’s another 10 minutes every time I have a book to upload that I don’t want to deal with.”  I’d already ditched Smashwords .doc files and was using .epubs only.  Still in testing:  should I switch over to InDesignCC or stick with my outdated CS2 version?  How much time can I save?  Can I convert straight to HTML or epub?  If so, how clean is that code?
  • Start shifting more work from my desk to a virtual assistant/contractors.  Not started yet.  I feel that I need to get the routine solid and efficient before I start asking other people to feel my pain.

I feel overwhelmed right now, because only one minimal efficiency has occurred at this point, and I have to spend extra time trying to work all this stuff out.  BAH.  But at least I’m writing waaaay more of my own stuff.  Something that occurs to me is that I’ll probably stop putting out short stories by themselves as separate ebooks, and concentrate more on story collections.  If I keep writing at this speed, it won’t take much longer to get them done and out.

Best Books Read, November

A selection of the best books I read in November, which, admittedly, still isn’t done yet but close enough:

  • Between the World and Me, by Ta-Nahisi Coates.  A series of essays, framed as a letter written to his son, on the poisonous Dream of a white America.  Just amazing.
  • The Omnivore’s Dilemma, by Michael Pollan.  This is not a screed on what types of food are healthiest for the body.  This is a book on how industrial agriculture is affecting the planet (hint: it depends on oil, so we better start thinking about changing it).
  • The Girl Next Door, by Jack Ketchum.  I can’t really recommend this.  It was a great book about everyday evil spiraling out of control, though.  A genuinely horrifying book.  I started out on audio with the author reading, but had to switch to text because I knew I wasn’t going to make it through every detail being slowly read out like that.
  • The Hour of the Star, by Clarice Lispector.  A really short, weird, meta book, very Kafka-esque.  I laughed all the way through it, but then that’s usually how Kafka takes me, too.

Runners up…I also read the complete Death Note saga (finally) but was massively disappointed about the ending, which should have occurred about 2/3 of the way through the series.  Meh.  In Cold Blood was good, but didn’t particularly hold me, and I had to skim a bit toward the end.  The Hot Zone was very dramatic, but I wished it had given more details.  Affinity was fun, but not up to the level of Fingersmith.  The Ruins was a one-trick pony but did that trick well.  I just didn’t care for the trick.

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