Monday, February 27, 2023

Am I Trying to Write Two Books Instead of One?

By Elaine L. Orr

I've been working on New Lease on Death (13th Jolie Gentil cozy) for several months, sometimes going full speed ahead, other times pausing for a week or more. Yes, I am busy. Who isn't?

When I'm not moving fast or feel stuck, I look at the intersection of plot and subplots and which character is doing what in each. Because the book has two points of view (sleuth Jolie Gentil and a former town resident who left under a cloud years ago), I've been careful to define each character's role carefully.  The usual who-does-what-to-whom and why, plus outlined details about the clues that lead to solving the murder.

I've been wondering if I'm stalling for...what? Time? I set the schedule. Today I went back to basics while sitting quietly (a.k.a. away from my computer) and wrote about the inciting incident. Then I insisted (to myself) that there were two inciting incidents.

Ah, a clue. Maybe I'm working slowly because I'm trying to write two plots instead of a plot with strong subplots.

Below is the working description of New Lease on Death.

Jolie always has her hands full appraising houses, running the food pantry, and enjoying her family. Enter Buck Brock — an annoying landlord who likes to skimp on amenities and wants Jolie to lowball appraisals on properties he’s buying. He makes Lester look like a mild-mannered uncle.

She and Scoobie also decide to let a troubled Iraq War vet back into their lives, and Jolie finds him work cleaning units for Buck. Or will Josh’s presence end up helping her family — especially Scoobie?

Jolie’s in the Java Jolt Coffee Shop when Buck’s weekend tenant (a friend of Jolie’s sister) collapses. No one expects her to die so quickly. It’s hard to identify suspects, but Josh pops up on the police radar. Or could some evil person have put poison in a Java Jolt product just to cause trouble?

Jolie, Scoobie, and friends are pondering this when an annoyed Buck asks Jolie to meet him at a house she just appraised. She’s peeved, but he’s a steady client. What she finds in the foyer does not encourage tourist traffic in Ocean Alley.

As a mom of four-year-old twins, Jolie doesn’t jump into crime solving casually. But figuring out two murders may be a leap she has to take.

Except it doesn't include my main subplot. I think this is going to be a week of rethinking. It's either two books or one that needs to mesh better.

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To learn more about Elaine L. Orr, visit her website or sign up for her newsletter.

Friday, February 10, 2023

How Much is too Much in Describing a Fictional Universe?

By Elaine L. Orr

Writers need to know a great deal about their characters and the worlds in which they reside -- whether it's a fantasy setting built from the ground up or a small town the antagonist has lived in all of his or her life.

World building is the phrase used in fantasy and science fiction to describe the mythical or other universe an author creates. But I think all stories and novels build their own worlds; we call it the setting. 

However, the reader probably doesn't need to know everything about a place or environment. For earth-based fiction, does the reader need to know, for example, when a town was founded? Not necessarily. However, if a character is the descendant of a founder and wields influence in town politics, then it could be important.

Marlon James, a Booker Prize winning author, put it this way. "I think what sometimes goes wrong with world-building is that people spend too much time on it. Build to the point of where it's of use to the character, otherwise you fall into exposition."

It's easy to fall into excessive description. The writer can see the room a character enters perfectly, and it can seem important to get it all into the first draft. But it doesn't have to stay in the final. 

If a character describes a room down to the fabric the curtains are made of or a tool shed down to the lawnmower brand, what does that level of detail add to the reader's enjoyment? If the answer is, "Not much," those could become the paragraphs readers skim. 

I recently read a wonderful review of a memoir in Publisher's Weekly. Yet, this was the last sentence: the [memoir] "would not lose any of its charm for losing a third of its length." Yikes! A good reminder of why an author needs to be ferocious in paring unneeded text.

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To learn more about Elaine, visit her website or sign up for her newsletter.

Friday, February 3, 2023

Check Out Janice Hardy's Fiction University

By Elaine L. Orr

At least once a week I read about enhancing writing skills. In the "old days" I would read a new book on writing after I finished writing one of my books. There are so many Internet resources that I now go there first.

A site I now go to a lot is Janice Hardy's Fiction University. It's straight forward and indexed well. The site also addresses a broad range of topics rather than focusing on, for example, character development or structure. Sites with a narrower focus can be quite good, but I like being able to browse diverse subjects. 

Though there are topics such as marketing and the writing life, these are samples of those that deal with writing itself.

Developing Your Novel

Ideas and Brainstorming

Story Development and Theme

Character Development

Structure and Outlining


Goals, Conflict, Tension, and Stakes


World Building


Word Count

Series and Trilogies

Writing Your Novel

Voice and Style

Dialogue and Internalization

Point of View (POV)





Tone and Mood

 Common Writing Problems

Show vs. Tell




Lack of Conflict

Lack of Action

Lack of Goals

Lack of Tension

Lack of Motivation

Lack of Stakes

Stalled Stories

Editing Your Novel

First Drafts

Revision and Editing

Word Choice

Trimming Words

Critiques and Feedback

Click on any of the topics (when you're at the blog itself) and you'll see many articles. In a sign of how much people benefit from the posts, you'll see dozes of comments.

I generally want my characters to solve problems, and that's not always the most interesting reading. At the moment, I'm reading articles on lack of tension in stories, especially the one about adding tension during revisions

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To learn more about Elaine, visit her website or sign up for her newsletter.