Wednesday, September 28, 2016

Guest: J.R. Lindermuth and Starting Your Fiction

My online friend, J.R. Lindermuth, is my guest today, talking about beginnings. Read on for some great tips!

Your first sentence should draw the reader in. The second should compel him to continue reading.

That isn't sage advice from some great writing seer. It's my admonishment to myself as I begin each new story or novel. I've been using it since a reviewer said she was "hooked after page three" about an earlier book.

Page three is too darned late to hook most readers.

People have short attention spans and we writers need to perk their curiosity from the beginning. And the best way to accomplish it is with an opening that inspires "who,""what" or "why?"

Richard Wrights great novel "Native Son" (1940) begins with:


The second line is taken up with explaining it's the sound of an alarm clock, which diminishes the impact. I don't think it would work today. Modern readers are not patient critters.

On the other hand, Elmore Leonard's opening for "Glitz" (1985)  begins:

The night Vincent was shot he saw it coming.

Now who wouldn't want to know more about that?

I hope I've accomplished something similar for Shares The Darkness with “She didn’t come home last night.” You know someone's missing. Hopefully you'll want to know why?

Here's the blurb for my latest, Shares The Darkness, seventh in the Sticks Hetrick crime series:

Jan Kepler and Swatara Creek Police Officer Flora Vastine were neighbors and schoolmates, but never close.

When Jan, a school teacher, avid birder and niece of a fellow officer, goes missing and is found dead in a nearby tract of woods Flora finds herself thrust into the middle of an examination of the other woman's life, as she searches for clues.

As usual, the police have more than one crime to deal with. There’s illegal timbering and a series of vehicle thefts taking up their time. And there are other issues to deal with. Flora is concerned there’s some shakiness in her relationship with Cpl. Harry Minnich who seems to be making a lot of secretive phone calls.

Still Flora maintains focus on the murder. Despite evidence implicating other suspects, the odd behavior of another former classmate rouses Flora’s suspicion. Flora’s probing opens personal wounds as she observes the cost of obsessive love and tracks down the killer.

Bio: A retired newspaper editor, J. R. Lindermuth has published 14 novels and a non-fiction regional history. His short stories and articles have been published in a variety of magazines. He is a member of International Thriller Writers and is a past vice president of the Short Mystery Fiction Society.

Amazon author page:
FB author page:
His books are available from
Barnes & Noble and from other fine bookstores.

Wednesday, September 21, 2016

The Plotting Process

I'm rerunning this from 2013 since it's been one of my most popular posts. I hope someone can use this!

First, a few words on actual structure. I'm coming at this from a mystery writer's perspective, so my notes and sources are generally skewed in that direction.

For physical structure, I like to use the W plot. Kris Neri first introduced this to me, but many writers use it. It's very hard to find a good picture of it, but this site ( includes two fairly good samples. This one has a simple example near the end of the page (
).For mystery fiction, it's useful to put one more hump in it. Point A starts at the top left, B is the bottom of the first downstroke, then C is up, D is down (but not as far down as B), E is up (but not as far up as C), F is way down, and G finishes with a big upstroke.

A: Begin and immediately start a struggle for your protagonist
B: Pull the rug out from under her
C: Allow her some progress toward her goal
D: Give her a hurdle and make her think that her goal will be in sight once she leaps it
E: Move her close, but then make things worse
F: This is the low point of her struggle, she despairs that she will ever reach her goal
G: She finds a way to prevail

This works for a broad overview of the plot. You can also use one for each subplot and plan where they'll overlap and/or intersect.

I like to brainstorm with myself a bit and set up plot points. If I can end up with at least 12, I distribute them into Act I, Act IIA, Act IIB, and Act III. If I can work from point to point, putting at least 5400 words between points, I know I'll end up with a 65,000 word novel on first draft. From there, I usually layer in some texture. I revisit dialog and description, and try to put as many of the 5 senses into each scene as I can. I make sure each scene has a goal, conflict, and resolution. That last should lead to another goal set up to keep the story going.

Sounds simple, but the plot points tend to morph during writing. Some don't work out, others have to be added, always paying attention to the ebb and flow of action that some call scene and sequel. Character refuse to play the role you've assigned to them, and other characters pop up unbidden and interrupt things. Yikes! How did I ever write a novel?

So, I guess, it's complicated. I'm open to suggestions on how to plot here! It's good to see how others do it.

To prepare this blog, I googled around and found some sources new to me. These folks have some good thoughts on plotting for fiction:

Here's a fun one:

Wednesday, September 14, 2016

The Magic Number Theory, Re-re-run

This theory, which I first wrote about in October 2009 and repeated her in July of 2015, is for writers who want to be traditionally published and are submitting, either to agents or small presses. I stole this from someone and can no longer remember who, but if someone wants to take credit, I'll gladly give it. Any if someone else can state it better, that would be good, too. This is a little long winded.

First, I'm assuming your project is as good as you can make it. It's as good or better than what's on the market and it's ready to be published. You're sending out queries and collecting rejections and wondering if you'll EVER reach your goal.

As a querying writer you have your own, individual magic number. You don't know what it is, but it is written in stone somewhere. It's the number of queries you must send out before you land that elusive agent, the one who "falls in love" with your work and then manages to get it sold for you, or the publisher who eagerly accepts you into the fold. (An agent who can't sell your work, necessitating getting another agent, is a pre-agent, and doesn't count. Only your "real" agent, the one who sells for you.) When you send out the query with the magic number on it, you're set, done, reached your goal. (Until you go on to the rest of the stuff, marketing, promotion, guest blogging, which are just as hard, only different.)

The beauty of this theory is that you can regard each rejection as a step closer to your magic number. Another rejection? Okay, the magic number wasn't 17. A few more? Okay, it wasn't 28, or 52, or 77, or maybe not even 110. Each rejection is PROGRESS. You're getting closer to your magic number. If your number is 455, your 456th query will be The One that gets you published.

You may lose patience and try another route, self-publishing. Keep in mind that it may help to get the big agent and the big publishing house if you publish something with a good small press. That’s what worked for me.

Another writer, Lina Zeldovich, has a similar theory she calls Stairway to Heaven. Every rejection letter builds her stairway and gets her closer.

Either way, don't view rejection letters as marks of failure, but rather as marks of success.

I hung on for 10 years getting hitting my magic number. It turned out to be 468. There's something symmetrical about that for me. I now have had 10 books published.

Wednesday, September 7, 2016

Guest Jim Jackson on a Road Trip

I'd like to welcome Jim to my Travels again today. He was one of my first Guppy critiquers and, years later, followed me to become the president of that incredibly helpful group. Here he talks about using location in fiction.

First, here's a bit about him and his successful mystery series:
James M. Jackson authors the Seamus McCree mystery series. ANT FARM, BAD POLICY, CABIN FEVER, and DOUBTFUL RELATIONS (8/23/16). Jim splits his time between the deep woods of Michigan’s Upper Peninsula and the open spaces of Georgia’s Lowcountry. He is the current president of the 600+ member Guppy Chapter of Sisters in Crime. You can find information about Jim and his books at

Taking Fictional Characters on a Road Trip

One of the great divides in the writing community occurs in choosing locations for their stories. Some prefer the freedom of creating their own communities where every street, every business, every stop sign is there because they created it. Some of them do such a great job that I want to visit, if only I could. Those authors are concerned with consistency. Even if they don’t remember there is a left-turn-only lane going from Broad to Main, their readers will, and if it disappears in a later book, the author will hear about it.

Other authors prefer to set their stories in real places, with perhaps a few modifications so bodies don’t turn up in real businesses. Many readers get a charge when they’ve been to a location used in the book. It shares a communal bond between them, the author, and the characters. But woe to the author who has the sun directly in the eyes of a character driving on what locals know is a north-south street. A hot email is about to arrive.

Some authors blend the two. Louise Penny comes to mind as one who created the village of Three Pines that so many want to visit but also uses actual places in cities like Quebec. As an aside, I visited Quebec City this summer with one of our granddaughters, and she chose to tour the Morrin Centre. I walked in having totally forgotten about its role in Penny’s Bury Your Dead and was transported back to the story. That’s the power of real locations.

The Seamus McCree novels use (mostly) real locations and for Doubtful Relations I decided to have Seamus and his mother take a road trip. Some people are happy to research settings using the internet. I prefer visiting the places I use. When you read about Seamus’s home in Cincinnati, or the hotel he stays in Columbia, SC, or Tybee Island near Savannah, or North Carolina’s Outer Bank, or the hills and train stations of New Jersey, (all of which are in Doubtful Relations), I’ve been there, quite possibly with my camera to keep my memory accurate. 


Personal visits do not solve all problems. For example, a beta reader sent me an urgent note that a Cincinnati restaurant I used for a scene no longer exists—in fact the building has been torn down. I actually knew that, and fortunately Doubtful Relations is set a few years in the past, when the restaurant did exist.

So readers, what about you? Do you prefer real locations or a well-crafted fictional locale? And how do you respond when you find a factual error in a novel?

Jim's latest!

Financial crimes investigator Seamus McCree has wife problems, and Lizzie’s not even his wife anymore. Her current husband disappeared while traveling, and Lizzie turns to Seamus for help.

Equal parts road trip, who done what, and domestic thriller, Doubtful Relations takes psychological suspense to a new level. Seamus McCree fans and newcomers alike will delight in this fast-paced novel that leaves no one in the family unchanged and keeps you guessing until the very end.