Twist your plot. Can your characters escape?

Karalee’s Post #133

twisterOne can spend a lifetime surfing the web and hanging out on social media. I’m choosing to cut back (I can actually choose how to spend all of my time) and I’m spending those minutes that often stretch into hours being more productive by reading books and working on my new business.

But every once in awhile a gem pops out from Facebook or Twitter. It happened today when I scrolled through my FB feed and I paused on a UTube that a friend posted. For some reason I clicked on it. Thanks Randy!

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sBoyS4wHPTc&sns=em

This tickled my murder mystery writing funny bone. The site is called Spy Escape & Evasion and subjects like this are good to jump-start your imagination and “what if…”

A few examples from this site are:

  • airplane survival secrets
  • how to become a human lie detector
  • how to escape handcuffs
  • how to escape zip ties
  • how to pick locks
  • how to disappear
  • how to escape rope
  • stun flashlight

Of course once you become immersed in discovery and contemplating how you might use new ideas in different ways in your fiction writing, you can spend all day surfing again.

Outliers

 

The internet easily becomes a circular web, catching the curious, the bored, the procrastinators, the blocked, the (put any excuse here….). It’s easy to go back to the first line in this blog:

One can spend a lifetime surfing the web and hanging out on social media.

The trick is to break the circle, use the internet with purpose and focus – and then get off.

 

Become an Outlier.

Can you?

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Perspective Photos:

grouse ice rink

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Happy writing!

This writer’s world

Paula’s Post #113

If you’re a blogger, you’ll know WordPress has a “Quick Draft” function for when you really, really need to get a blog post up in a hurry. Particularly useful if you can’t connect to WiFi and you’re trying to pound it out with only the benefit of cellular data!

That’s me!

Sunday, I was in Santa Barbara at the USTA Southern California Sectional Championships where, yes, a miracle happened: my 6.0 Ladies Doubles Team (that’s two 3.0 players playing together- the lowliest low of competitive senior tennis) WON their division and are now headed for Nationals in 31 days time in Surprise, AZ.

No location could be more more appropriate. Why, no one could be more ‘surprised’ than me and my fellow teammates. Woo-hoo.

On a more sombre note. I wish I could have been in two places at once. Could have been like a character in a novel and could have been able to ‘time-shift’ myself so I could be in Vancouver, seconds after we won the Championship. Because I couldn’t get a fight out of California early enough to attend an important event back here in Canada. And I regret that. My 5writer colleagues rallied and did their best to step up and fill in the void, as did my husband. But it still didn’t feel right not to be here.

Instead, Monday I was back in La Quinta, doing laundry and making hotel reservations for Nationals. I then caught a flight from Palm Springs to Vancouver. It arrived late and didn’t make it past the airport. Just a quick stop for Chinese takeout in the airport food court and a night at my favourite airport hotel.

Today, Tuesday, still towing my rolling suitcase, I scooted downtown for a full day course at the Greater Vancouver Real Estate Board, where I learned all the intricacies of Foreclosures and Court Ordered Sales. At least all the ones I didn’t already know: I’m old enough to remember the early 80’s, when interest rates were an astonishing 22% and the market was tanking. That’s just when I started my legal career. I spent my fair share of time in Chambers, making applications for foreclosure orders. A sad time. Still, it was good I sort of had a handle on the basics, because this tennis player’s thoughts are definitely still on cloud 9.

Funny coincidence though: in my course today, I sat next to a colleague who is a famous Canadian doubles star and actually reached ‘Finals’ at Wimbledon.

Poor guy!

At every break I pestered him for tips for my team on how we can stay ‘tournament tough’ all the way through to Nationals. But that’s the great benefit of being an extrovert: you rarely stop (at the time) to consider how ridiculous you look (or sound).

Ninety minutes later and I’m now at the Horseshoe Bay Ferry Terminal, heading for my home on the Sunshine Coast. A gorgeous sunny evening with the hint of fall in the air.

Not so I’d notice, mind you. Because it this is Tuesday … that means “Paula-must-get-blog-post-done”.

Now!

My husband has been petsitting for 10 days straight, amusing the poodles, while I lollygag in Palm Springs and Santa Barbara. Oh yeah, he just loves the life of ‘husband-of-tennis player’ almost as much as ‘husband-of-writer’.

I cannot, tonight, disappear into my writer’s world of plot and character. At least not until he falls asleep, and that won’t be early, he’s on another Netflix binge.

So, I only have 25 minutes until my ferry arrives. More than enough time to share the ‘reading and writing’ highlights of my week (which frankly, given our intense tennis schedule, is going to be pretty short and sweet).

1. I think 5writer Silk has almost convinced me to abandon my ‘geo-shift’ idea for my Hawaii novel. I’d planned to move the whole story to post-war Vancouver. She more or less threatened to ‘steal the book’ if I didn’t leave the characters in Honolulu where they belong. All I can say is woe-is-you Silk, when I start texting and emailing you at 3 am, panicked (or despondent) because I can’t figure the pidgin dialect or the uniform of the house boys at the Royal Hawaiian Hotel. Or 1930’s surfing vernacular. Just you wait!

2. Though I have no page output to report, I’m still feeling pretty good. Returning the novel to the original Hawaii setting will let me retain more of my original (stalled) rough draft I resurrected from 3 years ago. So I’m going to pretend I’m ‘ahead’ of schedule in this 5 month challenge (and the operative word is ‘pretend’).

3. A very exciting 5writer update: we’ve gained another 5writer challenger! Yes, Susan Laufer, whom Helga and I met at the Hawaii Writers’ Conference several years ago, has been following our blog for quite some time. When the second challenge arose, she lurked for a bit more, then realized it was just the kick-in-the-pants catalyst she needed to get back to her own writing!

Bravo!

Susan says:

“I finally decided to quit being a “wanna be” and “just do it”. I predict a lot of late nights, with a glass of wine in front of the half finished fireplace, scribbling in my note pads. Nice dream. We’ll see if I can make it a reality. If the half finished fireplace didn’t give it away, we (that would be me, myself, and my over stressed husband) are in the middle of a remodel on our house which we spend what spare time we have as do it yourself handy folk. The rest of the time I work in the exciting world of high technology, go figure. They say write what you know. I don’t know a thing about murder but there’s a lot of reading material to draw from. I do know a few things about remodeling, dealing with the good and the bad of contractors, and living in a close knit neighborhood where everybody seems to know what everyone else is doing. Sounds like a perfect set up for a mystery, don’t you think?”

We’re thrilled to have Susan join in the fun as: 7/7/5

7 Writers/7 Novels/5 Months – but especially exciting for me to re-connect with Susan. Want to know what else is great? When we first met, Susan was actually living in Honolulu’s Chinatown – the modern day version of the setting of my Hawaii noir novel in progress. So now Silk can breathe a bit easier, as I’ll be texting and emailing Susan in the middle of the night too!

So, a big 5writer welcome to Sue!

There’s safety in numbers, so if you’ve been lurking in the background, wringing your hands, it is not to late to jump in!

4. I may not have gotten much writing done, but winding down from some pretty action-packed tennis days was the perfect opportunity to finish the mystery novel I’m reading. As writers, I’m the first to say we must continually study our craft, and the genre within, to see how the ‘masters’ do it! Right now, I’m on a little ‘kick’ of reading NY Times bestselling mystery novelists’ first published breakthrough novels.

This month, it’s Margaret Maron’s The Bootlegger’s Daughter featuring small town lawyer (now Judge) Deborah Knott. A very good read, in some ways reminiscent of the polished style and developed characterizations of Canada’s own Louise Penny. Just finished it last night and trying to figure out who to read next, so any suggestions are gratefully appreciated.

So, ferry’s here. time to board.

Back now.

The BC Ferry system may not have the world’s most reliable WiFi, but at least it has the pretense of maintaining ‘business stations’ with desks where you can plug in and charge, something and I desperately need, at 5:55 pm, to finish my 5/5/5 blog post for the week.

But you know what they say about ‘the best laid plans…’. Turns out the 100 or so excited six year olds on their school field trip, who had filled the waiting room with a cacophony of joyous chatter (making it near impossible to work, much less think), have just followed me onto the ferry and camped right across of me. I fear my hopes for more inspiration is doomed, drowned out by the crazy chatter of these happy children.

But what if one of them disappeared… mid voyage.  What if they counted twice when they got on… and twice when they were ready to get off. A frantic search, the adult chaperones are sure the missing child must be in a washroom… or they miscounted… or met up with someone they knew and… and… It’s a huge ship. Three levels of vehicles, two for passengers, restaurants and play areas and a gift shop… but where could she (or he) have gone? A mystery, to be sure.

And what if the child is still missing after they dock? What if the parents are frantic? What if the police are called in? What if they investigate and discover one of the adults wasn’t a parent at all? A complete stranger, posing as the parent of a child in the school. What if…?

Okay, that’s enough for now. Just another example of why, for some writers, it is so very hard to get one story told. One novel done. There’s always another pretty story, lurking just around the corner. A lovely pretty story. A story that isn’t yet mottled and marred by a muddled middle or a thin characters.

Sigh. If you’re a writer, you know exactly what I’m talking about.

How was your week?

IMG_1035

On the ferry… heading home, to ‘This Writer’s World’.

PS – the Captain just announced there is a pod of whales off to port, maybe if you look close, you just might see one.

The series game has one rule

series

Mea culpa – yes, I’m a day late again this week. Sorry to intrude on Paula’s Tuesday again, but the good news is that you may be getting two-posts-for-the-price-of-one today!

Silk’s Post #70 — Does anyone writing genre fiction even think about writing a stand-alone novel anymore?

Series. That’s the holy grail. The brass ring. The magic word that rolls off the tongue like the sexy serpent in the Garden of Eden. SSSS-e-r-i-e-s. Or, visualized another way:

$$$$-e-r-i-e-$

But listen up, fellow emerging writers (aka the great not-yet-published hoard): if writing one novel – and getting it published – is a mountain climb, then writing a commercially successful series is like climbing every mountain in the Hindu Kush.

So, if this is what you’re up to, sharpen your pitons, load up your backpack that weighs as much as a small horse, and prepare to experience some oxygen deprivation. Best I can advise you if you’re afraid of heights or doubt your fitness for this trip is: don’t look down, lean forward, and just keep putting one foot in front of the other.

Truthfully, aren’t all genre writers — especially those of us who lust to see our names on the mystery-suspense-crime-thriller-legal shelves — really dreaming of series?

Who are our idols, if not James Patterson, Scott Turow, Sue Grafton, Ian Rankin, Elizabeth George, John le Carré, James Lee Burke, Jeffery Deaver, Patricia Cornwell, Donna Leon, David Baldacci, Sara Paretsky, Jo Nesbo, Tom Clancy, Anne Perry, Walter Mosley, Robert Crais, Janet Evanovich, Lee Child, P.D. James, Harlen Coben, Robert B. Parker, Peter Robinson, Elmore Leonard, Kathy Reichs, John Connolly and Michael Connelly?

And who were their idols but Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, Erle Stanley Gardiner, Raymond Chandler, Dashiell Hammett, Agatha Christie, Ellery Queen, Dorothy L. Sayers, Rex Stout, Mickey Spillane, John D. MacDonald … even Carolyn Keene and Franklin W. Dixon, who hooked them on mysteries at a tender age?

You can add your own favourite names to these lists, but it’s a good bet that most of them – like these – will have two things in common. First, they are authors of series. Second, they created famous protagonists – memorable characters who returned the favour and made their authors famous.

And that is the one inviolable rule in this business of series fiction. A great protagonist.

To climb the mountain, you need to invent an intriguing, enduring alter-ego to accompany you. Not just accompany you, but lead you through the snowdrifts of saggy middles, rescue you from the trackless wilderness of boredom and obscurity, and pull you up over the precipice when you’re dangling by a thread. A protagonist who is strong enough, smart enough, complex enough, resourceful enough, engaging enough, vulnerable enough, and likeable enough to climb to the heights, fall to the depths, recover and triumph. Again and again. Evolving somehow with each new story, but always solid at the core.

You can certainly have a memorable protagonist in a stand-alone book (for instance, it’s hard to believe that Dashiell Hammett’s larger-than-life Sam Spade appeared in only one full length novel, The Maltese Falcon). But it’s hard to pull off a series without a memorable “anchor” protagonist (it takes a talent like Scott Turow to establish a multi-protagonist series like his Kindle County stories, and even so he knits them together with recurring characters).

But remember: you will have to live with this protagonist for better or worse, for richer or poorer, in sickness and health – possibly until death do you part. So you better love and cherish him or her if you want your readers to do the same.

Once you know that character to the bone, you can drop plot after plot on his or her head, and your protagonist will come alive and spring into action – and action is the lifeblood of story.

Okay, now to the fun part! Can you pair these famous protagonists with their authors? Answers are shown at the end for those who can’t guess whodunnit …

name-game

Answers:

1-p; 2-o; 3-q; 4-t; 5-w; 6-y; 7-d; 8-l; 9-c; 10-r; 11-v; 12-g; 13-u; 14-b; 15-j; 16-k; 17-i;
18-n; 19-x; 20-h; 21-f; 22-z; 23-e; 24-a; 25-m; 26-s.

Bonus:

the-lineupFor an extremely insightful and entertaining look into the hearts and souls of some of the most beloved detective protagonists and their creators, read The Lineup edited by the legendary Otto Penzler, in which “The World’s Greatest Crime Writers Tell the Inside Story of Their Greatest Detectives”… in their own words and style. Published by Back Bay Books, an imprint of Little Brown, this book is a gem that belongs on every crime writer’s shelf.