So, how do you DO a good murder (story) these days, anyway?

30 04 2013

I remember once having a lengthy and somewhat gruesome chat about how you would dispose of a body in these recycling focused days. Would you drop it by the medical school? Dissect it and put the hip joints and such in either the plastic or metal recycling containers? Take the head and the mercury fillings to the harmful waste dump day?

It’s a conundrum.

Likewise, how do you learn to write about murder most foul? Merely calling up your local cop shop and asking for tips  might lead to awkward questions and notes home from school asking you to please not offer to chaperone the next field trip. Calling a local psychiatrist and pretending to be a psychopath isn’t recommended, either – unfortunately, so much psychiatry is based on first impressions you might end up with way too much time to write and too many drugs to be coherent.

The obvious choice is to read read read read mysteries, following the excellent (if somewhat dry) Francine Prose’s guidelines to Reading like a writer. Well, I’ve done that, and I have a problem with that approach.

If the mystery is good, I get all wrapped up in the story and race through, barely noticing the plot techniques while I get pulled along. If it’s bad, I only notice the things that hold it up, ruin the credibility.

OHI0129-CritiqueRule1I remember once being so disenchanted with a book that I dropped everything to see if the plant the author had described actually grew in the place she’d put it. (It didn’t).

I know a book has missed the mark for me when I get that fussy.

So I take courses, rub up against “real” writers, shop my stuff to contests and unsuspecting friends, try to get critiqued. This last bit is harder than it looks. Even in writing groups, there’s the tendency to be nice.

Or horrified.

One of my stories involved a pedophile that I apparently described so well that people didn’t want to read my stuff anymore. So I had to play nicey nicey and write nicey stuff for a bit.

Inside, the seething dark looms.horrifiedwoman

So, instead, I send things to contests. The ones that give you feedback. I figure I’m paying someone my entry fee to have a close, uninvolved reader have a look.

Sometimes the feedback is useful, sometimes it’s just a line or two.  Sometimes it is harsh, sometimes it’s helpful. Lately, I’ve had the opportunity to turn it around and offer my comments on other’s writing. I can only hope I’m the helpful type.

In the meantime, I’ve had help from:

Gotham Writer’s Workshop

Crime Writers of Canada

Sisters In Crime

Bloody Words

Canadian Authors Association

and my favourite resource for ways to kill people and those awkward dinner table silences:

D.P. Lyle. Check out his books. Best way to find stuff out without getting asked questions you can’t answer…

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Writing tips and tricks and techniques and all that bumpf…

9 11 2012

I have a zillion “how to write” books. They seemingly multiply on their own in my bookshelf, but if I think my way through it, they all appear when I am feeling uncertain about my writing and feel the need for a “helpful book” to sort myself out. I buy them, maybe peek through a bit of them, and then toss them for the next novel.

Jodi Meadows, in Pub(lishing) crawl, has written a blog entry that really says all you need to do:

1. Read. Read lots and lots and lots and lots.

2. Write. Write lots and lots and lots.

3. Critique.

I’d probably add #4, since that’s where I fail worst: Send stuff out.

I think the critiquing and sending stuff out parts are the most important for me, anyway, at this point. Critiquing your own work is one thing, but learning to critique others’ is even better. The Canadian Authors’ Association has these carefully defined critique groups, with rules that are followed religiously and which result in real progress with writing. The process allows writers to hear criticism of their work without the duty to respond, and let’s them take away the critique and choose whether to use the info. Because of this everyone takes the time to write a careful, thoughtful comment on the story. I’m a member of the Early Reviewers and Member Giveaways groups on LibraryThing, and in exchange for free books, you are asked to write a review.

Some I’ve sloughed off, I admit, mainly because I either didn’t like the book or couldn’t remember it (argh!)(I do read a LOT).  But others I try to write a good review for, with few details of the story but creating the desire in someone to read it. It helps me see the good parts of some not great books, and the review as a whole helps me find the problems in my own writing.

The sending thing in is a battle for me. So I’ve made a pinky swear to send in at least one of my mystery stories for publication. I’ve got my class holding me accountable. That, and contest entry deadlines, mean that I do send things in occasionally. I realize I should be keeping track of them in a book somewhere, or on my computer, and I’m thinking now, ooh, I should get that organized RIGHT now.

But then I would be falling down on my #2 – time for me to write a lot. I am so far behind in Nanowrimo I may never catch up! Yikes!





the joys and oddities of serendipity

27 02 2010

Sometimes, a little hand pops along the small of your back and urges you forward, just a little but, just in the “c’mon girl, let’s go this way” kind of way. I always cherish these messages from the universe, and try to listen to them. They haven’t steered me too wrong as yet, although getting used to Scrivener and the switch to Mac might have been a wrong direction.

This week, I did a job interview that told me two things.  One, I had no reason to regret my past worklife, and two, it’s time to move on into my new one.

Today I hauled my wracked MS laden body out for a walk, thinking about where to go next. I’ve been idly thinking about taking courses in ethics at a local University, maybe using my past health care knowledge to do some focused articles about a few things. My job interview told me that I can still learn things quickly, get a grip on the situation, produce analysis. So as I lurched into the shopping centre, who should I find there but a representative of the very college I was thinking of attending.  We chatted, and I got inspiration for my future plans, and perhaps some ideas for my son.

Then I mentioned I was a writer and the lass at the table became incandescent.  Her eyes lit up and zoomed into my soul.  I smiled, and said, “so, you’re a writer, too?” She almost exploded with joy.

In no time we were discussing the critique group I am involved with with the Canadian Author’s Association, which has several people in it who write what she wants to write. We connected, and I hope she comes to join our group. I think it would be good for her….

And I feel like the gentle hand of serendipity has pushed me toward taking a better focus toward the CAA group, and toward the development I want to do.

Sometimes the path lies open before us….and sometimes the gods put the searchlights on and guide our way.  It’s folly to ignore them.








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