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Monday, October 25 2010

I need motivation. Not motivation for why a regular person resorts to murder, but motivation for why ordinary citizens would involve themselves in the investigation. I'm hoping that writing about the issue will help me devise a motive for Gwyn in the third Blossom Valley book.

While readers already know the protagonist will look for clues and solve the crime when they start reading a murder mystery, they still need a solid reason for why someone, especially an amateur sleuth, would become involved in a random death and potentially put their own life at risk. That's why so many books have the police suspect the main character or a family member/loved one. What better motive to solve the case than to save a loved one from a potential jail sentence? But that only works for one book. Having another family member on the hook for murder in the next book would be too repetitive.

And if the coworker/brother/best friend isn't the prime suspect in a book, then the amateur sleuth usually has some type of relationship with the murder victim, whether it be romantic or merely friend-based. A personal connection propels the protagonist to seek justice for their dead friend. Years ago, I watched Jake and the Fatman regularly and remember this particular plot device cropped up frequently. When the two detectives moved from LA to Hawaii, every week would see the death of yet another friend or acquaintance of one of the guys, leading me to wonder how they could possibly know so many people who eventually wound up dead.  What are the odds? Wouldn't the police start to suspect them? If I was their friend, I'd pack up and move.

I must confess, when I'm reading a book, I generally pay no attention to why the main character is investigating. I just want to get to the dead guy and see if I can figure out who did it. That's probably why I'm stumped when trying to find a good motive for Gwyn in the third book. Back when Gwyn was a newspaper reporter, career progression while outdoing her coworker seemed like a valid reason for Gwyn to investigate a murder. Plus, covering the story would be part of her normal job responsibilities. But now she works at a spa. As the marketing representative. Not much motivation there. And taking time to interview suspects will keep her from her regular work, thus endangering her job, or at the very least, gaining her a reprimand from her boss.

I've already plotted out most of the book. Gwyn attends a Green Living festival and the woman in the adjoining booth is murdered. Gwyn had a run-in with the police in the first book, so I'm hesitant to have the police suspect her in this one. Her other motive for solving that case was to help the spa owner save her business when the guests fled. So endangering the spa business in the third book wouldn't work. And Ashlee is the prime suspect and reason Gwyn gets involved in the second book. To make it even more difficult, the murder victim in this third book is a total stranger, thus Gwyn would not feel compelled to investigate due to a personal connection.  

Which leaves me fresh out of ideas for a motive. So if you think of anything, feel free to share.

Posted by: Staci McLaughlin AT 03:14 pm   |  Permalink   |  0 Comments  |  Email
Tuesday, October 19 2010

It's hard to say good-bye, to kick the fledgling out of the nest, to send the kid on his first sleepover, to email my manuscript to my agent. Let me have just one more week! I can read the book again, spot any glaring errors, fix those awkward sentences. Please don't make me send it in! I know I told my agent mid-October, but she won't mind if it's late October.  Right?

If I don't submit my manuscript, I can continue to delude myself, tell myself this is the best thing I've ever written. But once the manuscript leaves the safety of my hard drive, it's open to critique, to comments about plot holes or character deficiencies. The words are exposed, ripe for the picking. Nitpicking that is.

Of course, that's how it should be. The book will never see a publisher's desk if I don't first submit it to my agent so she can offer revision ideas, polish the chapters, and provide guidance.  But now that I clicked that Send button, I'm left with a void. My time is too free, the pressure is all gone. With this sense of endless time, I keep thinking of all the other things I could have done to the manuscript.

Oh, I still have work to do, but it's shorter, and thus easier to push back. I can tell myself that once I sit down to write, I'll have the first draft finished in a matter of hours, so why be in a rush to start writing? Let's just avoid that dreaded synopsis.

Frankly, why do writers even have to write a synopsis? The editor at the publishing house should just read the whole book. Then they'll definitely know what it's about, and save me the pain of writing a summary.

I'm not sure why a synopsis is so hard. I know what my book is about. Surely I can spit out a handful of pages that tells someone what happens in those thirty chapters. But a synopsis is pure, painstaking drudgery. What points in the book must I include? Which characters are critical to the summary? Do I tell events in the order they occur in the book or bunch them together based on the various subplots? How can I make it entertaining yet still informative? I should really take a few days to mull over these questions, make sure I know what direction I'm heading in.

But I can only delay the process for so long before I have to sit down and yank the words out of my brain. Then I'll submit the pages to my patient and long-suffering writer's group, who just finished slogging through the actual manuscript. They'll politely offer suggestions on how to improve the synopsis, all the while promising me it's not nearly as dull and poorly written as I think, even as I spot the drool stains from where they fell asleep while trying to make it to the end. And then that synopsis will also leave my hands and go off on its own adventure with my agent. And the waiting will begin.

Posted by: Staci McLaughlin AT 09:44 am   |  Permalink   |  0 Comments  |  Email
Monday, October 11 2010

Being a fairly lazy person, I've always been a fan of Word's automatic spell-check. If I don't feel like looking up how to spell a word, I know that I can type in a close approximation and Word will draw a squiggly red line under the misspelling. When I ask, the software will offer alternates to choose from.

But while this is especially useful for a business paper or other formal document, the spell-check can be a distraction in the world of fiction, something I'm reminded of as I make the final changes to my manuscript. Take names. Word hates mine. Almost every name I've chosen for the book is underlined as a giant flaming mistake. This fix is easy, just click Ignore All, but it still takes time. As do Word's perceived grammar mistakes. Fragmented sentences run rampant throughout my book. It's part of the casual style. But, of course, Word doesn't know that. The software program must think I don't know how to write. So it helpfully puts a green line under every instance. Which makes me stop at each occurrence and question my phrasing. Was this fragment a stylistic choice or a mistake? Will it distract the reader? Should I rephrase it?

Once upon a time, many years ago, I was a stickler for grammar. I took great pride in knowing what a dangling participle is. But those days of widespread grammar knowledge are long gone. Now I'm lucky I know what a gerund is. And even that definition is becoming a bit hazy. Pretty soon, I won't remember how to form a simple sentence. And Word will still be there, making me second-guess my structure.

Which, in the end is a good thing. I might just learn something and save myself time in future writing. Or, give up altogether and blindly click "Change All" without verifying if Word knows what it's talking about. Who knows, those changes might make for an interesting book.

Posted by: Staci McLaughlin AT 04:30 pm   |  Permalink   |  0 Comments  |  Email