Tag Archives: writing advice

Cheryl Ann Guido: When Is a Murder Mystery Not a Mystery or, “Just One More Thing.”

Image: ©NBC Universal (Image not used for commercial purposes.)

Who doesn’t love a good murder mystery? You know the kind, where we see the clues lead us to the culprit through the eyes of the detective or the hero of the story. In just about every tale of murder, the sequence of events is, the body is discovered, the detective is called, and we watch through the detective’s (protagonist’s) eyes as he or she follows the clues to catch the murderer.

If we are crime writers, we all attempt to put our own personal spin on this sequence of events. Some of us are more successful than others but that doesn’t mean that our readers don’t have fun along the way.

But I want to talk about a different approach. Being a crime buff all my life I have read about and watched many murder mysteries on tv and in the movies and enjoyed the investigative prowess of many detectives. The authors of those tales pull me in and keep my eyes riveted to the page or screen right up till the end. But one of my favorite characters of all time is the guy in the picture, Lieutenant Detective Columbo of the LA Police.

What is unique about this series is that in the beginning of each episode we actually view the murder being committed. We know right from the start who the murderer is and how he or she committed the crime. In this series, we do not follow the clues through the detective’s eyes. We follow them through the eyes of the murderer as he or she observes Columbo following clues in order to solve the crime. We are never told Columbo’s first name although in current times an astute viewer screenshotted a scene where he flashed his badge revealing that his first name is Frank. But remember, those techniques were not available when his character was created, so we go through every story knowing only his last name and he is so endearing that we don’t even mind.

Columbo is an everyday Joe, someone often not recognized as a Lieutenant because of his rumpled raincoat and old, falling apart Peugeot. He constantly smokes cheap cigars and clumsily knocks over items often causing the suspects minor annoyances all the while praising and buttering up the killer. Yes, it’s a set-up. As he hones in on the perpetrator, his pestiness increases, always employing his signature “just one more thing” as he turns around from heading out the door, invoking the suspect’s impatience and anger until the climax where he confronts the murderer, usually with some small detail they overlooked and reveals how he or she committed the crime. He never carries a gun and takes a lot of chances but somehow he is never hurt.

Yes, a lot in this series is outdated since it was written many years ago and many of Columbo’s techniques would never hold up in a court of law today however, his charisma, likeability, pestiness, and relentless determination to bring the murderer to justice is something we just cannot look away from even today and even though the sequence of events follows the same basic pattern in every screenplay.

All in all, knowing who the murder is from the beginning and seeing the crime solved through the criminal’s eyes is quite a unique approach to writing and it’s absolutely brilliant. The point of all this as it pertains to writing? Don’t be afraid to be different. You don’t need to follow accepted patterns in your genre. Think outside the box. Build your character’s personality and showcase his or her skills. This should be applied to stories in all genres, not simply murder mysteries. That way your story will stand out in a sea of many others swimming around in the same pond.

Happy writing!

About the Author

Cheryl Ann Guido is a retired mother, grandmother, and animal lover. To date, she has published two books, The End in the Rainbow and The Golden Huntress Murder Unscripted. An article she wrote about a cat she rescued was also published in CATS Magazine. Several of her poems appeared in anthologies published by the National Library of Poetry. She has written several children’s short stories along with numerous serialized fanfiction stories as well as standalone and rhyming narrative poems that are posted on various websites. She also served as the writer/producer/director of an in-house movie for one of her previous employers. Cheryl’s love for the written word began at a very young age and she continues to be an individual who is not afraid to let her imagination fly free.

Enjoy and visit Cheryl on Facebook:
https://www.facebook.com/cherylannguidoauthor

Writing Tips, Tools, and Tidbits: Lie versus Lay

Writers Unite!’s mission is to offer a haven for writers to share their work and hone their craft. As the writing process is our focus, author, and WU! admin, Lynn Miclea has created a series of “tips, tools, and tidbits” about writing for our members or anyone interested in writing to help improve their writing. Check the menu bar for any tips you may have missed.

Lie versus Lay

Many people often mix up these words, and it is helpful to learn to use them correctly. Lie and lay are not interchangeable — they have different meanings and should be used properly.

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LIE means to rest or recline. It is intransitive, which means it does not take an object.

Examples:
I need to lie down.
I will lie on the couch.
He lies on the floor.
She wants to lie down and take a nap.
Let the dog lie where he is.

Present tense: lie, lies. He lies down.
Past tense: lay. Yesterday, he lay down.
Present participle: lying. He is lying down.
Past participle: lain. I have lain in bed too long.

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LAY means to put or set an object down. It is transitive, which means it takes an object — you lay something down.

Examples:
I lay the book down.
She lays her pencil on the table.
He wants to lay down the law.
They can lay the tile in the bathroom.
Please lay the papers on the counter.

Present tense: lay, lays. She lays the book down.
Past tense: laid. He laid the packages on the table.
Present participle: laying. She is laying the pen down.
Past participle: laid. I have laid the books on the counter.

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Please view the two charts that help explain it further.


 

D. A. Ratliff: LOCATION, LOCATION, LOCATION

LOCATION, LOCATION, LOCATION

D. A. Ratliff

Photo from Pinterest. Image source unknown, credit to the orginal creator.

Location is vital in all facets of our lives. Comfort, convenience, commute, and community are essential considerations when selecting where we wish to reside. When writing, it makes sense to consider the impact of where we have our characters live.

Location can be more than the physical terrain in which we set a story, although some places can take a back seat to the plot. However, the setting is another tool in the author’s arsenal to add depth to the story. The choice of locale sets the period of the story, when and where it takes place. It affects how the characters behave, speak, and reflect on the society where they live. More importantly, when needed, the setting can become another character creating a mood and emotional tone.

A few inquiring minds have asked me what is so appealing to me about New Orleans and why I set so many of my stories either there or in Louisiana, where my upcoming novel, Crescent City Lies, is set. After all, I’m from South Carolina, a beautiful state with its own vibrant culture and uniqueness. It also has faults, as do all places, and those faults in a community can also add depth to your story.

When deciding on a setting for a story, the flavor of Louisiana draws me into its spell. Nothing like the sultry summer heat in the south, when life slows down, and the humidity rises. The spicy aromas and comforting palate of Cajun food and the smooth sounds of New Orleans jazz are alluring and set a mood that seems to touch my writer’s passion. Wicked antagonists, flawed heroes, and enticing strong women seem to belong in the bayou or the French Quarter.

In reality, I love the beach. Ribbons of sand lapped by waves, air tangy with salt, majestic pelicans soaring against a cornflower blue sky. My heart lies on the shore, rejuvenated by the sun’s heat. My soul rests in the bayou.

Image by D. A Ratliff

I am fortunate to live in an area that some people call paradise—if you consider heat, humidity, sun, and ocean paradise. I do! As the photo above shows, expansive sky, lush vegetation, a body of water, and a bench to enjoy the quiet beauty sets a mood just outside my door. Not to mention, there are ducks, sea birds, and two resident alligators to add to the ambiance.

I suppose we choose where we want our stories to unfold for a myriad of reasons. Genre certainly plays a role and can dictate the amount of world-building necessary to create the foundation you need. A cozy mystery often occurs in a small town, a detective murder mystery in a city setting, but let your creativity decide what works for your story. How descriptive you should be depends on how important the location is to your storyline. For instance, a city with the ambiance of a New Orleans, New York City, San Francisco, or San Antonio becomes a character within the story, adding depth and mood by using the uniqueness of the environment to enhance the plot. The same for small towns that can provide coziness and character to the story.

My thoughts always seem to be on Bourbon Street in New Orleans, the Battery in Charleston, or an Atlantic beach in Florida, all locations which spur my muse. Let those places you love inspire your muse and your stories.

Image by Oliver Weidmann from Pixabay

Please visit D. A. Ratliff on her blog: https://thecoastalquill.wordpress.com/

Michele Sayre: Writing Through Walls

 Image by chitsu san from Pixabay

Writing Through Walls

Michele Sayre

A while back I wrote an essay about how I feel ‘writer’s block’ is a real thing. I told my stories of what has stopped me from writing over the years and I would love to say this article forever-cured my writer’s block. But it didn’t. And I honestly don’t know if I will ever be cured from writer’s block but I’m not going to worry about that or justify times when I can’t get it together to write.

First, I have never really had ‘ideal’ conditions to write in. Oh, I’ve had rooms of my own but my time hasn’t always been all my own. I’ve lived on my own for close to eighteen years but in those years I’ve worked demanding jobs with long hours, was a caregiver to my father until he passed away, and I have dealt with physical issues that have kept me from writing. I have freely admitted I can’t always write under stress or when I’m exhausted. That’s not whining or complaining to me but just a fact of my life.

But over the last few years, I’ve realized a wall can come up and stop me from writing. And over the years, I’ve had to figure out what those walls were and how to work through them.

In the Fall of 2016, I conceived two writing projects, both of them book-length non-fiction that I had never attempted before. The first was simply labeled, ‘Untitled Self-Help/Memoire Hybrid’ and the other ‘Untitled Political Book’. The premise for both was that I would use writing to figure out why I thought and felt like I did about myself and the world around me. What I didn’t know then, and what no one could have known, was this would involve a dive in the deepest, and most painful parts of my psyche. It would involve working through emotions and thoughts about things I had boxed up and not dealt with until these past few years. This is by the far the hardest thing I’ve ever done but I’m glad I did it. Writing about it though… well, that’s been the hard part.

Talking about this is hard, too because I have heard this could be seen as whining or complaining. I’m not blaming anyone or anything for my problems and difficulties and therefore I don’t see how talking about not being able to write is a form of whining or complaining. I don’t need ‘ideal conditions’ or anything else. I need to work through the walls that still come up for me, and probably will continue to come up for me for the rest of my life.

These walls can feel like huge blocks of brick or cement or some other hard and impenetrable material. And you may think you can blast your way through them or walk away from them and do something else instead. I’m not going to fault anyone who does that but that’s not how I write.

This past week a wall came up that stopped me from writing until this piece. I was trying to write a blog-series about past and present events and I just felt like my writing was not where I wanted it to be. So I took a step back and stared at the wall in front of me until I could see the words there. Those words were: we weren’t having the conversations back then like we are now. Because my non-fiction involves my past, I didn’t want to just write it as a contrast of past to present. I needed some sort of context, or framework to explain what I’m writing and why I’m writing this. I don’t feel like this was wasted time either as I’m not on any deadline nor do I feel like I have to justify the way I do things.

I’m writing this piece to any writer who has felt any kind of pressure to write despite facing a wall. I want to tell those writers it’s okay to stop and stare at that wall until you see the words you’re looking for. This isn’t about perfection. It’s about finding the words that you need to write the way you want to. I’ve always writing is mostly instinct and I think the time spent staring at the walls is one way of honing that instinct.

For me, it’s not about writing under less-than-ideal conditions, or just pushing through no matter what. I think for some writers walls do come up because I feel writing is a journey. And when you come to a wall you don’t need to blast through it or find a way over it or around it. Instead, you can look at until you see the words you may not even know you’ve been looking for. But once you find them, the wall will go away and you’ll be able to move forward and write again… even if you keep coming to walls.

Image by Greg Reese from Pixabay

Michele Sayre is a writer, blogger, and observer of like as well as an admin for Writers Unite!

Read More of Michele’s Observations on Writing and Life Here

Please Note: Images used are free use and require no attribution.

Michele Sayre: MY TOP-TEN BITS OF WRITING ADVICE

I still see lists of writing advice and the ensuing arguments over it. So I want to put in my two-cents worth here with mine:

1) Writing advice is not the law of the land. Someone can yell at you for breaking said writing advice but they can’t throw you in jail for it.

2) Writing advice is just what has worked for someone and is shared in the hope that it will help others. This is why I do it. If it’s done for an ego-stroke, be sure to wash your hands after reading it.

3) Basic rules of spelling, punctuation, and grammar are not bad. They are fluid and change over time. Don’t be afraid to change and if someone doesn’t like that, just walk away from them.

4) Don’t try to write like anyone else. Find your own your voice and write in your own way. The best writers are the ones with the most unique voices.

5) Criticism can be a valuable tool, but only if it’s not an axe that’s being ground on your back.  

6) You don’t have to write every single day. There will be days where life gets in the way, or you just can’t get any words out. Remember, there’s always tomorrow.

7) Don’t be afraid to scrap something and start over. Nothing ever comes out perfect and sometimes it’s best to start over on a blank page.

8) Being a writer doesn’t give you the right to be a jerk about it. The world doesn’t owe you a damn thing, especially writing time or anything writing-related.

9) Writing is a ton of editing most of the time. Complain about it if you will, but don’t stop until you get it right.

10) Writing can be taught, but only if you’re willing to learn and do the work on your own.

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Please visit Michele on her blog! https://michelesayre.com/

Authors’ Words: Larry L. King

Larry L. King

Larry L. King, (Lawrence Leo King), American writer and playwright (born Jan. 1, 1929, Putnam, Texas—died Dec. 20, 2012, Washington, D.C.), was most widely known as the co-writer of the popular musical stage play The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas (1977), based on a 1974 article of the same name that he wrote for Playboy magazine about the shuttering of a small bordello in southeastern Texas; the article exhibited his characteristic vivid and deeply personal writing style.

King contributed articles to various magazines, including Texas Observer (1964–74), Harper’s (1967–71), and Texas Monthly 1973–78), and several books of his collected articles were published. His other books include the memoir Confessions of a White Racist (1971).

Resources

https://www.britannica.com/biography/Larry-L-King

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Please Note: Image of Quote found on Google.com. Unable to determine origin. Credit to the creator of the image.

Tineke Peeters: Pantser

Pantser

By Tineke Peeters

What is ‘a pantser’? Well, we are the writers that ‘go with the flow’ of our ideas without a set process.

Quite a few authors have a set of rules in writing out their plot and characters from start to finish in bullet points or another form before writing the actual book.

What we do is, in general, get an idea, but don’t work it out into detail before the writing process. I call it, as I have said before, go with the flow.

Some might say the characters tell the story and guide them throughout the story.

Others would say they have a muse telling them what to write without giving you a clue about the ending.

Don’t get me wrong, there needs to be a general idea obviously. There are no set ‘rules’ for how each and every author writes. All writers have their own process; no two are alike.

My personal process:

I write the first chapter without any idea of plot. My MC (main character) is only a vague character at this point. In my mind the characters get clearer as I write the next chapter. Then I start procrastinating for a few days about where this first chapter could go.

More than one scenario, with some research each, get written down on paper. If another one comes to mind one or half of another one gets scratched. When I think I have a plot, very vague still mind you, I start writing the next few chapters and then the muse comes into play. He or she, mostly she as my main character is a she as well, comes up with an idea, which I don’t have much time to work out. Bullet points are quickly noted. Problem here is that the new plot, yes, a totally new plot, doesn’t always work with what I have written yet.

I have to go back, not to edit, but to change some settings or another character. I will get the need to slap my muse around, but most of the time the new idea is better.

While writing I suddenly get stuck. Not necessarily writer’s block, but more like my vague plot needs some more detail. That is when the proverbial light bulb lights up.

Now, obviously, I get too many ideas and need to eliminate. Again, this process needs to happen fast, as my memory doesn’t work very well.

If I am still stuck, because my muse has a problem with my final idea, I chat with other writers or family or friends. They come up with ideas that my muse changes into something else, because suddenly she is happy with a certain idea that got triggered by chatting with everyone.

A perfect example was when my main character got stuck in the head of a unicorn and I didn’t know how to get her back out. What I did was talk to my teenage stepdaughter and her friend. They came up with one idea after the other, which led to another idea from my muse. This was my published book.

My recent book got some ideas from them as well, as I needed help with writing the diary of a twelve-year-old, which they are. Throughout all the ideas I got the light bulb thing again. Another idea about the plot suddenly became clear.

Basics of a pantser: no set plot, working with the characters, being open for changes throughout your story, and allowing the story to guide you.

There is always the editing process to work out the details which you missed while changing from one plot to the other.

Tineke Peeters is a 36-year-old pantser from Belgium and the author of ‘Book of Panacea,’ which can be found on Amazon.  You can find Tineke on Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/tineke.peeters.1

Writers Unite! Workshop: Those Pesky Brand Names

Recently an author published a story on Amazon.com that included a brand name in the title. With the investigative algorithms that they utilize, Amazon caught it and politely asked the author, who complied immediately, to correct the error. Much effort ensued to change titles, ISBN numbers, and cross-references across the author’s extensive body of work.  

In this case, it was a simple matter of oversight. The author never considered there was an issue. The brand name was so commonplace, it never occurred that using it would be a problem. A lesson that illustrates the care needed to be taken when writing.

This is not to say you can’t use brand names. You can. However, the context that you use them in is essential.

In an article written by Michy and posted on the “Accentuated Authors Services” website, she notes the following:

•    If you have a character crying in your story, she should ask for a tissue, not a Kleenex.
•    If a person is cleaning the bathroom, they should be using bleach and not Clorox.
•    Babies should be wearing diapers, not Pampers.
•    When you order a soft drink, it should be cola not Coke.
•    If cleaning ears, one should use a cotton swab, not a Q-tip.    

The point is that brand names should not be used in describing a generic product that may have numerous other brand identities. However, don’t despair, brand names can be used when identifying something specific. Michy writes that if you are in a football stadium and the Goodyear Blimp flies overhead, it is perfectly acceptable to use its correct name. For a mystery writer like me, she also mentions that if you are identifying evidence in a crime, it is okay to use the brand name and type of a tire or an automobile or other items because it is unique to the situation.

What you must not do is use a brand name in a title. As we learned at the beginning of this discussion, algorithms exist to find such occurrences, and usage will be caught by the company or publisher through Internet searches.

There are times, however, when you can use brand names. If you mention that a character drove a Ford Thunderbird as a young man and loved the car, that is acceptable, but make sure it relates to the plot. The most important thing to remember is never to use a brand name in a derogatory way. Bad-mouthing a company or product is one quick way to receive a cease-and-desist letter from an attorney.

Another critical factor to remember is that brands are fleeting and can date your story quickly. That is why choosing the generic word for a product, if one exists, is essential. You want your reader to relate to the product more than the brand. The fact is using too many brands can lead to your story reading like a commercial. Brands can be distracting, so use them wisely and infrequently.

There is one other area where company names and brands are important. World building is not just a tool of the science-fiction or fantasy writer. All writers build their world, and it is essential to be accurate about location when setting your story in an existing town or city. Remember, some of your readers could live there, so be precise with places and street names, and especially business names. 

I tend to be quite careful about the names of individual businesses when I write. I often set my novels in New Orleans, and I will mention Jackson Square, Café du Monde, Preservation Hall, and other iconic landmarks or businesses but set the action of my story in fictitious locations. Again, this is to keep the possibility of any negative connotation being associated with a real business or brand. You should not, however, use the names of private companies. If your scene calls for action at a restaurant which is in a specific area and there is an actual restaurant there, make up a name for it.

Using the real names of well-known landmarks provides realism to your stories and enhances the reader’s experience. I once had a reader tell me that my description of a small town in California was exactly how she remembered it from growing up. She knew the town square, the ice cream shop I mentioned, and the corner drugstore, and said I must have spent a lot of time in her hometown. The fact is I had never been there, but I utilized Google Map’s street-level view to provide the ambiance and setting for that scene. Her reaction shows that an accurate representation to your reader brings them into your story.

Writing can be a challenge. With so many factors to consider, we must remain cognizant of the issues that can harm our stories. If you do, you will not have to worry about those pesky brand names.  

Resources:
http://accentuateservices.com/archives/567

Adam J. Johnson – Mindset Matters

Writing challenges us in many ways. It can be frustrating, right? It can also be a real source of joy and accomplishment. So, why do we let writing frustrate us? We know that it’s something we love to do. We know that we feel great when we’ve finally written “The End” on a long project, or we’ve finished up that last round of editing—and yet, it still frustrates us. Our old friend self-doubt stops by for a visit and always overstays its welcome. Why do you think that is? We are so excited for the projects we start, and then the doubt crawls in. “What if I get rejected?” “I’m probably not talented enough to get this published.” Does any of that sound familiar? That is your mindset taking hold of your actions.

Mindset affects every aspect of your life, even if you don’t recognize it. A positive mindset leads to action! When you approach anything—life, work, or hobbies—with a positive mindset, you are setting yourself up for success! Let’s define that so we are all on the same page. Your mindset is the way that you view the world around you as well as the way you view yourself. Ask yourself, “Am I a cynical person or a positive person?” “Do I ooze confidence or do I hide my true self from the world?” “Do I finish the writing projects that I start or do they get filed away for no one to see?” Your answers to those questions are a direct result of your mindset—but good news! You’ve just taken the first step to developing a positive mindset, and that first step is self-awareness.

With any change you wish to make in your life, you have to start with identifying the problem areas. So those questions you just answered are a great insight into where your mindset is currently. If you answered negatively across the board, there’s a good chance that your mindset is actually holding you back from completing your projects. Writers typically struggle with self doubt so, don’t worry, you most certainly are not alone!

Once you’ve developed a positive mindset, then self-doubt starts to subside to make room for your newly cultivated confidence. Changing that mindset isn’t always easy, is it? Some of us acknowledge the negative mindset and try to change it for years with no results. Sometimes we say it’s too hard or, “That’s just the way I am, there’s no changing it.” Yes, every one of us is different, but you know that those are just excuses to ignore the problem. If you’re fortunate enough to be aware of flaws in your character or mindset, then the only thing that’s holding you back from changing it is the truth.

You have to be brutally honest with yourself. Be critical and accept the flaws you have. Don’t just focus on surface issues like, “I wish my diet was better,” or “I’m unhappy with the state of my living room.” Dig deep and be honest about the real insecurities you live with and ignore.  Accept that you may be insecure about your image. Accept that you may be afraid of the judgment of others. Those real truths about who you are at your core will help you resolve those deep issues. Everybody has insecurities, and most of us developed coping mechanisms early on to offset them so we can lead a happy life with those issues tucked neatly in a folder, that’s inside a box, that sits in the back of our closet where we never have to look at them. Problem solved, right? … Not a chance!

These are the issues that we must address. These are the issues that influence our mindset, which in turn influences us to act according to the way we see the world or ourselves. If you are living with insecurities, chances are you will never reach your full potential or even push yourself to see what that potential could be. Those insecurities will cause you to give up on projects and let fear win when new but challenging opportunities arise. Let’s start taking steps to build and sustain a positive mindset. After all, a positive mindset is a vehicle for powerful and confident action.

I can’t wait to see what 2019 will bring for us all! Join us next when we will talk about how to deal with those insecurities and get to writing!

Authors’ Words: Charles Dickens

Dickens’s A Christmas Carol has become an iconic fixture in our celebration of the holiday. Everyone has their favorite movie version of this story of goodwill to all men and redemption for one man. However, to read the novel is to experience the true depth of character and spirit that Dickens intended.


“And it was always said of him, that he knew how to keep Christmas well, if any man alive possessed the knowledge. May that be truly said of us, and all of us! And so, as Tiny Tim observed, God bless Us, Every One!” 
― Charles Dickens, A Christmas Carol

Charles Dickens, in full Charles John Huffam Dickens, (born February 7, 1812, Portsmouth, Hampshire, England—died June 9, 1870, Gad’s Hill, near Chatham, Kent), English novelist, generally considered the greatest of the Victorian era. His many volumes include such works as A Christmas CarolDavid CopperfieldBleak HouseA Tale of Two CitiesGreat Expectations, and Our Mutual Friend.

Dickens enjoyed a wider popularity during his lifetime than had any previous author. Much in his work could appeal to the simple and the sophisticated, to the poor and to the queen, and technological developments as well as the qualities of his work enabled his fame to spread worldwide very quickly. His long career saw fluctuations in the reception and sales of individual novels, but none of them was negligible or uncharacteristic or disregarded, and, though he is now admired for aspects and phases of his work that were given less weight by his contemporaries, his popularity has never ceased. The most abundantly comic of English authors, he was much more than a great entertainer. The range, compassion, and intelligence of his apprehension of his society and its shortcomings enriched his novels and made him both one of the great forces in 19th-century literature and an influential spokesman of the conscience of his age.

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Resources:

https://www.britannica.com/biography/Charles-Dickens-British-novelist