If you are interested in blogging or want to promote your book next year, please contact E. B. Davis at writerswhokill@gmail.com

Our July interviews include: Susan Boyer on July 6, Dorothy Cannell, July 13th, Mary Feliz, July 20th, and RF James on July 27th.

Saturday Guest Bloggers: 7/2 Lesley Diehl, 7/9 D. J. Adamson, 7/16 Nancy Raven Smith, 7/23 Kait Carson, and 7/30, Elaine Macko.

Warren Bull has two short stories, "A Christmas Journey" and "Killer Eulogy" in the Darkhouse anthology titled Black Coffee. Available--Now! Warren's short story collection No Happy Endings is also available at Amazon in paper or Amazon for Kindle.

Jim Jackson's story "Mad Money" was published in the 2016 Winter edition of Mysterical-e.

KM Rockwood's Abductions and Lies, the 6th in the Jesse Damon Crime Novel series, will be released in April. "Last Laugh," a short story in the anthology Black Coffee is available on Amazon. "Tarnished Hope," a short story in Murder Most Conventional, sponsored by Malice Domestic, April 29, at the conference. "Frozen Assets," a short story in Chesapeake Crimes: Storm Warning, release date May 14th (an anthology compiled by Chessie Chapter of SINC)

Gloria Alden released the seventh book in her Catherine Jewell mystery series, Blood Red Poinsettias, which is available at Amazon. Congratulations, Gloria.

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Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Devil’s in the Details

Mystery writers pride themselves on fairness: the reader has the same clues as the characters in the story, and part of the fun of reading a mystery is figuring out who done it. The writer buries clues in the most mundane places, tries to tie us in knots with misdirection from MacGuffins and other red herrings and wows us with a final twist after we are sure we know the answer.

Great stuff, and it’s all ruined when Mr. Smith on page 46 has brown hair and on page 235 is a blond—and it isn’t a disguise or caused by a recent trip to the beauty salon. Such an error kills the author’s credibility. Because mystery readers are looking for every little clue, they, more than other genre or literary readers, will spot these kinds of mistakes.

What is a writer to do? Rely on the copy editor to catch that stuff?

I suggest writers keep track of these details using spreadsheets.

Authors often create detailed “biographies” for their major characters. Go online and you can find templates for “learning” about your character. These serve a purpose, but not what I am talking about. I’m referring to keeping track of the little things, like color of hair, or a personality quirk that is (or should be) just hers. For that I have a spreadsheet I call “Fictional Creations.”

This file contains a separate worksheet for characters, companies and geographical locations I have created. (I also keep track of books and music referenced in my writing.) Major characters may have a separate worksheet with lots more information as part of the documentation I keep for each novel, but for minor characters the entry tells me anything distinctive I’ve written about the character’s appearance (physical or behavioral). Here are the columns I use for people:

Name (I include nicknames in parenthesis)
Quicky Description (Something to remind me who the person is)
Titles (A separate column for each novel, so I can easily collect my cast of characters for a given piece with a sort; titles for short stories)
Additional Information (Descriptions used)

For Companies I have columns for:

Real/Fictional
Company Name
Location/What they do (although for fictional companies, I try to make clear from the name what their business is)
Titles – again with separate columns for novels, and a listing for short stories

I started this with my first novel and have continued chugging along, but maybe there are better ways. I’m listening for ideas…

~ Jim

2 comments:

Julie Godfrey Miller said...

Jim,

I like the spreadsheet idea. I started my WIP with PAGES of information about my characters. The problem is that it's PAGES and has become difficult to keep track of. I think my next task is to move all the pertinent information into one place in a spreadsheet. Thanks.

James Montgomery Jackson said...

Julie,

Glad to help. Writing is not a zero sum game where hoarding what we learn benefits us at the expense of others. We're all in this together!