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

September Interviews

9/2 Dianne Freeman, A Lady's Guide to Mischief and Murder

9/9 Ellen Byron, Murder in the Bayou Boneyard

9/16 Marilyn Levinson, writing as Allison Brook, Checked Out for Murder

9/23 Rhys Bowen, The Last Mrs. Summers

9/30 Sherry Harris, From Beer To Eternity

September Guest Bloggers

9/19 Judy Alter

WWK Weekend Bloggers

9/5 V. M. Burns

9/12 Jennifer J. Chow

9/26 Kait Carson


For The Love Of Lobster Tales by Shari Randall is now available to download free for a limited time. Go to Black Cat Mysteries at: https://bcmystery.com/ to get your free copy! Thanks for the freebie, Shari.

Keenan Powell recently signed with agent Amy Collins of Talcott Notch. Congratulations, Keenan!

KM Rockwood's "Secrets To The Grave" will appear in the new SinC Chesapeake Chapter's new anthology Invitation To Murder, which will be released by Wildside Press on 10/6.

Congratulations to our two Silver Falchion Finalists Connie Berry and Debra Goldstein!

Paula Gail Benson's "Cosway's Confidence" placed second and Debra Goldstein's "Wabbit's Carat" received Honorable Mention in the Bethlehem Writers Roundtable 2020 short story contest. Congratulations, Paula and Debra!

Susan Van Kirk's Three May Keep A Secret has been republished by Harlequinn's Worldwide Mystery. The WWK interview about the book can be accessed here. We're so glad another publisher picked up this series.

KM Rockwood's "Burning Desire," and Paula Gail Benson's "Living One's Own Truth," have been published in the anthology Heartbreaks & Half-truths. Congratulations to all of the WWK writers.

Please join Margaret S. Hamilton's Kings River Life podcast of her short story "Busted at the Book Sale" here. Congratulations, Margaret!


Monday, August 15, 2011

Unnecessary and Extraneous Details

When I first started writing novels, I made the mistake of having anyone read my manuscripts. I asked a creative writing community college professor nearby to read and make comments on one of my manuscripts. When I got it back from him, he had redlined all the “unnecessary and extraneous” details, as he called them—my clues! He obviously was not a mystery writer or even a mystery reader. And then I bought some of his books and read—not all the way through, mind you—because his books were dreadful “artistic” novels that I found aimless, no fun at all. I could have kicked myself.

Mystery readers want to find out the solution to the mystery, reading until the end. Once the solution is revealed, they think back on what they read, remembering those “unnecessary and extraneous” details, and realize that if they had only put one and one together they could have solved the mystery themselves. They sometimes do solve the mystery or know who dunnit at some point in the book. From a writer’s point of view, we don’t want them adding it up too soon. But even when they do solve the mystery themselves, they require the facts and logic of the book to add up to the solution. I call this internal integrity, much like the research project design I studied in graduate school.

There are various methods to ensure internal integrity. The “best” method is via a novel’s outline, in which the author carefully plots the book making note of major clues, where they fit, adding complications, and then the author uses characterization, which adds to the internal integrity by making the characters authentic. The author then looks at the pacing the story making sure that the reader’s emotions engage in a pattern of peaks and valleys. In short, authors try to create a page-turner of a book.

When I say outlining is the best method, I don’t discount pantsers, those authors who start writing intuitively with the idea of the plot and seeing where it takes them, because I use a combination of outline and pantser techniques. I write an outline filling in with as many details as I can think of at the time, but then I also create a storyboard for each chapter to make sure I include events and dialogue that fulfills the function of the chapter. When I writing each chapter though, the pantser in me takes over and all those “unnecessary and extraneous” details come into play that actually connect the plot much like the function of pins in sewing, and really that’s what storytelling is—a construction of pieces that come together into one carefully constructed plot, a process called crafting.

When an author outlines, it is nearly impossible to capture the minutia. Until a scene is written the details haven’t been created, which is why there has to be some pantser in every writer. Writers can’t outline and connect minutia that doesn’t yet exist. Some writers wait until they have finished a rough draft to make their connections. I don’t find this satisfactory because by the time I finish, even when I write them all down, I forget their function and miss points I wanted to make. To continue the analogy, I hate ripping out seams and re-sewing. There are hairy details much like the ripped thread that must be flushed away so that the manuscript isn’t fuzzy. I’d rather get it right the first time so that preliminary readers aren’t lost.

To accomplish this, I write chapter by chapter and revise before I go onto the next chapter. Usually this occurs in intervals of two to three chapters making sure the details and connections pin the chapter in place, much like attaching one side of a garment making sure that it matches the other side. There are a few details in previous chapters that I may have to adjust, aside from word smithing and tweaking, my novel should be finished by the time I write the last word. Then I’ll let a professional editor dissect it. It should be interesting to see what the editor determines I need to rewrite.

I do have one problem though. One member of my critique group has made assumptions that she shouldn’t make. It reminds me of a TV ad in which a man cooking spaghetti sauce and holding a cleaver appears to be killing a cat that has jumped up on the counter when his sweetheart walks into the kitchen.

Reading between the lines is a fun game. But don’t blame the author when jumping to erroneous assumptions. In a way, I’m glad of her assumptions because the ending will come as a complete surprise, and yet I hope that she is not outraged when she finds that her assumptions are false. If she studies the logic and facts, she will find her error because for mystery writers and readers, internal integrity is a requirement underpinned by those “unnecessary and extraneous” details.


Warren Bull said...

One person's unnecessary is another person's requirement.

Tag line for the cat photo: Just give me the cat nip and nobody gets hurt.

E. B. Davis said...

No, I think that a requirement is a requirement. If you establish that one character is dreadfully fearful of guns, one can't very well contradict that very trait you created by having the character murder the victim by shotgun blast.

If the police establish time of death as sometime in the afternoon, you can't very well create a killing scene at one a.m.

And those blue fibers found at the murder scene could be the blue bandana worn by the victim's faithful dog or the killer.

Perhaps I'm not sure what you mean, Warren?

Donnell Ann Bell said...

LOL. E.B. that cat with the gun -- where on earth did you get that? And you're right, readers can't blame the author for making erroneous conclusion. The job of a mystery writer is to lead the reader on a merry chase; would you agree.

And while it's great to get second opinions from experts, you have to make sure that expert understands what you are trying to accomplish. I belong to two critique groups for that very reason. My romance CPs don't necessarily get the mystery and my mystery CPs definitely don't get the romance, but put it altogether and it works. It's all in the unnecessary and extraneous details. Great post!!!

Kara Cerise said...

E.B., how do you storyboard your chapters? I'm only familiar with that term in the context of the advertising industry where an artist draws an image for each action in a proposed commercial. Do you actually use images?

Great blog and love the cat with the gun!

E. B. Davis said...

Donnell-You are smart to use two critique groups. The members of each group have to understand your objectives, like the genre and be experienced readers in that genre to be able to critique well. For that reason-I stopped having friends and family read my stuff. I write murder mystery so they were always "reading" between the lines and coming up with erroneous conclusions--about me!

Kara-I use the term "storyboard" but I guess it's more of a detailed outline. I first jot down what function the scene has in the plot (it can't be aimless), the setting has to be the logical place for my mc to obtain the information, then I look at the characters and how to portray them in appearance and personality traits. My mc's reaction to the imparted information usually follows and ends the scene. So, it's an outline with plot points, but it also is fleshed out in a physical sense as well.

The term "storyboard" came from a writers' conference I attended that provided instruction.

Anonymous said...

I write mysteries, too, and am often caught in the learning curve of how to get it all to come together. The mystery I just finished editing had to be rewritten twice to make all the pieces fit together. I'm going to use some of your suggestions, especially the storyboard idea. Thanks for writing all these ideas out. :D

Pauline Alldred said...

I use the story board and the chapter by chapter outlining for details. Still, sometimes I find the murderer is not who I thought and I have to go back and make many detailed changes. That's easier if I have a story board and a chapter outline.

Critiques are essential but sometimes critics have their own agendas that have nothing to do with your WIP.

E. B. Davis said...

Hi Catie-Welcome to WWK. Although I am happily amazed at what ends up on the page when I try panser techniques--I think using a storyboard is a better method. If I write in panser mode, I end up with a lot of great details, but then the entire chapter has to be rewritten via a storyboard and then those details I've spontaneously written are better incorporated in the rewriting. Good luck on your WIP and give us a progress report now and again!

Pauline-Unfortunately you are right. Just as in any profession there are back biters who have their own agenda. Most critiquers though see your idea and want to help maximize its potential. We are readers, like a great story and it doesn't have to be our own story!

The only time I'm unsure of the killer is at the very beginning when I'm still fleshing out my plot. After that, no--I know and build the plot so that my mc is on the correct trail. Sure, there are red herrings, but only in the context of logic and deducing the answer from the evidence.

Kaye George said...

There ARE unnecessary details, of course, but not CLUES! Thanks for reminding us not to go with every bit of critique we get.

I LOVE the picture of the kitten with the gun, BTW. Anyone you know?

Warren Bull said...

What I meant was that your prof did not understand the genre and could not tell the difference between what is needed and what is not in a mystery. In evaluating feedback, the author always has the option of ignoring it.

Anonymous said...

I had a friend who read a children's story of mine & read things into it that had nothing to do with the story. She used what she'd learned about me, twisted it & thought I was working out that bit of my past through my writing. However, not one other person who'd read the story saw any semblance of the connection she concocted. Her critiques were such that she essentially tried to rewrite my story.

So yes, I think it's imperative to "consider the source", & I believe it's every writer's right to veto anything that doesn't fit with their original vision.

Great post, E.B.

E. B. Davis said...

I feel your pain, Alyx. Yes, some "friends" wondered if I'd been molested as a child. Like, duh! But however well meaning, it was an unappreciated comment. For crying outloud, evaluate and comment on my story!

Warren-I had no choice but to ignore it--he wiped out my clues.

Thanks everyone!

E. B. Davis said...

No kitty I know, Kaye. But I think you have a kitty. Doubt it wants to get a gun, though.

Yes, there are unnecessary details and those are not red herrings, but rather annoying information that throws the reader off without driving the story. We can do without all of those.