|Romance and Mystery Authors on Writing, series on writing tips|
I am excited to have multi-published, award-winning business writer, Joan C. Curtis here. She put down her scholarly pen to write a mystery. And what a mystery it is. Joan's book, The Clock Strikes Midnight, is definitely a page-turner. I'm enjoying reading the relationship between the two sisters and can't stop wondering about who killed their mother. Delicious.
Joan is donating her e-book, What Does It Take to Write, Publish, and Sell a Novel, as a door prize for a lucky commenter. The drawing will be after 9 pm EST Sunday evening.
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Welcome, Joan. Thanks for sharing your writing tips with us. You have included many helpful points for us.
Writing Tips by Joan C. Curtis
The best advice I ever got about writing dialogue is to eavesdrop on conversations. Not for the content, unless the content is particularly stimulating. Instead for the expressions and word choice. When writing dialogue, it’s important to distinguish your characters by their individual voices.
For example, you may have a southern “redneck” character. That character speaks very differently than your more sophisticated characters.
“I’m gonna carry my ma to the market come Saturday evening.”
“I’m taking my mother to the grocery store on Saturday afternoon.”
You also want to be sure that your younger characters speak in an age-appropriate way. Don’t have five year olds talking like adults or teens.
Years ago, writers like Mark Twain used dialect. Today, readers will not tolerate reading dialects. As writers, we must search for other ways to create realistic speakers in the regions where we write. Here’s an example from a southern writer, Mary Kay Andrews, He was sniffing like a dog on point. ‘Are you cooking collard greens?’ he asked. Notice it was unnecessary to drop the “g’s.” Readers can read without dropping “g’s.” I bet you did!
And be sure to read your dialogue out loud.
Dialogue can be the most fun to write. It’s through dialogue that characters take on lives of own. They say things we sometimes don’t expect and if we’re doing it right, in ways we don’t expect!
I’ve been credited with creating meaningful characters in The Clock Strikes Midnight. Let me share a few tips about the way to create characters readers can relate to.
First, you must allow the characters to create themselves. Once the person hits the stage in your story, give them the freedom to be who they are. Don’t force yourself onto them. That sounds strange, but if you give it a go, you’ll understand.
Next, as your character emerges, ask yourself questions like, what does this person value, what are his/her goals, how does this person add to the story, in what ways does this person help add to or exacerbate the conflict, how is this character different from the others in the story, what kinds of things does this character like to do, what are his/her work, hobbies. Many writers create bios for their characters. I do not do this until the character is fully formed in my mind through the writing of the story.
Third, make sure the dialogue and action are consistent for the character. I’ve had Beta readers say things like, “I did not expect this character to say something like that. It seemed odd and jarred me.” When I hear that critique, it is clear I got in the character’s way. Readers are great at catching these slip-ups.
Fourth, move away from the story long enough to ponder the character. I like to think about my character while walking or swimming. In those situations I can let my mind travel and my imagination run free. That’s when I’ve had the greatest insights into a character’s behavior or action.
Fifth, if a character is tapping you on the shoulder to do something, do it. In The Clock Strikes Midnight, I had decided to write from two points-of-view: Janie’s and Marlene’s. They were the two main characters in my story. Throughout the writing, their mother kept tapping me on the shoulder, wanting to have her say. I ignored her until the writing came to a complete halt. At that point I gave in and created a new section of the book strictly from the mom’s point-of-view. Readers have told me how valuable that section was to their understanding of the story.
Sixth, people say if you dream in another language, you have mastered the language. In my experience if you dream about your characters, you’ve created real people. Have you ever dreamed about them?
I’ll end with a quote about characterization from DL Doctorow. He said, “Writing is an acceptable form of schizophrenia.”
The one tip I’ll share about setting is to make it as real as possible without taking away from the story. For some books the setting is the story, example: Under the Tuscan Sun. For most books, however, setting sets the stage. I think of it as the “set” on a stage, to reverse the concept.
Some writers write their setting so well, it becomes almost another character in the story. For example, I love the “cold” mysteries—those set in Sweden, Iceland and other such cold places. There, the weather and the setting are so powerful. It sets the stage for a chilly mystery. Henning Mankell did that expertly in his Detective Wallender series. Steig Larsson also created an amazing setting in The Girl with the Dragoon Tattoo series. Very cold, very ominous.
Cozy mysteries often have cozy settings, in cute little towns or villages. Those help create the theme. Murder happens even in the warmest of places.
As writers we must think about where our action occurs. It can’t just occur in a vacuum. Settings puts the reader somewhere and gives them a foundation for the action.
Somewhere I read that creativity lies in the writing and genius in the editing. For me the truth lies somewhere in between.
As a writer I cannot think about editing as I’m writing. I must create and get what I’m writing on paper or on my computer screen. I suggest this over and over to new writers. If you write and then go back and edit, you waste lots of time and disrupt your creative energy.
5 Tips on Editing:
1) Nothing you write for the first time is perfect. Re-write and re-write.
2) Do not edit until you are out of the creative mode. I usually write freely and then the next day, I read what I wrote the day before. Not to edit, but to put me back in that place to continue creating. On the third or fourth day, I’ll go back through with an eye toward some light editing, but primarily putting in things that I left out. I do not completely edit until the manuscript is finished. I’ve often described it this way. I have on my “Creative Hat” in the beginning. Later, I put on my “Editor’s Hat.” The two require different kinds of thinking.
3) Listen to what your readers say or what your editor says. Even though you are the author and you have the final say, often readers and editors have excellent suggestion.
4) Don’t be too proud to share your work with an editor.
5) If you are self-published, pay for solid editorial services. Your readers deserve that!
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|With just three months to live, Janie Knox returns to her childhood home |
to face her dark past and destroy her mother’s killer.
Four times business book author, Joan C. Curtis, releases her first mystery/suspense title, The Clock Strikes Midnight.
|Mystery Author Joan C. Curtis|
Joan has been an avid reader for as long as she can remember. She reads all kinds of books, including women’s fiction, mysteries, biography, and memoir. Her passion as a reader lies closer to literary writing with a commercial bent. She writes books she would love to read.
“I write about characters who remind me of myself at times and my sister at times, but never fully so. My stories are told from a woman’s point of view. Characters drive my writing and my reading.”
Having grown up in the South with a mother from Westchester County New York, Joan has a unique take on blending the southern traditions with the eye of a northerner. She spent most of her childhood in North Carolina and now resides in Georgia.
Connect online with Joan at the Joan C. Curtis site.
Connect online with Joan at the Joan C. Curtis site.