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Archive for the ‘writing a novel’ Category

a book launch with a twist

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Anyone in the Fredericton, New Brunswick area, mark your calendars! On next Sunday, August 23, from 1:00 to 4:00, Chuck Bowie and I will launch two new mystery books at Westminster Books.

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This will be a launch with a few differences. No cake, no refreshments. No readings. No hugs. Just Chuck and Jane, probably at different ends of the bookstore. With masks. Only a few fans at a time.  But we will talk to you and answer all questions you have about writing mysteries (no spoilers, sorry). I will bring the two cover paintings for ‘How Her Garden Grew‘ and ‘Something the Sundial Said‘ and I will bring a sundial and a Grinning Tun seashell, key symbols from my mysteries. Be sure to ask Chuck how the hops vine figures into his mystery ‘Death Between the Walls.’ And ask me what creepy Marion (in ‘Something the Sundial Said‘) keeps on her coffee table as a paper-weight!

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Wish you were all close enough to come to the launch!

All my best!

Jane

clues in a mystery

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I am still revising my novel, the third in my Kate Eliot Mystery series: Land Between the Furrows.

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A mystery places additional demands on both writer and reader. It is the writer’s job to present the mystery, include clues to solve the mystery and then, work with the reader — ta da! — to solve the mystery. It is the reader’s job to accept the challenge of solving the mystery, look for clues, put them together and work with the writer to solve the mystery. The result is a story and plot where the writer and reader collaborate.

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Mine is a cozy mystery. In this book, there is something to find. At first it is not clear what the something is, but gradually its characteristics are revealed and the location (where the object is hidden) is revealed. The mystery uses a device, a stack of post cards and the messages on them, to present the clues.

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Most of the information is sorted through the gradual telling of the story and by the end of the first draft, I have a rough idea of the way clues will be distributed through the book. But, as for all writing, adjustment and revision is usually needed.

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To do this, I use two tools. One is my Table of Chapters and Scenes. The other is my List of Clues.

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So take a simple mystery. I have hidden an object in this room. There are really two sets of clues 1. What is the object? and 2. Where is it hidden? In a simple, straightforward mystery, the clues should be presented in a logical way and information should be progressive.

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Library

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So, here is the room.

List of Clues

What is the item? the clues are:

  • it’s cold
  • it tastes delicious
  • it’s purple
  • it’s on a stick

Where in the room is the item hidden? the clues are:

  • in the library
  • on a library shelf
  • in a hollow book
  • name of the book: “Warm Day”

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I use the Table of Chapters to make sure the clues are distributed completely and in order. These Table is not complete (there are probably ten chapters in this simple book), but this will give you the idea.

chart

Of course there can be complexities: clues within clues; red herrings; dead ends; twists and turns.

By the time the book is near the end, I want to make sure all the clues have been given.

And Kaye and her kids get the Popsicle.

popsicle

All my best,

staying safe,

Jane

 

 

Written by jane tims

June 22, 2020 at 7:01 am

dates, days and seasons

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After the first draft is complete, after I’ve done a little work on continuity, I take another step in ordering the manuscript. I assign dates to each chapter and scene of the book. In the kind of mystery story I write, it is useful to the reader to know the date as the story progresses.

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This is important for several reasons:

  1. I have children in my Kaye Eliot mysteries and I want to be certain that student Katie is actually home (and not in school) for her scenes
  1. my characters often interact with government professionals. They don’t usually work on weekends.
  1. my book is set in Nova Scotia where the seasons change; knowing the date gives me information on the likely weather
  2. my protagonist, Kaye Eliot, is a botanist, so from her point of view, the vegetation is an important part of her descriptions of setting. To help with this, I keep a setting journal, so I know that apple blossoms are out around May 30, lilacs are in bloom in mid-June and lupins line the roads from mid-June to early July.
  3. I often put the phases of the moon in night scenes. Knowing the date lets me assign the correct phase of the moon to my settings. Have you ever read a book where the full moon shines all month long?
  4. Knowing the date lets me weave long weekends and holidays into my story.

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My book is set in 1996. A quick Google search will find me a calendar for that year. Believe it or not, most phone books once included a calendar for every possible year. No longer necessary.

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As I said before, my Table of Chapters is a useful tool for keeping track of dates, days and seasons. I can refer to it to get an instant idea of how much time has passed and where I have “time” to insert a new scene or chapter.

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All my best.

Staying home.

Working hard.

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Jane

Written by jane tims

June 17, 2020 at 7:00 am

continuity errors

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As I do revisions of my new manuscript, I find continuity errors in the First Draft. A perfect example cropped up today.

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The story revolves around the clues contained in a shoe box of post cards. About a quarter of the way through the book, someone steals the post cards. In the next chapter, Kaye and her friend Clara make a list of the post cards and a summary of the clues. Hard to do if they don’t have the cards with them! This kind of continuity error is easy to find and correct. Switching the chapters and correcting any new continuity errors is relatively easy.

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post cards

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Fixing continuity errors begins with identification.

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My main tools in this process are the “find” feature of my word processing software and a “table of chapters” that tracks the characteristics of each chapter. The table includes chapter-specific information on scenes, days/dates, setting, characters, Point of View, symbols and so on. This table is a lot of work, but it helps me over and over again during the review process.

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Sample Table

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In my search for continuity errors, I consider:

1. days and dates: I begin every chapter and scene with a day and date. This helps the reader to understand passage of time and helps me with time-related continuity errors. For example, Katie is in Grade 10 at school. On Tuesdays, she can’t be driving around with her mom looking for clues. The table lets me check on these various characteristics of the story and the time/order when events occur.

2. symbols used in the story: mentioned once in a story, a firepit is just a firepit. Mentioned twice, it begins to resonate; it refers to earlier mentions and takes on metaphorical meaning. Mentioned three times, it is all metaphor, a reminder of family, warm memories of a cold night and gathering. When these symbols are identified in the table of chapters, I can forward search on each symbol and read the context. The progression of meaning should be steady and discernible. Ideas out of order can be identified and their order fixed.

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3. character development: sometimes continuity errors are about an out-of-order character arc. When Clara’s home suffers a break-in, she is fearful and unwilling to trust strangers. When she meets Daniel, she learns to trust again, but the progression of this change must be logical and gradual.

4. gradual changes to setting: sometimes significant changes to setting create continuity errors. For example, in my book, an old road is bulldozed. The first time it is used it is muddy, almost impassible. When cars use the road later in the story, I have to explain the change with a spell of dry weather.

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Continuity errors can creep into a story in so many small ways. Character names, hair colour, vehicle make and model, even community names … everything needs to be checked. In the revision stage, it is important to review the story with intent and focus: continuity errors are most easily identified when the writer’s brain is attentive, alert. Drowsy-minded reviews are for finding and removing adverbs!

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All this effort is needed. Readers can be ripped from the world created by a book if the heroine with curly red hair suddenly has hair that is wispy and blond. Readers can be unforgiving.

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'Odymn and Vicki talk' (2016_12_30 00_28_35 UTC) (2)

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Have you ever found an unforgettable continuity error in a book?

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All my best.

Stay home, stay safe.

Jane

choosing a title

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The title of a book can be chosen in a great hurry, the product of the first thing that writes itself on the back wall of the author’s brain. Or, it can emerge after hours, even days, of consideration.

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The title is an important part of a book. It is often the first impression a reader has of the story. It has the responsibility of telling the story in a few words without being a spoiler. It must inform and in the same moment ask a question. It can not confuse the reader … it must not promise a mystery by one author and deliver a book about the life cycle of bees by another.

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I am working on the third book in my Kaye Eliot Mystery Series. I first conceived of the book in 1989. The working title flashed before my eyes … No Stone Unturned. Over 30 years later, I have a first draft. Time to move from a working title to the final title.

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blue stone (Jane Tims) (2016_12_30 00_28_35 UTC)

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So, what is wrong with No Stone Unturned? First, it is a cliche. Second, I searched on Amazon books and found eleven other books with the same title.

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So, to come up with an alternative title, I considered the following:

  1. other titles in the series. Other titles in the Kaye Eliot Mysteries are How Her Garden Grew and Something the Sundial Said. These are longish titles and both ask a question. Both start with a pronoun and include a noun and a verb. To continue this pattern, I considered a title like Where the Stone Lies.
  2. what the story is about. This book is about various efforts to find a stone and return it to its home. Finding the Stone. Searching for the Stone. Setting the Stone Free. Hmmmm.
  3. words and ideas that repeat or resonate in the story. Words in this book with symbolic meaning include stone, stone house, standing stone, mill stone, furrow, land, repatriation, betrothal, demographics, house plans, etc. Some of these words can go out right away. Repatriation of the Stone. No.
  4. the book’s genre. I had a look at the book titles of other writers in the mystery genre. The word ‘mystery’ is usually on the cover … I have A Kaye Eliot Mystery on every cover. In this genre I see titles like Cold Earth and Dark Water (Anne Cleary), Candle for a Corpse and Flowers for His Funeral (Ann Granger), and Death in a Darkening Mist and A Killing in King’s Cove. (Iona Whishaw). So perhaps I should choose something like Seeking the Stone or Death by Stone or just The Stone House.

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Perhaps I am drowning in stones, because my choice for a book title at this point is The Land Between the Furrows. It is longish like my other titles. It is a little unfamiliar, to entice a reader. It asks the question “What happens on the land between the furrows,” or “What is the land between the furrows?” The worst thing about the title, it suggests an agricultural theme which is not quite true.

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img_1246

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If you are considering the ideal title for your own book, have a look at https://thejohnfox.com/2016/07/how-to-create-good-book-titles/ for a step by step approach to finding a great title.

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All my best.

Stay home as much as possible

and stay safe.

Jane

Written by jane tims

June 10, 2020 at 7:00 am

first draft

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This past weekend, I finished the first draft of the third novel in the Kaye Eliot Mystery Series. This is my favorite part of the long process of working on a book.

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I plan my novel to an extent. From the beginning, I knew the basic story: Kaye Eliot finds a packet of old postcards and is set on a search for a valuable stone. The idea for the story was sparked way back in 1989 when I first saw an abandoned stone house during field work in Nova Scotia. I also had most of my characters to work with: Kaye and her husband and two kids. And Daniel Cutter, a stonemason, a character introduced in Book Two of the series. To read Book Two (Something the Sundial Said), click here.

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As I write, I let the characters and story take me where they want to go. Sometimes this takes me in unusual directions. Unless an idea is ridiculous, I usually run with it.

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The props I encounter in the story have their own push and pull. The stone house, the postcards, a stone chimney, a set of architectural plans. When these objects are repeated in the story, they become symbols of ideas in the book.

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stone house Upper Canada Village

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The next stage in writing is the revision. This means reading the book, cover to cover, over and over. I will fix the misspellings and grammar, I add some description. I polish the dialogue. I adjust the story points. I fix the names of villages and bridges and social groups in the story. I do some research. Revision takes the bulk of the time devoted to writing the book, probably 80%. I do at least ten revision sweeps.

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I love the first revision. Although I wrote the first draft, reading it for the first time, cover to cover, is like discovering a new book.

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stone wall

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Next post, I will talk about choosing a title for the book, not as easy as it may seem.

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All my best.

Please stay safe.

Jane

Written by jane tims

June 8, 2020 at 7:00 am

next book in the Meniscus Series: the Gel-head dictionary

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From the beginning, I have included an alien language dictionary at the end of my science fiction books. Gel-speak is the common language on the planet Meniscus. Many of my Human characters speak a little Gel-speak; the genetically-altered Humans, the Slain, speak it fluently. In each book, there are lines of Gel-speak, usually translated, occasionally not.

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The Gel-speak language originates with the Gel-heads, the most maligned of the aliens on Meniscus. The intelligent Dock-winders also have a language but it is not spoken in the presence of other species.

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By the eighth book, I have added to the dictionary until there are 170 words.

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The Gel-speak language has a grammar, or set of rules governing the words and their order. There are verbs and nouns, articles and adjectives. The Gel-speak language includes many of the same sounds as English and includes a ‘click’ at the end of certain words. Any linguists among you are now laughing.

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So, with the dictionary, you can count in Gel-speak to five:

u-hath – one

ull – two

undel – three

urth – four

v-hath – five

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Gel-speak words have ‘roots’ and build on one-another. For example, here are words associated with the female gender:

ora – light

ora-nee – home

ora-nell – female

ora-nell-elan – mother

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or, with the idea of sharing a hearth:

parelan – family

parennel – friend

pargath – hearth

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OK linguists, you can stop laughing now. This is fiction, after all.

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Want a look at the entire dictionary? Have a look at the books in the Meniscus Series, beginning here.

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`chased by a Gel-head`part two

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All my best,

staying home (ora-nee),

and staying in my two-family (ull-paralan) bubble,

Jane

Written by jane tims

May 13, 2020 at 7:00 am

next book in the Meniscus Series: the illustrations

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For the last two days, I have been in a drawing mood. Not many authors illustrate their books (not including those who work on graphic novels), but I love this part of the process.

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I have had lots of discussions with readers about the right and wrong of illustrating. Some think it takes away from the reader’s wonderful ability to imagine characters and scenes. Others think the illustrations take a reader deeper into the author’s intentions. As an author, I think drawings help get my ideas across. Since my books are told as narrative poetry, my words tend to be vary spare and I think of the drawings as extensions of the narrative.

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I include two types of drawings in my books: portraits of the characters and sketches of the action.

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The portraits are useful to me as a writer. They help fix the character’s face so the image does not migrate from book to book. I am really proud of the portraits and looking at them inspires my writing.

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I am also proud of some of my drawings of scenes from my books. When the drawing is close to the idea I want to portray, sometimes it suggests new details in the text. Some drawings are not so good but I rarely re-draw. Instead, I think of these as representative of the weirdness of planet Meniscus. It reminds me of a line from my favorite TV show Lost. Daniel Faraday, on his first visit to the island says,

The light… it’s strange out here, isn’t it? It’s kind of like, it doesn’t, it doesn’t scatter quite right.”

On Meniscus, the pencil doesn’t behave quite right.

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In every book, there are 23 +/- 4 drawings. Some are portraits or repeats of earlier scenes. Today, I did two drawings, both unique to Meniscus: The Knife.

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All my best,

staying home

and staying in my two-family bubble,

Jane

Written by jane tims

May 11, 2020 at 7:00 am

next book in the Meniscus Series: the Cast of Characters

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Other writers often ask me about the use of a beta reader. Of course, I value their input and listen carefully to any suggestions about the book they have just read for me. In a series like Meniscus, the suggestions of the beta reader often help me more with the next book. Sometimes the suggestion has to do with the storyline or a particular character. Sometimes it is a suggestion that becomes integral to the whole series.

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When she read Book Two of the Series, Meniscus: South from Sintha, my beta reader Carol suggested adding a short description of each character in a compendium at the end of each book. I began to do this for the next book and now every book has a Cast of Characters.

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Since some of my characters are aliens, I group the characters as Humans, Argenops (benevolent furry creatures), Dock-winders (self-serving overlords), Gel-heads (unlikeable minions), and Others (animal companions and other sentient aliens).

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In the Cast of Characters I include information on the character’s role in the story, the character’s age, where the character lived on Earth, what they were doing when the Dock-winders harvested them, what Earth year they were taken, their occupation on Earth, their occupation on Meniscus and sometimes their motivation, faults or wants.

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Here is an example, a character description of Zachary, a carpenter and an important citizen of Themble Hill:

Zachary – survivor of the transport crash; 46 one-suns old; harvested by the Dock-winders in 2008 when he worked as a carpenter with his father’s company in Fargo, North Dakota; educated as an engineer; harvested as he made repairs to a roof during a wind storm; used by the Dock-winders as the laser-sawyer in a grammid mill; spent most of grad school playing Sonic the Hedgehog ™ and eating pickled eggs in the campus grad house.

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Sometimes I wish I could change the character description a bit to suit the story, but I try not to do that. I also include all of the characters mentioned in all of the books to date although they may not appear in the current book. So far, I have 41 characters, major and minor, who have appeared in the various books.

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All my best,

staying home and keeping in my two-family bubble,

Jane

Written by jane tims

May 8, 2020 at 7:00 am

next book in the Meniscus Series: the maps

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One day in 2016, when I was first deciding how I would put the Meniscus books together, I puzzled over how I would make the maps I wanted to include in each book.

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At first, I wanted to produce hand-drawn maps, re-drawing each map and making erasures and changes as each book advanced the story. Every book would need adjustments to the map and a new dotted ‘trail’ to show the path my characters followed.

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The idea of hand-drawn maps ended when I found out how boring it would be to draw the 300 trees in the Themble Wood.

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I didn’t know a thing about digital image creation. So I went on line and found GIMP, the GNU Image Manipulation Program … what a great place to learn the craft of making maps!  https://www.gimp.org/

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Now, four years later, I have not needed to move from GIMP. First I learned how to make trees …. in quantity and with shadows! There are three kinds of tree on Meniscus: grammid, yarnel and banyan:

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Once I had trees all across my maps, I added the geological features I knew were essential for world-building: in the first book of the Meniscus Series I wanted (left to right) a gully, a line of huge burrows, a fault (and high associated cliff), a hill and a large water feature (a churn).

features minus trees

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I also knew I wanted towns and cities, as well as the roads between them:

features

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I also add trails to show where my characters travel during the book.

trails

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GIMP has met every need. And my maps can change with time; all I do is turn various layers on and off, creating new combinations of features and paths.

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Here is one of the maps for my next book Meniscus: The Knife:

meniscus north district knife

The dotted line (– . — . — . –) shows Tagret’s path as she goes on her quest to rescue Rist.

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All my best,

staying home and in my two-family bubble,

Jane

 

 

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