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Category Archives: Story beginnings

Getting Started Writing That Book

Sharon A. Crawford's latest in the Beyond series

Sharon A. Crawford’s latest in the Beyond series

A friend wants to write a book and is having trouble getting started. She has done the necessary research and her mind is overflowing with ideas. But actually sitting down at the computer and writing it is presenting a problem. I know that feeling of having too many ideas brewing and circulating in the mind – even AFTER I have begun writing my books .

Both my friend and I have journalist backgrounds and I wonder if that has something to do with it. Journalists are known for collecting way too much information and many procrastinate about actually starting. But journalists often do an outline first to narrow down what exactly the want to include in their story. When I wrote newspaper and magazine articles, that’s what I did. I also had one peculiarity. I had to get at least a good draft of the story lead before I could write further. And I’ve mentioned this before, for one story I had four possible beginnings and not until I phoned another journalist and read out the four beginnings and she chose one, could I proceed further.

Some of these journalist habits can be transferred to books – fiction and non-fiction. In particular, do an outline. Some writers seem to be afraid to do an outline but if you remember that it is not sealed in granite and changes are possible as you actually write the book (and that is so usual with fiction), it can free you to do an outline.

Or if you don’t want to actually do an outline, do a list of the most important ideas and information you have. Often just getting it down, frees the chaos in your mind and also gives you some reference points.

I still try to get a good beginning draft, but try to keep in mind that it will probably change. Just yesterday, while doing more rewriting of my next Beyond novel, I changed the beginning somewhat – more the presentation than actual content. And yes, it came from an idea percolating in my head (plus a previous comment from the editor at my publisher’s about how I was handling a certain aspect of the novel, which included the beginning). In my case, the focus was coming up with something different in presentation and format from Beyond Blood.

If you still can’t get started and freeze in front of the computer, maybe try some freefall writing to unlock your creativity. Think of an emotion you are feeling now, or something bothering you in your life and just start writing about it for 15 to 20 minutes. Stop only to breathe (although you probably won’t even notice that you are still breathing). Go where the emotion you are feeling leads you. Go where the words lead you. You might go off on a tangent you hadn’t anticipated.

And you might just get writing something you can use in your book.

At any rate, your creativity will  be unleashed and your self-confidence will get a boost.

I also suggest reading Julie Cameron’s book The Artist’s Way for her ideas on getting going with your writing. Because the other thing is you have to set out some regular writing time and days and stick to it. Treat it like  your job and the payoff isn’t necessarily in money, at this point, but a book manuscript that you are finally starting to write.

Cheers.

Sharon

And the usual, click on the Beyond Blood icon at the top for more info about my books and go to the Gigs and Blog Tours Page for more information on my upcoming author events.

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Picture it to kick-start your story

Sharon A. Crawford's latest in the Beyond series

Sharon A. Crawford’s latest in the Beyond series

I teach a memoir writing workshop called Writing Your Memoir from Pictures. Participants look at old family photos, old newspaper stories, old ads to bring their minds back to their past. From there they start writing part of their memoir, perhaps even the beginning.

A variation of this could be done to get you going writing fiction or to help you create a scene in your story.

Let’s consider a photo of a family member or friend – whether in print or digital. Or even a photo posted online of someone you don’t know. Maybe you are having a hard time visualizing what your character looks like. Or maybe you have some idea but are having problems describing the character. Looking at a picture can trigger some ideas. I’m not saying you should make your character an exact copy, but images can get ideas swirling.

If your story is set in the not-too-distant past, maybe up to 150 years ago, old newspaper photographs, and ads especially can help you get ideas of how society lived at that time. Sure, newspaper stories back then, can tell you that. However, just looking at pictures and letting your mind absorb them, can help you create that scene in a town set in the 1950s or during one of the world wars or another time – whatever your story dictates.

Picture it and let your mind absorb. Then let your imagination loose.

You know what they say about a picture being worth a thousand words.

Cheers.

Sharon

If you click on the book cover at the top, it will take you to one place where my Beyond books area available

 

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Recharging your novel in progress

Sharon A. Crawford's latest in the Beyond series

Sharon A. Crawford’s latest in the Beyond series

My editor did it. He gave me the boost to get my third Beyond book out of stall mode.

A few weeks ago I blogged about a lot of problems (house, health, utility, income taxes) stealing from my writing time including coming up with plot development. See https://sharonacrawfordauthor.com/2015/03/05/kick-start-writing-your-novel-when-it-hits-stall-mode

This big surge happened a couple of weeks ago when Shane, my editor at Blue Denim Press, and I did a joint marketing presentation (author and publisher) at the Beaches Library Branch in Toronto, Canada. Two things Shane said did it. On the panel, he was answering a question related to submissions and editing. He pointed to Beyond Blood and said my book went through several edits and at first it needed a lot of changes. He said I needed one murder within the first 50 pages. So he said that I wrote in two murders. After the presentation he was saying that today’s mysteries that sell aren’t so much cozies – but edgy like my Beyond the Tripping Point short story collection. I reminded him that my prequel novel Beyond Blood is also edgy.

However, it got me thinking. The Beyond novel I’m currently writing tended to meander too much in the beginning. It needed to be made sharper with more twists and turns. As for the murders, there is one within the first 50 pages and another incident in the beginning that is left hanging whether it will turn into a murder or be an attempted murder.

Letting all this percolate in my brain, as well as being open to whatever ideas materialized, finally worked. So I’ve been writing and writing – well, not all the time. There are still house and property problems and potential problems thanks to weather. And I am suddenly getting more editing clients – which I wanted and needed to help pay the bills.

I also like helping other writers – but more on that in another post.

For now, if your novel or short story has hit stall mode, don’t give up. Get another perspective from another author and/or editor. Join a writing critique group and listen – maybe even read that stalled chapter for feedback.

Do something besides moan and groan. You never know what might percolate in your mind.

Cheers.

Sharon A. Crawford.

Reminder: Next Thursday, April 16, I join Crime Writers of Canada writers Nate Hendley and Rosemary McCracken for a writing presentation to the Storytellers writing group at Angus Glen library in Unionville, Ontario, Canada. Check my Facebook page for more info https://www.facebook.com/pages/Sharon-A-Crawford/412730865439394. Scroll down beyond the bad customer service post to the Meet-up post.

 

Sharon A. Crawford is the author of the Beyond book series. More info at www.samcraw.com and www.bluedenimpress.com including a link to a radio interview at http://bluedenimpress.com/authors/sharon-a-crawford/ Online TV interview from Liquid Lunch is at http://youtu.be/i2bBaePIWgY

Beyond Blood Book cover at the top of this post links to my Amazon author profile. If you buy a copy, please write a review on amazon. Thanks.

 

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Writing conferences help writers

Amazon.com link to Sharon A.'s short story collection

Amazon.com link to Sharon A.’s short story collection

This country’s crazy in terms of fame and what people think it means. They expect a writer to be something between a Hollywood starlet and the village idiot.

– Kent Haruf

Last weekend I attended the Bloody Words mystery writing conference at a hotel in downtown Toronto, Ontario, Canada. It was Bloody Words’ 13th conference since 1999, but it is also their last. Bloody you-know-what. As an author I’ve found Bloody Words to be very helpful, the other authors just as weird (we are crime writers, after all) as me. And friendly and helpful. Two years ago at Bloody Words, I received a lot of encouragement and help for my mystery short story collection Beyond the Tripping Point. And at that time it was accepted for publication by Blue Denim Press but I hadn’t yet signed the contract, although I had a copy and was reading through it. I was also rewriting some of the short stories for the publisher. From this conference, among other things, I found a book reviewer for an Ontario city newspaper, for Ellery Queen Mystery Magazine. and my police consultant, also a mystery novelist (police procedures from the constable’s viewpoint), Brent Pilkey. Brent helped me sort out some police procedure and crime scene difficulties in two of those not-yet-finished short stories.

Fast forward to this year’s conference. My first novel, Beyond Blood, the prequel mystery to four linked stories in Beyond the Tripping Point, is being published this fall by Blue Denim Press. This time the contract is signed and the manuscript final is with the publisher. I also moderated a panel on short stories, Are short stories the new black? which went over well – lots of positive feedback, not only from the panellists but from the audience – there was good rapport among us all during the panel discussion. And I kept us on time – my big bugaboo with running panels. But it helped that for once I didn’t have a panellist who talked too much at a time. Ditto the audience with questions and comments. Great way to share info.

But one of the big pros with this conference is another way to help a writer – in a closer way. One of my editing clients also has his first mystery novel (first published work even) being published by Blue Denim Press in the fall. The editor at Blue Denim Press is calling it Blue Murder and my client, who is also a writing colleague and friend for 18 years,  and I will be doing some publicity under the Blue Murder from Blue Denim Press “banner.” So, I introduced my colleague to many other published authors and we asked questions about PR in different areas of Canada. I introduced him to one of the Crime Writer of Canada executive and she made it her business to get him signed up for CWC – because doing readings with CWC authors at various outlets is good for exposure and we might even sell a few books. I also introduced him to the book critic at Ellery Queen Mystery Magazine who sat at the table next to us during the Saturday evening banquet. He was there with the Hammett (as in the late great mystery author Dashell Hammett – remember The Maltese Falcon?) awards also presented in conjunction with BW. He stated when he needs the books for reviews and in what format. So, he may do book reviews of our books. Also learned a few places to go in Montreal for readings, and I finally joined the Toronto branch of Sisters in Crime who are really good about promoting their author-members’ books and readings.

So all this networking and the panels (I did attend others) were also learning experiences. Among other things I learned that my short stories help other writers with the techniques in their short stories, how other authors create their characters, and had a lot of fun.

More information on Bloody Words is at http://2014.bloodywords.com/

Remember the two mystery novels coming out this October 2014 from Blue Denim Press:

Dead Wrong, a medical mystery set in Boston and Toronto by my friend and colleague Klaus Jakelski who is also a doctor in Sudbury, Ontario, Canada and Beyond Blood, a mystery with the two fraternal twin PIs Dana Bowman and Bast Overture by Sharon A. Crawford. More anon on these as we get closer to the publication date.

And as a follow-up to last week’s posts on writing contests I will be posting a link each week to another writing contest. Here is this week’s, which also has a writers’ and readers’ celebration in Cobourg, Ontario, Canada

Word Northumberland
Saturday, October 25, 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.
The writing contest is just below the celebration deets.
http://spiritofthehills.org/word-northumberland/

Meantime, you can read about my characters and their stories in my short story collection Beyond the Tripping Point (Blue Denim Press, 2012). Click on the book at the top and it takes you to Sharon A. Crawford’s profile – including book reviews – at http://www.amazon.com. The book is available there in print and Kindle. For Kobo e-book go to http://store.kobobooks.com/en-CA/ebook/beyond-the-tripping-point or go to any bricks and mortar store and order in a print copy. Spread the word.
More info on Sharon A.’s upcoming gigs, workshops, guest blog posts, etc. at http://www.samcraw.com/Articles/BeyondtheTrippingPoint.html

Cheers.

Sharon A. Crawford

 

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Backstory using flashbacks

Cover of Sharon A. Crawford's mystery short story collection

Cover of Sharon A. Crawford’s mystery short story collection

One of my many theories about short stories is that their titles and first lines ought to be memorable, because if not memorable they will not be remembered, and if not remembered the stories will not be reprinted (because no one can find them).

– Damon Knight

I’m posting one day early this week only because I’m at the MagNet magazine publishing industry conference all day tomorrow. The time setup to fix a date and time to publish a post later is nowhere to be found on WordPress.com. Hope you enjoyed Rosemary McCracken’s guest post last week.

And now as promised (albeit a week late) – some ideas on using flashbacks for your backstory.

You have to be careful with flashback so you don’t overuse  it because it can take away from your main story’s thrust. For a novel a bit of backstory could work in a short prologue. But even better is to weave in your flashback(s) with the present day story. The latter can work for short stories which don’t usually have prologues.

In my short story “Porcelain Doll” I blend in the flashbacks – and there are actually two time periods of flashback. This is somewhat unusual for short stories. The story begins in the present with:

 I can’t stop staring at the porcelain doll in the window. It sits among old tea sets and silver candleholders in Hanover’s newest antique shop. I keep trying to look away, but I can’t, despite my heart dancing inside my chest and my breath trying to keep time with it.

 

Right after this paragraph I transition into the most recent time flashback with:

I have no business coming back to this area. I should have left the past with Mama when she died last fall from a tumble down the cellar stairs. But when I sorted through her clothes, a newspaper clipping fell from a dress pocket. Of course I had to read it.

Spring thaw uncovers man’s skeleton near Hanover in the Lake Huron area. Contents of a wallet found nearby indicate the man could have been one Charles Holden who disappeared 16 years ago….

It was dated April 14, 1981, two months before Mama married Eric Luftus and seven and a half years before her death.

 

Then I bring in a bit about the present and transition back to the late 1980s when Mama died.

I pilfered the newspaper story and took it home with me.

The doll’s eyes seem too blue, too real. Or maybe I’m just wrapped too much in old memories. They began seeping from the nether area of my brain while I watched Mama lowered into the ground.

There are a few paragraphs more about this time right after Mama’s funeral and leading back to the present (seven months later) with Sarah (the main character) still looking in the window at that porcelain doll. Then I transition into the main flashback, which is a big part of the short story, with

I press my nose to the shop’s window. The doll’s eyes seem to suck me right in and spin me back 24 years. In the whirl, I see another porcelain doll, Daddy dealing cards, and my last train ride. It feels more like a roller coaster ride, and I shudder.

That 1965 train trip started much the same as any other summer’s trip. (All excerpts from Beyond the Tripping Point, copyright 2012 Sharon A. Crawford)

The story does eventually wind its way back to the present including some backstory about Eric and Sarah’s mom with the latter part focusing on the present to finish up what started back in 1965.

If you read through the excerpts closely you will see that anything in the past (1965 or 1981 or 1989) is written in the past tense while anything happening now is written in present tense. This is one way to help your reader keep track of time.

In novels, another way is to keep backstory and present in separate chapters with the year and possible month(s) or season(s) at the beginning of the chapter.

Or you can weave in the backstory for each main character whose point of view is used to tell your story. But watch that it doesn’t come across as an expository resume. Connect it to something the character is doing or about to do, another character they are going to see, talk to. What is some of their history? Are they long-time friends from what and where? If the characters have had a falling out, bring this in here just before they will meet. How does the point of view character feel about this? Will it affect how they are going to act?

Sue McGrath (of the alphabet mysteries: A is for, etc.) does this very well when she brings in her main character’s (Kinsey) family backstory – many members whom Kinsey is estranged from or never met. But McGrath doesn’t drag in these family members until the novels where Kinsey is actually going to have to connect to them. If you are writing a mystery novel, you don’t want a lot of unnecessary family backstory cluttering up your plot.

So make sure your backstory connects to your plot in some way. It is also not necessary to give every character’s backstory – just the main ones where it will affect the plot and what these main characters will be doing and saying.

You don’t want to lose your readers to the past.

Cheers.

Sharon A. Crawford

Beyond the Tripping Point is available at www.amazon.com (just click on the book cover at the top) and for those in Canada at www.amazon.ca  – both in print and e-copy. Or you can go into a bricks and mortar bookstore and order in a print copy.

 

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How and Where to fit Back Story into Your Fiction

Cover of Sharon A. Crawford's mystery short story collection

Cover of Sharon A. Crawford’s mystery short story collection

We care what happens to people only in proportion as we know what people are.

— Henry James

Everyone has a story to tell, including the characters in your novel and short story. Back story is part and parcel of who the characters are. Many authors have trouble fitting the back story into their fiction.

Where should it go? How much? All at once like a bio? Start the story off with the bio? Introduce each new point-of view character with his or her bio? Work in little chunks where appropriate throughout the story? Skip it as back story per se and just filter in references to it as the story unfolds.

Think about what you have read in back story in published novels and short stories. For obvious reasons, short stories will have less, even when appearing in chunks. But in novels, how did you react when the author started the novel with the back story or started each scene featuring a new POV character with a chunk of their past, especially if it went on for pages. As my late creative writing instructor, Paul Nowak would write on my manuscript – “so what?”

Sure we need to know some of the characters’ histories. But it should reflect what is happening in the story and why the characters are doing what they are doing. Going on back story tangents can lose the reader.

However, the other main way (which I use) – working in little chunks where appropriate can also lose the reader, especially if a lot of action is happening. But it can be done. Here’s the beginning excerpt from “For the Love of Wills” where I actually filtered in some background.

“Clara, I’m going to fall.”

“Pipe down, Mother. Do you want them to hear us?”

“I can’t move. I’m stuck. See.” She tried tapping her toes against the stone rock wall, but to no avail.

“Well, whose idea was this anyway?” I whispered.

“Yours.”

“Mine?  Now, listen here….”

“Shush. Do you want Will and that blonde Bimbo to hear us?”

That blonde Bimbo is what got Heidi Anastasia Clarke started. Bad enough that on her 62nd birthday, her husband of 40 years, William Everett Clarke, decided to toss her out of their old-money mansion in Toronto’s Rosedale. All this for a post-mid-life crisis which brought his oh-so-much younger secretary in and sent my mother packing.

“And they’re not even married,” Mother had said.

How could that be? Mother didn’t want a divorce. Although I didn’t condone Dad’s actions, I’m a realist. What happens, happens, and I believe in making the best of it and moving on. Mother, however, has to grab the situation and yank it for all it’s worth. Bleeding her husband half dry in a divorce didn’t appeal.

“You’ll get a lump sum, half his pension and half the house,” I had said.

“I can’t live in half a house with them living in the other. No, Clara I’ve got a better idea. We’ve got to see his will.”

“His will? What the hell for?”

“I need to see that he’s still leaving me everything and hasn’t changed it to the Bimbo.”

“Wouldn’t it be simpler to just ask William, Jr.? He is the family lawyer?”

She’d smirked and muttered something about keeping her ideas close to her mind.

“Fine. How do you propose we see this will? Do you know where or even if Dad keeps it in the house?”

“Of course he does. A copy, at least. Why else do you think he kicked me out and changed the locks?”

I hadn’t reminded her about the secretary moving in but suggested I visit Dad and ask him, which sent her into a hissy-fit.

“And let him know what I’m up to? No. I have a better idea.” She’d brought her tantrum to a full stop and curled her thin lips into a misshapen smile. Oh, oh. She had mixed trouble into her stew.

 

That was how we arrived here, as dusk turned to dark, scaling up the back wall of the three-storey family mansion, harnessed into a rope, anchored at various protrusions along the way: metal awnings, window ledges, open window shutters, and the irregular jutting stone wall. Now, on our last leg, I managed to throw our anchor up, hooking it to the top balcony railing. Heidi had insisted it was the only way in without being noticed. (Excerpted from Beyond the Tripping Point, Blue Denim Press, 2012, Copyright Sharon A. Crawford 2012)

If you analyze the above excerpt you will see that it covers not only some of the mother’s and Clara’s background, but also some events in the immediate past leading up to now.  The big priority is to begin the story with NOW and work your way back. Only use what is relevant to your story. Here it includes the mother’s age, marriage background (but only what is necessary), the relationship between mother and daughter. Everything is from one person’s – the daughter’s – point of view. Watch that you don’t end up writing the big tell. Show the reader by using dialogue and the character’s reactions to each other’s dialogue and behaviour.

Flashback is another way – if handled well. Next week we’ll go into using flashback techniques to work in your back story.

Meantime, you can hear and see me read an excerpt from another story – “The Body in the Trunk” from Beyond the Tripping Point at https://www.youtube.com/channel/UC505OMPiVNy27zCFfND_8WA  Click on “Sharon A. Crawford Reading”

And check out my website for upcoming Beyond the Tripping Point readings in person at http://www.samcraw.com/Articles/BeyondtheTrippingPoint.html

Cheers.

Sharon A. Crawford

 

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Fiction-writing lessons from my students and more

Cover of my short story collection Beyond the Tripping Point

"The role of a writer is not to say what we all can say, but what we are unable to say."
                                    ~ Anaïs Nin

Tuesday evening I taught a workshop on Developing Character and Dialogue in Fiction at the Runnymede Public library branch in Toronto. We covered what I’ve been blogging about the past few weeks and a bit more. I used excerpts from my mystery short story collection, Beyond the Tripping Point, to illustrate some points – which I’ve been doing here. There was one big difference – I had the proof copy of my book in my hands. This is very exciting and I’m putting the book cover up at the top of this post. You can find out more about Beyond the Tripping Point at my publisher’s website www.bluedenimpress.com.

Okay, back to the workshop.

One thing I really like about these workshops is the sharing and the learning. I always learn something. A student amazed me with his beginning of a story about a teenager starting the first day at high school. The student was a girl and that means he wrote it from a female perspective and did so very well. We will be covering this aspect and others for Point of View in writing fiction in future posts.

This story was one of three scenarios suggested to write the beginning of a story (novel or short story) focusing on bringing out the characters. The first time round they wrote using everything but dialogue, i.e., character actions, thoughts and working in what they see going on around them. After we talked about dialogue, they went back to their story and added some dialogue. It was interesting to see that most of them chose the student starting high school scenario.

Here are the three suggested scenarios:

a)      A teenage girl’s first day attending high school.

b)      A former bully returns to her high school reunion. She is 40ish and a psychiatrist.

c)      A man sits in court waiting for the verdict to a criminal charge for a crime he did not commit.

All of them conjure up various ideas. For a) the participants in this workshop had somewhat shy students. I don’t want to reveal their plots because they may want to develop them into their own stories. However, some ways to show the character as shy would be to have her hang back from the others, maybe get sick to her stomach before she leaves home, get lost trying to find her first class. And what would be really different is if the student was a guy. Usually guys would be more brash but what about making the fellow shy. How would he react? Would he get bullied? What story lines can you come up with?

For b) you would be taking the other side of the fence – the bully returning to her alma mater, especially when she (or it could be a he) is now a psychiatrist. How would the ex-bully feel about even going to the reunion? Would he or she go alone or insist a spouse or best friend come along for moral support? Maybe the ex-bully hasn’t told friends or spouse about his or her checkered background. How does being a psychiatrist influence? What happens as the ex-bully walks in the school front door, the auditorium? Especially when he or she spots one or more former classmates that were bullied? The scenarios are endless here.

For c), which a couple of students tackled, you might go inside the accused’s head as he waits for the jury to return? How does the accused feel? Remember this accused did not commit the crime. How are the others in the courtroom behaving – his lawyer, the prosecutor, etc.? What is the courtroom like in relation to how it makes the accused feel? Has the accused locked his thoughts onto one juror and watches Juror No. whatever to see what this juror’s face shows. And when the jury returns and the foreperson is delivering the verdict, how does the accused feel as the foreperson speaks? And after? If found guilty? If found not guilty? Again, the scenarios are endless.

Try writing the beginning of a short story for all suggested scenarios and see what you come up with. Pay attention to developing your character and use dialogue. You never know; you might have the beginning of a good story.

Cheers.

Sharon A. Crawford

 

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