Subplots in the Story
Subplots add depth to your mystery story by giving readers a deeper vision of your protagonist, the detective. They can
In a mystery, the subplots enhance the detective and often lead her down false trails that prevent her from finding the murderer.
Two Types of Subplot
There are many variations on subplots. Taken as a whole they fall into two main categories.
How To Use Subplots in Your Mystery
Mystery readers enjoy the puzzle, so the first criterion is to keep your subplots minor additions to the overall story. Focus on your story. Novice writers should have no more than two subplots and focus on the craft of weaving them into the main storyline.
Outline the subplot from beginning to end, just the way you outline your main story. Your subplot is a mini-story so give it a beginning, middle, and end with plot points or beats depending on what structure you use. Your subplot is simpler and have fewer steps to resolution than your main story.
Then look at your main story outline and position the episodes of your subplot within the main story outline.
The main action of the subplots will take place in Act II. That means your subplot will go from beginning to end within the second act. Remember the main story takes precedence. If you have two subplots, bring them to conclusion in different places within the main story.
Put On Your Subplot Kid Gloves
Subplots can take beginning writers down long trails that lead away from the main story. It’s best to handle them with kid gloves, with a light and gentle touch.
Before you plan your subplot consider how it enhances the main story. Your detective is out to find and confront a murderer. You don’t want to go too far afield with your subplot.
Subplot Safety Valve for New Writers
Learning to create and use subplots is part of the craft of writing. For your first mystery novel choose one subplot that develops your main plot. Drive the main plot by adding breadth to the characters and intrigue to the storyline.
Go deeper into your detective by adding conflict that exposes his flaws, or his strengths. Your subplot can also gives readers insight into your detective’s motivations for solving the crime.
Choose one aspect and develop your subplot. Then add your subplot scenes into the main story sequence. You’ll find the pre-planning you do will help you write a story with a subplot that is fluid and keeps the reader turning pages.
Backstory and Dreams – New Writer Pitfalls
Backstory and Dreams are traps for beginning writers. When you’re just starting out, avoid them. Yes, I know Michael Connelly uses war dreams for Bosch.
Use these two story elements with a light touch. Best to avoid them. If you use them at all, wait until you are at least a quarter into your story. Never start with either. They peg you as a novice.
Having a dream sequence and then the protagonist wakes up is just a no. Info dumping how he was abused, fell in love and was hurt, or any other backstory is a no.
Dreams later in the story – if the dream elements reveal character – are just barely OK.
Try to sprinkle backstory information in dialogue. For example a best friend can mention something and the protagonist can have an emotional reaction right then and there without spelling it out in a flashback.
These elements need such a light touch beginning writers should avoid them. Just tell the story.Like long descriptive passages, dreams and backstory, slow down story progress and jar the reader out of the story.
Writers Who Couldn’t Spell
Don’t let your fears of punctuation, spelling, and grammar keep you from telling a good story. A writer question from this week’s Mystery Monday was about giving up writing because she couldn’t spell.
Famous writers had the same problem. Ernest Hemingway, Jane Austin, and F. Scott Fitzgerald all couldn’t spell.
Storytelling is a talent. Let an editor fix your shortcomings after you write your story.
A new organization is being formed which is aiming to give a voice to indies – the Indie Author Support Network. The idea was proposed by indie author Marie Force, and it’s still at the very earliest stages, but what I’ve heard so far is very promising indeed – particularly that it will be exclusively focused on high-level advocacy and interfacing with retailers on issues which concern indies.
I’m not a member of any writer organization. I joined one here in Ireland when I first returned home, but didn’t renew after they wouldn’t even take the most basic stand against a local publisher who wasn’t paying his authors.
I know people join organizations for lots of different reasons, whether that’s continuing education or competitions or even just the social/networking aspects at conferences, which are desperately needed in such a solitary profession, and I think those needs are pretty…
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How To Meet The Challenge of Editing Your Manuscript
If you approach editing with a perspective that aims to make your story the best it can be and arrange the editing process into manageable chunks, you will find that editing is a skill you can learn to make your story ready to go out into the world so you can be a successful published author.
Create Your Editing Mindset
You need to establish a distance to apply your critical eye to your novel. You can build your critical distance with a few simple steps.
- Put your manuscript away for at least a week. Several weeks are even better. You’ll want to apply fresh eyes to your story.
- In the meantime, read for excellence in your genre. Pick three writers you consider masters of your genre and then choose what you consider each writer’s best work. While your novel is set away, read each of these three books while practicing your critical approach. You already know these stories, so practice being an editor for your favorite professional author. Make notes. What improvements would you make? What are the writer’s strengths?
- After rereading these works, without looking at your manuscript, make a list of the ways you would like to improve your story and your writing based on the positive discoveries you’ve made in your reading.
When you take off time from your own story and practice critically examining other stories in your genre, you get your mind in gear to examine your own story with the same critical distance.
Gather your notes, take a deep breath, and pull out your novel manuscript. You’ll work through the editing process from the big picture down to the tiniest details.
Start with The Big Picture – The Content Edit
You’ll be going through your story at least three times. The first pass at editing focuses on the story elements. There’ll be time enough for details like punctuation, spelling, and grammar after you make your changes. The story editing, often called the content or development edit, looks at your story structure, character arcs, dialogue, and scene sequence. Keep asking yourself, does this work in the story?
You’ve just read three great novels in your genre, compare your story to these examples. Know those professional authors, went through this very process before they sent their manuscript off to their professional editor.
Print out your manuscript formatted for lots of white space—wide margins, double-spaced. You will hold it in your hands, make marks, and read it as a book. You’ll be entering “track changes” in your word processing software later.
Now you will use your personal editor’s blue pencil. Yours may be red or purple or green or any color that shows up against the black print. Some authors use different colors for different editorial changes—grammar and spelling, character arc, plot, scene changes. If this is your first time editing, pick a contrast color like red and start reading your story. You can refine your system later as you become familiar with the editing process.
Questions to Ask As You Read
Does the first page hook you? Does it plunge you into the story? Does it clearly reflect the genre? Do your protagonist’s words and actions introduce his or her character?
Notice pacing like chapters or scenes that rush the story or get bogged down with detail or long descriptions.
Does each scene move the story forward? If not, mark it for deletion. If you need an element from the scene, think about where you can include it in a different scene.
Does the story have a clear three-act structure? Is your protagonist confused and thwarted in the first part of Act 2? Does she take the reins after the midpoint? Once the story reaches the climax, does it take too long to wind down?
Is the story predictable? How could you improve the twists, turns, and reversals to challenge your protagonist?
Do two characters have names that start with the same letter? If so, find a new name for one character.
If your story feels overpopulated, combine two characters with similar motivations to keep your reader from being confused.
Do your subplots integrate with the overall story? Are the spaced throughout the storyline?
Is the voice consistent throughout the story? Is one passage in a different tone?
Do you need to research a location or an object to give it more punch?
Does each character speak in a recognizable voice? Would your reader know who is speaking by the way the character speaks? Does the dialogue reflect subtext rather than always being on point?
Is the point of view consistent throughout? Is each scene told from only one point of view? If your story is told from multiple points of view, is it clear who is “speaking” in each scene?
Content editing is a long process. Plan to spend at least a week going through your story looking for every way you can tighten your story to give your reader the best experience in your genre.
Before you go to the next stage of editing, rewrite your story making the changes you noted during your critical editorial reading. Take as long as necessary to make your changes. Remember you are doing the hard work of becoming a professional writer.
The Language – The Line Edit
You want the language to be fluid, clear, and pleasurable for your reader.
Language Questions to Ask
Are your words precise rather than general? Have you avoided clichés?
Do you repeatedly use the same words or sentences?
Are there run-on sentences? Sentence fragments?
Is the same information repeated more than once?
Does the tone shift?
Is the phrasing natural?
Is the language bland causing readers to skip a passage?
Do you use strong verbs rather than describing an action with adverbs?
After you read through to line edit your manuscript, you can use software tools to help you with your language editing. Hemingway app helps you with sentence structure to make your writing bold and clear to improve your story’s readability.
Once you have performed your content and line editing, is a good time to get feedback from other people. It is easy to get lost in your own story. Feedback from other people who read in your genre can help you spot content and language gaps you may miss. The more readers the better at this point. You want as much feedback as possible to catch any places that detract from the flow of your story.
If you are a member of a writing group, you can present your new passages for feedback and comments from members of the group.
This is a good time to get beta readers involved in your story. These are nonprofessionals who read in your genre and will give you honest feedback about your story. You want these readers to share anything that gives them pause while reading your story from a passage that isn’t clear to a typo.
The Proofread – The Copy Edit
The copy edit is what many people consider is editing a manuscript. But, as you have learned, this is the last step in editing your book.
A copy of The Chicago Manual of Style is your guideline for editing a professional book manuscript. Don’t guess. Look up questions you have.
What To Spot in Your Proofreading
Double check spelling, grammar, and sentence construction (syntax).
Make sure your usage is consistent. Throughout your book hyphenation, numbers, capitalization, and fonts appear in the same manner.
Check for ambiguous statements or incorrect facts. Remember how you checked your research during the line edit?
Internal consistency. Is your blonde always blonde? Does your stutterer lose his stutter? Is your setting consistent when it shows up in various places in the story?
Mark your printed copy and then go to your writing software to make changes. The search and replace function will help you spot every use of a word to make it consistent throughout your manuscript.
One Last Check – Read Aloud
There are several options to help you hear your story. Text to Speech Reader has a Chrome extension that will read your text. Natural Reader provides several voices so you can hear your text read by male and female voices with different tones and inflections.
Open your manuscript so you can make edits as you listen.
From Writer to Professional Author
Taking the time to edit your novel before you send it out sets you apart as a writer who takes the publishing process as a professional. Every step in the editing process refines your story to appeal to your target audience. They are the readers who love your story and become your fans.
As excited as you are to get your story out there, taking the time to go through the editing process not only improves your story, it gives you a better understanding of what it takes to make yourself a professional.
Keep in mind that bestselling authors take these editing steps and then work with a professional editor to find the spots they missed. Publishing houses assign a professional editor to your book. Using professional book editing services works in the same way as beta readers but with a trained professional focus to give your book the best readability and flow.
The result is a professional book that can lead to you becoming a bestselling author.
Zara Altair writes traditional mysteries set in the time of Ostrogoth Rule in Italy in The Argolicus Mysteries. Argolicus uses his observation and reason, with help from his tutor Nikolaos, to provide justice in a province far from the King’s court.
The Word and Syntax Writer Wake Up
Nothing is perfect, especially when it comes to writing. You can always tweak for better wording. The time to tweak most is before publishing. Yes, it seems self-evident but searching for the mot juste that isn’t quite yet or refining the language of a sentence are part of the writing process.
Effective writing takes thought and time, and an ear for the vocabulary and syntax muse.
When you wake up with a new version of a sentence you wrote in your last chapter—yes, one sentence out of the entire chapter—you don’t write a note to yourself in the notebook near your bed. You get up out of bed, bring up the manuscript on the computer, and change the sentence. You do this because you know you won’t get back to sleep until you make the change.
The One Word
In the days before the internet and quick but boring results in an online Thesaurus, writers made telephone calls in the middle of the night. Who else would be up then? But, even if someone was already in bed, they woke up to talk about writing with sometimes devastating results.
And the conversation continued. If you need a translation for my fellow writer’s answer: It’s been done with excellence.
Here’s the modern day online Thesaurus answer.
Yep, pretty boring. As writers, we still need to hash out word ideas.
Now we have social media, where because it’s there 24/7, doesn’t require an immediate answer. You can post a question and although the response may not be immediate because your fellow writer lives in Bulgaria, you get an answer.
Because writing is a process, you don’t get immediate gratification, but sometimes just asking the question to another writer, gets the internal wheels turning for an alternative word choice.
Your passion shows when you care about that one right word or strengthening a sentence.
Connect with Writers
Connecting with other writers enhances your passion for writing. Writing groups can help you spot the sentence or paragraph that lags, or a better way to sequence events in a story, and even suggest the right mot juste.
One of the rewards of connecting with other writers is shared passion.