Friday, January 29, 2010

Fun Friday

It's Friday! Rejoice! In honour of this special day, I'm starting a new tradition here at "It's a Mystery", Fun Friday. Jokes and funny stories about writing will be the order of the day. I hope you enjoy this first installment. The travel mug at the top of today's post makes me snigger. It reads "I'm writing a book. I've got the page numbers done."



#1: "...Yeah, I make $75,000 a year after taxes."

#2: "What do you do for a living?"

#1: "I'm a stockbroker. How much do you make?

#2: "I should clear $60,000 this year."

#1: "What do you do?"

#2: "I'm an architect."

The third guy has been sitting there quietly, staring into his beer, when the others turn to him.

#2: "Hey, how much do you make per year?"

#3: "Gee... hmmm... I guess about $13,000."

#1: "Oh yeah? What kind of stories do you write?"


Q. How many mystery writers does it take to screw in a light bulb?

A. Two. One to screw it almost all the way in, and the other to give it a surprising twist at the end.


Q: How many screenwriters does it take to change a light bulb?

A: Ten
1st draft. Hero changes light bulb.
2nd draft. Villain changes light bulb.
3rd draft. Hero stops villain from changing light bulb. Villain falls to death.
4th draft. Lose the light bulb.
5th draft. Light bulb back in. Fluorescent instead of tungsten.
6th draft. Villain breaks bulb, uses it to kill hero's mentor.
7th draft. Fluorescent not working. Back to tungsten.
8th draft. Hero forces villain to eat light bulb.
9th draft. Hero laments loss of light bulb. Doesn't change it.
10th draft. Hero changes light bulb.


This joke is especially for at least two of you who work in linguistics. With love.

A linguistics professor was lecturing to his English class one day. "In English," he said, "a double negative forms a positive. In some languages, though, such as Russian, a double negative is still a negative. However, there is no language wherein a double positive can form a negative."

A voice from the back of the room piped up, "Yeah, right."

Thursday, January 28, 2010


My eldest at-home daughter is hip-high in final exams so she has spent most of this week reviewing and studying. Luckily, she's a very good student, so these exams shouldn't be too difficult. She's prepared.

When I write, I firmly believe preparation is everything. I try to know as much as I can before I actually start.

Characters: I write detailed biographies of each of my main players. A great deal of this information will never make it into my manuscript, but I've found it really helps. I'll learn their strengths and their foibles. I'll know their attitudes, their prejudices. Most importantly, I'll know their vocabulary. This makes writing their dialogue a breeze.

Setting: This can be inconsequential or vital, but I learn everything I can about it. I have files of pictures which I have gleamed from the internet. I've drawn a floor plan of the first two floors of the house where my WiP takes place; I've had to out of necessity. It's a big house and I've got lots of characters running about. I know the surrounding area (thank you, internet). Since I know the season ( and the actual date) the story takes place, I've learned what my characters would see growing in the gardens when they're outside and I know whether or not they'd need to put on a sweater.

Time Period: If you're writing something taking place in the past, learn your history. Learn about current events, current fashions, current food. If your story takes place in the present, decide how much you want to make it really now, or if you want it to float in the nebulous 'around now' world. Maybe it doesn't matter, but maybe it does.

This preparation may seem time-consuming, and I admit it can be, but I believe it is also ultimately, a huge time-saver. Doing this work will make your world real. You'll know who your characters are and where and how they live. Once this is done, once your world is built, you can toss in your plot with all its troubles and crises.

"In business or in football, it takes a lot of unspectacular preparation to produce spectacular results."
Roger Staubach, Hall of Fame Football Player

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Twists and Turns

Every genre has its own quirks. Romances have to be happy without inflicting instant diabetes. Thrillers must incorporate 'edge of your seat' scenarios. Sci-fi must transport its readers to new worlds with wondrous possibilities and unimagined dangers. Mysteries must have twists and turns.

But how many?

A mystery with no plot twists or red herrings would be a very dull book. Ah look, a crime. Ah look, a solution. Yawn. Readers want to be presented with a puzzle, readers want to have to work at it in order to be able to figure it out. However, a plot can become too confusing because if every page brings a new wrinkle you can end up with a terrible mess.

I try to aim for 'controlled chaos'.

Number: Allowing room in your plot for multiple motives can easily increase the number of twists in the plot line. Multiple motives means a larger number of characters which will enrich the colour and texture of the plot. Red herrings are great, especially if your detective is also fooled by one or two.

Presentation: I try to mix up how the true clues arrive. Some are in conversation. Some are physical. Some are in the make-up of the character's personality. I want my reader to have to pay attention, but I want them to have fun too. I try to remember we read mysteries (and many other genres) for enjoyment. It's not supposed to feel like a school assignment.

Size: There are big twists and little twists. Someone lying about their whereabouts is usually a small twist. Identical twins taking each other's place is a big one. I try to have a nice mix, but I rely more on the small twists. Too many big ones tend to make the plot fantastical and I try for a certain level of reality.

Placement: This is also important. Most mysteries will have their twists in the middle, with perhaps a large humdinger very close to the end. I'm wary of the big humdinger mainly because I don't like reading novels where new information is thrown at me when the end of the book is countable pages away. My thought is always "How did this detective know this when there hasn't even been the slightest hint?" Unless he/she is psychic, I have a problem.

Twists and turns. We'd be nowhere without them. But watch them carefully; they tend to breed.

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Habits We Have

Writing this blog has brought me many unexpected pleasures, not the least of which is having all of you *come* into my life! However, it has also made me examine how I write and has brought some of my habits into sharp relief.

My biggest habit?

I mutter. I mutter a lot.

My muttering roots go back to high school when I was studying for finals.

Moment of silent gratitude for never having to write high school exams again. Especially math.

I learned very quickly that I retained information better if I said it out loud. I think better out loud. This muttering commenced again when I was studying for exams in University.

Another moment of silent gratitude.

When I started writing my mystery games and my novel, I quickly discovered my muttering habit was still with me. I mutter as I plot. I mutter as I discover motives or who each of my characters are. Not all my muttering is productive; I admit to a fair amount of editorial comment such as:

"That makes no sense, you idiot"
"You've already used that motive",
"What this story really needs is a large giraffe to wander in and drop a significant clue".

Strangely enough, I DO NOT say my dialogue out loud. I can hear it clear enough in my head and my years of theatre have taught me what works and what rings false.

My muttering necessitates that I work at home, if I indulge in this habit in public I tend to be the recipient of odd looks.

I choose to believe the odd looks are in response to this quirk, not my wardrobe choices or appearance. Leave me to my delusions. Thank you.

I wander about my house, asking questions. "Why did he/she die?" "How did it happen?" and most importantly, "Why did it have to happen now?" Answers to these questions mean a dash to my laptop and quick notes being written. I will also sit and just type my thoughts as I've discovered just letting my fingers do the talking will (sometimes) lead me to a gem. Gems lead to a satisfied exclamation. Out loud. Yet another reason to stay home.

Do you talk out loud as you write? As you plot? Do your writing habits enable you to be able to write whilst out in the world?

Monday, January 25, 2010

Writing a Custom Game

Those of you who know me on Facebook or Twitter might know from my recent updates that I've just accepted a new commission to write a mystery game for a former customer. This is always fun and always exciting, but I thought it might be interesting to demonstrate the different thought process for writing a custom game as opposed to a writing project that completely your own.

Setting: When it's your project you get to pick. For a custom game, a great many times this is given to you. I've been given mine; the 1920s. I've already written a 1920s game, so this one has to be different. It is. I've placed this one on a train; and no, it's not the Orient Express. The picture accompanying this post is the 'cover' for the game.

Characters: Here's where those of you who believe 'less is more' will have a slight heart attack. I get told how many people are playing and whether they're male or female. It's usually a fairly large number. This time it's 16 (although 3 of them are very, very small parts). That's 13 characters, all of whom have to contribute equally, all of whom have to be suspects.

Plot: Even with a custom game, the actual plot is up to me. I write the body being 'discovered' at the beginning. I give a thorough description of the 'crime scene' and give instructions for any actual 'pieces of evidence'. Right now I know who the victim was and why they died. I haven't figured out who's done it, but I've got a pretty good idea.

With any mystery, you have to decide how tricky it will be to solve. I've written some games that are just fun and some that are quite difficult. All of them are solvable (of course) but some solutions are easier to find than others. This one (by request) is tricky. Trust me, this type is fun to write.

Deadline: Just like a book, I've got a deadline. Difference? These deadlines come quick. I accepted this commission last week, it's due the beginning of March.

This commission will be filling my next few weeks. Will I meet the deadline? With room to spare.

I can hear the train whistle now. All aboard!!

Friday, January 22, 2010

Heros and Villains

Every plot, no matter its genre, will have a good guy and a bad guy. Our hero/heroine is wanting to achieve something and our villain is trying to achieve the opposite. Good versus evil. Clear sides. Excellent.


No one is real life is all good or all bad. I've encountered characters in books that were so pleasant, so handsome, so good, it made me want to hit them with a shovel. I understand the heroine perceives the object of her affection as wondrous and desirable; but when everyone in the story seems to have the same opinion, I start to feel just a tad nauseous.

No detective (remember I write mysteries) is going to pick up every clue every time. Not every decision they make, every path of investigation they choose to follow, is going to be the right one. People have their own agendas. People can rub people the wrong way. A perfect detective is a bland detective.

No villain is out and out evil. Think about Blofeld, the Bond villain who had plans for world domination. (But then again, he was a Bond villain, those had to be his plans) I don't recommend inviting this guy over for a dinner party, but he wasn't all bad. He was very fond of that white cat.

Every writer has a myriad of things to worry about. The plot. The pace. The setting. The actual vocabulary. The grammar. It's not surprising that sometimes character complexities get lost in the shuffle. It's so much easier to write a character that's all good or all bad.

Resist the temptation.

I believe the more realistic the characters, the more enjoyable the book. Write characters who make mistakes, who occasionally over-indulge, who get jealous or who suffer from a bit of an inflated ego. Give your hero a chance to be bad and your villain a chance to be good.

After all, they're only human.

Thursday, January 21, 2010

The Return of the Sheep

Guardian: Welcome back to the writer's brain. I thought I wouldn't be seeing you again.

Sheep #1: We like it here.

Sheep #2: It's comfy.

Sheep #3: And there's food.

Guardian: But you're just standing there. Flocking. Why aren't you continuing along the road? I know the end of your journey is up at the top of that mountain on the horizon.

Sheep: #1: That's an awfully long way. Our hooves will get scuffed.

Sheep #2: We've very proud of our appearance. Scuffed hooves are humiliating.

Guardian: That's what's stopping you from moving? The fear of scuffed hooves?

Sheep #1: No, of course not. That was an example of our dry wit.

Sheep #2: We're very dry.

Sheep #3: No, it's the writer. She's in the middle. Look that way. (points delicately to the left) See that mountain? That was the beginning of the plot. We've been there.

Sheep #1: We've got tee shirts.

Sheep #2: That mountain over there (points gracefully to the right) is the end.

Sheep #3: This valley? This verdant, lush valley with plenty of grass and wonderful trees affording dappled shade? This, my friend is the middle. However...look out!

Sheep #1: Damn.

Guardian: What is it?

Sheep #1: Mud puddle. There's mud everywhere. That's the irony of the middle. The hidden menace, if you will. It's so easy to get stuck.

Guardian: Is that the writer's problem right now?

Sheep #1: When you're in the middle you can start to see the end, which is encouraging, of course. She's been wanting to get to the end for a long time. But then she's realizing all the things which must be accomplished in the middle. Look!

Guardian: It's another tree affording dappled shade. That's new.

Sheep #2: The writer has just remembered another step she has to take with one of the sub-plots. There's a myriad of sub-plots.

Sheep #3: We could be here a while.

Guardian: But look over there! If you continue through this valley and head toward the foot of End Mountain there appears to be a cooling pond.

Sheep #1: It does look pleasant.

Sheep #2: And refreshing.

Sheep #3: Okay, we'll keep going. Time to get through the middle and get to the end. The end. I've heard it's a wonderful place.

Guardian: I'll see you there.

Sheep #1: Don't forget the tee shirts.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010


Every writer is exhorted to 'find their voice'. Don't imitate anyone else, we are told, write like you.

Okay, this makes sense. I am able to write with other writers' rhythms (I've got one mystery game that is very Jane Austen...on purpose), but it's easiest to write like me.

But never forget, each of our characters must have their own voice as well. Not ours; theirs.

Each character is in your manuscript for a reason. (if there isn't a reason, then maybe you should rethink them - but that's a whole different post). Give them their own voice. Their own rhythm. Their own vocabulary.

I've found this a wonderful tool for enabling each character to stand out beyond any description of their physical appearance or habits. I have one character who speaks in very short sentences. Another who has a rather dry sense of humour. One who is terrified of making a social faux pas and therefore picks his words with extreme care.

The better you know your characters the clearer their voice becomes. What is their level of education? Where did they grow up? What's the level of their self-esteem? The latter is very useful when it comes to vocabulary choices. A confident character will say what they wish; a less confident character will try to please. Some characters will take joy in shocking others and their language will reflect this. Do you have a character where English is their second language and if so, how fluent are they? Don't take the obvious road, it could be fun if this character actually has a better vocabulary than some others. Confound the stereotype.

Take a look at whatever project you're working on right now and just look at the dialogue. Can you instantly tell which character is talking? More importantly; could someone else?

Remember: although all these characters sprang from your brain, they're not you. Give them their own voice.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010


Inspirations materialize in a myriad of guises. It could be a memory from school. It could be the odd woman in the grocery store. It could be a newspaper article. It could be a piece of art. Every time it's unique.

To aid in all of your inspirations, here's a few quotes to get your minds working and a few in celebration of all of you that write.

Mother Teresa

Love looks not with the eyes, but with the mind,
And therefore is winged Cupid painted blind.
William Shakespeare

William Wadsworth Longfellow

JJust be wrong. Just stand there in your wrongness and be wrong and get used to it.
Aaron Sorkin

Substitute "damn" every time you're inclined to write "very;" your editor will delete it and the writing will be just as it should be.
Mark Twain

I'm not a very good writer, but I'm an excellent rewriter.
James Michener

Don't tell me the moon is shining; show me the glint of light on broken glass.
Anton Chekhov

Have a wonderful day.

Monday, January 18, 2010

Thoughts From the Voyage

As I continue my voyage through my first draft, I thought I'd share some of the discoveries I've made on my sojourn. I offer these to you in the hopes that as you travel through your own drafts you avoid this mishaps (or at least are gently reminded they're out there...lurking).

Talking Heads: This is, by far, my biggest problem. Since dialogue comes very easily to me, I tend to go on and on and not fill in the needed details. I have a distressingly large amount of sections that are simply two or three people talking, or sniping, or cooing. Beware the talking head. I plan on going through all these conversations and discover what these characters can be doing, besides just being talkative.

Word Repetition: Another bugaboo for me. I've noticed during different sections that I seem to fall in love with certain words. These words litter the pages in distressingly large amounts and then disappear to be followed by the new favorite. Then there's the whole other issue with nasty little words like 'just' or 'that'. Purging will commence later.

Leaps of Logic: Luckily, I've only come across this nasty issue once, but the discovery was somewhat heart-stopping. I believe it came from me knowing so much about these characters and plots and forgetting my reader would not. More explanations were needed; a slower pace introduced.

I am not worrying about chapter breaks. Right now, it's just one big chapter. I'm not paying too much attention to word counts (but, seriously, how can you not?). I'm trying to drop clues in different disguises; some oral, some material, some inferred. I'm very conscious every character has their own voice with their own rhythm. I very aware of whose PoV is being used and therefore, what they can know or think and what they can't.

The voyage continues.

What hiccups have you encountered on your voyages?

By the way, I send warm and grateful thanks to all of you who left encouraging thoughts and wishes on my Friday post. They made me smile. Smiles are always good.

Friday, January 15, 2010

Just Keep Writing

Quick post today to say I haven't time to post! I'm channelling my inner Dory "Just keep writing, writing, writing,..."

It's going well. (knock on wood) I mutter a great deal "fix it later, fix it later" and I forgive myself instantly for not coming up with the perfect word. I can...fix it later.

I'm now at that part of the draft when my biggest worry isn't how many words I have left to write but rather how many words I have left if I want this manuscript to fall within acceptable parameters.


Just keep writing, writing, writing...

Think of me.

Thursday, January 14, 2010

Lessons I Have Learned

I enjoy writing. I've always enjoyed writing; except for writing exams back in school and some of those assigned essays were monsters. But as I continue along this road and (hopefully) improve in my craft, I have learned several valuable lessons. I'm sure most of you know these already, but reminders never hurt. Right?

Patience: So easy to preach, so tricky to put into practice. I've learned writing takes time. It takes time to get the initial 'aha' moment, time to come up with the characters and even more time to name them correctly. It takes time to write. And re-write. And edit. It doesn't happen overnight and everyone works at their own pace. However, you must have buckets of...

Self-Discipline: When you don't have anyone literally hanging over you screaming "Is it done??" it takes self-discipline to sit yourself down and start tapping away. After all, you can say to yourself, who'll know if I don't write today? I can make it up tomorrow. I'm fine. It's a slippery slope. Deadlines are real and unless you want to pull a few all-nighters, I don't recommend putting off writing for too long. Another demon that is tricky to conquer is...

Perfectionism: I want my writing to be as good as it can be, but I've learned it's not going to be perfect right from the beginning. I'm learning to silence this demon and tell it I'll get to it later. The issue here can be that many writers are never satisfied and spend their lives in a never-ending whirlpool of editing. At some point, you have to say it's done. But the biggest lesson I've learned is...

Self-Trust: You have to trust yourself that the ideas will come. You have to trust the right word will eventually present itself. You have to trust your plot is good and your characters are engaging. You have to trust (or believe) you're not wasting your time. This is a tough lesson; or at least it is for me. I'm getting there. Slowly.

What lessons have you learned? What have you mastered and what are you still struggling with?

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Rules of Play

Every story has a plot. Boy meets girl, boy loses girl, boy gets girl. Hero saves the world from multi-flippered aliens. Murder committed, murder solved. One thing every plot has in common is it has to make sense. Logic is key.

Of course, you can have colourful characters gamboling about. Of course you can have unusual situations (Why is Auntie Marge up in the tree? Again?) You can have talking animals. Every writer creates their own world, but that world has rules. It can't be anything goes.

One of the issues any mystery writer must tussle with is "How hard am I going to make this?" Is this mystery long on humour but short on plot? Many mysteries are so populated with quirky characters that it's easy for the actual mystery to be fairly light. Yes, Cyril got killed, but he was a nasty old thing. No one liked him. He was mean to Little Johnny and he kicked his cat. Sure, let's solve the mystery, but in the meantime, would you like some pie?

Then there are the mysteries with multiple sub-plots and myriads of suspects. Larger issues are examined. World events can come into play. Both characters and plots are far more complex. Was the victim killed because of his personal life (he'd just left his wife, who is far from pleased), professional life (he was a major player in industry and had political ambitions), or is it something else entirely? Not much pie in these books.

The answer to "How hard am I going to make this?" depends on the writer. But it must make sense. There must be clues, be they physical or not. When the solution is revealed, it has to make sense and any reader could go back through the story picking up each of the threads that lead to the conclusion.

Personally, I can't stand reading mysteries and having all vital information revealed by the oh-so-clever sleuth in the final moments. Give me a chance to figure it out. Don't make it so easy that I figured it out before I hit the halfway mark, but let me see the logic of the solution. I don't mind feeling stupid, but I do mind not being allowed to play.

Remember your rules of play. There are absolutes, no matter what type of fantastic world you're living in. Have fun? Absolutely. But remember that reader. You don't want them scratching their heads at the ending. That's just not fair.

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Let's Start at the very Beginning...*

It's time. New project time. It might be a short story, a novella or a novel, but you're about to dive into the pool. How do you approach that first draft?

Write now, fix later: This is what I call the approach of just throwing it down on the page. The main goal is to get to the end as quickly as possible. Sure, you'll have to add details; perhaps a great many details, but you've got a completed first draft, lean as it may be.

Watch the movie, write it down: This is a method used by many writers; they see their story being acted out in front of them and they simply write down what they see. If you're incredibly visual then this may be the method that works best for you.

Hop, skip and a jump: This is my name for the method of writing what appeals to you today. Maybe it's the ending. Maybe it's a climatic fight or a hair-raising escape. Perhaps it's a love scene. This method will give you a first draft but you'll need some time to put the puzzle together. If you're of the school of 'going with your feelings' then this may be the method for you.

Every word is golden: This is my name for the method of starting at the beginning and moving slowly to the end. Word choices are seriously considered. Consistency is prized. The advantage of this method is far less editing will probably be required. The disadvantage of this method is its speed. There isn't any.

Of course, every writer has their own method of battling that first (or subsequent) draft to the ground. Some stick to what has worked in the past, others are constantly adjusting their approach. When it comes to the finish line and you've a completed manuscript ready for your agent, no one is going to care how you got there. You're there and that's what counts.

*Did today's post title give you the urge to re-watch "The Sound of Music"? I thought it might...

Monday, January 11, 2010


When we were little, time took longer. It did. Summer vacations lasted forever. Next week was far away. Next month almost unimaginable. We knew we would grow up one day; I can remember figuring out with my friends how old we would be in 2000. But the age seemed unreal. It was simply too far in the future.

I've discovered over my years as a mother, summer vacations also seem to last forever, albeit now, for slightly different reasons.

Now time seems to pass too quickly. How did it become Friday already? Where did last week go? Another year gone by again? For me, this is sad, but true.

When I write is when I've become aware how truly elastic time can be. I look at the clock before I start as I've got children to pick up from school, household errands, chores, etc. Time seems to stay on its regular course as I go through my pre-writing rituals. But when I actually open up the document and start tapping away? (or swearing, depending on my mood) Where does the time go? Suddenly it's an hour later. Or two. I can always tell when (and if) I hit the three hour mark because that's when my brain starts to fry.

I've read blogs or facebook updates or whatever where writers write 'I wrote for 8 hours today'. This always makes me feel very small and somewhat of a pretender. I've never written for that long. Ever. Not even finals were that long. How is this possible? I can get my head around working on my present project for long periods, but not actually writing the whole time. My words would become gobbledegook. My sentence structure would go flying out the window. I know I'd start writing things which amuse the heck out of me, but have absolutely no place in my plot. And then, delete, delete, delete.

I'm sure there are writers out there that can tap away or write away until their fingers bleed. I'm not one of them. Maybe this makes me a poor writer, maybe not. I consider it a triumph just to actually open the document and add to it. Everyone has their own routines. Some people only write on Saturdays. Some add a bit every day. But everyone's 'bit' is different. Is it a chapter? Ten chapters? A paragraph? Is it for as long as you have 'time'?

I just wish time would pass as swiftly when I'm washing the dishes. But no. That time passes as slowly as if I were still little. Proof, I suppose, that time has a sense of humour.

How is your relationship with time?

Friday, January 8, 2010

First Friday

It's the first Friday of a New Year. Resolutions are either being kept or have been abandoned alongside the trash can waiting for pick up. The decorations are put away, the baking is eaten, the turkey destroyed. Time for fun!

Let's imagine, just for a moment, that you have all the money you've ever wanted. What would you do? Now, let's be clear, this is for you. Altruistic tendencies must be avoided for this exercise. This is just fun. Let your mind unwind and soar.

As for me...

Travel: I have often told those near and dear to me that if I had the funds they couldn't see me in the mist of jet fuel. I love traveling and I haven't been able to do it for a long time. I'm back in Europe! I'm in England and then, (if I can pry myself away) I'm in France and Italy. A cruise around the Greek Islands doesn't sound too bad.

Houses: I realized a while ago that if I had loads of money, I'd collect houses like others collect stamps. Now, it doesn't have to be a house; there are some places I'd be perfectly happy with a condo. Give me a flat in London looking out on the Thames where I can see Tower Bridge. But I also crave a cottage in Warwickshire (close enough to Stratford), that is so old Elizabeth I could have seen it. Give me an old villa in Tuscany and an apartment in Venice. A cottage in Provence. A farmhouse in the Okanagan where my family has vacationed for the last few years. (this year's post here). I could go on and on and on...

Renovations: The house we're in now gets a complete overhaul. New bathroom. New kitchen. New flooring. New bedrooms. (more books....)

Shoes: For once in my life, I want a pair of designer shoes. I want a pair of Manolo Blahniks or Jimmy Choos. I know it's frivolous. I know I don't have the lifestyle these shoes should have. I don't care. I want them.

I could go on, but I don't want to appear too shallow! How about you? Imagine you've just won the mother of all lotteries. Indulge yourself. It's Friday!

Thursday, January 7, 2010

Making it Count

Achievement. Everyone has a different concept of its meaning. For some, it's a shiny trophy. For others, it's financial independence. For some, it's recognition by their peers. Whatever your definition of achievement is, it also seems to be understood that you worked to get there. It wasn't handed to you on a silver platter. It took time, tears and sweat.

Why is it we pay little attention to achievements that have come easily? Don't they count? I'm facing this dilemma right now as I'm enjoying rather pleasant numbers in my mystery game sales. I should be over the moon, but I'm not. Why? (you may very well ask). The reason is because I find my games incredibly easy to write. I can ( and have) started a new game on a Monday and sent it to my editor before the week was out. They're a piece of cake. Consequently, when my sales go well, I rather pooh-pooh the results because achievement shouldn't come this easily.

Throughout childhood and adolescence we're (or I was) taught conflicting lessons. On the one hand we're told our best is good enough. No, you didn't win the race, little Johnny, but you tried really hard! Good for you. On the other hand, we're told finish first. Reach your potential. If it's too easy, then try something harder. Easy stuff doesn't count.

I'm sure this is why I've moved on to writing (or attempting to write) actual novels. Yes, plots and characters still come easily to me, but the actual writing? It's hard. It's hard because I want it to be good, but also because it takes time. It takes dedication. I have to really want it. Therefore, if I achieve success with this, it counts. Heck, right now I'd declare victory if I could finish the draft! (no, I wouldn't really, but I would be very very pleased).

When I plan my plots I want them to be tricky, but sensible. When the solution is revealed I want people to say "of course!", but not to have figured it out pages and pages before hand. All the clues have to be there, but they're not lying out in plain sight. It should take some work. I want people to have a sense of achievement if they do figure it out. I know I'm disappointed as a reader if I unmask the guilty party less than a quarter of the way through the book. Where's the fun if it's too easy?

I'm writing this manuscript because it is hard. It is taking work. Every day I get a little bit closer to being able to pat myself on the back. I'll pay attention to this, because it isn't too easy. But trophies are nice, too. I'll keep practicing my "I'd like to thank the Academy..." after all, a girl can dream, can't she?

Do easy achievements count? What counts for you?

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Who The Heck Are YOU??

I prepare before I write. I do. I know my setting. I know my history. Plot-wise, I know the identity of the victim. I know the identity of the killer. I know all the suspects' motives. I know who's good and who has evil lurking in their heart. I know, gosh-darn-it.

And then you start writing, and everything changes.

I've got characters turning on me left, right and center. These people are getting so persnickety they're barely talking to each other. Veiled comments are being made. Arms are being crossed. People are getting up and stalking out of rooms. Others are sneaking around opening doors and seeing what's going on inside. Some are stirring up trouble just for fun. For fun! I'm dealing with rabble rousers. I have no control.

Now, don't get me wrong. I'm pleased as punch my many varmints are exhibiting different sides to their personalities, no one is all good or all bad in real life after all. But when you've done your preparation, I don't think it's too much to assume at least a few characters will act as expected.

My main plot and all my sub plots haven't changed. On that side of the playground things are ticking along just fine. But these characters! They need to behave.

I am appreciating the irony that the one character who isn't giving me grief is my killer. A well-behaved murderer. Who knew?

I'm sure as I continue they'll keep on doing the unexpected. That's fine. That's good. At least now, I'm prepared.

Has this happened to you? Are you master of the playground? Or do your characters too, insist on doing and saying what they want?

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Good Enough...Isn't

I'm not a perfectionist. Truly. I don't scream if my spices aren't alphabetized or if someone changes the order of how the cds line up. I don't vacuum everyday. (Although that just may make me a sloppy housekeeper.) I don't hit the roof if my kids' bedrooms aren't magazine-perfect. But when it comes to my writing? This is when my heavily cloaked perfectionist pulls off her hood, opens her mouth and screams at the top of her lungs. It's somewhat off-putting.

When I was still running my theatre company, we had a motto: Good enough isn't good enough. This applied to everything; the sets, the costumes, the music, not to mention (let's hope) the acting and the directing. This motto seems engraved on my soul and I've realized its reverberations are what's holding me back from finishing my manuscript.

I've read so much from so many of you about finishing that first draft and worrying about the mess later. First drafts are supposed to be ugly; that's why they're the first drafts and not the final drafts. Intellectually, I understand this. Putting it into practice is something else entirely.

To my credit, I am taking baby steps. Writing which would have perished under the almighty power of the delete key (bless its heart) now sits unsullied. I'll get to it later, on the second go-through. I'm beginning to forgive myself for not writing perfectly immediately. Beginning. I so desperately want this manuscript to be good that I want it good right now. I want to be able to read my pages and have the urge to pat myself on the back, not the urge to slam my head through the wall.

I like writing this manuscript. I like my plots and my characters. I like that it's a challenge. I do not like not meeting my own expectations. I refuse to lower them, so I'm learning to have patience.

This first draft is the first rehearsal. No one expects an opening night performance at the first rehearsal (or they shouldn't anyway!) Good enough isn't good enough. Words to aspire to. Let's see how I feel when I get to the final dress rehearsal. I'm hoping my motto will be well-served.

Monday, January 4, 2010

New Year, New Business

Here we are, 2010. Where does the time go? I remember New Year's Eve 1999 very clearly. The years seem to go by in a blur. It's somewhat disconcerting.

Digression: Are you calling 2010 'twenty ten' or 'two thousand and ten'? This seems to be a matter of great discussion. Around here, because our Olympics (39 days away) have always been referred to as 'Vancouver twenty ten', the former seems to be the choice. However, 2011 is referred to as 'two thousand eleven'. Very odd.

New Business: I am determined to finish my WIP by the end of February. Determined, I say. I'm trying very hard to take the excellent advice I've gotten from many of you and not worry so much about getting it exactly perfect from the get-go. I'm going to just write and finish the **##ed thing and get it perfect after. Now that I've announced my deadline, I'm hoping fear of public humiliation will serve as a much-needed impetus. I'm keeping Alan Orloff's brilliant acronym in mind: BICHOK (butt in chair, hands on keyboard).

I was also honored to received the "Honest Scrap" award from Michele Emrath of Southern City Mysteries over the holidays. Thank you Michele! In accordance with the rules I shall now share 10 things about me.

1. I have 6 children; 5 girls and 1 boy with an age range of 14 years between oldest and youngest. Don't panic, the eldest three no longer live at home.

2. I attended an all-girl private school.

3. I must have my cup of tea every afternoon.

4. I'm always reading at least one book (sometimes more). I fluctuate between books that involve serious thinking and books that are just fun. (the latter include books by the wonderful Peter Mayle and P.G. Woodhouse).

5. I am a huge contradiction; I'm very shy by nature, but also am happiest being the leader of a group. (it helps I'm a Gemini).

6. I used to be fairly good at gymnastics. I'm confident if I tried any of those moves now, I would break.

7. I studied ballet for many years.

8. I still have my old toe shoes and can still go en pointe.

9. In high school I was a successful debater. I represented my province at the Western Canada Championships and the National Championships.

10. I adore champagne. A lot. It's scary.

I'm not going to pass on the award right now, although I reserve the right to pass it on at a future time.

I'm now going to do my blog tour and read all of your wonderful posts before bringing up my manuscript and continuing to plough through. What is your new business for this new year?