Watchwords

FIRESTORM AUSTRALIA!

BUSHFIRE EMERGENCY, November and December 2019. Country towns across Australia hail firefighters as heroes as they battle to protect communities from widespread and ferocious bushfires. Over recent weeks in New South Wales, Queensland, Western Australia, South Australia and Victoria, thousands of weary firefighters and volunteers have been on the ground day and night fighting blazes for hours on end. Several firefighters in New South Wales have been injured as they put their bodies and lives on the line to protect people and property. What can you say! They deserve a medal. (Photo by L.J. May S/S)

Watchwords

This page is devoted to events and activities of interest to writers, illustrators and readers! Go to entries below the quick list for more detailed information.  

  • Need some WRITING TIPS for the CWA’S MARGERY ALLINGHAM SHORT MYSTERY COMPETITION, and the DEBUT DAGGER 2020? It’s the Christmas Holiday Period for most people, and while others are out partying, buying presents and having fun, determined crime/mystery authors have retreated to their dens to nut out their entries to these competitions, both of which close on Saturday, 29 February 2020. 
  • Don’t procrastinate – writer’s block may well await the tardy as deadline panic sets in. Both these competitions carry enormous prestige and opportunities for writers and you don’t have to be a UK resident to enter – so have a stab at them. By way of encouragement, CWA (UK) member SHEILA LOWE has been giving you debut writers some thought this Christmas and shares her knowledge on writing, with handy tips to help you get started.

GREETINGS TO DEBUT DAGGER 2020 ENTRANTS IN AUSTRALIA – GET SOME WRITING TIPS FROM CWA (UK) AUTHOR SHEILA LOWE

 A message from the CWA (UK)

‘We're coming up to the Christmas holiday period, and while other people are out partying and buying presents and watching the latest box set and having fun – you're at home gritting out your entry for 2020, aren't you? Well, maybe not 100% of the time, but if you are at all, here's some encouragement.

CWA member SHEILA LOWE has given you debut writers some thought this Christmas and shares her knowledge on writing with you. Sheila is the author of the Forensic Handwriting Mystery series, the Beyond the Veil series, and several non-fiction books about handwriting psychology. She is British born but has lived in California for most of her life. When people ask what brought her to America, she answers, ‘my parents’.

Check out these websites featuring Sheila Lowe: https://thecra.co.uk/find-an-author/lowe-sheila, www.claudiaroseseries.com, and www.sheilalowe.com. We hope her ideas will be of help – meanwhile, keep an eye on these pages for extra info and inspiration: https://thecwa.co.uk/the-debuts and https://thecwa.co.uk/debut-category/crime-writing-tips.’

Beginnings and Story Flow – some miscellaneous tips from Sheila Lowe

‘FOR SALE, BABY SHOES, NEVER WORN.’     

This six-word story is often attributed to Ernest Hemingway. Most authorities agree that it's doubtful he wrote it but that makes it no less a compelling beginning. Who is the baby? What happened to him or her? Why were the shoes never worn? Why would someone want to sell them?

Regardless of who wrote those words, the author was making an implicit promise to the reader that he would answer the questions they raised in an interesting and satisfying way.

Every time you begin to write a story, you make the same promise. You're telling your readers that they can expect to be entertained and thrilled, or maybe scared or saddened. As a mystery writer, you want to offer an intellectual challenge, too. The reader might learn something new and exciting from your book, or perhaps gain a new perspective. If you've done your job, he (we'll use the male gender for ease) may never see things quite the same way again.

THERE ARE THREE STEPS TO THE PROCESS:

  1. In the opening, approximately the first quarter of the book, there is a causal event or a setup where the implicit promise is made.
  2. The promise is developed as you progress into the middle of the story, which will take up about half the book.
  3. If you've done your job, thanks to the initial setup, the ending – the final quarter – delivers on the promise in a most satisfying way.

THE FIRST TRICK is to get your reader's attention by giving him someone interesting to focus on. Then, keep his interest by putting the protagonist into situations that pit him against another character, or nature, or society at large. This is where the ‘tension on every page’ that we hear so much about comes in. It could be an argument with his partner, or a sudden financial loss he's suffered, or a misunderstanding with his boss. Keeping the tension going, whether in large or small ways, is vital to telling a successful story.

USING THE RIGHT WORDS IS ANOTHER KEY. For example, if you use ‘allusion’ when you really meant ‘illusion,’ or ‘affect’ instead of ‘effect,’ an astute reader is likely to be soon frustrated. And if you use the wrong form of it's/its, or they're/their, don't be surprised if the book gets thrown across the room.

PACING IS VITAL, TOO. Pacing means knowing when to use short, terse sentences that increase the pace, or longer, more flowery ones that slow it down. Every sentence is born of the previous one. It must enlarge on it and make sense in light of what's going on in the scene. If you transition from one paragraph to the next with bridges that link the ideas and the action, you'll be going in the right direction. Paragraphs become scenes. Scenes grow into chapters and draw the reader in.

Beginnings

Writing convention has it that a book should begin in media res, or in the middle of the action – as far into the story as possible. Here's an example of starting in the middle of the action using my book, What She Saw:

‘The first thing she noticed was the sound. Metal wheels rolling on rails, thrumming in time with her heartbeat. Instinct whispered that if she could only screw up the courage to pry open her eyes, she would see the world hurtling past with the breathless rush of a roller coaster. But that kind of courage had deserted her.’

This is the story of a young woman who is horrified to realize that she doesn't know who she is. The promise is to bring the reader in on why the protagonist is afraid to open her eyes; why she is on a train, where she is going.

But an author might start at the end and double back. The causal event has already happened and a prologue is needed to set things up. Prologues are sometimes frowned upon by editors, but the big-name writers and many others use them all the time.

If you choose to start your story at the beginning where you set the scene, take care not to drop in a lot of back story that will have the reader yawning and yearning for something to happen. The benefit of media res is, it cuts to the chase, drops the reader into a critical situation that leads to a series of events that take us further into the story. It doesn't start with ‘Once upon a time…’       

Sometimes an author will start before the beginning. Tami Hoag, in her book Ashes to Ashes, starts this way:

‘Some killers are born. Some killers are made. And sometimes the origin of desire for homicide is lost in the tangle of roots that make an ugly childhood and a dangerous youth, so that no one may ever know if the urge was inbred or induced.’

In this case the promise Hoag makes draws the reader in immediately. She is promising to tell a story about the type of killer she has described and though we may be a bit scared to read further, we want to know what he's done, who he is.

Literary agent Peter Miller describes bad beginnings. ‘Too much accounting always ruins the mystery of a novel, and the unknown is what propels us to read further.’

What is ‘too much accounting?’ Descriptions of the weather (‘it was a dark and stormy night’), a lot of exposition without dialogue or action – I recently judged a competition where a short story had seventeen pages of exposition before anyone said or did anything.

An info dump where nothing happens is a bad beginning. Just as bad is too much interior monologue, or spending too much time on mundane chores – brushing teeth, doing the washing up, feeding the cat, choosing an outfit – are you bored yet? Your reader will be.

A good beginning opens with a distinctive voice and a point of view that is quickly established. It hints at the plot, building momentum and raising questions in the reader's mind that will be answered by the time he reaches The End.

I'll close with a few pieces of miscellaneous advice:

  • Don't hurry the end. It's better to write long, then cut out the extraneous stuff.
  • Avoid cardboard cutout characters or stereotypes, such as the stupid plod copper.
  • Cut modifiers wherever possible. Strong verbs are better than adverbs and adjectives.
  • Stay away from flashbacks and dreams when possible. If you need them, keep them short.
  • Avoid overused metaphors (e.g., the snow is a white blanket).
  • ...or similes (the snow is like a white blanket).
  • Or clichés (every cloud has a silver lining). An excellent program to help with this and more is SmartEdit.
  • Sprinkle back story in as you go, don't dump it in all at once.

 
HAPPY WRITING – AND MERRY CHRISTMAS!

 

WHAT'S ON AUTHORS P4

WHAT'S ON AUTHORS P2

WHAT'S ON AUTHORS?

WATCHWORDS HOME

BUSHFIRE EMERGENCY, November 2019. Crews who arrived from Tasmania to offer relief to fatigued Queensland firefighters were welcomed by a large ‘Thank you’ carved into a paddock. Residents of fire-affected communities offered free food, beer and thank you notes to firefighters. One family on the north coast of New South Wales left a note to tell fireys where to find water and fuel and where they could get food and drink. It said: ‘The house is the most important. If we lose the rest, doesn’t matter. You guys rock our world. Be safe!’ Jason Watkins, the manager of Yeppoon’s Strand Hotel in Queensland passed out the cold ones. ‘The fire crews, the police, the ambulance… everyone has just been working tirelessly for the last 72 hours and we cannot thank them enough,’ he said. (Photo by L.J. May S/S)