Friday, September 18, 2020

Hacking Away At Your Word Count



by Linda Thorne

If you’re an author who has ever entered a writing contest, you’ve been subjected to maximum word count requirements. I found this to be the norm in contests asking for part or all of a work-in-progress novel and in every short story contest I ever entered.

It’s amazing how you can reduce those words. I’ve managed to take a 3500 word short story and reduce it to 1000 while still keeping the story line.

My first book, Just Another Termination,started off at 120,000 words. It was awful. So much needed cut. I took out a couple of non-essential characters and their roles, but there was a more fat to trim. I had way too much detail regarding how some events came about. I described how my character and her husband moved from LA to the Mississippi Gulf Coast and gave way too many details. Boring. When I finally published my book it was down to 80,000 words. 

I published this post somewhere three years ago. I'm not sure whether it was here on Make Mine Mystery or on Novel Spaces. I'm bringing it back re-written a little differently. 

I’ve heard that the current preferred length for mystery, thrillers, and romance is 70,000 to 90,000 words; although I personally consider 90,000 high, and 75,000 to 80,000 a better word count.

Things I’ve done to reduce word count:

Drop one of the subplots. I had too many in the first draft.

Get rid of a few characters. I had to do that with a couple of characters in Just Another Termination and hated it. I may have one too many in my current work-in-progress, A Promotion to Die For. I don’t know yet.

I know you are supposed to take out back story in the beginning and trickle it throughout. This has been hard in A Promotion to Die For, as so much back story is needed for a murder 30 years in my character's past. Critically acclaimed New York Times bestselling author Susan Isaacs wrote a book called, Lily White, where each chapter was either in the present time or in the past. The past chapters were in italics and the present ones in regular font until both stories met toward the end. I enjoyed this. In A Promotion to Die For I only have a few chapters that are written in back story. The people and occurrences in that history from three decades earlier surface soon in the present and the old cold case murder from back then is solved toward the end of the book in its current timeline.

Eliminate repeats. I can’t tell you how many times I can say the same thing in writing over and over. The reader gets it the first time. I’m not sure about other authors, but I find myself telling it to them again in a different way. This has to end and I usually get rid of it during the revision process.

No rambling over things you want to get in because of your beliefs. This is not about the author, but about giving the reader something interesting to read.

I’m interested in your experiences as authors and/or readers in words working without being too wordy.

Buy Link: Amazon Buy Link

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Wednesday, September 16, 2020

The Rabbit Hole Seduction

                                     by Janis Patterson

No matter what we write, we’ve all been there. We’re writing along happily, the scene is working, the tension is building, our characters are behaving the way we want them to for once and - boom! - suddenly you need a tiny little fact without which nothing works.

Sometimes you can skip over it and finish the scene, vowing to go back and fact-check later (and sometimes you forget, for which fans will inevitably ding you) but often if the action is to proceed as you want it to you need an answer, as it might change the action.

In a way research was simpler before the internet. A trip to the library or the encyclopaedia if you were fortunate enough to own one, or a phone call to some authority, and you felt safe. You had done your due diligence and could feel fairly secure that you knew more about whatever it was than the majority of readers.

It’s different nowadays. Everyone has access to the internet, and let’s face it, a lot of information on the internet is confusing, contradictory and sometimes just plain not true. What’s a curious writer to do?

Research, research and more research. Some things are pretty immutable and easy to find out - the date of a battle, for example, or the reaction between two common chemicals. It gets a bit dicey, however, when you get into more esoteric stuff, for example, when did metal-spring hoop skirts become indispensable to ladies’ fashions? It’s fairly easy to find out the date of their first release (England, 1855 is the best date I can find) but when did they cross the pond to become available to Southern belles? What was a common recipe for home-made ink during the 1860s? And my own personal bĂȘte noir, did the 1916 Jordan Sport Marine automobile have a self-starter or were they only available with the old-fashioned and very dangerous crank? (Aeons of research have never yielded a definitive answer, so like my betters I have taken refuge in weasel words, saying that my heroine’s machine is an ‘experimental model.’ However, once the book is released I fatalistically await some reader to excoriate me for not having the correct answer. Sigh.)

I am beginning to appreciate why so many writers are now choosing to do urban fantasy, pure fantasy, science fiction, etc. Their world, their rules.

There are two main problems with research - one is that it takes time from writing, but this can be countered with the absolute necessity for at least believable accuracy. And yes, accuracy is important. I point to a Regency romance in a contest I once judged where the hero reaches into his pocket and pulls out a fountain pen, which although primitive ones were first patented in the 1830s were not commercially available until the 1850s, some thirty years after the Regency. When I counted this faux pas against the writer that absolutely furious young woman wrote me back, demanding to know why, especially since it was an old fashioned pen and who would know the difference anyway? Double sigh.

The second problem with research is its seductivity. You flip over to the internet to find out the date (say) whalebone was first used in corsets or the chemical formula for gunpowder and three hours later you are engrossed in reading the life cycle of the water nymph (dragonfly larvae) without really knowing how you got there, since neither dragonflies nor nymphs (insect or mythological) have anything to do with your story. Seductive, indeed!

Unfortunately, there is no cure that I know of for such a predilection to wander off into the arcane pathways of interlocking knowledge. After years of trying to discipline myself I have given up and allowed my mind to dive down the rabbit hole and follow the seductive lure of unknown fields. At least, for a while. You never know when you might find a nugget of knowledge that will enhance your story, or even give you a new one. (Yeah, like we really need new story ideas to add to the 200+ year stockpile we already have, right?) Besides, it’s inevitable. There is just too much fascinating information out there. We’re doomed.

(And I apologize for any weirdnesses in formatting - this new Blogger upload interface and I are not getting along well together! I don't see why companies insist on changing things for the worse!)

Tuesday, September 15, 2020


 That's the status of where we are at the moment. The Sequoia Complex fire (or something like that) is just above Springville where I live--but encompasses many, many acres. Some of the homes and cabins in the upper mountains have already been lost, including a popular pack station. 

The air is full of smoke and has been for days. Many of my friends not far from here had a mandatory evacuation, and were forced to leave. Lots of animals have been transferred to safe places down in the valley.

We received our Voluntary Evacuation notice via our phone, cell and landline about 9:30 Sunday a.m. On Monday I began gathering important papers, meds, things I didn't want to lose. A line of bags is sitting on the big table in my office.

The bad things about packing this stuff is I have to keep getting things out that I need.

This is the second fire that's come close to our home since we've lived here. Three years ago we had the Pier Fire and hubby and I packed the important stuff and stayed with friends in Porterville for 3 days. That fire was different, fierce but smaller acreage wise. We could also see the flames, which we can't with this one because the smoke is so thick.

Where will we go if we have to leave? I'm not sure. Several people have offered for us to come to their homes, but if we really have to go, it will probably be to one of our kids'.

I've written about fires many times in my mysteries, but believe me, it's far scarier when it's happening to you.

We're praying for the firefighters and for the fire to be contained. There are so many fires in the state as well as in Oregon and Washington that there really aren't enough firefighters and they are having to work too many hours.

My writing is not happening right now, not because of the fire but because of other things I need to do.

I'll keep you posted.


Tuesday, August 25, 2020

The Good and Bad of August

This is from my perspective, of course.

This is my birthday month--and yesterday I celebrated twice.

We had the pleasure of taking a road trip to my daughter's new home (long drive), staying for three days and spending time with two grown grandsons and their families--which involved 3 great grands including one we'd never met before. What a great break from staying at home because of the virus.

With the re-publishing of Wishing Make It So, all of my books have now been re-edited and made available on Amazon. This was written a long time ago, not a mystery, more of a psychological horror. And the bad is every venue for selling books have been cancelled.

We've had really hot weather and along with it fires have sprung up all over the state of California. So far, none near where we live, but the sky is so full of smoke we can't see the hills and mountains that surround us. Many people have had to be evacuated, some with only the clothes they were wearing.

In the past, we've had fires that were too close for comfort--close enough that we packed up my computer, insurance papers etc., and stayed at a friends' home for three days.

A couple of bears have decided to roam the neighborhoods and raid trash cans. One was spotted several times at the dump where people bring their trash to be hauled away on Fridays and Saturdays. (Not sure if that's good or bad.)  People like spotting and taking photos of these visitors.

I've gotten a good start on a new Rocky Bluff P.D. mystery. My police officer grandson gave me some good tips I can use in my plot.

Lots of annual events where I live have been cancelled--rodeo, Hot Summer Nights dance and party, Friday night concerts in the park, the Apple Festival, and more.

More good is we have a great and big family who help us out in many ways. 

Hope there is more good in your lives than bad.

Marilyn who also writes as F. M. Meredith

Friday, August 21, 2020

Welcome Saralyn Richard with an Interesting Post on Titles and Covers



Today I've invited award-winning author, Saralyn Richard, to speak here at Make Mine Mystery. This will be her second visit.

Titles and Covers

by Saralyn Richard

    “Prime real estate” for a novel resides in first impressions. That’s why finding the right title and cover are super-important. In my experience, a book title either comes easy or hard. Sometimes the working title sticks, making the final editing and publishing process go down as smoothly as a chocolate martini. Most of the time, though, I can’t be sure of a title until I’ve completed the book. I want the title to make sense for the reader, both before and after experiencing the book. I want it to pop off the cover and grab the reader’s attention with its pithiness or cleverness or emotional pull. I hope it charms and intrigues—I could go on and on, but you get the picture. I have high expectations for titles, and that makes choosing a title one of the most difficult tasks of the entire writing process.

   My newest release, A PALETTE FOR LOVE AND MURDER, started out as Brandywine Art Murder. Like it's prequel, MURDER IN THE ONE PERCENT, this book is set in the lush, elegant country of Brandwine Valley, Pennsylvania. The second book revolves around the art community there, made famous by the Wyeth family and other artists featured at the Brandywine River Fine Arts Museum. Detective Parrott investigates an art heist, which turns into a murder, a treasure hunt, and a palette-full of secrets.

    Enter the palette. I changed the title to A Palette for Murder. Nice, tidy title—not too many words to overpower the cover or become too hard to remember. I checked to see if there were other books with that title, and—uh, oh—there were three, one of them published fairly recently. I agonized over what to change the title to. I surveyed my email subscribers. I badgered my family and friends. I pondered over the book’s themes and characters and realized this book went beyondBarnes and Noble the boundaries of mystery and suspense. It was also a story about love in its complexity. I quickly searched for A Palette for Love and Murder, and, finding no other book by that title, voila! I had my title. 

    Next came the cover. Because this book is part of a series, I wanted the cover to resemble the Murder in the One Percent cover in some way, but not to replicate it. I wanted readers to be reminded of the first cover, but not to confuse it with the second. My talented cover artist, Rebecca Evans, knew how to achieve that. She used the same background as in the first cover, but this time she made the artist’s palette front and center. This was, however, no ordinary artist’s palette. First of all, the globs of paint are meant to be mysterious, even sinister. Some of the paint droplets resemble blood. And anyone who looks closely enough will see that she has embedded images from the story into the background of the palette. More edgy than beautiful, this cover fits a story where characters are haunted by their past experiences, where everyone has secrets to hide.

    What do you see in the title and cover of A PALETTE FOR LOVE AND MURDER? I’d love to hear your thoughts on choosing titles and covers, as well!

Award-winning mystery and children’s book author, Saralyn Richard strives to make the world a better place, one book at a time. Her books, Naughty Nana, Murder in the One Percent, and A Palette for Love and Murder, have delighted children and adults, alike. Look for A Murder of Principal to be released in January, 2021. A member of International Thriller Writers and Mystery Writers of America, Saralyn teaches creative writing at the Osher Lifelong Learning Institute, and continues to write mysteries. 

Reviews, media, and tour schedule may be found at

Buy Links:  Barnes and Noble   Amazon

Twitter Account


Wednesday, August 19, 2020

A Matter of Perspective

 by Janis Patterson


I have decided that I am a different sort of reader.

On one of my booklovers’ lists it seems there is a constant discussion going on. This particular list happens to be about a very specific kind of historical romance, a genre I have always loved, but sometimes these discussions get very heated. The author involved is noted for her historical accuracy and therein lies the problem.

The current discussion is - as it usually is - about aristocratic snobbery and unconscious racism. Personally I don’t mind either in historical fiction, as the stories in question were written in the past about a time even further in the past, and that was pretty much the way things were then. I said the author was renowned for her historic accuracy, didn’t I? However, some members of the list keep repeating how they loathe those particular attitudes and how they think they taint the stories. Of course that is their right - those antique attitudes are and should be loathsome by today’s standards - but the stories weren’t written about today, today’s society or today’s mores. As they were first published so long ago they weren’t even written for today’s people. They are a story of their time - not ours.

When I open a book, I am entering someone else’s world. By going there I am a visitor and should understand that by being there I accept their world as it was then. If it becomes too upsetting to me, I close the book and leave. The same ethos applies if the book is sci-fi or paranormal or futuristic or even today’s plain (or perhaps not-so-plain) world. It is the world of that book, the world the author has created for it - not for me or any other reader. It is an discrete entity in and of itself, and we should treat it as such. We are mere visitors, observers - not residents.

To give this a more concrete example, I can think of no worse fate than to live full time in a tiny glass-walled treehouse set high up in the woods’ canopy and accessible only by a twisting, dizzying, exposed staircase. That said, however, I thoroughly enjoyed a two day holiday there and would not mind going back - but not for more than a day or two. It is not my world. I am a visitor.

It’s the same with books and movies, and TV, and other entertainments. I choose to go there, wherever ‘there’ is. I choose to stay there. It is different from my real life. If I don’t like it, I can leave by closing the book or turning whatever it is off. Implicit in my going there is my acceptance that it is the creator’s world, not mine; the creator’s thoughts and history, real or made-up, not mine. It was not created for me. I am a visitor, not a participant, and as such part of the artistic contract is to see the story through the author’s and characters’ eyes and beliefs - not my own. If all I cared about was my own, I should sit at home and stare at the wall.

You cannot apply today’s mores and ideals to the past. As someone famous once said, “The past is another place. They do things differently there.” The past is over and gone, and if it offends you don’t go there.

Tuesday, August 11, 2020

What Are You Missing Most as a Writer?

We've talked about this before, all the writing conferences and conventions that have been cancelled, plus the book and craft fairs.

So what do we miss besides the opportunity to sell books?

For me, it's not getting to see old friends and make new ones in the writing and reading community.

In July, my favorite conference of all, the Public Safety Writers Association's annual get-together had to be cancelled. I usually teach at the pre-conference workshop. I always get ideas for my books from the speakers and panels.

The Visalia Library had planned a big outdoor book festival for fall--of course that won't happen, all the libraries are closed.

One of the biggest book festivals in northern California held in Manteca held in the fall is a victim of the Covid 19 too.

My calendar for the 2020 was filled with conferences and book fairs to attend, plus speaking engagements at writers groups. All cancelled.

Of course, I've got copies of my books on hand that I expected to sell at all these places.

I've been busy, despite all this because all my books are now self-published in paper and for Kindle on Amazon. But, I don't know about my fellow authors, but for me, it's not as much fun to try and promote on line as it is to be face-to-face with a potential buyer and reader of one of my books.
Discussing a book in person is much more rewarding. And I miss this.

What I'm also missing in meeting with my writers' groups like the San Joaquin chapter of Sisters in Crime. I miss seeing the members, and I miss hearing the speakers. I miss the regular meeting of the Tulare-Kings Writers group. And most of all, I miss the weekly gatherings of our writers' critique group. I'm in touch with them via email, but it isn't the same.

What about you? What are you missing most as a writer or a reader?

Marilyn who also writes as F. M. Meredith

I'm busy writing the next book in the Rocky Bluff P.D. series, and the latest book in the Deputy Tempe Crabtree series is End of the Trail.