This one’s for all you English murder mystery fans out there. Don’t let the Midsomer Murders Syndrome happen to you!
Mystery writers, OTOH, take notes cuz you’re about to see a template to respect!
by Katherine Tegen
It’s happened. You’ve finally taken that dream trip to England. You have seen Big Ben, Buckingham Palace, and Hyde Park. You rode in a London cab and walked all over the Tower of London. Now you’ve decided to leave the hustle and bustle of the city and stretch your legs in the verdant countryside of these green and pleasant lands. You’ve seen all the shows. You know what to expect. You’ll drink a pint in the sunny courtyard of a local pub. You’ll wander down charming alleyways between stone cottages. Residents will tip their flat caps at you as they bicycle along cobblestone streets. It will be idyllic.
Unless you end up in an English Murder Village. It’s easy enough to do. You may not know you are in a Murder Village, as they look like all other villages. So when you visit Womble Hollow or Shrimpling or Pickles-in-the-Woods or Nasty Bottom or Wombat-on-Sea or wherever you are going, you must have a plan. Below is a list of sensible precautions you can take on any trip to an English village. Follow them and you may just live.
PLACES TO AVOID
The village fête
The village fête is a fair, a celebration on the village green. They toss coconuts, judge cakes, drink tea, and whack toy rats with mallets. It’s a nice way to spend a summer’s day and thin out the local population, because where there is a fête, there is murder. If you enter a town while the fête is happening, you are already dead. The tea urn is filled with poison. The sponge cakes are full of glass. There’s an axe in the fortune telling tent. The coconuts are bombs. It’s like the Hunger Games, but dangerous.
Anywhere with a vat
In English villages, vats only exist for drowning people—in beer, in pickling brine, in whiskey, in jam. This is doubly true if the vat was built by 14th century monks. If anyone offers to show you a vat, say you need to get something from your car, then start the engine and run them over. The police understand this sort of thing. Tell them about the vat….
Nathan Bransford, one of TVWriter™’s favorite writers – and writing consultants – is here with spot on advice about how all of us hope filled wordsmiths can “nail every character’s first impression.”
by Nathan Bransford
You know that old saw “you never get a second chance to make a first impression?” I don’t know how much it really matters in real life, but it absolutely matters in books.
The way you introduce a character will leave an indelible imprint for your reader. Hopefully. If you nail it.
Here are some tips on how to get it right.
Problematic first impressions
There are two main ways authors get things wrong when they introduce a new character:
They don’t give enough physical description to help us create a mental image for the new character.
They focus too much on “establishing” the character in a static way, with history and backstory, rather than weaving the character into the story.
Rather than just dropping in a character and hoping we fill in the details, at least give us something to anchor to, whether it’s an article of clothing, their presence, or a facial expression. Synecdoches can work and the reader will fill in a lot of blanks if they have a bit of context.
And rather than taking up a whole chapter simply to “introduce” a character and a static (and inevitably boring) way, introduce them in the course of advancing the story. You can provide whatever exposition you need to contextualize their presence along the way.
But even beyond just these basic nuts and bolts, I’d suggest a new way of thinking about introducing characters.
Every time you introduce a new character is an opportunity.
I have now coasted past my 70th birthday and have acquired the rights of geezerhood, one of which is a variable memory. I forget things. Not everything nor am I making claims to senility (yet). But sometimes some things drop out and that isn’t necessarily bad.
I suspect I acquired both this trait and outlook from my mother. Every year she would re-read Death Comes For the Archbishop by Willa Cather and at the time I didn’t understand that. Why re-read a book when there are so many out there she had not yet opened? She told me that, due to lapsing memory, she didn’t always remember the plot and so had the pleasure of discovering the story anew. I have since discovered that pleasure for myself. It’s not simply re-reading books that I like but forgetting some the plot details. Mysteries work well with this; for example, I have read every Nero Wolfe mystery that Rex Stout ever wrote (and a few that he didn’t) and I am currently re-reading them. With some (not all), I have forgotten who-dun-it and that’s okay.
The real pleasure is not in the unravelling of the mystery but in time spent with the characters, especially Nero Wolfe and his assistant, Archie Goodwin. I’ve really come back for the interplay between them. The resolution to the mystery – indeed, of most mysteries – is very secondary for me compared to that interplay. I would argue that’s true for most mysteries; when Arthur Conan Doyle introduced us to Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson in A Study In Scarlet, we’re not deeply interested in who the killer is but in how Holmes catches him. I would argue that Doyle’s deepest interest also is not in the killer although he spends a great deal of time in the killer’s backstory. The identity of the murderer and the workings of the plot are there to drive the story and to give us an excuse to visit with our friends, the main characters.
It is somewhat the same with music; I’d forgotten how much I liked the group WAR until I recently stumbled on to their recording of Cisco Kid
which in turn led to re-discovering Low Rider, Why Can’t We Be Friends, All Day Music and so many others. The algorithm on YouTube thought I might like The O’Jays For The Love Of Money and it was right and that led to Earth, Wind and Fire’s That’s The Way of the Worldand the algorithm was even more right there. With all these, there are complicated rhythms and harmonies that I don’t think are matched in today’s music (I told you I was hitting geezerhood; HEY, YOU KIDS! GET OFF MY MUSIC!). I remember the cuts but forgot just how good they were. Re-discovering them doesn’t just take me back. The music buoys me up as it did when I first heard it.
Rediscovery is harder for me to do with movies. The ones that have been my faves I tend to watch again with some frequency. I remember the plots; I remember the details. On some like Casablanca or Waking Ned Devine, I can almost speak the lines with the characters. However, there are some TV shows that I liked when I was quite a bit younger that I have occasionally re-encountered not that long ago. (That’s one of the blessings of TV these days; everything that was ever shown before may be on again.) My favorite TV show when I was a boy was Zorro with Guy Williams in the title role.
They all were half hour shows and what really makes them work is the writing. Not only first rate but a season back then had more episodes than they do these days. More demanding. And they often worked with themes and social questions. Keep in mind, this was back in the 50s and the early 60s – not an era we associate with “social relevance”. I remember seeing these shows now and then back in the day but forgetting how good they were.
There were shows and books and music that I sort of remember when I encounter them – and hey, they’re as bad as I remember. One of my PBS stations runs re-runs of Lawrence Welk every Saturday and I can hardly bear to see even the commercials. But sometimes selective amnesia is a gift and it can give a great deal of pleasure.
So excuse me while I check back in to a certain brownstone on West 35th street in NYC to find out what Wolfe and Archie are doing. They may have told me but I forget.
John Ostrander is one of LB’s favorite writers in any medium. It’s been awhile since he’s been here, but our favorite editorial scapegoat, AKA Tim Muncher, found this piece, which seems to have been John’s last at the eminent and still trucking blog, PopCultureSquad. You can learn more about John and his many masterworks HERE
The TV (and film) writing agency situation remains in flux, with the biggest agencies refusing to budge from the positions that started the whole mess, and as a consequence the WGA has been doing all it can to help writers represent themselves safely and knowledgeably.
Eventually, things will sort themselves out, but until that time “due diligence” is the order of the day. Know all you can about the talent agency biz people! Learn how to tell good agents from bad, if for no other reason than to make sure you are the best agent for yourself that you can be.
Here at TVWriter™ we believe the following article is a good place to start your education.
How to Choose an Agent Amid Competing Offers
by Barbara Poelle
I received an offer of representation for my young adult novel. When I notified the other agents who had the full manuscript that I was withdrawing from consideration, I got an additional five offers! What would you advise I ask of the offering agents in this situation?
Full Dance Card
Dear Happy Dancer,
Well, first of all, if I am one of the offering agents, I advise you to pick me. I am delightful.
But really, thank you so much for this question, because this happens more often than most authors realize. When multiple agents make an offer on the same manuscript, there are indeed several questions you should ask the offering parties, and yourself, in order to determine which one might be your best match.
I should note for others here that these questions should also be considered even if only one agent is offering. After all, an offer isn’t an obligation—it’s an invitation, right? So invite them into a conversation!
First, let’s assume that each of the offering agents is someone you chose for a particular reason, and not merely the result of a shot of tequila and a handful of darts flung at the pages of the Guide to Literary Agents. I would suggest taking a page out of my client Traci Chee’s approach when the same thing happened to her—open a new document on your computer or grab a legal pad and write every agent’s name and the primary reason why you queried each one at the top.
Next, take a look at how long each agent has been in practice and how many clients he represents….