Once a month, I attend a Writing as Healing class at a local hospital. Writing as Healing is a journaling course and part of a popular Wellness program. The growth of Wellness courses, and the philosophy of Wellness in general, is an acknowledgment that, alongside the technical parts in medicine, an approach to patient care should include guidance for a positive approach to living. Continue reading “What Do You Want?”
You Can Tell a Lot about a Person
Life is a never ending quest. That quest means different things to different people, and some of us have more than one quest. I’m one of those people.
I am constantly on the search for three things: blog post topics, writing prompts, and character studies.
(What, you thought this was going to be about the meaning of life or something? I’m a writer, not a philosopher.) Continue reading “You Can Tell a Lot about a Person”
The Very Good Reason
An excellent explanation of the VGR by Barbara Ross at the Wicked Cozy Author blog.
by Barb, still recovering from her knee replacement, but getting stronger everyday
Hi. Barb here and today I want to talk about that point where plot and character meet–where it becomes apparent to your sleuth that he or she is the only one who can solve the mystery, bring the guilty to justice, or even, save the world (if you’re writing a thriller.)
I’m talking about the Very Good Reason (or VGR).
I first heard about the Very Good Reason in a course taught by writer, editor and teacher extraordinaire, Ramona DeFelice Long. For the amateur sleuth, the Very Good Reason is why she gets proactively involved in (and not just caught up in) the investigation. For a thriller with an everyman or everywoman protagonist, the Very Good Reason is the reason they don’t just call the FBI, the CIA, the Pentagon, etc and be done with it. After…
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40 Days of Book Praise, Day 1
On Mardi Gras, I had an epiphany.
There’s been a lot of talk about poorly written books or works that are insensitive, tacky, or harmful to women—so much so that the negativity seems to overshadow any conversation about great works about girls or fantastic fiction for women.
I’ve decided to begin my own little mission of change. For the next 40 days, I will choose a book from my personal book shelves. It will be a book that is insightful, intriguing, or illuminating about women. I will write why I think this book is a relevant and worth reading. This isn’t advertising for me or to promote any of my friends. It’s simply praise for good books.
I hope you’ll join the conversation.
Day 1 – A Gathering of Days, by Joan W. Blos
This middle grade novel written in the epistolary (diary) style won the Newbery Medal in 1980, for excellence in children’s literature. I chose it because, though I was not a child in 1980, it was recommended to me by a child. I worked as a children’s librarian for a while, and a young patron checked out this book. When she returned it, she told me it was the best book she had ever read and it made her want to be kind.
Why is A Gathering of Days relevant in 2015? First, it is set in snowy New Hampshire, which is a fair portrait of this year’s winter. The story is about a young girl who records the hardships and joys of pioneer life in New England in the 1830s. Catherine, the narrator, still mourns her mother and is pained to accept her father’s remarriage. Her new stepmother tries to bond with her through quilting. Catherine and her best friend Cassie secretly help an escaped slave by leaving out food and a blanket—and by not revealing his hiding place. At the end of the story, Curtis sends a note of thanks and a gift for both girls, but it is a bittersweet package.
A Gathering of Days is a quiet book full of drama. It shows that oppressed people will rebel, that youth are naturally generous, that family traditions are important, and that kindness is never forgotten.
National Day on Writing
Monday, October 20, the National Council of Teachers of English celebrated all forms of written expression with its sixth National Day on Writing.
How to Shoestring an Author Donation Box
Like most authors, I love to support my local arts organizations and sometimes fantasize about writing a big check to endow an alliance, sponsor a scholarship, or underwrite a performance. Unfortunately, I am not at the big-check level of success, but that doesn’t mean I can’t contribute in my own way.
To benefit the Newark Arts Alliance, and its upcoming Bohemian Night fundraiser, I offered to put together a box of books by Delaware authors. It’s an easy way to help the area arts scene and to promote work by writers living and working in the state.
Normal Language at Southern Writers Magazine
Today I have the pleasure of guest posting at Suite T, the blog of Southern Writers Magazine.
My post “Normal Writing Language” addresses the quirky and crazy words people incorporate into daily language. If you listen to a conversation with a writer’s ear, a single world can give birth to an amusing scene or anecdote, or be the seed for an entire story.
Southern Writers Magazine promotes authors and highlights their books. The magazines features instructional articles as well as author interviews, connections to conferences, and info on publishing, publicity, and promotion–all delivered with a touch of Southern flair. Suite T is the magazine’s blog.
You can follow Southern Writers Magazine at their Facebook page.
Are you a Texas Sharpshooter writer?
Once upon a time, a cowboy from Texas took a bunch of pot shots at the broad side of a barn. When his gun was emptied, the cowboy moseyed to the barn and found the spot where the most bullets had hit. He took a can of black paint, marked a bullseye around the cluster of bullet holes, and announced, “Hey, look! I’m a great shot!”
True story? Tall tale? You decide.
The Texas Sharpshooter bit is a joke, but it also illustrates a fallacy. A fallacy is an argument based on unsound reasoning. A fallacy can be intentional and employed as trickery, or a fallacy can be unintentional and based on a mistake.
The Texas Sharpshooter Fallacy has been used by epidemiologists—medical professionals who study disease clusters—to show the danger of reaching a conclusion based on chance instead of cause. In lay terms, that means a disease may cluster in an area because of a cause: a local industrial plant is spewing toxins that seep into well water and make townspeople ill.
Or, a cluster results by chance: a person carrying a contagious disease eats at the local diner and shakes hands with a few people. Clusters are studied to determine if they reveal a genuine pattern or if they are random.
The Texas Sharpshooter joke is amusing because we all know cowboys are right honest fellas who never lie about their marksmanship. And what kind of psycho shoots up a perfectly good barn?
The real question of this post is, what does this have to do with plotting a mystery novel?
If you are writing a murder mystery, you need a murderer. Some writers know the identity of the Bad Guy from the start. If your candidate for murderer is Brad, you’ll create a plot that surrounds Brad with figurative bullet holes labeled motive-means-opportunity. When Brad is revealed as the Bad Guy, it is based on cause—concrete evidence—and you hit the target because you aimed at Brad all along.
If you write this way, consider yourself a Marksman. Your target was chosen. Every scene was a shot aimed toward the bullseye that is your murderer.
But what if you are one of the many authors who don’t know whodunit from the start? Is it possible to plot a murder mystery if you—the author—don’t know the identity of the murderer?
If you’re writing backwards, as it were, does that mean your reveal is a fallacy? If you don’t decide on the Bad Guy until you yourself reach the climax, does that mean you’re a Texas Sharpshooter writer? And if you are a Texas Sharpshooter kind of writer, is that a bad thing?
Maybe. Maybe not.
Texas Sharpshooting is based on randomness. If you have no clue about the murderer, but as you write you find most of the bullets start to land around Brad–bingo! You can still write a reveal based on cause. Done correctly, the plot will give Brad the required motive-means-opportunity to prove him guilty. Maybe your subconscious knew Brad was the Bad Guy and it guided you as you wrote. Good job, subconscious!
But what if you have no particular Bad Guy in mind, and when the time comes to reveal one, you don’t have enough bullet holes around any particular suspect? Does this mean your Bad Guy is relegated to plot convenience, coincidence, or the dreaded deus ex machina? Will your solution to the mystery be a fallacy?
If you close your eyes and choose a Bad Guy because someone must have done it and you have a deadline pending, your choice is random. You are plotting using unsound reasoning–creating the bullseye after shooting the gun.
But don’t burn down the barn just yet.
Can the Texas Sharpshooter method of plotting work? Of course it can–if you go a few steps back and plant the bullets in the right spots.
To remove fallacies in your plotting, go back into the manuscript and revise or double check the logical case against your Bad Guy. Does your plot reveal motive-means-opportunity? Is that shown in the action of the story? If not, make that happen, and your pot shots hit the correct target after all. The unsound reasoning in your plot disappears, and you have cause to call out the Bad Guy. If you don’t go back into the manuscript to correct your aim, you may have an ending that feels random–because it was.
Have you ever read a murder mystery where, when you reach the reveal, you think, “Really? This guy? Who knew!” Maybe the author didn’t know, either. Maybe he or she is a Texas Sharpshooter.
What kind of plotter are you?
Do you take the Marksman approach, knowing from the start who had the means-motive-opportunity, and you write to prove that out? Or are you more of a Texas Sharpshooter? Do you write until all the evidence is revealed and then you have to back up, reload, and revise to show the murderer must be, and can only be, this one Bad Guy?
In mystery writing, there’s no one way to plot. After all, when the reader gets the finished product, she has no idea if you painted the bullseye on the barn before or after you began firing. As long as the target is hit, only you know if you’re a Marksman or a Texas Sharpshooter.
But feel free to ‘fess up here about your particular brand of plotting!
For more info on writing mysteries, check out these posts:
Why Your Mystery is like a Lost Puppy
17 Ways to Mess Up Your Murder Mystery