Novel Basics: Card # 1

Novel Basics

About those cards . . .

I put the numbers, names, questions and images on the blank sides of cards and save the lined sides for my answers and specific notes. But you do whatever works for you.

I also enjoy color, so I used a variety of colors of cards and different colors of pens, too. And no, there is absolutely no system or coding to the colors of the cards I used. The very idea of doing that makes my brain seize up. So if you prefer to put everything down in black and white on 3” x 5” cards that are blank on both sides, make it so.

When I teach the class in a physical classroom, I tell the students not to sweat the small stuff like making sure the bottom points of the heart meet on Card # 1 because typically we only have 90 minutes. But since the online version goes more slowly, knock yourself out on the arty stuff if you like.

Card # 1: The Heart Card

The Heart Card asks the question,

“Who wants what?”

At the heart of every novel–every story really, no matter the form it takes, novel, short story, play, movie or television script, or epic narrative poem for that matter–lies the question, “Who wants what?”

As like as not, what you write down on Card # 1, with only a vague notion of what your novel will be, won’t be very specific. You probably don’t have a name for the who, for instance. Your answer might be something not much more than the following:

Boy wants girl.

Girl wants boy.

Boy wants boy.

Girl wants girl.

Even more broadly, someone wants to find true love.

More specifically, a returning veteran named Jay Gatsby wants to find Daisy, the girl he left behind, and make her his own.

Let’s move on to other genres besides love stories . . .

In murder mysteries the detective wants to find the killer to keep her from doing it again and/or to bring her to justice.

Someone wants to escape something, his hometown for instance, or her abusive mother for another.

Someone wants to find something, the Holy Grail, a magical ring, or the owner of a lost dog.

Someone wants to get rich.

Katniss Everdeen wants to save her little sister Prim from the Hunger Games.

Minty Wilcox, the protagonist of January Jinx, the first novel in my Calendar Mystery series, wants to find a job as a typist/stenographer in Kansas City in 1899.

Princess Ella, aka Cinderella, wants to escape the walls that confine her in Walls, the first book in my Cinderella, P. I. series.

Often in fiction, as in life, a want becomes a need. Someone needs to find a job to stay alive. The Chosen One needs to save Middle Earth, the world, or the galaxy before he and everyone he knows perish.

Regardless, to start a novel you need to know what someone wants or needs to accomplish by the last page of the narrative. Or at the very least you need to have a general idea of who wants want in your novel. To put it in literary terms, a story needs a protagonist with whom the reader can willingly identify and who has a worthwhile goal.

I put that in bold because it’s important, but I’m not going into it right now. We’ll talk about that when we get to Card # 3.

Card # 3? What happened to Card # 2?

I’m so glad you asked.

P. S. Feel free to share what you put on your cards in the comment section. Ask questions, too.

P. S. S. If the online version of the Novel Basics goes too slowly for you, you can buy the print version of the book on Amazon and the eBook for only $2.99 at http://www.amazon.com/dp/B07K2LXFRP

Novel Basics Online

The online version of my Novel Basics class starts here and on Facebook tomorrow, March 27, 2020.  Here’s an introduction.

 

Novel Basics Online Class
How to Brainstorm a Novel with 20 Index Cards

I know you’re out there. I’ve met you in some way or another.

Maybe you’re the less than confident young woman in an online group I belong to who wants to start your coming-of-age novel about growing up in the Ozarks amid the opioid crisis, but you don’t quite know how to do that.

You could be a short story writer intimidated by the sheer size of a novel.

Or maybe you’re the man I talked to at a local authors fair who always meant to get back to that novel you started twenty years ago, but now it sits hidden in a drawer at home.

Perhaps you tried to write a 50,000-word novel during a National Novel Writing Month event, but you didn’t make it all the way through.

Or you did finish and now you have the diploma declaring you a NaNoWriMo winner, but you don’t know what to do next.

Let’s say that you’re the author of a brilliant, well-received first novel who can’t get that sophomore effort together.

You could be a best-selling author on a tight schedule who needs to get cracking on the next book in your series.

Or you’re the author of a best-selling series for which you still have a ton of ideas, but a notion for a brand new book or series has crept into your head, and it’s so strong that it wakes you up in the middle of the night. Still, before you commit, you’d like to explore it.

Maybe you’re writing a nonfiction book about yourself growing up or a shocking event that happened in your hometown, but you’re thinking the book might be better as a novel, so you can distance yourself from the material emotionally and have more latitude with facts.

Maybe you’re like me. You have several completed novels in your file cabinet that you could never get an agent or publisher interested in, so you gave up on those projects. Possibly taking a little time to explore one of those will help you decide if it’s worthwhile for you to go back to it.

Or maybe you don’t fit into any of these slots I’ve mentioned, but still you’re like the rest of us. You’ve got an idea sparked by that powerful question “What if?” that keeps bugging you, an itch you’d like to scratch at least a little bit.

Maybe you’re not a writer. Instead, you’re an avid fiction reader who would like to learn more about the novel so you can sharpen your insights into the selections you discuss at your book club.

Regardless, I’m thinking that my method using twenty 3” by 5” index cards will help you to brainstorm your novel or study someone else’s. There’s no time like the present . . . So get your cards and join me here tomorrow or on Facebook at http://facebook.com/JulietKincaidauthor2016

If you prefer to go faster than a card a day, you can buy the Novel Basics book available in print from Amazon and as an eBook for only $2.99  at http://www.amazon.com/dp/B07K2LXFRP

New Calendar Mystery Story!

TWO BIRTHDAYS

An Old Kansas City Story

June 22, 1899

Price Investigations Office

Kansas City, Missouri

The office door opening that afternoon startled Minty Wilcox and she almost looked up to see who it was. But then she thought, I’d better keep my head down and look busy. It won’t do for Mr. Mathison to catch me reading a mystery novel when I’m supposed to be hard at work. Indeed, George Mathison, the manager of the Kansas City branch of the Price Investigations Agency, was quite strict about the office staff keeping busy, especially Minty, the newest member of the staff.

Not that there was much work to do at the moment, no one there to take dictation from, no operative reports to type, no papers to file.

Still, Minty closed the black book, a favorite of hers that she liked to reread that time of year, and hid it in her top desk drawer. After that, she began typing furiously at her ancient blind-strike Remington typewriting machine. As a precaution earlier, she’d loaded a blank piece of paper in the typewriter. A quick brown fox jumps over the lazy dog, she typed. A quick . . .

“Where’s Mrs. B?” a man asked.

After Minty lifted her hands from the keyboard and looked up, her heart started going pitty pat.

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Two Birthdays, an old Kansas City story

After Minty Wilcox has worked for six months or so at Price Investigations as a stenographer/typist, the dashing detective Daniel Price appears in the office and carries her off to take notes on a new case the agency has been hired for. But once he starts filling Minty in on the details of the case, some of the information sounds strangely familiar. And she begins to wonder what he’s really up to on her twentieth birthday, June 22, 1899.

Praise for January Jinx, Book 1 in the Calendar Mystery series

The delightful, creative, and charming January Jinx introduces a terrific character in Minty Wilcox, a good old-fashioned cozy mystery persona who will surely be able to carry the planned-for series. It’s Minty who drives the readable narrative, and author Juliet Kincaid keeps the pace steady and fast at the same time for quite a readable experience. The writing is appropriate for the historical setting without ever being gimmicky or archaic . . . The unique setting of 1899 Kansas City is full of flavor that never overwhelms the story and the characters. With a terrific, original, but still comfortable series concept, there are certainly big things afoot for Juliet Kincaid and Minty Wilcox’s Calendar Mysteries.

“Two Birthdays,” a Calendar Mystery short story featuring Minty Wilcox and Daniel Price getting to know each other, is now available for your Kindle for $0.99 (and always free from KindleUnlimited)* at www.amazon.com/dp/B076JS3D2Y

*This fun story will be available for free to all on October 20 through 22, and October 26 and 27.

 

 

Nancy Martin’s Miss Ruffles

A JKWryter Fav

Long a fan of Nancy Martin’s Blackbird Sisters Mysteries, recently I came upon her stand-alone mystery, Miss Ruffles Inherits Everything while trolling the mystery section at my local library. I’m very glad I checked it out because this mystery has all the elements I’ve enjoyed in Ms. Martin’s other work, plus more.

1) A resourceful, kind, likeable female amateur sleuth. In this book the lead is Sunny McKillip who becomes a dog’s caretaker. Miss Ruffles is a small, feisty, noisy cattle-herding dog, as yet untrained, that clearly shows her opinion for all she meets. If you pass approval, you get licks. If you don’t, you get growls and nips.

2) Spot-on observations like this one: “enough flowers for a royal wedding.”

3) Top writing skills: I really admired the way Ms. Martin introduced the major suspects of the mystery in Chapter 1 at the funeral of the very wealthy Honeybelle Hensley and then the supporting characters when Sunny walks Miss Ruffles home through the town.

4) A lively well-constructed mystery plot that climaxes in a hilarious, laugh-out-loud big scene with plenty of surprises along the way. (Miss Martin’s books aren’t formulaic.)

5) A manly, yet imperfect possible love interest.

To this mix, Ms. Martin added some fresh elements.

1) A setting different from her usual East Coast, Philadelphia area: a little Texas town called Mule Stop and its inhabitants.

2) A protagonist/narrator who’s an outsider, not an insider: As Sunny struggles to get to know the strange culture in which she finds herself, she casts a sharp eye on its foibles and the secrets of its inhabitants.

3) The dog is great.

I really liked Miss Ruffles Inherits Everything and highly recommend it.

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Juliet Kincaid writes the calendar historical mysteries set in Kansas City, a place that could get deadly a hundred years ago or so and the Cinderella, P. I. fairy tale mysteries for grown-ups featuring a favorite character twenty years, three kids and a few extra pounds after the ball. These stories and novels are available as eBooks and trade paperbacks from Amazon. Here’s the link to Juliet’s Amazon Author’s Central page: https://www.amazon.com/s/ref=dp_byline_sr_ebooks_1?ie=UTF8&text=Juliet+Kincaid&search-alias=digital-text&field-author=Juliet+Kincaid&sort=relevancerank

A Magnificent Mystery

Marie Brennan’s Lady Trent Memoirs

Starting with A Natural History of Dragons and ending with the recently published Within the Sanctuary of Wings, Marie Brennan’s five-book series, the imagined memoirs of a woman naturalist in an imagined alternate world, offers a lot to the reader.

1) For one thing, from their stunning covers to their lovely interior drawings, they are physically beautiful books. See for yourself.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

2) For another, they’re fun.

Lots of this comes from Lady Trent’s starchy voice as she retells the major events of her long life in which she doesn’t behave properly.

More fun comes from figuring out what the places and peoples of our world are equivalent to in hers. For instance, she comes from Scirland that much resembles our own Scotland. I’ll let you have the fun of figuring out what other place names in her books parallel those in ours.

Though she comes from a society that severely limits the lives of its women, she goes on lots of adventures.

3) The science is sound and interesting. Though the series is classified as fantasy, because of the dragons, I suppose, in several ways the books are more like science fiction. For instance, the dragons are real biological creatures. And over their evolution, they’ve adapted, like mammals, to many of the ecological niches of their world including the air, the seas, jungles, deserts, and mountains.

4) Throughout the five books, Lady Trent plants clues that lead to solving the great mystery of her world.

But you’ll get no spoilers from me.

Edward Marston’s Exciting Railway Detective

The Railway Detective by Edward Marston

A Review by Juliet Kincaid

The first in Edward Marston’s Detective Inspector Colbeck Mystery series, The Railway Detective has lots to offer the historical mystery fan.

Marston brings mid-19th century Britain to life with vivid descriptions of places like London’s Devil’s Acre, for one example, and for another, the Crystal Palace, the site of the Great Exhibition in 1851.

Marston’s gentleman detective Robert Colbeck is both capable and clever. Marston presents lower class characters like a moneylender named Isadore Vout with gritty, almost Dickensian detail. Nut he also gives us members of the growing middle class and the gentry. He provides Colbeck with a love interest, the lovely Madeleine, a damsel in some distress.

The story includes exciting action like a train robbery and train wreck near the start of the book.

The plot is solid overall, but this reviewer has one slight quibble with it, though. Time and time again, Marston lets Colbeck pursue leads right up to almost catching a bad guy, only for him to be a little too late. At points like those, Marston cuts from the action with the detective to a scene with the current bad guy. To my mind, these are slight plot spoilers that bleed away some suspense and tension here and there. I sort of changed my mind about this, though, when near the end of the book . . . Well, you’ll get no spoilers from me.

If you’re hankering after a visit to Victorian England, I strongly recommend The Railway Detective.

 

Good deal for readers

MW

Here I am, all dolled up as Minty Wilcox, the heroine of my Calendar Mysteries, might have been if she went to a party in 1900. January Jinx, the first in the series, is available as an eBook for only $.99 from April 21 through April 27 at www.amazon.com/dp/B00HSSSBE4.

Marching On

WiP Report # 17

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Sorry, but I couldn’t resist the pun in my title. You see, the current Work in Progress, the third in my Calendar Mysteries, takes place in Kansas City, a place that could get downright deadly a hundred years or so ago, in March 1900 and it’s called Mischief in March.

One of the most fun things about this WiP is working on it in springtime. Now I realize that probably daffodils and other flowers are blooming in 2016 three to four weeks earlier than they did in March 1900. Still, my heroine Minty Wilcox might very well see crocus like those pictured above blooming in a sheltered spot in front of her house.

Now, I must admit that I’m pretty far behind schedule on this book from where I’d hoped to be. My original concept for the series was to bring out a book a year during the month in the title. I managed to bring the eBook version of January Jinx out in January 2014 and the print version in January 2015. But I didn’t get Fatal February out until November 2015. (Sigh.)

Here are some reasons why I’m behind schedule.

1) If you’ve kept up with my periodic WiP Reports, you know that I wrote a 54,000 draft of Mischief in March during National Novel Writing Month 2015. But due to one thing and another, I didn’t get back to it until February 18.

2) And even then, it took me quite a while to regain my momentum. Tip to all you other writers out there: do it every day, so you don’t lose your momentum. So far my progress has been slow with an average production of 835 words per day. This is about half of the NaNoWriMo goal of 1,667 words a day.

3) As you might be able to tell from the photo of a corner store around 1900 below, I’m doing research as I go along. (In Mischief in March, Minty Wilcox, two of her country cousins, and the series villain visit a neighborhood grocery store similar to this one. Researching as I write also has slowed me down.

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But let’s shift to the upside here.

I’m telling myself that doing research as I go along might save me time in the long run since I’ll probably write fewer drafts than the ten or twelve January Jinx required. In fact, even though I did some research as I went along, Fatal February required only four drafts plus an overall line-by-line edit.

Some good news: last week my process sped up, and without even noticing, I blew through plot point 1, that is, the moment at which the hero (or heroes) begin the journey or the detective (or detectives) actively take on the case. That happened at 19,418 words on page 70. Multiply those stats by four and you get 77,672 words and 280 pages, a very nice size for a first draft. If I keep up the pace of 835 words a day, I should finish the current draft around the end of May.

If you haven’t read the first two in the series, January Jinx is available as an eBook at www.amazon.com/dp/B00HSSSBE4 and Fatal February is available as an eBook at www.amazon.com/dp/B017081JHM. Both are available as trade paperbacks through Amazon.com.

If you have read the first two Calendar Mysteries that tell the story of Minty Wilcox and Daniel Price from newly met to newly wed and beyond, please review them on Amazon and Goodreads. As the old wisdom goes, word of mouth sells. (Of course sex sells, too. I’m working on getting some sex into Mischief in March. Minty and Daniel are definitely up for it.) And online reviews are the 21st Century version of word of mouth, one kind at least. Just a few sentences of positive comments help and I would appreciate it very much. All the best, Juliet

Encouraging Feedback on Fatal February

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My dear friend and fellow writer Anne Bauman recently wrote me this letter of praise for Fatal February, the second calendar mystery. (I’ve omitted or rephrased here and there to avoid spoilers.)

Dear Juliet,

 Congratulations on Fatal February, another terrific read. Yes, I enjoyed it immensely, both as a reader and a writer. Between the lines, it reveals lots of work, thought, skill and care.

It seems to me that your characters were even better developed than in January Jinx, though the characters were well-done in [it], too. In the second novel I enjoyed the actions and especially the dialogue. Each character is distinctly developed as his own person.

Minty seems to be maturing and improving as a character. I like the way you played off [Daniel Price, the love interest] to help develop the personality of each. It helps the reader to see Minty more clearly as she interacts with the other characters.

Of course, I always enjoy reading about Kansas City around the turn of the century. Since my grandmother was a young woman at the time of your books, it’s pleasant to imagine what K. C. was like at that time and how it helped her develop her independence and self-assurance. I like the details you use to develop Kansas City as a character, too.

All in all, Juliet, you’ve created a masterpiece and I’m now looking forward to March.

Thank you so much, Anne. And I’m happy to tell you and other readers that I’m working on Mischief in March, the third Calendar Mystery featuring Minty Wilcox and Daniel Price in Kansas City, a downright dangerous place a hundred years or so ago.

If, dear reader, you haven’t read the first two in the series, January Jinx is available on Kindle at www.amazon.com/dp/B00HSSSBE4 and Fatal February at www.amazon.com/dp/B017081JHM. Both are also available as trade paperbacks through Amazon.com.

And if you like these books, please review them on Amazon and Goodreads. Just a few sentences help. I would appreciate it very much. All the best, Juliet

P. S. Didn’t my daughter do lovely work on the cover of Fatal February?

Phenomenal Flavia

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A Guest Post by Diann Markley

On Saturday January 16, 2016, at the meeting of the Mystery Writing Group of the Border Crimes Chapter of Sisters in Crime, my friend Diann Markley presented a thorough and very insightful analysis of Alan Bradley’s The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie. Here are highlights of her presentation.

The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie by Alan Bradley is the story of a precocious eleven-year-old girl living in England in the 1950’s. Bradley has several problems to overcome in making Flavia de Luce believable as an amateur investigator.

The police are neither incompetent nor comical, yet as with any main character, Flavia must be the one to solve the mystery. The author carefully sets up this outcome by having Flavia’s mother vanish in the wilds of Tibet while her father, suffering from wartime PTSD, is only peripherally involved with his child, leaving her free to come and go with little to no supervision.

And she does have transportation–an ancient bike she has named Gladys.

Having lived her entire life in the town of Bishop’s Lacey, Flavia has contacts and inside knowledge of the residents not readily available to Inspector Lewis. Flavia is quite willing to flip her braids and flash her braces to convince witnesses she is only a sweet little girl they can spill any secrets to. Then there is her understanding of chemistry and a lab in which to do experiments. These confirm her suspicions on how the murder occurred. It doesn’t hurt a bit that Flavia is the one to find the dying man but conveniently forgets to mention his last words to the police.

Altogether a great read on a winter’s day! Diann Markley

The Mystery Writing Group of the Border Crimes Chapter of Sisters in Crime meets on the third Saturday of the month. All SinC members are welcome. Here’s our schedule for the next two months.

February 20: Ann Friedman will lead a discussion of Ellis Peters’ The Raven in the Foregate.

March 19: Juliet Kincaid will lead a discussion of Alexander McCall Smith’s The No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency.

If you’re a mystery fan, please share this blog with your friends and sign up through RSS to receive notifications for more blogs.

Best, Juliet