Friday, June 28, 2013

How Writing Routines Can Help You

Most writers either love or dread writing routines. I, for one, like to create them, but not to stick to them. Writers who like to go with the flow, and especially writers who like to procrastinate, are especially in need of writing routines to keep them in shape and writing everyday.

What are writing routines?

A writing routine is a writer's personal step by step ritual for writing. Mine, for example, would look somewhat like this: Read an inspiring poem. Meditate for a few moments on it. Write five pages if I'm feeling down, and if I feel creative, push myself to write as many as possible.

How They Can Help You:

  • You know what to expect. It's much harder to get stuck, confused, or bored if you already know how your writing is going to go, how much you're going to write, and what you're going to write. 
  • They're easy to customize and fit into your own life. Only you know what works for you. The great thing about writing routines is their flexibility--you can adjust them however you want to fit you. Pre-writing rituals, meditation, 5 pages a day: you can choose what you want to do, how you want to do it.
  • They keep procrastinating writers in line. Like I said above--I need a writing routine to write. Otherwise, I may completely forget about it, or I'll push it to the back of my mind repeatedly. I embrace my writing routine everyday because it's personalized for me, and because of that, I consistently write every day.
  • Writing routines are great antidotes for Writer's Block. When my creativity is running dry, I write anyway, because my writing routine includes several pre-writing techniques and activities which get my creative juices flowing again. The consistency, stability, and flexibility of writing routines make them great to battle Writer's Block. 
  • They please your readers. If you're a blogger, or a freelance writer, this is especially important. When you write everyday using your writing routine, your clients and readers come to trust, rely, and depend on your writing. You build a better fanbase by establishing a writing routine.
  • Establishing one is insanely easy. Like I said before: your writing routine is yours. You can choose to jump straight into writing, or you can journal for 10 minutes. You can provide yourself with refreshments that stimulate your energy, or you can listen to an inspiring song. You can also choose how much you write. The creating of one goes a long way in the end, but it's completely spontaneous and flexible to establish.
What are your thoughts on writing routines? What does yours look like, and how does it help you? Feel free to leave a comment! 

Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Planning Ahead: How Much, and How Helpful is it Anyway?

Planning ahead, also known as outlining, is one of the biggest struggles--and necessities--for cozy mystery writers. Coming up with a decent plot involves a lot of this, but the real question is: how much should be done, and does it really help in the end?

How Much:

The process of outlining works differently for every writer, and it mostly depends on what goals you're trying to achieve. Will your cozy mystery try to trap and confuse the reader at every turn? Or will it be an easy mystery which the reader figures out before the sleuth? Obviously, the amount of outlining will vary based on what your goals are.

For me, I find it best to know the following things when I'm done outlining:

  • Who's the victim?
  • Why were they murdered?
  • A complete list of the suspects, including why (motive), when (opportunity), and how (means). 
  • Fake clues to distract the reader from the actual murderer, also called red herrings. 
  • How will the sleuth find the true murderer? 
  • What's a rough sketch of the book's beginning and ending?
  • What are the personalities of all the characters? What makes them interesting, and how do they impact my story? 

These details are usually enough to flesh out a solid plot. When I have these questions answered, I can start writing, because I know my characters and what's going to happen.

How Helpful is It? 

There are several reasons why I find outlining helpful. Even though it can be annoying and tiresome at first, it has plenty of benefits:

  • It's easy to get started. Beginnings are always difficult for me, but outlining has helped me overcome that. 
  • Your book is ten times funnier, engaging, and warm, now that you know every character's quirks and flaws. Character are the heart of cozy mysteries, and once they're developed fully through outlining, your story instantly jumps in interest and humor.
  • It's harder to get stuck once you get started. Writer's block, sagging middles, no plot development--they're all problems writers face, but with outlining, you take care of everything that's going to happen already towards the beginning of the process, so you don't have to worry about getting stuck. 
  • You have more time for actual writing, editing, and proofreading. While writers should write for their passion and interest and not the money, money's pretty important to most folks (scratch most and make that everyone), and there's more earning potential when your book gets done quickly. And it's not just quick: it's a quality quick, too, so you have absolutely nothing to worry about.
  • Your creativity increases immensely. Now that you have the skeleton of your story, you can add as much flesh and nerves and bone marrow as you like. You, as the writer, can unleash your full potential now, because you already know where to get started and how to guide yourself through the dangerous journey of writing a book.


Outlining's benefits definitely weigh its disadvantages, and no matter what type of cozy mystery you're writing, it's worth a try! 

What are your thoughts on outlining? Tips, techniques, questions? 

Common Cliches in Cozy Mysteries

Lightheartedness is not the only thing all cozy mysteries have in common! If you're a cozy mystery reader, you've no doubt noticed quite a few cliches that occur over and over again.

Now, cliches aren't necessarily a bad thing if they work in favor of your book and enhance the plot and characters. But these are some of the more well-worn characteristics of cozy mysteries:

  • A small town setting. This is often used in cozy mysteries because of how much easier it makes the sleuth to gather gossip and have a small pool of suspects--so it's understandable why authors use this, but it's also been used so many times that it's becoming a cliche now.
  • Working with the police. It makes sense that the amateur sleuth would be forced to work with the town police on the case if they want anything done--but the key to writing is thinking out-of-the-box, and in most cozy mysteries, sleuths do end up working with the police.
  • Amateur sleuths only. Of course, the book's only fun if the sleuth's an amateur--but there are a gazillion different possibilities with policemen and women also. 
  • Written in series. This is a completely understandable reason. Readers enjoy getting to know the same cast of characters and their quirks through a series of books, so most cozy mysteries are written in series.
  • Killing off another character. Often, a second murder will happen when the middle of the book really starts to sag, just to pick things up, and it is undeniably linked to the first murder. Always.
  • Killing the people no one likes. It takes quite the courageous cozy mystery author to kill off a beloved character! Readers usually delve into cozy mysteries for the charm and warmth, not for being saddened over a great character's death, so this cliche makes sense.
  • Having a special theme, hobby, interest, or shop. This is probably the most understandable of the cliches on here. All cozy mystery readers enjoy a bonus perk related to the sleuth's hobby in the book also, so it makes perfect sense for authors to add that, and it enhances the book too.

What are your thoughts on cliches in cozy mysteries? Which ones enhance the book and which ones have been used too many times to be considered original anymore? 

Monday, June 24, 2013

What Makes this Cozy Mystery Unforgettable?

Death of a Kitchen Diva has probably been my favorite cozy mystery since I started reading cozy mysteries--and that's saying something, since I read a lot. I thought it might be nice to share my observations on what makes this book special to me:

  • The author's outrageous sense of humor. Now, whenever I pick up something by Lee Hollis, I know I'm going to be delightfully surprised and possibly falling off my chair. This book is funny with a capital F.
  • The amazing character development. Hayley Powell is one heck of a character. She's relatable, funny, going through problems like all of us, and while she isn't perfect, she tries her best, and that's what makes her awesome. I'd like to know this sleuth in real life!
  • The well-woven inclusion of the "theme." I've read cozy mysteries that are supposed to be out, say, birdwatching, and instead, the entire book is focused on sleuthing. While reading a mystery does indicate reading about a fair amount of sleuthing, I pick up most cozy mysteries because I want to know more about the theme. Hayley Powell, our delightful sleuth, writes a food & cocktails column in the local newspaper, and I'm reminded of that often. Hayley loves what she does, and it's very clear in this book. The fact that the recipes at the end of the book turned out amazing definitely helps!
  • The subplot. I love Hayley's interactions with her kids, the way she solves her other problems while still being actively involved in the murder. The town she lives in is absolutely charming, and her two best friends have made me laugh so hard my stomach ached. The subplots in this series are a treasure trove of humor and wonderful storytelling. 

I'm sure most authors know that humor, character development, inclusion of the theme, and subplots are all good ways to write amazing cozy mysteries--but Lee Hollis does it like no one else. Not only is this book a great example, it's a great read! 

Multi-Dimensional Characters: Why They're Important and How You Create Them

Why multi-dimensional characters are important in every cozy mystery: 

Is any book a great book without multi-dimensional characters?

Some of the most-loved cozy mysteries of all time, including Death of a Kitchen Diva, Death of a Country Fried Redneck, Pies and Prejudice, and, of course, Agatha Christie's wonderful Miss Marple series, all have unforgettably delightful characters with personalities so fleshed out it's like knowing them in real life. Part of what makes these lovely mysteries so memorable is the fact that they all contain multi-dimensional characters.

That is one of the biggest reasons why well-developed characters are important--memorability. If a book is forgotten shortly after it's read, there's no point to writing it in the first place. But with exciting characters, a book is much easier to remember, and it becomes important to not only the author but the reader also.

How multi-dimensional characters can be created:

The best way to create a multi-dimensional character is to brainstorm. That's one of the easiest things about writing itself--the process of brainstorming. Here are some questions I use personally to guide my brainstorming about characters:

  • Who are some of the most memorable people I know? How do they impact me? What is it about their personality that makes them so powerful?
  • What makes some of my favorite celebrities famous?
  • What are the qualities I look for in a friend? 
  • What emotion do I want to evoke in my readers? Do I want to make them laugh, cry, or stay on the edge of their seats? What kind of characters can I create to achieve this effect?
Using these questions usually produces some great character traits. For me, it's also easier when I create these things about a character:
  • A strong, interesting backstory. Since Felicia has been allergic to bumblebees as a child, and she got stung by one when she was on a second grade field trip and hates them ever since, when she sees a bumblebee during a crucial interview with the sleuth, she freaks out. While the sleuth thinks this is because Felicia may be guilty, readers know Felicia is allergic to bumblebees. The layers this gives to the story are undeniably intriguing.
  • A hobby other than their job. Referring to our earlier example, Felicia, who's allergic to bumblebees, has a huge love of photography, and she takes photos and sells them to several publications in her spare time.
  • A unique job. While it's true that most people actually have quite boring jobs, that's what makes a story a story--its uniqueness, freshness, and memorability. Felicia, the allergic photographer, is a professional knockoff creator and has mastered the art of creating fake Dolce & Gabbana bags. 
  • A quality that makes the character outrageously funny. True, not every cozy mystery is funny--but when has humor ever gone wrong? What you didn't know about Felicia until now is that she's actually pushing eighty, and oh: aside from creating knockoffs and taking nature pictures, she has a gigantic love for making fart jokes. 
Now I have a decently fleshed out character whose childhood I know like the back of my hand, and whose several character traits make her definitely a memorable woman. 

Try comparing Felicia to a thirty-year-old accountant with a two-story house and one boy and one girl who likes to play golf in his spare time. 

See the difference? Multi-dimensional characters can completely change a story in the best way possible.

5 Benefits of Blogging for Writers

Most writers--published or unpublished--probably have heard about the concept of blogging. Most, in fact, follow blogs, and some are adventurous enough to create their own. Here are 5 benefits of blogging for writers, and how it helps cozy mystery authors increase sales and boost their productivity:

  • Blogging keeps the creativity flowing. Writer's block is a tough thing to deal with when you're writing something as developed and unpredictable as a cozy mystery. A blog post a day keeps the writer's block away!
  • Blogging raises awareness. Most cozy mystery authors are getting just enough marketing and promotional-related benefits from their publisher to get by on--but blogging introduces a whole new audience. Tech-savvy readers who enjoy getting a daily dose of wisdom from their favorite mystery author are far more likely to pick up your book than someone who saw it sitting on a bookstore shelf.
  • Blogging helps create, maintain, and achieve goals. For a writer who likes to procrastinate, the concept of goals is a helpful, but difficult one. By giving yourself a blogging deadline, reminding yourself of your waiting audience, and getting your posts done on time, it's easier to make and accomplish goals. 
  • Blogging builds your presence. As much as all the cozy mystery authors want cozy mysteries to become the new great American novel, sadly, they're not the most widely read books out there. With that in mind, a cozy mystery author needs to present themselves to the world, not wait for the world to be presented to them--and blogging does exactly that.
  • Blogging helps shape a distinct voice. One of the biggest struggles of most writers is to develop a unique writing voice. Often when blogging, the exact thoughts bloggers are thinking at that moment tend to seep through, and so does a writer's personality. When this happens, a blogger creates their own voice, and when that voice is transferred to their cozy mystery, the result is a singularly unique piece of writing. 

What are your thoughts on blogging? Leave a comment and share, please.