Behind The Rewrite With Maureen Fisher: 5 Steps To Revising A Mystery Novel @AuthorMaureen

Behind The Rewrite With Maureen Fisher: 5 Steps To Revising A Mystery Novel @AuthorMaureen

rewriting a mystery novel

Hi, my name is Maureen Fisher. As a guest blogger on Behind the Rewrite, I’m delighted to share my editing experience at Stacy Juba’s competent hands.

After reading Stacy’s 10-page edit summary of Deadly Thanksgiving (A Senior Sleuth Mystery – Book 2), I realized I’d committed some unforgivable sins as an author. Aaaaaack! I’m told my wails terrified dogs five blocks away. After the dogs and finally I quit howling, I proceeded to consume my body weight in chocolate accompanied by a vast quantity of red wine. I don’t recommend this combo.

Once I recovered, I re-read Stacy’s comments and—with great reluctance and eye rolling—I admitted that yeah, I had to make changes. Major changes.

All joking aside, Stacy Juba conducted what could have been a devastating edit with remarkable gentleness and compassion. Deadly Thanksgiving is now a stronger book, one I can be proud of.

These are my top five changes, none of which an author wants to hear.

Change #1: Unsympathetic Protagonist

As backstory, my main protagonist (Clara, a co-owner of Grizzly Gulch Guest Ranch), had indulged in a short but steamy affair involving Hawk (a Mountie and her love interest in Deadly Thanksgiving) before fleeing home, dumping him in a text message then ghosting him. At the beginning of the book, they re-connect when a group of guests arrives along with a corpse bungeed into a seat of their mini coach.

Stacy pointed out that it would be helpful if we knew earlier in the story why Clara took off on Hawk without saying goodbye. That way, the reader would understand her motivations. As it stood, the explanation of why she’d left came too late, allowing readers to form an unfavorable impression of her. Also, when she first meets him again, she came across as defensive and a bit antagonistic when he’d done nothing wrong. She was the one who just took off. No wonder he was upset.

No author ever wants to create an unsympathetic protagonist. It’s amazing how I hadn’t realized readers would not regard Clara with as much affection as I did. How could they? They’d only just met her.

My Solution: This was a vital, though relatively contained modification. Here is the final version in the scene where Hawk first confronts Clara about the breakup:

“How did you find me?” I asked.

‘I’ll explain later.” He removed his red Calgary Flames baseball cap and ran long fingers through his lovely dark hair threaded with more white strands than I remembered. He jammed his cap back on and took a deep breath. “I didn’t take you for a coward. A phone call warning me you’d dumped me and flown home, would also have been a nice touch.” His expression spoke of anger and something else, perhaps sadness.

Shame brought heat to my cheeks. Hawk had every right to be upset, but how could I admit I’d fallen in love with him and done the only thing I could think of to save myself from more heartache. I’d abandoned the unsettling thrill of romance in favor of safety, something that had been all too lacking during my traumatic childhood and painful marriage. Worse, like the coward I was, I’d broken the news in a polite text message containing an apology along with an assurance the fault was all mine, not his, because I was too damaged to conduct a normal relationship.

Although Hawk didn’t realize it, he was fortunate I’d stepped out of his life.

“How did you get assigned to this particular case?” I asked, side-stepping his very valid accusation of cowardice.

Change #2: Faulty Police Procedure

Stacy pointed out that the police procedure in Deadly Thanksgiving didn’t ring true. While it is a cozy mystery, not a police procedural, Hawk came across as unbelievable as a police officer (Mountie) even for a cozy. Although the initial death did not appear to be a murder, procedure would dictate that he interview all of these suspects individually, not just as a group. I couldn’t do that because the book is written in my heroine’s point of view (first person), and I wanted readers to meet the suspects during the questioning. Also, it wouldn’t be realistic for a Mountie to partner with civilians on a case in an undercover investigation, so Clara couldn’t be his accomplice—something, as the author, I wanted her to be. Additionally, he wouldn’t just be able to simply abandon his other law enforcement duties to work 24/7 on this one case.

My Solution: Instead of making Hawk a full-fledged Mountie, he became a retired Mountie and close friend of the officer-in-charge. That way, when several more attempted murders occur at Grizzly Gulch Guest Ranch, Hawk is able to pose as a family friend and move into one of the onsite guest suites to keep an eye on matters, essentially acting as an undercover agent. That way, it’s easy for him to participate in brainstorming sessions about the suspects, offer advice, and use his contacts to help move the investigation along.

Change #3: Heroine Needs to Do More Sleuthing, Less Deferring

Stacy gently pointed out that Clara doesn’t do much sleuthing other than talk to Hawk about what he’d found out through background checks and calling in favors. The investigation only moves forward because of his sleuthing. As the main protagonist, Clara should find out these things herself.

My Solution: Since Hawk was no longer the Mountie in charge, I was able to swap Clara in as an informal chief investigator. This was probably the most labor-intensive and complicated part of the rewrite as it affected most of the book. At the same time, I had to find alternative activities to keep both Hawk and the Mountie-in-charge busy while reflecting Clara’s expanded role.

Change #4: Sagging Middle

Stacy mentioned that after a crisis during goat yoga, it felt as if a lot of time was spent on appeasing one of the characters, which made the pacing lag. For a few chapters, not much was happening with the mystery.

My Solution: I chopped a couple of chapters, had Clara placate the aggrieved party with gifts and a heartfelt apology, nothing elaborate involving decisions, planning, and a dramatic execution, none of which moved the plot ahead.

Change #5: Climax is Too Predictable

Stacy said, and I quote, “I liked the twistbut again, we lost the whodunnit/puzzle aspect early in the third act.

My Solution: Sorry, no spoilers. You must read Deadly Thanksgiving to find out how I solved it and kept the villain’s identity a secret until the last possible moment.

More About The Book

Deadly thanksgiving


Buy it on Amazon.

“I had a number of laugh-out-loud moments and once actually, truly, spit out some tea.”

So funny I almost had an accident. Laughed and laughed hysterically! Loved it! Absolutely fabulous!”

Hi, I’m Clara Foster, co-owner and event manager of Alberta’s Grizzly Gulch Guest Ranch. My two sisters and I inherited the place at an age when most sensible women contemplate retirement. No one ever called us sensible.

It has been an uphill struggle. Due to extensive damage from a rogue summer tornado, the only way to avoid foreclosure is to win a lucrative hospitality contest, and that requires multiple five-star reviews. Too bad the arrival of a mini-coach full of geriatric guests, one of them a corpse, threatens to derail our gala Thanksgiving event. Worse, the retired Mountie I dumped four months ago shows up seeking closure.

It soon is apparent (though not provable) that the deceased was murdered, and everyone on board the mini-coach has a motive. To compound matters, this is our second murder of the year. Our slogan might as well be, “Try Grizzly Gulch getaways; they’re to die for.” Our guests must never learn of another murder or we might as well kiss the contest goodbye and file for bankruptcy.

The only sensible solution is for me to join forces—and possibly a whole lot more—with my former flame to smoke out a killer while hiding the murder from our guests.

Tensions mount when several near-fatal “accidents” occur.

Action bounces from a perilous nature walk to an unfortunate goat yoga incident, a mechanical bull mishap, a savage cat, an electrical malfunction, and a staff medical crisis, all culminating in a Thanksgiving feast our guests will never forget.

Warning: This book may contain nuggets of naughty boomer humor.

More About Maureen

revising a mystery

Among other things, Maureen is an author of funny & furry adventures & misadventures, guaranteed to tickle the funny bone, lift the spirits, & warm the heart! All her books contain characters you can relate to, an animal or two, and always tons of humor. As Charlie Chaplin once said, “A day without humor is a day wasted.”

Transplanted from Scotland to Canada at the tender age of seven, she’s a voracious reader, bridge player, yoga enthusiast, animal lover, seeker of personal and spiritual growth, pickleball enthusiast, and infrequent but avid gourmet cook. Most of all, she and her husband love to travel. She’s swum with sharks in the Galapagos, walked with Bushmen in the Serengeti, sampled lamb criadillas (don’t ask!!!) in Iguazu Falls, snorkeled on the Great Barrier Reef, ridden an elephant in Thailand, watched the sun rise over Machu Picchu, and bounced from Johannesburg to Cape Town for 16 days on a bus called ‘Marula’.

Visit her on the web:

Website 

Facebook

Twitter 

Opportunities For Writers

Are you an author interested in writing a Behind the Rewrite guest blog post? Get the guidelines here.

Check out Shortcuts for Writers Freebies including a 5-day line editing course, Facebook group, and resource for naming your characters.

Check out Shortcuts for Writers affordable courses including Book Editing Blueprint: A Step by Step Plan to Making Your Novels Publishable, Time Management Blueprint for Writers, and the Energize Your Writing Toolkit: Cheat Sheets for Character Emotions.

Behind The Rewrite With Amber Lambda: 5 Fiction Editing Techniques

Behind The Rewrite With Amber Lambda: 5 Fiction Editing Techniques

fiction editing technique
It’s always fascinating to see what goes into the rewrite process. I’m delighted to welcome Amber Lambda, who shares five changes she made to her YA fantasy novel, Halos. Below, Amber, describes the fiction editing techniques she used when revising her book.
***

Rewriting and revising a novel takes a lot of patience and willpower—especially to change and cut away from your beloved, original ideas! But once you get past that bittersweet feeling, it’s so worth it to see your story grow into something you love even better. Here are five of the biggest changes I made to Halos and can’t imagine it without those changes now!

First Chapter Rewrites

As I’m sure most authors would agree, one of the hardest parts of writing a book is getting the first chapter to work right. I started with the list of things that a first chapter needed and checked it all off. I included the story’s theme about chasing dreams, my main character, her goals, conflict with her best friend that helped set up the stakes, and a strong hook at the end to pique the reader’s interest and start the story… but something just wasn’t clicking. After several readers, and just as many rewrites, I realized I had the answer all along. The elements were all there—but they indeed weren’t clicking. Instead of being parts of a complete story coming together, they seemed unrelated. With that magical realization, I rewrote it once more, pulling everything together to fit the overall story and genre, and it did the trick. My beta readers loved it, and so did I!

Added POV

When drafting Halos the first time, I wrote from the limited POV of my protagonist, Faye. During my read-through to start revisions, however, part of the story appeared to be missing. I could fill in the details as the author, but it hadn’t made it to the page for readers to experience. This inspired me to include the love interest’s POV on the next draft. Adding Icarus’s side of the story not only gave insight into the world and plot where Faye’s POV didn’t cover, but it made Icarus’s character arc much richer, paralleling Faye’s arc in a way that wasn’t shown before.

Expanding A Character’s Role

Another element that I changed to make more sense for the reader was bringing Faye’s friend Andrew back into the story at an earlier stage than intended. After relating to Faye’s main internal conflict in the first chapter, he didn’t come up again in person until closer to the end of the story. At first, I brought him back earlier because he reappeared without enough foreshadowing. But his presence also acted as a catalyst for tension throughout the middle of the story, making for a better plot and character motivations.

Removing Characters Who Didn’t Serve The Story

On an opposite note, I cut two characters out from the original story. They added drama and complexity—but that isn’t always what’s best. I found it difficult to layer them into the plot naturally, and they took away from the themes and effect I was aiming for. It was a tough choice, but once I took them out, the message of the story became much clearer and gave more room to emphasize the pieces that highlighted it instead.

Added Connecting Scenes

Have you ever read a book where it almost seemed like you missed something, so you went back to look, and you hadn’t? My early drafts had a few places like that, where readers needed a little more shown about what happened between scenes. In some areas, it worked better to summarize instead of adding an entire scene that would feel like filler. But in most places, I fleshed out new scenes to show what happened, while simultaneously showing character interaction and growth, especially for side characters.

In the end, between the added POV, deeper themes, and the extra connecting scenes, my 36-chapter outline turned into a 43-chapter novel, at just the recommended word count for my genre. And my story transformed into a creation I loved more than ever!

More About Halos

fiction editing techniques

Daydreamer Faye Wallace believes her recurring dreams of flying ships have a purpose beyond fantasy. And when Icarus—her swoon-worthy dream boy—knocks on the door, reality is swept away with her heart. Charged with saving the sky world of Halos from a destiny of prophesied doom, Faye embarks on a journey to relive her whimsical visions. Except for one problem: nothing about Halos matches what she remembers. Including Icarus.

Faye must sift truth from imagination and become the girl who saves her dreams—before they create a nightmare she can’t return from.

Buy it on Amazon.

More About Amber Lambda

Amber Lambda is a YA romance, fantasy, and soft sci-fi author from the dreamy Midwest plains. Her mission is to write stories clean enough for the younger range of the YA crowd, but laced with themes and ideas that older teens (and adults!) will relate to and love just the same.

Blog/Website 

Facebook 

Instagram 

Opportunities For Writers

Are you an author interested in writing a Behind the Rewrite guest blog post? Get the guidelines here.

Check out Shortcuts for Writers Freebies including a 5-day line editing course, Facebook group, and resource for naming your characters.

Check out Shortcuts for Writers affordable courses including Book Editing Blueprint: A Step by Step Plan to Making Your Novels Publishable, Time Management Blueprint for Writers, and the Energize Your Writing Toolkit: Cheat Sheets for Character Emotions.

Behind the Rewrite With Stacy Juba: Rewriting An Old Manuscript

Behind the Rewrite With Stacy Juba: Rewriting An Old Manuscript

As a freelance developmental editor, I often send long editorial letters and suggest major rewrites. When clients are discouraged, I remind them that I’m an author, too, and can relate to difficult rewrites. However, I’m not entirely sure they believe me! So, I’m going to prove it in two Behind the Rewrite posts, starting with this one focusing on rewriting an old manuscript—my young adult ice hockey novel, Offsides. Watch for another post on rewriting my chick lit novel, Fooling Around With Cinderella.These books are about as opposite as you can get, but they share one thing in common.

Heavy rewrites!

Rewriting an old manuscript

I wrote the original version of Offsides, the sequel to my YA hockey novel Face-Off, back in 1992 when I was a teenager. Although Face-Off had been published with great success when I was eighteen, garnering positive reviews in Booklist, Publisher’s Weekly, and School Library Journal, Offsides was rejected by my publisher. There had been a lot of turnover at the company, and all the editors I knew had left. Even though I was receiving fan mail from kids begging for a sequel, the book got rejected with a form letter. At the time, I was incredibly disappointed.

In hindsight, I’m relieved as that story wasn’t ready to be told back then. Twenty-five years later, I rewrote my original draft and published it. The hard copy had been buried in a drawer and I paid someone to scan it so that I could work with it digitally. The published version of Offsides is so much better than the manuscript penned by my 19-year-old self. Part of Face-Off‘s charm is that it was written by a teenager for teenagers. The characters grow quite a bit in the sequel, and I’m glad that I was able to bring a different level of maturity to the story, a maturity that I wasn’t capable of conveying as a teenager. It was also fun updating the book with references to texting and social media.

But more importantly, over the decades, I’ve grown as a writer and editor. My self-editing skills in 1992 and my self-editing skills now aren’t even comparable. Below is an unedited scene from my original draft of Offsides. I’ll let you read it, and then I’ll give you my editorial assessment before sharing the published version. The scene is between two of “my McKendrick boys,” twin hockey players Brad and T.J., the protagonists. They tell the story in alternating viewpoints for each chapter.

Unedited Version From 1992

That night, Brad turned on his side, the moonlight pouring through the window. In the bottom bunk, T.J. shifted.
“You awake?” T.J. asked.
“Yep.”
“Can I tell you something?”
“What?”
“I’m going to BC”
“Even if you get accepted at Harvard?”
“I’m not gonna get accepted,” T.J. said.“How do you know?”
“I didn’t apply.”
It was quiet except for a car passing outside. Its lights flickered against the wall.
“What do you mean? You told everyone you did.”
”I didn’t want Dad to find out.”
“But he keeps asking you about it. What are you gonna do?”
“Say I didn’t.”
“And let him think you weren’t good enough? T.J., you should tell him the truth,” Brad said.
“Do you know how ticked off he’ll be?”
“So let him be. It’s your decision, T.J. You’ve got to take a stand.”
“I guess you’re right.”
Brad rolled over.
“How come you’re still awake?” T.J. asked.
“I’ve been thinking about college, and if I’d still be going if I didn’t have hockey.”
“Sure you would. I told you, your grades have improved a lot.”
“I wouldn’t have a chance at BU.”
“You don’t know that,” T.J. replied. “It doesn’t matter how you get there, Brad, just as long as you get there.”
”I guess. Now do me a favor and shut up. I’m exhausted.”
“If you’d tell Dad about Harvard for me I could get to sleep.”
“Forget it. I want to reach my eighteenth birthday,” Brad said, and T.J. pushed up on his bunk.

Editorial Notes To Myself

First, the scene is a bit choppy. There’s a lot of dialogue and not much description or internal thought to balance it out. By just reading this passage, it’s not clear whose head we’re supposed to be in. Probably Brad’s, since he is mentioned first, but we never get in his thoughts. Dialogue was always one of my strengths, but I didn’t master deep point of view until my thirties.

Another issue is that the boys, who are high school seniors, are talking about going straight to college to play Division 1 ice hockey. Nowadays, that’s not the typical route. Before joining a D1 men’s hockey team, most players need to delay college and spend time developing their skills in a high-level junior league. I’m not sure how it worked in 1992—whether thing have changed since then, or whether I just didn’t research it enough and got it all wrong. There was no Internet back then, so research wasn’t as easy as it is today.

The scene also lacks conflict and tension. Below is my final version. I’ll put some notes in bold so you can see why I made these changes.

Final Version 

That night, Brad lay awake in the top bunk, staring at the ceiling. A night light glimmered in the corner and shadows bathed the small television, TV stand, and student desk. All the discussion about junior and college reminded him how drastically his life was changing. His parents splitting up last December with no reconciliation in sight. Playing his final season of high school hockey with friends he’d known for years. And even though Brad believed he had a chance of making the NHL, the long winding road ahead scared the hell out of him. (Note the setting details and internal thought. These additions help us to visualize the room better and clearly establish that Brad is the viewpoint character of this scene.)

What if he didn’t like his host family? Even though they got on his nerves, Brad would miss his own boisterous family. What if he didn’t click with his new coaches or had a difficult time adjusting to a higher level of play? Then there was Sherry. His friends thought their relationship was a high school thing. Brad thought it was more. If he joined a junior team in the Northeast rather than the Midwest, could he talk her out of Florida? (Note that there is even more internal thought here to help us get deep into Brad’s head. The host family and junior team references were rewrites to reflect a more believable path to D1 hockey.)

In the bottom bunk, T.J. shifted, and the mattress creaked. “You awake?”

“Yeah,” Brad said.

“Thanks for trying with Dad. I’m so sick of him pushing me about college. It’s probably better I’m not going next fall. I’d have no clue what to major in.”

“What happened to management and leadership?”

“That’s just what I’ve been telling scouts. You’re lucky to have your major picked out.”

Having an interest in broadcasting didn’t mean Brad would excel at it. As their father stated, academics wasn’t his strength, and college was harder than high school. Brad sighed, his stomach clenching in a knot. (More internal thought to keep the scene in Brad’s POV.)

“What’s wrong?” T.J. asked.

It was quiet except for a car driving into the resident parking lot. Brad didn’t know how much to admit. What was he supposed to say? That he feared getting homesick and not fitting in? That despite his big talk, he worried that he wouldn’t be good enough? (More internal thought. I have gotten much better at deep POV since writing the original draft as a teen.)

“Is it Sherry and the Florida thing?”

“Yeah. It’s Sherry.” Might as well confess that much since T.J. suspected it was bothering him. “I’m wondering whether she’d stay if I played junior locally.”

“You mean in the NCDC?”

The National Collegiate Development Conference was a tuition-free junior league in the Northeast, making it an attractive opportunity for players throughout the region. Brad rolled onto his side and peered over the edge of his bed though he couldn’t see T.J.’s face in the darkness. (Here I added some more authenticity about junior hockey and a little description.)

“It’s a good league. A lot of their guys are getting commitments. Trey wants to get on one of those teams.”

“Yeah, but I thought we were both going for the USHL,” T.J. said.

They’d selected the more established USHL as a first choice because so many D1 players and NHL draft picks had ties to the league. Brad and T.J. met some scouts at camp and had been corresponding with several over email. They might not get on the same team, but they’d agreed this was their ideal steppingstone. (Note how the dialogue in the rewrite has more tension than the original and hints at more problems.)

“What, I can’t change my mind?” Brad leaned up on his elbow, glaring down at the lower bunk.

“Because of a girl?” T.J. asked sharply. “You’re seventeen.”

“Sherry’s not just some girl. You have a new girlfriend every other week, so don’t go giving me relationship advice.” Brad and Sherry disagreed over how long it would take his brother to dump Kayla. Sherry expected them to attend Prom together. Brad gave it till mid-January before T.J. claimed she was too clingy and moved on to someone else. (This gets us into Brad’s head and also gives insight into T.J.)

Swearing under his breath, T.J. got up and crossed the room. He switched on the light, and Brad winced. “Damn it, T.J.”

T.J. paced in his Bayview T-shirt and sweatpants. They both wore exercise clothes to bed and worked out when they woke up. “Even if you two stayed in New England, how often do you think you’d see her? Your life will revolve around hockey. You’ll have games on weekends, a lot of them away games. She’ll be busy with school. I don’t get the logic here.”

“I’d see her a lot more than if she’s in Florida and I’m in freakin’ Nebraska,” Brad growled. (This dialogue is more interesting than in the original as it shows conflict between them.)

“All I’m saying is you’ll be wrapped up in the team. Do you really think it’s fair to pressure her to give up Florida? I get that you’ll miss her. But you’ll both come home sometimes. In between, you can FaceTime and text.” (I added the FaceTiming and texting to make it more current for today’s readers.)

Brad flopped onto his back, the fight seeping out of him. “You think I’m being selfish?”

“You’re just not thinking this through.”

“But long-distance is hard. It might not work.”

“Dude, it’s your high school girlfriend. Stop stressing over this. Who knows if you’ll even be together next year?” T.J. flicked off the light. (This is a much stronger ending for the scene.)

Want To Read The Book?

hockey novel

Face-Off’s McKendrick brothers return in this explosive sequel, an action-packed hockey book for teens and tweens.

Twin hockey stars T.J. and Brad have finally resolved their differences and forged a friendship on and off the ice. Now high school seniors, they focus on landing a commitment to a D1 school.

What should have been the best year ever takes a nasty hit when the boys’ parents announce their divorce, and Brad makes a mistake that could impact his game eligibility. Meanwhile, T.J. faces off against their father, who opposes his decision to delay college and pursue junior hockey.

Adding to the tension are a rebellious kid brother, girlfriend trouble, and recruiting pressure. The turmoil threatens to drive the twins apart just when they need to work together the most. With a championship title and their futures at stake, T.J. and Brad must fight to keep from going offsides.

Buy it on Amazon

Visit the Hockey Rivals website

Listen to a sample of the Audible audiobook below.

 
Watch the book trailer:

More About Me

I hope you enjoyed this sneak peek into my writing and editing process! Maybe it will inspire some of you to rewrite an old manuscript. There are some manuscripts in my drawer that will remain there, but Offsides was one that I knew had potential.

You’re probably aware that I’m a freelance editor and creator of online courses for writers. (If you don’t know that, then feel free to explore my website!)

I’ve also written books about theme park princesses, teen psychics, U.S. flag etiquette for kids, and determined women sleuths. I’ve had novels ranked as #5 and #11 in the Nook Store and #30 on the Amazon Kindle Paid List. You can learn more about my books on my other websites.

Main author website

Hockey website and blog

Opportunities For Writers

Are you an author interested in writing a Behind the Rewrite guest blog post? Get the guidelines here.

Check out Shortcuts for Writers Freebies including a 5-day line editing course, Facebook group, and resource for naming your characters.

Check out Shortcuts for Writers affordable courses including Book Editing Blueprint: A Step by Step Plan to Making Your Novels Publishable, the Energize Your Writing Toolkit: Cheat Sheets for Character Emotions, and Time Management Blueprint: Transform Your Life and Finish Your Book.

Discover The Ultimate Resource On Body Language For Writers

Discover The Ultimate Resource On Body Language For Writers

body language for writers

If you’re tired of conjuring up fresh ways to describe a gaze, smile, or sigh in your fiction, then I’ve got a resource on nonverbal communication and body language for writers that you might be interested in! I just released the Energize Your Writing Toolkit: Cheat Sheets for Character Emotions, a 100-page printable toolkit jam-packed with more than 4,000 emotional phrases arranged into easy-to-digest lists.

  • Put the pages into a binder that you can pull out whenever you need help showing a character’s emotions.
  • Get inspiration when you’re stuck or scenes need more emotion. Use the phrases word-for-word, refine them, or mix & match.
  • Use the blank lines and print extra copies of the page template to add your own phrases and categories.

The toolkit includes:

Overview of nonverbal communication and body language.

Detailed written instructions and examples on how to use the cheat sheets.

A walk-through video.

More than 4,000 nonverbal prompts that span 21 categories and numerous subcategories.

See It In Action nonverbal snippets from published books.

Discussion questions that guide you through finding your strengths and weaknesses.

Bonus nonverbal communication video from the online course Book Editing Blueprint: A Step-By-Step Plan to Making Your Novels Publishable.

The Energize Your Writing Toolkit is just $29. Watch the above trailer for a quick overview and purchase here.

 

Alina Adams’ Behind The Rewrite: Back And Forth With HarperCollins @IamAlinaAdams

Alina Adams’ Behind The Rewrite: Back And Forth With HarperCollins @IamAlinaAdams

 

HarperCollins new releases

I remember hearing New York Times bestselling author Alina Adams speak at a conference about her figure skating mystery series many years ago. Over the years, I’ve gotten to know Alina through social media, and when I heard about her new release, The Nesting Dolls, I knew that if she wrote a Behind the Rewrite post, it would be packed with information. Alina touched on five important areas to consider during the editing process: structure, narrative voice, title, prologue, and the importance of sympathetic characters. I think readers will be fascinated to learn how she struggled with choosing a title for her book. It also struck me that she included a prologue in her novel. I usually advise clients to be careful with prologues as many don’t work, however, Alina’s prologue is an example of one that was successfully executed. Below, you can learn more about the editing stages of The Nesting Dolls and how she went back and forth with her editor at HarperCollins, a big 5 publisher. 

My historical fiction novel, The Nesting Dolls came out on July 14, 2020 from HarperCollins. It tells the stories of five generations of Russian Jewish women, taking place in Odessa, USSR during the 1930s and Stalin’s Great Terror, Odessa, USSR in the 1970s during The Great Stagnation and the Free Soviet Jewry movement, and present day Brighton Beach, Brooklyn. 

My editor bought the book in June of 2018, but it took over a year of back and forth edits for the manuscript to be finalized. Here are the top 5 changes that were made:

Change #1: Structure

The Nesting Dolls is told in three different sections, the 1930s, the 1970s, and 2019. In the original manuscript that I submitted, the story flowed in intertwined chapters. I.e. Chapter One: Daria 1934, Chapter Two: Natasha 1973, Chapter Three: Zoe 2019. The first change my editor made was for me to restructure so that we got all of Daria’s story, then all of Natasha’s, then all of Zoe’s. (Even though, for one rewrite, I convinced her to let me try it backwards, first Zoe, then Natasha, then Daria. I thought it might make it more intriguing, but, in the end, we went back to the chronological version.) My father is happy that we did. He says he gets too confused reading stories told out of sequence. (And speaking of my father, watch him explain how to make vodka from potatoes – a key part of The Nesting Dolls plot – here!)

Change #2: Narrative Voice

In the original draft, Daria and Natasha’s sections were in the third person, past tense, while Zoe’s was in first person, present tense. Since she was the modern character, I thought it would give more immediacy to her story. My editor felt it didn’t allow us to get to know Zoe as well as we did Natasha and Daria, since she was not the best judge of what she was actually thinking and feeling and, more importantly, what effect her behavior was having on others. In this case, she felt we could understand Zoe better if we observed her, rather than letting her tell us about herself.

Change #3: Title

The book went through multiple titles. I’d initially called it, Love Is Not a Potato. Because that’s the first line of the book and refers to the Russian expression, “Love is not a potato. If it goes bad, you can’t throw it out the window.’ (It rhymes in Russian and, as we learned from The Lego Movie, everything is true because it rhymes.) My agent thought it sounded like a children’s book. So I changed it to Mother Tongue, because a big theme in every woman’s story is communication, both the political – in the USSR, saying the wrong thing or even speaking the wrong language could get you deported to Siberia – and the personal, parents and children not saying what they mean, or misunderstanding what is said. My editor thought Mother Tongue sounded like a nonfiction title. We wanted a title that suggested Russia, as well as love, family, and relationships. Unable to think of anything, I turned to Facebook, where one of my friends offered The Nesting Dolls. Nesting dolls are dolls where one is inside the other, inside the other, inside the other. It was perfect, since, inside everyone, are all the family members who came before, and what they lived through. They’re what make you, you!

Change #4: Prologue

The Nesting Dolls always had a prologue. I love to read them, so I write them – when it fits the story. But, in the original draft, the prologue merely set the scene and introduced some of the characters we’ll get to know later, in the present day. My agent suggested making the prologue more compelling by incorporating the story’s climactic dramatic event – the potential exposure of a deeply held family secret – as a tease, to whet the appetite for the drama to come!

Change #5: Likeability Factor

Some of my characters are more likable than others. One, I was told, came off as particularly abrasive and unsympathetic. She mostly complained about her life, blamed other people for it not working out the way she would have liked, and dismissed those who wanted to help her. My editor’s notes were very specific about making her more of a character to root for. I did it by making her more proactive, more heroic in the actions she took, and more aware of other people around her. I added more difficult challenges for her to overcome to show that she was a good person at heart… she just had a tougher time being vulnerable than most. She’s still not the most loveable person in the world, but trust me – she’s much improved!

how to title a book

Want To Read The Book?

The Nesting Dolls is a historical family saga set in the USSR is available on Amazon and wherever books are sold. A Book Club Reading Guide is also available

Spanning nearly a century, from 1930s Siberia to contemporary Brighton Beach, a page turning, epic family saga centering on three generations of women in one Russian Jewish family―each striving to break free of fate and history, each yearning for love and personal fulfillment―and how the consequences of their choices ripple through time.

Odessa, 1931. Marrying the handsome, wealthy Edward Gordon, Daria―born Dvora Kaganovitch―has fulfilled her mother’s dreams. But a woman’s plans are no match for the crushing power of Stalin’s repressive Soviet state. To survive, Daria is forced to rely on the kindness of a man who takes pride in his own coarseness.

Odessa, 1970. Brilliant young Natasha Crystal is determined to study mathematics. But the Soviets do not allow Jewish students―even those as brilliant as Natasha―to attend an institute as prestigious as Odessa University. With her hopes for the future dashed, Natasha must find a new purpose―one that leads her into the path of a dangerous young man.

Brighton Beach, 2019. Zoe Venakovsky, known to her family as Zoya, has worked hard to leave the suffocating streets and small minds of Brighton Beach behind her―only to find that what she’s tried to outrun might just hold her true happiness.

Moving from a Siberian gulag to the underground world of Soviet refuseniks to oceanside Brooklyn, The Nesting Dolls is a heartbreaking yet ultimately redemptive story of circumstance, choice, and consequence―and three dynamic unforgettable women, all who will face hardships that force them to compromise their dreams as they fight to fulfill their destinies.

Buy it on:

Amazon

More About Alina

Alina Adams is the NYT best-selling author of soap-opera tie-ins, romance novels, and figure skating mysteries. She was born in Odessa, USSR and immigrated with her family to the US in the 1970s. Visit her website at: www.AlinaAdams.com, on Facebook at: AlinaAdamsMedia, on Twitter at: @IamAlinaAdams, and on Instagram at: IamAlinaAdams.

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How To Name Your Characters – Tips Every Fiction Writer Should Know Plus A Free Guide

How To Name Your Characters – Tips Every Fiction Writer Should Know Plus A Free Guide

how to name characters

Writers will often tell me that they don’t know where to start with writing or editing their story. One good place is with something that looks deceptively simple—naming your characters.

Below, I’ve included six questions you should ask yourself when picking your characters’ names. I’ve also listed seven sites to help make this task easier and uploaded a video that gives a tour of each site.

Want a PDF of the questions and the character-naming sites? Sign up here for a free Tips for Naming Characters Guide.

I want to hear about your character names in the comments and how you selected them, along with links to the books we can find them in!

But first, let’s discuss why names are so important. Regardless of whether you’ve finished your draft or are in the early stages of writing the book, it’s important to assess whether your name choices do the story justice.

What’s In A Name?

Think about famous fictional characters like Katniss Everdeen, Albus Dumbledore, Bridget Jones, Luke Skywalker, and Sherlock Holmes. Or how about Fudge from the Judy Blume books, or Ponyboy Curtis from The Outsiders? Can you imagine any of those characters with a different name? Neither can I.

I give a lot of thought to naming my characters, especially the protagonists. Let’s take my chick lit novel Fooling Around With Cinderella. I chose Jaine for my reluctant theme park Cinderella as it symbolized the transformation of a “Plain Jane” into her new role as princess, and more importantly as a confident young woman.

My mystery novel Sink or Swim is about Cassidy, a reality show contestant grappling with her newfound fame and the attraction of a stalker. As a child, I got hooked on reruns of The Partridge Family and remembered reading about David Cassidy’s mobs of fans and his devastation when a teenage girl was killed in a gate stampede at one of his concerts. That always stuck with me. When I was outlining my novel, the name “Cassidy” popped into my mind, and it felt right as it represented the downside of fame. Even though my readers probably wouldn’t make the connection to David Cassidy, naming her that helped to reinforce the theme in my mind. 

When I was growing up, I also loved watching reruns of Charlie’s Angels. My favorite angel was Kris, portrayed by Cheryl Ladd, and I’d imagine that I was a private detective, too. That’s why the protagonist in my first mystery novel, Twenty-Five Years Ago Today, is named Kris. Once I gave my character that name, I found it much easier to write about her as I was tapping into my love of women sleuth stories.

Not every name has to have a deeper meaning, but it does need to fit your character and story.  This goes for your supporting cast also. I’ll use baby name books and online name directories to get ideas, then choose the one that fits best. Usually a few will jump out at me, and I’ll go with the one that “feels right.” I’ve also been known to change names in mid-story.

Here are some questions you should ask yourself when considering names for your characters.

tips for naming characters

6 Character Naming Questions

1. Is there a story behind why your character’s parents chose that name?

We had a fascinating discussion in the Shortcuts for Writers Facebook group about why our parents named us what they did and how we got our nicknames. I started the discussion because I wanted everyone to think about how they might apply this question to their characters, especially the most important ones. If you’re a member of the group, you can look for it under Characters in the Topics section and add the story behind your name.

2. Does the name fit the character’s background—what is the character’s age, ethnicity, and geographic location?

This goes a long way toward making your characters and story world believable. For example, according to the Social Security database, the top boy and girl names in 2018 were Liam and Emma. In 1918, the top names were John and Mary. If your protagonist’s grandfather was born in 1960 and is from an Italian family, Angelo would work better than Aidan.

3. Does the name fit the genre and time period?

If you’re writing a historical novel set in medieval times, a girl named Zoe doesn’t fit the era, but readers should accept Millicent, Alice, or Eleanor. If you’re writing a vampire novel, Tobias may resonate with readers more than a name like Chuck

4. Is the name easy enough for readers to pronounce?

If your audience keeps stumbling over it, this doesn’t make for a relaxing reading experience. This is particularly important for a character who appears a lot such as your protagonist.

5. Did you avoid using names that sound too similar?

Limit how many names start with the same letter such as Adam, Alex, Andy, and Annette as readers may get confused. Also limit having too many names with the same ending sound (Sandy, Cindy, Danni, Bennie), that rhyme (Dawn and John), or that have the same number of syllables. (Jen, Sam, Tom.)

how to name your character

6. Did the character’s name shape who he/she becomes or reinforce any qualities?

I took this quite literally in Fooling Around With Cinderella. A supporting character was named Tiara by her quirky parents, and she embraced it. Guess what she collects? Tiaras. This can also be more subtle. Is your character Harmony calm and peaceful? Or, is she the opposite of the hippie parents who bestowed it upon her? Is your character Jagger rugged and macho?

According to George Lucas, Darth Vader—the name of Luke Skywaker’s father—can be traced back to the Dutch and German words for “Dark Father.” We don’t find out about the family relationship until The Empire Strikes Back, but we met Darth Vader in the original Star Wars film. How’s that for foreshadowing? In more Star Wars trivia, Luke Skywalker was originally named Luke Starkiller, but Lucas changed it because he thought Starkiller sounded too aggressive. Good choice!


I’m a diehard fan of the TV series Supernatural. When I started watching it, one of the first things that struck me was the boys’ last name. Dean and Sam Winchester. Since Winchester is associated with guns, that is the perfect surname for a pair of badass monster hunters.

7 Helpful Character Name Generators

Now that we’ve established why names are important and what you should consider, let me give you some helpful resources. It can be hard to pluck the perfect name from thin air, but luckily you have plenty of options to find inspiration. In the below video, we’ll tour seven sites to help you find the perfect name.

Below are the sites covered in the video. Remember, you can sign up here for a PDF of my free Tips for Naming Characters Guide, which includes the questions and name sites included in this article in a handy download.

Random Name GeneratorThis generator contains English first and last names based on the database of the US Census. If you need to come up with a quick name, try this one.

Social Security Popular Names Database – If you’d like to search popular names by year, then check out the Social Security database.

Name Generator Fun – You can find a slew of real names and fantasy names arranged  by category. Need a princess name? A superhero name? How about a unicorn name? You’ll discover all that and loads more.

NameberryFrom Avery to Zephyr, Nameberry is the complete guide to thousands of baby names. You can browse by style such as cool names, names with interesting meanings, historic and vintage names, and more. The creators of Nameberry also have a book out called Beyond Ava & Aiden, offering hundreds of innovative lists of baby names. You can check it out on Amazon here

Behind the Name – Discover the etymology and history of first names including African, European, Biblical, Ancient & Medieval, Literature, and more. 

Reedsy Character Name Generator – Kickstart your story with this random name generator that has 1,000,000+ names to inspire you. Sort using filters such as language, gender, medieval, and fantasy. 

Fantasy Name Generators – Fairy names, vampire names, gargoyle names, evil names, unicorn names, knight names. I could go on and on. It also offers other sections such as place names. Need to brainstorm the name for an arcade, bakery, magic shop, space station, or forest? How about an African town or a steampunk city?

Conclusion

If you’re thinking about writing a book, are in the middle of a WIP, or working on edits, make sure you’ve given careful consideration to names. It will enrich your story, help readers connect with the characters, and you may even learn a thing or two about your fictional cast.

How do you choose character names? Leave me a comment with one of your character names, why you chose it, and the retail link if it’s in a published book.

If you found value in this post, I’d love it if you would share it.

 

Video Tour of 7 Character Name Generator Sites

Video Tour of 7 Character Name Generator Sites

FREE CHARACTER-NAMING GUIDE BELOW! Are you a fiction writer who could use some help on how to name your characters?

Then check out this video tour of seven amazing name generator websites for writers. I’ll show you where you can quickly generate English first and last names, find out names popular in certain years, discover multicultural names, and even generate the perfect names for medieval characters, dragons, vampires, unicorns, and fairies.

Do you need a name to reflect a certain ethnicity? Or, would you like to explore what potential character names mean so that it can add a layer of symbolism? These sites will help you with all of this and more.

You can also visit my blog post which has clickable links to each site along with six questions you should be asking yourself before finalizing your character names.

Sign up for a PDF of my Tips for Naming Characters Guide, which includes a list of all the questions and character-name sites in one handy download. Get the PDF here: https://billowing-water-5216.ck.page/f47dd8ffda

In the comments, share the name of one of your characters and why you chose it. Please like this video and share it with any writers who might find it helpful! Have you used any of these sites to help you pick your character names? Do you have others to recommend. Let me know in the comments.

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