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

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Behind The Rewrite With Nancy Lynn Jarvis: Weaving In Authentic Details In Fiction

Behind The Rewrite With Nancy Lynn Jarvis: Weaving In Authentic Details In Fiction

Mystery author Nancy Lynn Jarvis gives us a peek into her editing process in today’s Behind the Rewrite. Nancy shares five of her biggest changes, which include inserting and fact-checking small details. Adding these authentic details in fiction can flesh out your book and make your story world come alive, but it’s important that they’re well-researched. Below, read about the changes Nancy made in her novel The Funeral Murder.

Change #1: Trimming Overused Words

Most of us have favorite words we overuse which are difficult for us to recognize. In The Funeral Murder, I discovered my word was “so.” Occasionally it was a deliberate use of the word as a particular character’s speech pattern, but most of the time, I simply used the word where it wasn’t necessary. During the editing process, I deleted over half the times I used the word to make the book read better.

Change #2: Maximizing Tension

I tend to like details and research which works well with my protagonist, Pat Pirard, because she started the series as a law librarian, but when it comes to writing a dramatic confrontation-with-the-killer scene, I needed help. Fortunately, I have an accomplished tension-writer as a friend. She read the scene and made suggestions. Reworking the confrontation made it faster paced and more threatening.

Change #3: Adding Descriptive Details

My protagonist sometimes enlists the help of her best friend for capers when questioning suspects. Syda Gonzales, Pat’s BFF, is an artist in search of her medium and is game for anything Pat suggests. I get to make Syda dress the part. Figuring out how Syda looks at any given time is fun and enriches her character. I often change details about her during rewrites.

Change #4: Researching Authentic Details

I want what I’m saying to be accurate so I research, research, research. When I think I have details down, I pick up the phone and call an expert and then edit to include their precise expertise. It’s always fun to do. For The Funeral Murder, I was able to find out how and where my villain could procure batrachotoxin. It turns out it’s not easy to come by which was great for the book.

Change #5: Taming The Cat!

The final edits I made were centered around Pat’s cat, Lord Peter Wimsey. He’s a bit of a hero in the book and because what he does stretches reality for what a cat might do, I needed to make sure his movements were reasonable and feline-like. Wimsey is based on a long dead cat of mine who definitely would do what Wimsey wound up doing for another animal.

Want To Read The Book?

In The Glass House, the first book in the PIP Inc. Mysteries series, Pat Pirard, recently downsized Santa Cruz Law Librarian, needed to find a new job in a hurry. She printed business cards announcing she was Private Investigator Pat and crossed her fingers, hoping she could earn enough money working for attorneys as a PI to survive.

Pat’s first investigation went well, so she’s excited when she gets a call from an estate attorney who offers her a second job. The attorney tells Pat his client died at a funeral and he needs help sorting out who is entitled to inherit her estate. 

Pat quickly discovers the dead woman’s past is as complicated as her estate. And when an autopsy indicates she had two deadly toxins in her body when she died, Pat’s new case becomes not only complicated, but dangerous.

Buy it on:

Amazon

More About Nancy

Nancy Lynn Jarvis left the real estate profession after she started having so much fun writing the Regan McHenry Real Estate Mysteries series that she let her license lapse. After earning a BA in behavioral science from San Jose State University, Nancy worked in the advertising department of the San Jose Mercury News. A move to Santa Cruz meant a new job as a librarian and later a stint as the business manager for Shakespeare/Santa Cruz at UCSC. Currently she’s enjoying being a member of Mystery Writers of America, Sisters in Crime, and Santa Cruz Women of Mystery.

Visit her website and follow her on Facebook.

Opportunities For Writers

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

Are you a writer who could use some editing tips? Check out Stacy’s free resources:

Line Editing Made Simple–5 Days to More Polished Pages  – Free e-mail class packed with line editing tips

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Book Editing Blueprint: A Step-By-Step Plan to Making Your Novels Publishable – Learn how to streamline the editing process in this affordable, self-paced online course that will empower beginner and intermediate writers to think like an editor so they can save time and money. A steppingstone to hiring an editor.

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