I’ll have a little #Pendergast with my #Koontz, hold the #Roberts; and can I have #Konrath with that?

I recently posted a link to Pinterest with a brief list of what I like to see in a book I’m reading, and what elements I chose to include in my writing. It got me thinking a little deeper on the subject. Pinterest limits the number of characters to 500, and since I have more than 500 characters to describe my book likes and not-so-likes, I moved to my blog for a post of the week (dum-dum-dum – there should be trumpets here).

When I first started writing, I was close to retiring from a job I’d been at for 33 years. It was a job I enjoyed and at which I was pretty good, but it was a job, period. Enter writing.

My first jaunt into writing was a four-part fan fiction short story called Past, Present And Future. I decided it would be four parts because I had a name for the first part in my head, Living With the Past, and I thought why not have a story for each time frame – past, present (No Time Like The Present) and future. But then, as the story developed around those three time frames I needed a set up for the final story, Planning For The Future, and decided to write And, Nothing So Far. That decided I proceeded to write and then self-publish the story on A Teaspoon And An Open Mind – A Doctor Who Fan Fiction Archive. I received three reviews. I know, not a lot but they were all positive (I have subsequently lost two of the reviews when I changed the format of how the story would appear on the line, collapsing it into one complete story with four chapters rather than four separate stories).

Encouraged I researched writing tips, techniques, how to’s, websites, etc. and decided to write my own story, encouraged by my husband to create my own characters instead of using ones created by others. I quickly realized that creating the characters was the hard part, something that I had managed to avoid in the fan fiction world. I read a tip that you should write what you know. Ok, what do I know? I grew up in the sixties with both parents and a sister. There was laughter in the house and, while not a lot of money, I never felt that I lacked for anything. You could say I was brought up in a bubble and you wouldn’t be far from wrong.

I started writing a story about a retiree (I knew that, right?) living in a small village (yep) and beginning to get out and about to learn a little bit more about the neighbors and the neighborhood (been there and there). Boring as hell. I started changing the story to include a murder and started thinking that this may become the next great Agatha Christie-like novel. I didn’t get much further than a few pages.

Then I started writing a story using a first line from the toolkit I had purchased (see my blob post This Crazy Little Thing Called Writing dated September 21st) about a woman and her sister Margaret. It started out as a sad human interest story with one sister paralyzed and the other seeing to her every demand and developed into a murder mystery with one sister dead and the other hiding a secret. It was working a little better for me, but I wasn’t quite there. I may still brush off the dust from that story and develop it into a final product, but that is for another time.

Then I started writing down what I like to see in a story (the Magna Carta exercise from No Plot? No Problem! – see my earlier blog). My list went something like this:

  • Quirky characters – Dean Koontz is my hero with this. In fact many times I will enjoy his rather odd characters more than the main character(s). An example is Jocko in the Frankenstein series. Jocko is an abomination, a creation, a tumor that grew within one of Dr. Frankenstein’s creations. It starts out as a barely functioning lump and grows into a malformed troll-like creature that wears children’s clothes, likes the taste of soap, and cartwheels when he is nervous. He is adorable and I enjoy passages in which he is mentioned.
  • Modern settings. I could add futuristic settings as well, but I’m mostly interested in the here and now rather than in the past for a backdrop.
  • Unpretentious writing
  • Humor
  • Some kind of not-normal ability or happening – something Douglas Preston and Lincoln Child do all the time, calmly interjecting some not-quite-right things into their Special Agent Aloysius X. L. Pendergast stories such as brutal, fantastical creatures, extended life lines, supernatural, transcendental exploration, etc.
  • Murder – yep, someone has to buy it.
  • Killer with a past – something dark, sexually deviate (remember, born in a bubble. I don’t know where this comes from or how it ends up in my head).
  • Whodunit – not sure who the guilty person is until the end
  • Third person omniscient stories because I like to get in the minds of multiple characters when I read a story to understand why someone does something.
  • Profanity and violence if there is a place for it or it helps to set a story or feeling for a story or its characters.

My things I don’t like to see in a story are a much shorter list. They are:

  • Romance. I enjoy female authors. I enjoy the Kay Scarpetta series by Patricia Cornwell – until Kay is conflicted in a story because of her feelings for some guy. I enjoy Janet Evanovich and her Stephanie Plum series – until Stephanie agonizes over who she should be with, Ranger or Joe Morelli. Then I tune out and have finally stopped reading the series because I no longer cared which one she ended up with. I enjoy J.D. Robb, Nora Roberts pseudonym, and her Lt. Eve Dallas but I stopped reading them because I’m so sick of her marriage and the sex she has with her husband (it feels like the first time every single time). So, no romance for me. Give me J.A. Konrath’s Jack Daniels any day.
  • Mundane stories about life. The common, everyday occurrences in someone’s life if they were born during a war, or in the middle of a depression, or to a farm in the middle of a dry and dusty flatland. Add a tornado and a land of Oz, please.
  • Unhappy endings – nuff said.

With an arsenal of ideas of things I like to see in a novel, I began writing.

  • I included little quirks in my characters – Nate hides a gay lifestyle from his coworkers, Ralph is a loser with a fondness for NCIS, Golden Girls, and Phineas and Ferb.
  • I set the novel in the present time.
  • Nothing pretentious included.
  • The humor in the story is mine, which is a little sarcastic or dry, but it’s there.
  • John Carpenter is in a car accident in the beginning of the novel and goes into a coma. When he awakes, he has the ability to flashback in time.
  • Murder or murders galore.
  • Chapters that detail the killers past.
  • Hopefully the reader will not know who the killer is until close to the end.
  • Yep, I’m in everyone’s head at one time or another.
  • Some profanity and violence included.

I feel better getting this down on paper. So here is my tip for new, first-time authors – put your thoughts down on paper as you begin to write your novel. What do you, as a reader, like to see in a story? If you like to read it, chances are you should write it as well.

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