Monday, April 11, 2016

On writing

Most authors have a book—or part of a book—that they don’t talk about much. The project that refused to take wings. The practice manuscript. The story that wrote itself into a corner. The manuscript lurking under the bed with the dust lions.

I have two failures to launch.

The first is set in the 1920s and was to be a romance between newspaper columnist Tinsley Ledbetter and bootlegger Nick Woodfield.

I did an inordinate amount of research on the 1920s (I love research. It’s a rabbit hole that can lure me away from almost anything). I adored the heroine. I didn’t adore the book. I put it aside.

Fast forward three plus years.

I recently looked at Tinsley’s adventures with the idea that she didn’t need Nick. What she needed was to solve mysteries. 

The years when Tinsley languished, abandoned and almost forgotten, on a hard-drive changed my writing.

Before: She forced a laugh. It sounded brittle, like it might break into hysteria if anyone poked at it, so she hurried to wave the sound away with a flip of her slim fingers.

After: She forced a laugh. It sounded brittle, as if it might break into hysteria if anyone poked at it. That wouldn’t do. She waved the splintery sound away.

The first change—I used a preposition when I needed a conjunction. Like it might break should have been as if it might break. An easy fix.

The second change – I added a sentence. That wouldn’t do. It gives the reader a peek at Tinsley’s thoughts.

The third change – I deleted so she hurried to wave. Why? It’s telling. I told the reader about Tinsley’s intent. It’s better to show her actually doing something. Namely, waving.

The fourth change – I added splintery and deleted slim fingers from the last sentence. Why? Splintery describes a sound. Slim described Tinsley’s fingers. The problem? In theory we’re in Tinsley’s head, would she describe her fingers?

I’m not sure if Tinsley will emerge from that old hard-drive behind. If she does, I have loads of work to do.

Julie Mulhern is the USA Today bestselling author of The Country Club Murders. 

She is a Kansas City native who grew up on a steady diet of Agatha Christie. She spends her spare time whipping up gourmet meals for her family, working out at the gym and finding new ways to keep her house spotlessly clean--and she's got an active imagination. Truth is--she's an expert at calling for take-out, she grumbles about walking the dog and the dust bunnies under the bed have grown into dust lions. 

Her next book, Clouds in my Coffee, releases on May 10th.


  1. Interesting changes, I hope you decide to continue with it.

  2. Thanks, Sharon. I am playing right now...

  3. Excellent examples of how you've grown as a writer and why you made those changes to improve the narrative. I feel like I've grown enormously over the past decade, and I think about resurrecting the novel waiting in the dark of my computer for me to shed new light on it. I still might, but it's a lot of work editing an entire manuscript.

    1. So much work. I suspect I will keep the character's name and that's about it...

  4. Thank you for the examples and insights. Every speck of information is valuable. Writing is not a moment, voila, where you realize you've finally got it...It is a progression of learning concepts and facts to become a better storyteller.

    1. Kris, you are most welcome. I could write blog post after blog post on prose.

  5. Great post, and you're now on my to-read list.