Today, I'm sharing more of my notes on writing that I've taken since I began this journey to teach myself how to write a mystery. My notes are from the following books on writing mysteries: Linda Rodriguez' Plotting the Character Driven Novel recommends these books on writing: Carolyn See's Making a Literary Life, Dorothea Brande's Becoming a Writer, Natalie Goldberg's Writing Down the Bones, Julia Cameron's The Artists Way, Stephen King's On Writing: A memoir of the Craft, Madeleine L"Engle's A circle of Quiet, Leonard Bishop's Dare to Be a Great Writer, Elizabeth George's Write Away, One Writer's Approach to Fiction and the Writing Life, Brenda Ueland's, If You Want to Write a Book About Art, independence, and Spirit, John Gardener's On Becoming A Novelist, Annie Dillard's The Writing Life, Ursula K. LeGuin's Steering the Craft: Exercise and Discussion on Story Writing for the Lone Navigator or the Mutinous Crew.
My attention has been distracted lately. You're a writer. Life happens.
My 83-year young tió passed away in his home in his own bed. His suitcase sat by the door to move into assisted living the next day. He was the last of my Father's generation of ten siblings.
I met cousins, second cousins, third cousins. I sat in the funeral home with my husband and son. I read Mary Oliver's poem "Sometimes" from Red Bird. I sang an Ojibway death song and shared my family story of mi tió Joe. I didn't know him well, but I knew his caregiver, my cousin, tió Joe's niece. She asked me to do a reading, claro que sí.
The next day, my husband and son escorted me to my 71-year-old brother in low, Frank's funeral. I've known him since I was eight years old. I shared my favorite memory of Frank for his children, grand-children and great grandchildren.
The death of her father was particularly difficult for my favorite niece because she had been his caregiver for years before Hospice lent a hand.
I made the audience laugh by telling a story about Frank. It was regional. My hometown is predominately white. My family are Mexican Indians, Chicanos. Frank's kids are half Irish Chicanos. His great granddaughter is part Irish, Indian, and Puerto Rican. She's blue-eyed but dark skinned. My husband is white. My son from a previous relationship is puro Chicano.
I went with my son to the third funeral this week. He knew the grandkids of the woman who had been my mother's best-friend, Mary.
She was a Chicana. Her sons played in my parent's yard with my brother when we were kids. I realized my generation is now the ancestors. Our ancestors have all passed and gone to the party in the sky to join their loved ones.
Two funerals this week were in my hometown. The first funeral was in Pueblo, a predominately Chicano community. The funeral in Pueblo this week was a Chicano funeral orchestrated by Rev. Lucero. He wore a tailored black suit, white crocodile cowboy boots, rings and chains and turquoise. He gave me ideas for a character in my mystery. He did the service in Spanish and English. He played his guitar and sang old Mexican corridos. It was memorable.
Tió Joe's son, daughter, and grandkids id not attend. There was no reception or gathering afterward. He received full military honors for his service. The flag was presented to his niece, his caregiver.All of tió Joe's brothers and sisters and parents wait for him in the next world to complete the circle of life. I read a poem about a bird. I sang a death song about a bird walking in the sky. Here were tears ands miles and hugs.
The funeral for Frank consisted of a Reverend from Hospice and a recording of Elvis Presley singing Amazing Grace. Frank's children invited my husband, son, and I to the wake. There was bountiful food, beer, alcohol.
My favorite niece looked like she needed to eat and sleep. She's my favorite because she spent the night at the hospital with me the night my Mother died. It's a memory we share that no one in the family has. It's our memory of Mother's passing while we held her hand and tried to keep each other awake. My husband works at the hospital, so he kept us coffee'd-up. He was there in the room when she passed. My Mother called my husband the Energizer Bunny.
Frank's funeral gave me the opportunity to be there for my niece and nephews. They call me tía. Frank's funeral hit me hard.
Mary, my Mother's best friend, had a Catholic Mass, very traditional. I didn't have the energy after three funerals to visit Mary's wake. I said good bye to her and asked her to tell my Mother and Father hi for me. Seeing her open casket was mistake for me, it reminded me of my Mother's funeral ten years ago. I see my Mother welcoming, Mary, Frank, Joe her best friend, son in law and brother in law to heaven. I feel her presence near me. I feel my Father's spirit everywhere especially in Villa Nueva, New Mexico when we visit the place he was born in 1917.
Attending these funerals has inspired me to be a better person. And to write a will and prepare for my day to join them.
I observed the people at these funerals and made mental notes for character's in my mystery. The sights, sounds, smells of incense in the cathedral, the perfume of the women I hugged, the difference between the Chicano funeral in Pueblo, the Chicano funeral in my hometown, and the Irish funeral at the funeral home my family has used my entire life. This week will be memorable, but he older I get, the more funerals I attend. The circle of life.
Here are some of the notes I've taken from some of the master writer's I've studied on the art of writing a mystery. Answering these questions and exploring some of the writing assignments helped me to get started. I hope they help you, too.
1. Character X wants Y but Z gets in the way.
2. Why does your protagonist want to solve the murder?
3. What if stalker is female?
4. Why is the villain willing to kill?
5. What does your protagonist see, hear, smell, taste, or touch that would startle or frighten her/him?
6. There are two ways to make a character stand out: give them distinctive mannerisms or a relatable conflict that is odd or unusual.
7. What does your character do when she/he is scared or nervous?
8. What brings the character into the story?
9. Describe the character's goal at the beginning of the mystery.
10. What does your character say she/he wants?
11. How will she/he change because of what she/he faces and/or learns about her/himself?
12. What make the character different from others?
13, What is the character's stake for getting involved?
14. What in your character's family history shapes her/his take in the story?
15. Humanize your villain.
16. Don't make life too easy for your bad guy. Give them soft spots and flaws.
17. Make characters diverse: LGBTQ, people of color and especially women in non-traditional careers.
18. Make everything plausible in the story.
19. Write a climactic scene in which the protagonist demonstrates an ability or skill to overcome the bad guy.
20. Allow the protagonist to fail at attempts to defeat bad guy.
21. Write a scene that shows how this ability is used to rescue a friend.
22. Write a one paragraph flashback showing how and why the protagonist developed and mastered this skill.
A final note, because my life is diverse, so are my characters. I chose Chicanas for my private investigation team. I wrote characters that are transgender, bisexual, gay, and celibate. My characters are Chicano, white, black, Jamaican and Chinese. They have unusual mannerisms and speak with different colloquialisms. They are based on people I know and people I have yet to meet. But they are real people will real histories and real problems. Think about making your characters diverse like the world we live in and create your world in your mind full of colorful personalities. I hope this helps you. The books I’ve studied helped me immensely and I’ve learned from the masters of mystery how to tell a great story.
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