Wednesday, June 27, 2018

Of fear, and Cathy Ace

CRAFT:  What do you do with those extraneous plot ideas that are too good to throw away but don't fit into your work(s) in progress? 

Oh this is a good one…because we all have them, those brilliant ideas we end up tossing out for some reason or another, or those kernels of an idea for a plot for a book. Some of those "kernels" have, for me, made their way into short (or long) stories, because there - frankly - just wasn't enough MORE to make a novel, and they better suited a quick hit. (You can see how some of these worked out in my recently released anthology.)

However, as for what I do with the plots that don't make it into stories, or novels, and the "bits" I edit out, well, I file them…and know I have lost quite a few, because my filing skills are somewhat lacking. (I believe I make a logical decision, but it seems I forget my own logic when trying to track something down.) The best way I have found to winkle out documents I cannot easily locate is to search all the programs on my computer using what I hope will be useful keywords. Sometimes it even works! However, I have to admit I haven’t been able to use any of said “filed” passages that have been removed from previous books, largely because I’m very much a tight plotter, so the scenes from one book just don’t transpose to another. 

There's no scene in here with a pregnant PI tracking a suspect!
What has made the leap once or twice is an idea, rather than a fully formed scene/story line/subplot. For example, in my first WISE Enquiries Agency Mystery, THE CASE OF THE DOTTY DOWAGER, I had a pregnant PI Carol Hill donning various disguises to allow her to follow a suspect in a case that ran adjacent to the main story line. The whole sub-plot had to go due to length constraints imposed by my publisher (who wanted a manuscript not one word over 80,000 words). I kept the sub-plot, which I carefully weeded out of that novel, and, while I wasn’t able to use it as it had originally existed, I was able to use the idea of disguises and shadowing for another character, in another book. 

No overt romantic actions for the happy couple in this book!

I have been told to drop various “bits” from my Cait Morgan Mysteries over the years, as my editor and publisher didn’t want to stray from the plot-driven style of the books. An example of that was the removal of two paragraphs from a Cait Morgan Mystery (THE CORPSE WITH THE GOLDEN NOSE) where I had Bud Anderson placing his jacket over Cait Morgan's chilly shoulders late one night when they were enjoying a discussion about a victim (along the lines of "did she kill herself, or was she murdered?"). It was a tiny scene which I hoped would give the reader an insight into their growing, but still young, well as illuminating Cait's raw emotional state, insecurities, and - even so - hope for love. I argued about it with my editor, but eventually dropped it; this was only my second novel ever, and I wish I had fought harder to keep it in. But...we live and learn, eh?

What that - and a few other examples - taught me was that, if I wanted to have a more character-driven story line, I’d have to write a different series of books; this led me to begin the WISE Enquiries Agency Mysteries. These, while they certainly have multi-layered plots, provide readers with enjoyment (I have been told) as they get to know the characters and their lives beyond their roles in solving puzzling mysteries. 

One other thing – because the Cait Morgan Mysteries are traditional, closed-circle mysteries which are, necessarily, plot driven, and the WISE books are cosy and character driven, I have found that any writing with a slightly darker edge is something I have steered clear of – until now. I am up to my neck in the manuscript for a new novel, which I’m planning as a standalone, though I know there’s a series begging to leap out of it. 

In this anthology there's a character who has strong-armed their way into my new novel...

It’s still not gory, hasn't even got as much “foul language” in it as a Louise Penny book, and is a story which is allowing me to mix and meld a domestic thriller with a different take on a procedural. I’m enjoying the journey a great deal, and wait to see what my editor thinks about it when I submit it mid-July. The good thing about this one? It’s going to be a tad longer that I usually write, which means I get to develop characters AND have a plot with twists and turns aplenty. I’m really hoping this one will hit the sweet spot for me, and readers.

Overall, maybe I haven't used dropped passages, scenes, or treatments, but their loss has propelled me toward varying my writing output to allow for the introduction of those different styles of writing which I am (obviously) yearning to produce. So...maybe that's a good thing? Readers will decide, I am sure. 

Now for the promotional blurb and begging....
Cathy Ace writes the Cait Morgan Mysteries and the WISE Enquiries Agency Mysteries. Find out more about Cathy and all her characters here:
and please consider adding her work to your TO BE READ pile? 

MURDER KEEPS NO CALENDAR has been available since November 2017 via amazon and on it's also available via KOBO, and can be ordered by bookstores and libraries. 



Paul D. Marks said...

It's always hard to drop something we especially like from a story, whether for length or because, as you say, your editor wanted it out. Hopefully in the end it makes the story tighter and better.

Unknown said...

Interesting to hear of your switch from plot-driven to character driven. It seems to have freed you up from some constraints. That was strange, being told to remove a paragraph showing character development, even if it is plot-driven. If the characters don't take shape in a novel I end up putting it down, no matter how great the plot.

Cathy Ace said...

Hi Paul - sometimes I find I look at a "tightening" edit, and absolutely agree it should go; the collaborative process with an editor certainly allows me to see things with fresh eyes.

Cathy Ace said...

Hi Rachel - I agree about character development being necessary, as both a writer and reader, and - to be fair - this couple of paras that came out went without me feeling that Bud and Cait weren't well-drawn (lots of other opportunities to give them depth within the book). And I don't want to give the impression that my plot-driven books are devoid of character development - they aren't - but the pacing in a classic puzzle plot (vs a procedural, domestic thriller, PI novel etc) is quite different. I am told by readers that they have grown to love Cait and Bud - and their relationship - over the eight Cait Morgan Mysteries, and it's a lesson in writing a series with a planned arc vs standalones, or never knowing if there'll be another book in the series.

Terry said...

I put all my orphaned Golden Darlings into a file...and never look at them again. Oddly, sometimes I remember something from a previous work that didn't fit, and find that it shoehorns in nicely. But I don't go back and look at the old stuff. I reinvent.

Interesting post. I'm excited about your venture into new territory. Look forward to reading it.

Susan C Shea said...

Cathy, you and I share the same logical filing systems, I fear. My little gems turn up in odd spots throughout the master file. As to plot vs. character stories, I'm trying to look at that distinction with fresh eyes - in fact, to dynamite it. As someone whose books are consistently defined as character-driven stories (which I like), I'm wondering where plot fits in and if my plots really have to revolve around violent deaths. Like you, venturing into different territory!

James Ziskin said...

I save everything, usually in an earlier version of the file. But I don’t always go back and dig them out. They’re all languishing somewhere in the ether.

Nice post, Cathy.

Cathy Ace said...

Hi Terry - I must start a Golden Darlings file! Love the name. And thanks for the support for the new stuff :-)

Cathy Ace said...

Hi Susan - ah yes, the non-murder mystery...always an interesting plot to think about.

Cathy Ace said...

Hi Jim - languishing in the ether? I like that...maybe I'll call it a "Languishing Golden Darlings" file :-)