Saturday, March 25, 2023

Plot Development Technique

Scott Myers’ Screenwriting Tip: Index Cards
Nights are made for sleeping, but sometimes I have insomnia. And I’m making the best of it. During those middle-of-the-night wakeful periods, I work on the plot for my cozy mystery.

After publishing two detective mysteries with simplistic plots and writing a draft for a third detective story with a two-pronged plot, I’m beginning to learn how to create storylines with more complexity.

The main character in the ‘Murder at Binkley House’ cozy mystery is first-personing her way through the plot’s crimes. Things are happening to and around her. The more she digs, the more she puts herself – and her best friend – in danger.

After enhancing the plot with clues and red herrings pointing to multiple suspects, the order of the plot elements was harder to keep track of.

I bought a pack of index cards and wrote one clue, red herring, or plot point on each color-coded card. Now I can shuffle the cards as I experiment with plot order.

Monday, March 6, 2023

Short Stories

My short stories need help. The format is harder to write than I’d expected.

My last short story attempt gave me great learning opportunities and lots of room for improvement (i.e., it was almost a total failure).

I have over a dozen developed plot lines for novel / novella length detective stories, but I wasn’t getting around to writing them. I figured stripping the detective part from a mystery plot would automatically create a short story. Reader feedback proved me wrong.

I tried this approach twice. One story had a developed main character with relatable motives and actions but a weak ending. The other had a weak opening, a character without motive, and a good last line. Unfortunately, I can’t merge the good parts into a respectable short story.

I signed up for an online short story class. Learning the basics will help. I also joined an online short story critique group. Reading short stories and learning the focus areas of critiques will help refine my writing craft.

Saturday, February 25, 2023

Readability Scores

Word’s Readability Statistics for the short story
Recently while working on a short story, I discovered Word’s Readability Statistics function [Word / Tools / Spelling and Grammar / Editor / Insights / Document stats] which creates a statistics chart that includes readability scores that needed reference charts to understand them. (Suggestion: Ignore the Word chart’s “Flesch-Kincaid Grade Level” – it doesn’t correlate with U.S. school grade.)

I researched readability scores online, and it’s interesting. The higher the ‘Flesch Reading Ease’ score, the easier to read. (See the Flesch-Kincaid Calculator chart.)

Flesch-Kincaid Calculator output for the short story
But the deeper into the rabbit hole I dug, the more inconsistent the information and scores became. 

One website ( offered results from seven different readability testing procedures. Results varied widely.

The readability analysis that resonated with me was the Good Calculators website ‘Flesch-Kincaid Calculator’. A portion of the result chart is pictured.

The reading ease score can be increased – for easier reading – by shortening sentences and paragraphs, using active voice, and using shorter, simpler words.

I’ve often heard the writing advice to not use a fancy word when a simpler one will suffice, I mean, do. I don’t agree with that. To me, that seems equivalent – oops! four syllables – to ‘dumbing down’ the writing. Why not challenge the reader?

Tuesday, February 14, 2023

Man of my Dreams

Monty, fictional character
I met the man of my dreams at a Denver dinner event earlier this month.

I’d ‘dreamed up’ a character for my cozy mystery, “Murder at Binkley House.” The man in Denver appeared to be the living, breathing version of that character.

Often, my created characters are a mixture of the physical, emotional, and behavioral traits of people I know or have seen.

The cozy mystery character, Monty, blends a kind and personable maintenance man from a previous job with Santa Claus during his off season.

When I met Monte, the man in Denver, my brain pinged the cozy mystery’s maintenance man. Both have short, neatly trimmed beards, kind eyes, and gentle natures.

Now as I write Monty, the fictional character, I can visualize Monte, the man.


Friday, January 27, 2023

Family Treasures

Treasures passed down through the generations may not be monetarily valuable heirlooms, but there’s a reason the family cherished them.

My father bought a commemorative ceramic whiskey decanter when Oregon celebrated its first 100 years of statehood. My family lived in Oregon at the time, and my ancestors arrived there by wagon train in the 1850s before Oregon gained its statehood (verified by journal entries written along the Oregon Trail).

I have memories (verified by photographs) of myself wearing a homemade red-and-white gingham ‘period’ dress and bonnet and walking in the Centennial parade as a child.

My great-grandfather, the first generation of family born in Oregon, brought a crystal liquor decanter back from the Seattle World’s Fair in 1909. I ‘know’ that due to the handwritten note taped to the bottle. But who wrote the note, and when?

My father remembers a crystal fruit bowl being in the house when he was growing up. But was it the same bowl he recently gave me?

Not all memories and stories passed through generations are accurate. Just watch an episode or two of “Antiques Roadshow” if you need verification.

But what happens when an unverified family legend triggers a murder?

Jo and her best friend, Louise, try to untangle that enigma in my work-in-progress cozy mystery.

Friday, January 6, 2023

What’s Old is New

Much-loved rehomed dog toy
Through time, some words and concepts got a spit-shine for a new slant on perception.

‘Used’ cars are now ‘pre-owned.’ Used and hand-me-down clothes, descriptions that once implied ‘poor’ families, are now celebrated as recycled or vintage. Some of the used and hand-me-down furniture I grew up with is now antique.

Both of my dogs were in the pound, now referred to as the animal shelter. These lost or previously rejected dogs were adopted or rescued.

Plots have also been reused and recycled through time. Aren’t the star-crossed lovers in ‘Titanic’ a glossed-over remake of ‘Romeo and Juliet’?

According to “Are there 3, 5, 7, 9 or 36 Different Plot Types? [The Definitive Answer]”, Christopher Booker claims there are seven basic plot types, and Kurt Vonnegut identified six different character emotional arcs.

And considering that millions and millions of stories have been written, nothing is new.

So, when I saw one of my plot elements in an Agatha Christie movie recently, I could guarantee she didn’t recycle it from me.