Writing, Rewriting, and Craft by Elena Hartwell

 

 

Writing, Rewriting, and Craft

By Elena Hartwell

 

As a novelist and playwright, I’m often asked where I get my ideas. Almost every writer I know gets this question, and I think we all feel the same. Ideas are never the problem. That’s the easy part. Ideas are a dime a dozen. The hard part, the magic part, is turning the idea into a polished, final manuscript.

 

The writing process varies wildly from author to author. Some write extensive, detailed outlines. Others sit down with an idea and write scenes on the fly. A number of writers fall somewhere in between, while they may not outline, neither do they sit down and write completely organically. They might write a synopsis or outline a chapter in advance.

 

The various combinations of these methods all work, depending on the writer and the project. There is no “wrong” way to write a novel. The “how” a writer works isn’t why their manuscript sells or doesn’t sell. The primary reason an author’s work has not yet sold is a lack of craft.

 

People who lack craft skills rarely sit down to write a novel. Or if they do, they can start, but never finish. Or if they do finish, they don’t rewrite. Or if they do rewrite, they quit after a single pass. Or, if they do continue to rewrite, they aren’t aware enough of craft to recognize the flaws in their own work. You get the picture. The problem is the writer stops too soon.

 

As a writing coach—I do one-on-one manuscript critiques as well as teaching workshops—there are some fundamental issues I see repeated in early drafts, over and over. These same issues show up in my own work, and probably on some level, in the early drafts of every writer out there. So the first thing aspiring writers can do to increase their chances of writing a successful manuscript, is learn how to identify these problems.

 

The first is a lack of clear objectives, obstacles, and stakes. It’s not enough to have a dead body to write a mystery. Someone has to investigate the murder. The person investigating the murder has to need to solve the crime. If they don’t need to solve the crime (objective) there’s no tension about the investigation. If the solution doesn’t matter to the investigator, it won’t matter to the reader. 

 

The sleuth also can’t solve the crime easily, that’s not dramatic. Various impediments (obstacles) have to appear, one after the other, to prevent the protagonist from catching the killer. The more the investigator has to overcome, the more satisfying to the reader when they do. 

 

Lastly, it has to matter (stakes). For example, the protagonist with an internal struggle, coinciding with their investigation, is far more interesting than someone who simply goes through the motions of solving a crime.

 

The more important solving the case is to the protagonist, the more dangerous or difficult the journey, and the greater the importance to find the guilty party, the more invested a reader will be. That’s what keeps a reader turning pages.

 

Complex protagonists will also have personal objectives, obstacles, and stakes to go along with their investigation. For example, a crumbling marriage, a child in danger, or overcoming an addiction are common tropes within the genre. When we know an investigator has to choose between catching a killer and saving their marriage, the stakes are high and we breathlessly turn each page waiting to see what the character chooses.

 

Another common error I find is a lack of structure. All stories have an underpinning structure. While there are variations to that structure, for the most part, especially in crime fiction, we start with the world as we know it, which is disrupted by a specific event, followed by rising action, where events pile one on top the other, each more important than the one that went before. This ends with a climactic scene, with the maximum danger to our hero or heroine, followed by a glimpse into the new world order for our characters.

 

If any of these parts are missing, the story can feel unfinished. For example, if we don’t have some sense of what the character’s life was before the intrusion, we don’t know what they are putting at risk. The “world before” can often be well hidden, it might not appear in the first chapter, but later in reflections the character makes as the story progresses, but usually a reader can identify it if they look for it. 

 

The middle of a manuscript might falter if a lot of exciting things happen at the beginning, then nothing exciting follows. Rising action is important, because it builds dramatic tension, making it impossible to put the book down.

 

Lastly, an ending can feel unsatisfying if we have no sense of the outcome. Readers don’t need everything tied up in a bow, but they do want the primary threads to be resolved enough to know what the character’s lives will be like after they read “the end.”

 

Dialogue can also be difficult to master. One of the most common problems I see is when authors have their characters say exactly what they feel and exactly what they mean. That doesn’t ring true. People lie all the time. We lie because it’s expedient, it benefits us in some way, it keeps us from hurting others, or we don’t want to get in trouble. We rarely say what we mean, we obfuscate, we dither, we agree out loud when disagreeing feels like a mistake. Dialogue works best when each character speaks distinctly from the others, through word choice, sentence length, grammatical accuracy, and the use of slang. 

 

If a writer can identify just these specific problem areas in their own writing, their next draft will be a much tighter, more polished manuscript. It can feel overwhelming to try to identify and fix all the issues I’ve outlined at one time. My recommendation for writers is to choose one aspect and rewrite just for that. Heighten the stakes in one rewrite. Focus solely on dialogue for the next. Breaking down the process into smaller chunks can make each rewrite a more successful venture. This will help the writer get through a series of rewrites rather than attempting one and feeling like the mountain is too high to climb. My final piece of advice. Don’t give up. That’s the only difference between a published author and an unpublished one. 

 


Elena Hartwell started out her storytelling career in the theater. She worked for several years as a playwright, director, designer, technician, and educator before becoming a novelist.

Elena has more than twenty years of teaching experience and now works one-on-one with writers as a manuscript consultant and writing coach.

She lives in North Bend, Washington, with her husband, two cats, and the greatest dog in the world. When she’s not writing, teaching writing, or talking about writing, she can be found at a nearby stables, playing with her horses.

For more information about Elena, please visit www.elenahartwell.com.

 

Twitter |Goodreads | Amazon


For fans of Julia Keller and Sheena Kamal, All We Buried disturbs the long-sleeping secrets of a small Washington state mountain town.

Deep in the woods surrounding the Cascade mountain range, a canvas-wrapped body floats in a lake, right in Elizabeth “Bet” Rivers’s jurisdiction. Bet has been sitting as interim sheriff of Collier after her father’s–the previous sheriff’s–death six months ago. Everyone knows everyone in a town like Collier. She has made it her duty to protect the people she’s come to see as family. And she intends to hold her title in the upcoming election, but she’s never worked a murder investigation on her own before and her opponent and deputy, Dale Kovac, isn’t going down without a fight.

Upon unwrapping the corpse, Bet discovers the woman is from out of town. Without an identification, the case grows that much more puzzling. Determined to prove herself worthy, however, Bet must confront the warped history of Collier. The more she learns, the more she realizes she doesn’t know the townspeople of Collier as well as she thought, and nothing can prepare her for what she is about to discover.

 

Amazon|B&N | Audible

 

The Catharsis of Memoir Writing by Beth Ruggiero York

 

Airplane take off over the panorama city at twilight scene

 

 

Beth Ruggiero York

 

Beth York Headshot 2 image

 

 

The Catharsis of Memoir Writing

by Beth Ruggiero York

Author of Flying Alone: A Memoir 

 

It takes courage to write a memoir. Sort of like going to confession if you are Catholic. If you want absolution, you must admit to all the stupid things you’ve done. Similarly, if you want to sell your story, you must bare your moments of weakness to readers. The difference is that, in a memoir, you also get to tell about your triumphs and how you won in the end. Your life events need to span the full gamut of what life has thrown at you and resonate in the readers’ hearts and minds, and this means going deep into your soul to create the story, your story

 

For me, Flying Alone was not going to be a memoir, even though all the events and characters are real. It was going to be a novel. Actually, it was to be a memoir masquerading as a novel, complete with names changed to protect the innocent and not so innocent. This way, I could fully reveal the events without having to own up to them. Those years in the 1980s when I was climbing and clawing my way up the aviation ladder were filled with risk, dangerous situations and some bad decisions. When I lost my FAA medical certificate in 1990 with the diagnosis of multiple sclerosis, my aviation career ended and I knew I had to write about it. Even though I wasn’t ready to expose some of it, I still pushed those thoughts aside and wrote… and wrote. The memories were fresh, and I could record them in the greatest detail. After completing the writing, I put it in a box and set it aside knowing that someday there would be a time to revisit it. Well, the time passed until about two years ago, when I finally knew I was ready. 

 

I read it all the way through for the first time in so very long, reliving the experiences with all the edge-of-my-seat terror and suspense as when it actually happened. 

Even though it was intended to be a novel, written in the third-person to shield myself from what readers might think of my escapades, there was no doubt only halfway through rereading it that it was, in fact, a memoir of a very turbulent time in my life. This posed the greatest difficulty in the editing process—telling it as my personal story in the first person, i.e., baring myself to readers and owning the truth. I had to make peace with all that had happened back then and, ultimately, I shared everything and could forgive myself for old mistakes and regrets. 

At times, the distance of thirty years made it seem unreal, but that separation also helped me to look at those years with the objective compassion that comes with maturity. I remember and love the people who played important roles during that time, from Rod, my employer, mentor and flight examiner, to Melanie, my student, friend and cheerleader, and Peter, my dear friend and fellow risk taker who paid the highest price.

Flying Alone is the result of the cathartic process called memoir writing. But not only is this process cleansing and peace-making, it serves another important purpose—that is, recording history. Whether my history is important or not is not the point. Rather, the point is it is the history of a time and a small slice of life at that time. 

In sharing my story, my hopes are for a variety of reactions from a variety of people. For other women, I hope they can see how it is possible to emerge from life situations and decisions that make you feel as desperate as an airplane in an uncontrollable spin. My relationship with Steve was just that, and even though recovery was never a guarantee, persistence allowed it to happen. 

I equally hope that young women aspiring to careers in aviation and other male-dominated professions will understand that it can be done successfully. Certainly, the circumstances are much more forgiving today than they were in the 1980s, but there still remain obstacles. I hope the ultimate message received is never to give up even when it just doesn’t seem worth the effort anymore. Don’t plant the seeds for later regrets.

Of course, I also want to share it with pilots of all types so they can see my side of the world of civil aviation and perhaps derive amusement, stir their own memories or, in the case of student pilots, learn what not to do. An early reviewer of my book summed it up in this way: “… [Beth’s] book will warm the hearts of grizzled pilots like me or anyone seeking insight into the challenges and rewards of flying.”

As I look back, despite the fact that quite a bit of courage is needed to write a memoir, the memoir is in fact a reward earned for simply living life. Taking the time to look back on years past and contemplate the events that have shaped and changed you as well as others is an act of accepting yourself, but writing about these events to share with others is the reward.

 

Beth York nature shot image

 

About the Author: 

Beth Ruggiero York is the author of Flying Alone: A Memoir. She is a former airline pilot for Trans World Airlines. She entered the world of civil aviation in 1984 shortly after graduating from college and, for the next five years, climbed the ladder to her ultimate goal of flying for a major airline. Beth originally wrote Flying Alone in the early 1990s, shortly after her career as a pilot ended and the memories were fresh. She is now a Chinese translator and a professional photography instructor for Arizona Highways PhotoScapes. She has published a popular instructional book on night photography, Fun in the Dark: A Guide to Successful Night Photography, which has worldwide sales, and she has co-written a book entitled, Everglades National Park: A Photographic Destination. Beth and her husband live in Fountain Hills, AZ. For more information, please visit https://bethruggieroyork.com and follow Beth on Facebook, LinkedIn and Instagram.

 

 

modern aircraft of an airfield

 

 

 

 

 

Guest Post: She’s So Cold by Donald E. McInnis

She's so cold image

 

Think this couldn’t happen to your family? Think again.

In the winter of January 1998, the small town of Escondido, California, was horrified when the body of 12-year-old Stephanie Crowe was found brutally murdered in her own bedroom. The police used psychological manipulation to force three 14-year-old boys to falsely confess to the murder. She’s So Cold traces the twists and turns of a real-life mystery which eventually changed the lives of fifteen people and cost a district attorney his job.

To protect children and teens from such manipulation in the future, McInnis proposes a new Children’s Miranda Rights Warning and a Bill of Rights for Children who are being questioned as suspects. These proposals must be adopted in order to prevent minors from making false confessions that could destroy their futures.

She’s So Cold is the story of a broken system. A system stacked against families and, most of all, against children.

Amazon | Goodreads

 

 

fresh crime scene with yellow tape at night

 

 

THE CROWE MURDER CASE


by Donald E. McInnis
Author of She’s So Cold: Murder, Accusations and the System that Devastated a Family

When a police investigation goes wrong,

it is a travesty for all

 

As one of the defense attorneys in the Crowe murder case, what enrages me most about the botched investigation into the brutal death of 12-year-old Stephanie Crowe is that her father, Steven, and mother, Cheryl, never got the closure of knowing that the real killer had been caught, convicted, and sentenced to prison. To make matters worse, these parents had to suffer through the horror of their 14-year-old son being prosecuted for Stephanie’s murder.

The incredibly frustrating fact is that the Escondido detectives had all the evidence they needed to arrest the man whom a jury would eventually convict for killing the little girl. Instead, they followed the hunch of a uniformed officer who felt Michael was not showing enough grief over the loss of his sister.

What evidence did the detectives overlook? On the night of the stabbing of young Stephanie Crowe, a vagrant named Richard Tuite was seen in the neighborhood peering through windows, knocking on doors, and walking into homes looking for a young woman named Tracy – a young woman who looked like Stephanie.

The day after the discovery of Stephanie’s body, the police had already decided that the murder was the result of a well-thought-out plan, since they had found no evidence at the murder scene that could lead them to the murderer. The police therefore expanded their initial investigation and went looking for the 28-year-old vagrant. Tuite was found in a laundromat several miles away from the Crowes’ home. The patrol officer, following protocol, took Tuite to the police station, where the suspect was stripped of his clothes, photographed, interviewed, and given new clothing; his clothing was bagged and catalogued. In the investigating officer’s opinion, however, Tuite was mentally incapable of such a “sophisticated” murder, so he was released.

Tuite’s clothing, along with clothing of the Crowe family, was examined by the local crime lab. No physical evidence was found connecting anyone to the murder. But instead of sending the clothing on to another lab for advanced DNA testing, the evidence was stored at the police station.

Since the police had no other leads, they turned to 14-year-old Michael Crowe. After two days of interrogation, they got a confession. Two friends of Michael’s, 14-year-old Joshua Treadway and 15-year-old Aaron Houser, were also interrogated, and incriminating statements were obtained. The Escondido police had their man, or at least their boys. Case closed.

Until a year after the murder, when the defense attorneys for the three boys demanded further DNA testing, and Tuite’s clothing was sent to an advanced lab in Berkeley, California. By now, Joshua Treadway’s trial was starting. Then came the news that shocked everyone: Tuite’s clothing had splatters of Stephanie’s blood on it. All charges against the boys were dropped and Tuite was charged for Stephanie’s murder. 

Very few of us know what it is like to lose a child, much less by the supposed hand of your own son, who you know in your heart could not have committed such a horrible act. Steven and Cheryl had to live with this terrible reality simply because the police proceeded on a hunch and saw no need to send Tuite’s clothing for further DNA testing. 

But the dismissal of charges against Michael was not the end of the Crowe family’s suffering. After two jury trials for murder and nearly 12 years after Stephanie’s death, Richard Tuite was found not guilty of the murder, due in part to how the police handled the evidence. Not only did the one person the Crowes felt could have murdered Stephanie go free, but now this family faced the worst possible ending to their daughter’s death — no closure. One can’t image the continuing pain the Crowe family has had to live with these last 20 years.

It is hoped my book She’s So Cold, a true and accurate telling of the failed police investigation, once and for all sets the story straight as to why Michael and his friend were maliciously interrogated and prosecuted for a crime they did not commit. Their story of what happens when the police interrogate a child is a warning to every parent: Do not let this happen to your child.

In an effort to prevent such catastrophes in the future, I propose new Miranda rights warnings specifically worded so children can better understand their constitutional rights, and a Bill of Rights for Children for when they are being investigated by police. These new protections are in the Appendix to She’s So Cold. We need not repeat the painful agony that the Crowe family continues to live with to this very day.

 

 

Donald E McInnis headshot

 

ABOUT THE AUTHOR:
Donald E. McInnis is the author of She’s So Cold: Murder, Accusations and the System that Devastated a Family. He is a California criminal defense attorney, and he represented one of the three accused boys, Aaron Houser, in the Stephanie Crowe murder case. Over the span of his 40-year legal career, Mr. McInnis has worked alternately for the prosecution and for the defense, having served as a deputy district attorney for two California counties and as a deputy public defender for one California county during his early professional years. For more information, please visit https://donaldmcinnis.com

 

 

 

Train in snow with reindeer image

 

 

 

 

 

Finding Treasure in Writer’s Block by Fred Waitzkin

 

 

Deep Water Blues image

 

 

Finding Treasure in Writer’s Block

By Fred Waitzkin

 

Young writers often ask if I am sometimes afflicted by writer’s block and if I’ve discovered a cure. Most writers wrestle with this malady from time to time.  Over the years my relationship to the illness has evolved, and as an older writer I see it as a frustrating companion who at times can offer profound advice.

All authors relish days feeling on fire with a story when sentences pour out, almost without effort or thought. They spill into paragraphs and pages. It feels like riding a magic carpet that will soar on forever. I call such periods, writing within the bubble. But then after days or weeks, inevitably, life gets in the way.

Consider this scenario:  I’m just home from a ten-day fishing trip, determined to get back to my manuscript when my grandson Jack begs me to take him to tomorrow’s Mets game. Instead of going to my office I take Jack to the game. We’re both excited as hell about our trip on the subway…. It’s okay. I’d been on a roll with my story. Another day won’t matter at all. As we rumble toward Mets stadium, I pleasantly recall the feeling of riding the carpet, the story pouring out of me…. I’ll be back there tomorrow.

The Mets lose. Jack cries, inconsolable in his new Mets cap as we’re leaving the stadium. “Why do the Mets always lose, Baba?”

I’m thinking about Jack’s sorrow and the Mets string of losing seasons. I’m disgusted with the Mets, a thickening edifice forming between me and my story.

Next morning I’m finally back in front of my computer after an eleven-day break. I take a look at my last chapter…. Pretty good. I sit at the computer waiting for the words to flow…. Nothing. I wait. Nothing. Four more days pass of nothing. I’m pulling what’s left of my hair. Now I’m living outside the bubble.

Okay, seven days of writer’s block. I’m back in my office at 9:30. I make a cup of tea. I pace around a little. I have a lunch date at 12:30. I’m looking forward to that. I stare at my Mac like it’s the enemy. I begin to pace around. I sip tea. I look at my computer. No way I’m sitting there to suffer any more. I snap on my old radio and listen to sports talk radio, a discussion about the Mets falling apart after a promising start to the season. Every year they do it. They cannot hit…. It’s now 11. I look at the computer, shake my head, no way. I pace in the hall. I come back into the office and read the paper. Now it’s 11:50. Almost time to leave for lunch. Not yet, Waitzkin, not yet. I stall another five minutes, pressure building. It’s twelve. Suddenly I throw myself into my chair in front of the keys. I need to leave my office for lunch in 18 minutes. It’s now or never…, and if I’m lucky, the dam breaks. Words pour out. I’m feverishly typing words that wouldn’t come for days. They are gushing out now when I hardly have time to write them, trying to catch them in the air like butterflies, get them into the machine… I’ve written some of my best paragraph this way, when it was do or die.

Another trick for writer’s block: I always carry around a tiny notebook in my shirt pocket. When I’m riding my bike home along the river, thinking about the Mets losing streak, an idea pops into my head. I stop the bike and jot it into the book. I’m talking to my wife Bonnie and an idea suddenly appears. I’m talking to my son. He shakes his head, annoyed, while I scrawl treasure into my notebook. “Dad never listens to me.”

Two days ago, I was stumped how to end an essay about my artist mother. I woke up after a two-hour nap and suddenly I could see the words hanging in the air in front of me. I wrote them in the notebook before they disappeared…. Carry a notebook. Just having it with you elicits ideas.

I wrote my new novel, Deep Water Blues, without once having writer’s block. It was pure bliss, beginning to end. I’d decided I was going to write a short book, 150 pages or less, something I could hold in my head without having to turn back to see what I’d written two or three years earlier. I was determined to write this one fast. And also, I’d gone into it after having written a screenplay, my first. I wanted this new book to move like a movie.

Deep Water Blues describes a gruesome disaster that takes place to a little island civilization—an island once gorgeous, and peaceful, almost Eden like, and in the aftermath, the island becomes decimated by greed, out-of-control ambition, violence and murder. At the heart of it, Deep Water Blues, which was inspired by true events, is an adventure story. I wanted to tell the story fast, fast and violent with no looking back, no flashbacks, mostly taut bold scenes as in riveting film…. Writing this book took me over like a runaway train.

There was no room for writer’s block in my new book. Pace and length and a harrowing story were the key elements. Maybe I’ll try that again.

 

 

Deep Water Blues image

 

Inspired by a true story, artfully told by the author of Searching for Bobby Fischer: A Bahamian island becomes a battleground for a savage private war.

Charismatic expat Bobby Little built his own funky version of paradise on the remote island of Rum Cay, a place where ambitious sport fishermen docked their yachts for fine French cuisine and crowded the bar to boast of big blue marlin catches while Bobby refilled their cognac on the house. Larger than life, Bobby was really the main attraction: a visionary entrepreneur, expert archer, reef surfer, bush pilot, master chef, seductive conversationalist.

But after tragedy shatters the tranquility of Bobby’s marina, tourists stop visiting and simmering jealousies flare among island residents. And when a cruel, different kind of self-made entrepreneur challenges Bobby for control of the docks, all hell breaks loose. As the cobalt blue Bahamian waters run red with blood, the man who made Rum Cay his home will be lucky if he gets off the island alive . . .

When the Ebb Tide cruises four hundred miles southeast from Fort Lauderdale to Rum Cay, its captain finds the Bahamian island paradise he so fondly remembers drastically altered. Shoal covers the marina entrance, the beaches are deserted, and on shore there is a small cemetery with headstones overturned and bones sticking up through the sand. What happened to Bobby’s paradise?

Amazon | Goodreads | Audible

 

 

Fred Waitzkin image

 

 

Fred Waitzkin was born in Cambridge, Massachusetts, in 1943. When he was a teenager he wavered between wanting to spend his life as a fisherman, Afro Cuban drummer or novelist. He went to Kenyon College and did graduate study at New York University. His work has appeared in Esquire, New York magazine, the New York Times Sunday Magazine, the New York Times Book Review, Outside, Sports Illustrated, Forbes, the Huffington Post, and the Daily Beast, among other publications. His memoir, Searching for Bobby Fischer, was made into a major motion picture released in 1993. His other books are Mortal Games, The Last Marlin, and The Dream Merchant. Recently, he has completed an original screenplay, The Rave. Waitzkin lives in Manhattan with his wife, Bonnie, and has two children, Josh and Katya, and two grandsons, Jack and Charlie. He spends as much time as possible on the bridge of his old boat, The Ebb Tide, trolling baits off distant islands with his family. His novel, Deep Water Blues, will be published in spring 2019. You can find more on Fred Waitzkin at his website or check out some exclusive content on Facebook.

 

fredwaitzkin.com | Twitter | Facebook

 

 

Train in snow with reindeer image