Guest Blogger Esri Allbritten: Plot Holes on the Writing Road Sunday, Jul 17 2011 

                                                                                                                                                      Plot Holes on the Writing Road

[Note: I’m coming at this from the perspective of writing mysteries, where plot is king, but this applies to all stories.]

My husband and I recently watched an Inspector Lewis episode on Masterpiece Mystery (Episode title: Expiation). I won’t go through the entire, terrifically convoluted plot, but here’s the part that gave us problems. A man finds out that when his wife was a little girl, she had a moment of insanity and killed her infant brother rather horrifically. She’s grown up and apparently normal now, but when the man finds out about her past, he worries that she’ll harm their two kids. However, he still loves her and doesn’t want to hurt her, so he manipulates her into a romance with a friend. She obligingly leaves the husband and marries the friend. That’s all fine, except that the kids go with her. Wait, didn’t the first husband push her away because he was worried about the kids? Plot hole.

This was one hitch in an otherwise satisfying plot, but it deflated our suspended disbelief with an audible hiss. When characters in a story behave in a nonsensical way, they don’t feel real.

I’ve found that the best way to detect plot holes is by listening to my overworked inner voice. Are you making any of the following excuses?

The events in my book take place over a long period of time, so it’s natural that the details are a little fuzzy. (A book plot is not a memory. It’s a narrative of events, and the details should all be there and all make sense.)

It’s not acting out of character if the character changes. People change over time. The readers will understand that. (Not unless you map out the reasons for your character’s change. If you don’t, your character has become a mere plot device, and not a very good one.)

There’s so much great stuff going on in my plot, the reader won’t notice this one little problem. (My husband and I did. Your readers are the same people who leave comments on IMDB like, “In the bar scene, the knot on Simon’s tie changes size.”)

When the action takes place, the reader won’t have enough information to know that it doesn’t quite make sense. (Bad author. No biscuit.)

Plot holes happen. You’re writing away, secure in your outline, when you discover that lawyers don’t have access to certain files. A DUI conviction keeps someone from driving for longer than you thought. Your character needs to have been in a certain military action but is then too old to bear a child. You won’t know about a lot of details until you’re well into your first draft. Ideally, you want a fix that doesn’t require a big rewrite. Here are a couple of methods I’ve used successfully.

Give two characters a shared past that makes sense of the problematic plot point. This back story doesn’t have to be integral to the central plot, and you can keep it secret until it’s convenient to trot it out.

Add a character. If it doesn’t make sense for your existing characters to do something necessary to the plot, give the action to someone new. The nice thing is, characters can be introduced at any point in the story. I had an expedient new character suddenly take center stage and add a tremendous amount to the book.

Add another secret. In the Inspector Lewis plot I described earlier, the author could have had the husband suspect that the kids were fathered by someone else. In that scenario, he wants to avoid the trauma of seeing them hurt, but doesn’t feel as compelled to protect them. After all, his worries might come to nothing. He doesn’t want to take his wife’s children away on a mere suspicion, he just doesn’t want to be involved.

Change your villain. In a mystery, your reader doesn’t know who the murderer is until the story’s end (you hope). If you have a great plot but one of the key points doesn’t quite work, give the gun/pillow/poison to someone else. I’ve done this twice, and couldn’t believe what an easy fix it was. After all, each of your suspects should have some reason to kill the victim, in order to provide red herrings. Until you reveal everything at the end, it could be any of them. Use that to your advantage.

A rich, complex plot is satisfying to the reader, but it’s also more work. Review your plot periodically while you’re writing. Be flexible. This kind of quality control is part of being a good writer. Your readers will notice and appreciate it.

————–

Esri Allbritten is the author of Chihuahua of the Baskervilles, published by St. Martin’s Press/Minotaur Books  and available in hardback and ebook.   

Tripping Magazine is a low-budget travel rag that covers destinations of paranormal interest. The problem is, every time the staff tries to cover a supposedly supernatural event, there’s a crime behind it (think Scooby Doo for adults). In Chihuahua of the Baskervilles, the staff of Tripping Magazine hears about a ghostly Chihuahua seen by Charlotte Baskerville. Charlotte is the rich founder of Petey’s Closet, a clothing catalog for small dogs. Editor Angus MacGregor, photographer Suki Oota, and writer Michael Abernathy travel to Manitou Springs, where the ghost howls advice and spells out threats in tiny paw prints. But is the glowing apparition really Petey’s ghost, or is someone in Charlotte’s household trying to teach a dead dog new tricks – like murder? It’s up to Tripping Magazine to save Charlotte Baskerville, preferably without losing the story.

Visit EsriAllbritten.com to read an excerpt of Chihuahua of the Baskervilles.

Karin Fossum Sunday, Jun 12 2011 

First things first: I have to credit Florida writer Glynn Marsh Alam, creator of the Luanne Fogarty Mysteries, with turning me on to Norwegian writer Karin Fossum. I met Glynn at the Cape Fear Crime Festival and we shared our favorite authors. Once I started on Fossum’s Inspector Sejer series, I gobbled them up, and I promise, you will, too.

Fossum has written poetry and general fiction but her award-winning crime novels have now been translated into sixteen languages. Her inspector has been dubbed “the Morse of the fjords” as he uses his intellect, reasoning, and knowledge of human nature to solve the crimes that fall across his path. Fossum’s coastal Norwegian settings and small villages are brought to life, but the novels are character-driven, as she displays an understanding of the psychology of her characters, as does Sejer, and writes from the points of view of all the main participants. For some reason, two of the Sejer novels remain untranslated, but the publication dates I’ll give you are the US editions. Today’s blog will cover the first three. While you can read them and enjoy them in any order, you follow the trajectory of Sejer’s personal life if you read them in order. He is extremely likableand appealing, conflicted in veryhuman ways, and very fond of his huge Leonberger, Kollberg.

2002 Don’t Look Back:    This novel won both The Riverton Prize and the Glass Key for Best Nordic Detective Novel.

In a rural village such as the ones most of Fossum’s characters inhabit, a young child, Ragnhild, goes missing. The frantic search for her reveals the naked, dead body of a well-known and well-liked schoolgirl. Annie often babysat for most of the families on her road; she was strong and intelligent.  Investigating her untimely death are Inspector Konrad Sejer and his colleague Jacob Skorre, both likable, but distinctly different. As he investigates, Sejer uncovers layers of distrust that run through the village. From page one, Fossum has the reader hooked with a tension that never lets up. Annie is drawn for Sejer in the words of the people he interviews. He tried to reconstruct the murder by retracing Annie’s last moments and chillingly succeeds. The book is filled with the crisscrossed stories that maintain the tension, as the patient Sejer unravels the stories and red herrings of people’s secrets with the ones that lead to Annie’s murderer.

2003 Hear Who Fears the Wolf:           Errki is a schizophrenic who escapes from a mental institution and is seen in the area when the horrifically murdered body of elderly widow Halldis Horn is found on her doorstep.

A young obese boy who lives in a nearby group home find the body and alerts the police. The case swings into action just as Sejer is literally thrust into the middle of a bank robbery with a hostage taken that  same morning. Trying not to be sidetracked by the hostage situation, Sejer and Skarre begin to track down both criminals. As he searches for these strange criminals, Sejer comes up against small-town prejudices that twist every version of the information he seeks to collect. Fossum’s gives the reader extraordinary insight into the psychologically warped mind and the lives which have been marginalized because of it. She is every bit as good as getting inside the psyche of children or adults.

2004 When the Devil Holds the Candle: 

This novel won the Gumshoe Award for Best European Crime Novel.

Two teenaged punks steal a young mother’s purse with dramatic and unforeseen consequences. The events they set into action tie what at first appear to be loose threads and unrelated perspectives, but are skillfully woven in Fossum’s hands.

When one of the delinquent’s disappears, Sejer doesn’t immediately connect the two crimes. The chilling and awful truth unfolds inside an old woman’s home. Fossum has Sejer do his usual digging beneath the surface of the quiet life in the small towns she features in her novels. It is to her credit that she understands how chillingly violence destroys everyday life, and that she is able to bring these places and these characters to life.

In subsequent blog I’ll discuss the next 3 Sejer novels available in the US, but don’t wait! Get started now on a series you’ll find impossible to put down.

I’ll Walk Alone Sunday, Jun 5 2011 

Mary Higgins Clark’s newest fits her traditional pattern: readers know the hero and heroine, don’t ever doubt they’ll somehow find their way to each other, despite the odds the author throws in their pathway. Readers know exactly what they’re getting when they pick up one of her books, which is exactly Clark’s reason for continued popularity.

Still, it’s not the way her books will turn out that keep readers in droves flocking back; it’s the obstacles and plot she comes up with, the familiar and realistic New York setting, and the look at the way some people get to live their lives. Clark pointed this out in a recent Wall Street Journal interview, where she felt her detractors claims of ‘formulaic’ fiction don’t understand her audience the way she does. Why change a pattern that has been shown readers adore? she noted. Why indeed? I’ll Walk Alone is her 37th novel to hit the best selling lists, not counting the 5 she’s written with her daughter Carol.

This time identity theft plays a part in the life of interior decorator Zan Moreland. Still reeling from the kidnapping of her son, Matthew, two years before, Zan is a gifted designer on the brink of a huge career break when she discovers someone is using her credit cards and manipulating her bank accounts to destroy her reputation.

Clark ratchets up the heat when she adds kidnapping and murder to the perpetrator’s brutal crimes. Then on what would be Matthew’s fifth birthday, photo’s emerge of what seem to show Zan kidnapping her own child. Plot twists tell Zan someone has literally stolen her identity, down to ordering the clothing she wears.

The press is baying, her ex-husband is attacking her, and the police think she’s a schizophrenic kidnapper–Zan certainly has lot on her plate, in true Clark style. I’ll let you spot the hero for yourselves. For brain candy that you know will have the heroine triumphing, no one is better than Mary Higgins Clark.

Sacrifice by S J Bolton Monday, May 2 2011 

SJ Bolton lives with her family near Oxford, one of my favorite places on Earth, lucky gal. But she grew up in Lancashire and has always been fascinated by British traditional folklore.

You’ll see the evidence of this as you read her debut novel, Sacrifice, where she skillfully weaves a centuries-0ld myth into the very fabric of her story, where deceit is the name of the day.

Obstetrician Tora Hamilton is an outsider to the Shetland Islands but to her husband, Duncan, it’s where he grew up and both of his parents still live there.  The rocky, wind-swept landscape takes getting used to, but Tora is trying to embrace this new life, along with her position at the local hospital. Her horses give her solace until the day Duncan is away on business, and a dig into the peat on their property reveals a human body. At first Tora is convinced this is a bog body, a hundreds-year-old cadaver that has been preserved in the peat, interesting but not uncommon in the area.

At least, that’s what Tora tells herself, until she uncovers more of the body, realizes it is much younger, and sees the woman’s heart has been cut out only a few days after bearing a child.

Tora becomes obsessed with finding out who murdered this new mother in such a horrible way, and what happened to her child. Her research takes her back to an ancient Shetland legend, but the evil she finds has a very modern basis, and the dark secrets she unearths lead her to a systemic destruction of everything she thought she believed in. Her faith in those around her destroyed, Tora doesn’t know who she can trust, if anyone.

Readers of Anne Cleeves Shetland Island novels will be familiar with the barren landscape and physical challenges of living in such an area, which adds to the terror as Tora’s journey takes off in a series of escalating twists.

This is a page-turning debut, a real chiller, that will have you rooting for Tora. Bolton has several other novels I’ve ordered and will report on later this summer, but this initial novel promises her to be a writer whose books you’ll be waiting for down the road.

Millie Wonka Monday, Apr 18 2011 

Millie is a writer friend of mine who has the handle on turning the commonplace and everyday into the funny and absurd.

After much convincing, she’s just launched her new blog: http://milliewonka.wordpress.com.

Do yourself a favor and have a 30 second laugh at one of her amusing stories. It’s a great way to start or end your day!!

HRF Keating: In Memoriam Sunday, Apr 3 2011 

Instead of the usual review, this week features the obituary of the wonderful writer HRF Keating, who died on Monday, March 28th.  His second protagonist, Detective Harriet Martens (The Hard Detective and six others) is a personal favorite of mine, a woman who has pulled herself up through the rank’s of a man’s world.

But there’s no question Inspector Ganesh Ghote is for whom Keating will be most fondly remembered. The Indian detective brought more empathy and pathos to a story than any hard-boiled detective ever had.  It is with fond memories and deep regret that I share this wonderful article by Mike Ripley, of the UK Guardian, and hope that readers unfamiliar with Keating’s work will be inspired by the man to pick up one of his wonderful novels.

HRF Keating published more than 50 novels over half a century. Photograph: Nicola Kurtz/National Portrait Gallery London
The crime writer Henry Reymond Fitzwalter Keating, who has died aged 84, was more than happy to be known simply as Harry, although publishers always billed him as HRF Keating. Over half a century, he published roughly 50 novels. More than two dozen of these featured his best-known hero, the unassuming Indian policeman Inspector Ganesh Ghote, who also appeared in short stories, and television and film adaptations of Keating’s books. Timid, nervous and deferential, Ghote was neither a detective genius like Sherlock Holmes nor a streetwise tough-guy like Philip Marlowe. He was always underestimated by his enemies but his great strength was a combination of integrity, perseverance and an overwhelmingly benevolent interest in people.
Keating wrote several books before creating Ghote. His first novel, Death and the Visiting Firemen, was published in 1959. It was followed by more witty and slightly surreal novels, with intriguing titles such as Zen There Was Murder (1960) and The Dog It Was That Died (1962). However, Keating’s highly contrived plots and acute sense of whimsy failed to find favour in the US. In a deliberate move to break into the American market, he decided he needed a solid detective hero and an interesting location. As he described the process: “I sat down with the atlas and when I got to ‘page India’ I thought that looked interesting.”
The result was the first Ghote novel, The Perfect Murder (1964), which won the gold dagger for fiction, awarded by the Crime Writers’ Association (CWA). It was an outstanding success in America, being declared book of the year (as early as April) by the influential critic Anthony Boucher. Keating never saw Ghote as a long-term prospect, think- ing that there were potentially two or three more books in the series. But readers began to demand a book a year, and Keating wisely stayed loyal to his most unlikely detective and became, or so it was assumed, an expert on all things Indian.
His gentle manner and a particularly luxuriant beard gave Keating something of the aura of a guru. In fact, he had never been anywhere near India. Things, as he said “were going quite nicely without having to face the actuality” when, one morning in the 1970s, the postman delivered a letter from Air India offering a flight to Bombay (now Mumbai) so that he might see the country he had been describing in convincing detail for the best part of a decade.
Although reassured that his Inspector Ghote books had many fans in India, it was with some trepidation that Keating steeled himself for his arrival with a much-rehearsed speech starting: “One small step for Inspector Ghote …” Instead, he stepped out of the aircraft with the immortal words: “God, it’s hot.”
In 1988, The Perfect Murder was adapted for a film, directed by Zafar Hai and produced by Ismail Merchant, with a cameo role for the author. But the gentle Indian policeman, who constantly worried about what people thought of him, was considered an unfashionable protagonist for the 1990s and, on the advice of agents and publishers, Keating ended Ghote’s career with the novel Breaking and Entering (2000). He then created a British female detective, Harriet Martens, who was to star in seven novels, commencing with The Hard Detective (2000). The audio-book versions of the novels were read by Keating’s wife, the actor Sheila Mitchell, whom he had married in 1953.
Ghote was gone but not forgotten and, despite having deposited most of his research files and notes in a Kensington recycling bin, Keating resurrected him in Inspector Ghote’s First Case (2008) and A Small Case for Inspector Ghote? (2009), two prequels set in the early 1960s, when the influence of the British Raj was still a tangible memory. Keating deliberately chose a historical setting, realising that the Ghote of Bombay, as originally envisaged, could not exist in modern Mumbai.
Apart from his own crime fiction, which won him numerous awards – including a second gold dagger for The Murder of the Maharajah (1980), and, in 1996, the CWA’s diamond dagger for lifetime achievement – Keating established an awesome reputation as an expert on the genre. He served as chairman of the CWA (1970-71); president of the Detection Club (1985-2000), a group of mystery writers; and chairman of the Society of Authors (1983-84).
As a critic, he reviewed crime fiction for the Times from 1967 to 1983. He treated as a challenge the restriction of having no more than 30 words per book to encapsulate his opinion and always preferred to recommend rather than revile titles. He wrote and lectured on Agatha Christie and Sherlock Holmes; edited the critical surveys Crime Writers (1978) and Whodunit? (1982); and wrote the guide Writing Crime Fiction (1986).
Bravely, and controversially, he chose his personal favourites from the genre in Crime and Mystery: The 100 Best Books (1987). In 1977 he had identified the first of what he thought would be “a considerable stream” of more violent thrillers in the work of a then unknown author, James Patterson. He also predicted great things for a British crime writer, Jacqueline Wilson, who was soon to turn from crime to children’s fiction.
Never comfortable with computers or the internet, Keating retained a great affection for fountain pens and letter-writing. In 1980, he acted as a go-between for Glidrose Productions, owners of the rights to the James Bond novels, to recruit the thriller writer John Gardner to continue the franchise. Gardner later recalled that the Keating approach had come “handwritten, on Basildon Bond notepaper”.
In 2000, Keating and I were asked to jointly compile the 100 best crime novels of the 20th century for the Times and, with only two exceptions and virtually no argument, the list was agreed, with justification for each title, amicably and to deadline, by post. To mark his 80th birthday in 2006, the Detection Club produced an anthology of new crime stories in his honour, The Verdict of Us All. The contributors list – including Colin Dexter, PD James, Reginald Hill and, with his first short story for 30 years, Len Deighton – showed the respect and affection felt for Keating.
Keating was born in St Leonards-on-Sea, East Sussex, and educated at Merchant Taylors’ school in Middlesex and Trinity College Dublin, where he read English and French. He was said to have written his first story, entitled Jim’s Adventure, aged eight, the framed first page of which, picked out with two fingers on his father’s typewriter, had pride of place in his study.
After training as a journalist with the Westminster Press Group in Slough, Keating joined the Daily Telegraph in 1956 and settled in Notting Hill, west London, where he was to remain in the same house for more than 50 years. The Perfect Murder, and three of the other early Inspector Ghote titles, will be republished next month.
He is survived by Sheila; his children, Simon, Piers, Hugo and Bryony; and nine grandchildren.
• Henry Reymond Fitzwalter Keating, writer and critic, born 31 October 1926; died 27 March 2011

The Crossing Places Monday, Mar 28 2011 

There’s a wonderful new series out there from author Elly Griffiths, who lives in Brighton on the English coast with her husband and two children. The fact that her protagonist is so far from herself let’s us see this author’s talent immediately.  The Crossing Places introduces forensic archeologist Dr. Ruth Galloway. In her late thirties, Ruth and her two cats live in a remote area of the Norfolk coast on a marshy beach. with few neighbors. Griffiths has given us a Ruth who is overweight and considers herself a spinster. Combined with her wry humor and rare insight into people, readers are inspired to like her right from the start.

Ruth’s quiet life is about to change. Detective Chief Inspector Nelson enlists Ruth’s aid when a child’s bones are found on the beach. Nelson believes they are the remains of Lucy Downey, a child missing for over ten years. The unsolved case that has haunted him begins to haunt Ruth, and an unlikely alliance is formed. Along the way we meet Ruth’s colleagues at the college where she lectures, learn about her family and her mentors from the past, and meet her previous lover. The story is strong and suspenseful, with Nelson receiving taunting letters from Lucy’s abductor, containing bizarre allusions to the Bible and ritual sacrifice. Then a second child goes missing, and search intensifies.

The Crossing Places is atmospheric, with a distinct sense of place and layers of plot that have me already ordering the second in the series, The Janus Stone. A third is due out shortly. With first-rate characters and a chilling climax, the richness of this novel portends a distinctive addition to crime fiction.

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Lee Lofland

The Graveyard Shift

S L Hollister, author

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Liz Loves Books

The Wonderful World of Reading

The Life of Guppy

the care and feeding of our little fish

dru's book musings

Reading is a wonderful adventure!

JoHanna Massey

"I tramp the perpetual journey." Walt Whitman

MiddleSisterReviews.com

(mid'-l sis'-tǝr) n. the reader's favorite sister

My train of thoughts on...

Smile! Don't look back in anger.

Emma Kayne

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K.R. Morrison, Author

My author site--news and other stuff about books and things

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Indie Writer and Publisher

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Writers & writing: books, movies, art & music - the bits & pieces of a (retiring) writer's life

Gaslight Crime

Authors and reviewers of historical crime fiction

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