Missy Jenkins Musical Mysteries

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THE TWIST ENDING

Posted on September 7, 2019 at 5:40 PM Comments comments (199)
Remember that a good plot twist can't be thrown in at the end just to fool the reader. You have to play fair. When readers look back, they should be able to see all the clues and realize that everything fits into place. With a perfect twist ending, the reader ought to smack their forehead and say, "Wow, what a great ending! I should have seem that coming."
     If you kept the reader guessing until the final confrontation, your twist was exceptional. Here are some tips to help achieve that goal:
  1. Use misdirection - keep your reader distracted. Like a magician, try to keep the reader's attention on something that will lead him astray from your final surprise ending.
  2. Foreshadowing - some hint near the beginning of the book that tells the reader what to expect, then rewards him for that expectation at the end (but hopefully after he's forgotten about it). The best foreshadowing is subtle and flows so well with the characters and plot that it isn't clear until hindsight it was priming the reader for the twist.
  3. Use a few red herrings - point the reader in the wrong direction, so that like in a maze, he bumps up against some blank walls. This can keep him confused and hopefully set him up for the twist at the end.
  4. Hide your clues in action, dialogue, lists, jokes, and dreams. Although the clues are there, they may not be obvious at the time, so the reader won't see the ending coming from a mile off. Yet when the twist does come, he can look back and recognize what he missed.
     These are my suggestions to create well-written, emotionally satisfying plot twists. If you properly set up your reader's expectations, even when he doesn't get what he anticipated, he'll realize it's still what he wanted.
I HOPE YOU ENJOYED THIS 5-PART SERIES, "PLOTTING A MYSTERY." READ ALL 5 PARTS IN MY BLOG POSTS, OR IF YOU WOULD LIKE A COPY OF THE ENTIRE SERIES, EMAIL A REQUEST TO [email protected]

THE USUAL SUSPECTS: WHAT'S THEIR MOTIVE?

Posted on July 11, 2019 at 4:22 PM Comments comments (73)
Every mystery is filled with the usual suspects to keep the reader guessing "whodunit" until the end. Have at least four characters in your novel who have possible motives to commit the crime. They will be hiding secrets, lying to your protagonist, and acting suspiciously throughout the book; they each may have a reason to want the victim dead. But only one is lying about being the killer. Your job as the author is to trick the reader into believing right up until the final disclosure--that any one of those suspects could be guilty. Here are some ways to do that:
  1. Motives - Your usual suspects should all have different plausible reasons to want to see the victim dead. For example, the wife who's having an affair and wants to cash in on the insurance money. (Sure, it's cliché, but as one of my favorite TV cops likes to say, "It's always the wife, it's always the wife...") Or, a long-lost illegitimate son who was rejected when he tried to reconnect with his father. Or, a business partner who was caught embezzling the company's funds. You get the picture--the possibilities are yours to create.
  2. Organize your clues - Write down those reasons and connect them to the victim in some sort of chart, or list, or whatever method works best for you. Now your suspects are lined up, including the one you know is guilty. You have at least four different ways the crime might have happened. That also gives you several different paths for your sleuth to follow, secrets to uncover, blind alleys to blunder into, then finally, to find her way to the real killer. It helps to really know your characters and their secrets. Write a bio of each suspect, why they want the victim dead, what they're lying about or hiding, so that you can plant clues about them along the way.
  3. Misdirection - Like a magician, a mystery writer uses misdirection and red herrings to lead the reader astray. Suspect #1 must have done it; then you're sure it was suspect #3; oh no, it can't be him, suspect #4 is the logical culprit, but then suddenly she's the next victim! And so it goes until the end. Agatha Christie was the best at keeping us guessing and she always came up with a new twist at the end.
  4. Lies - Have your characters lie: to your sleuth, to the police, to each other. All your suspects have their secrets, so they all have their reasons to lie. It makes them real, too. We all keep secrets, we all lie sometimes, but often small things can be misinterpreted. Everyone is lying, but only one is lying about being a murderer.
  5. Dialogue - Use dialogue to show motive. As characters speak, they reveal their true personalities. The action tags and movements show the characters' emotions as they carry on a conversation, and how they react to the other people. All these things can give the reader subtle hints and clues about each character.
Always remember - each one of your "usual suspects" should have a solid motive so that the reader can believe, right up to the end, any one of them could be the killer!

Coming soon - PART FOUR: BUILDING SUSPENSE

PLOTTING A MYSTERY, part two

Posted on June 19, 2019 at 7:42 PM Comments comments (69)
PLOTTING A MYSTERY, PART TWO: PLANTING CLUES AND RED HERRINGS
   There are several techniques to use for dropping clues and hiding secrets. You can divert attention from a clue with an action or a joke; you can drop clues in dreams; you can hide clues in lists of interesting things; or you can use dialogue for misdirection.
  1. Distract the reader with action. J.K. Rowling does this at the beginning of Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban with Scabbers the rat; he's mentioned as being old and missing a toe and the shopkeeper notes that an ordinary rat shouldn't live more than three years. Just as they begin to wonder why Scabbers is different, the action comes in, when Crookshanks the cat jumps on Ron's head and sets off chasing Scabbers. This diverts the attention from the clues.
  2. Distract the reader with jokes or ridiculous suggestions. In my Missy Jenkins novels, one of Missy's habits is spinning wild theories. Her husband, her best friend Ronnie, and Ronnie's husband, police officer Mark, are constantly complaining about her crazy ideas. That's why when she comes up with a viable theory, the reader doesn't recognize it. The clue is overlooked.
  3. Drop clues in dreams. This technique is quite common because all of us have weird dreams that make no sense at one point or another. J.K. Rowling uses dreams throughout the Harry Potter series; I use dreams in my mystery series as well. As in the previous example with the ridiculous theories, parts of the dream are fantasy, while other parts can be clues.
  4. Hide clues in lists of interesting things. This is almost the same as hiding clues in the middle of a bunch of crazy ideas, but this time you may be giving the readers a laundry list of ordinary items, none of which mean anything--except for the one important clue embedded within the list. Example: Read The Maltese Falcon and note the first time it is mentioned in the story.
  5. Use dialogue for the characters to misdirect the reader and each other. Have them talk at cross purposes; hedge; disagree; lie. It goes a long way toward making them sound human. Also: Sometimes the clue is what didn't happen or wasn't said or isn't there. Remember Conan Doyle's dog that didn't bark in the night?
  6. The Red Herring: Planting a False Clue. The actual red herring was smoked, then dragged across the trail to distract hunting dogs from their objective. Fictional red herrings serve the same purpose; they suggest attractive prey, a trail to follow, that ultimately leads nowhere--a dead end. Use them sparingly or they get annoying and lose their power.

Coming soon - PART THREE: "THE USUAL SUSPECTS--WHAT'S THEIR MOTIVE?"

PLOTTING A MYSTERY

Posted on June 12, 2019 at 8:17 PM Comments comments (72)
How does a mystery writer go about planting clues and red herrings, fill the book with the usual suspects and the right amount of foreshadowing, enough conflict and suspense to keep the reader guessing whodunit, with a twist at the end? Follow along on the series of blogs, coming up in the next several weeks, to see what worked for me.

This week's blog is titled "Outline or Not, but Have a Plan."
     Whether you're a plotter or a "pantser," when writing a mystery you can't leave everything to chance. Let me be honest. I don't always know the end of the story when I start writing. I don't always write in any particular order. In fact, I write sketchy outlines after my first draft and even then, I'm bound to change them later. Still, I know I need at least somewhat of a plan.
     For my first novel, Terror in Double Time, the historical subplot was the 1979 Three Mile Island nuclear power plant accident, so my mystery had to fall within a certain timeline. That gave me an outline I could follow. Certain events in the mystery had to happen on certain days of the disaster.
     In the second book in the series, Death in 3/4 Time, I based the plot on an unsolved true crime, and took the ending in my own what if? direction. So I knew the ending (whodunit), even though I didn't know all the details of how I'd get to the end. So, no outline, no real plot, but a beginning and an end, so I did have a plan.
     When I started writing Killing in Quarter Time, book three, all I had was an idea. I didn't plot; I just started writing and hoped the characters would show me the way. After all, I had lived with the main characters through two other books, I knew them as well as I knew myself! The characters showed me the way, all right--they took me in a totally different direction than where I was going in the first half. I had to go back and re-write. finding and changing all the clues I had already planted.
     That novel made me re-think my way of writing. I still like the quote from E.L. Doctorow: "Writing is like driving at night in the fog. You can only see so far as your headlights, but you can make the whole trip that way." That works for my short stories, but maybe it's not such a good idea for a traditional whodunit.
     Look for my next installment: "The Usual Suspects--What's Their Motive?"

Who is Missy Jenkins?

Posted on June 27, 2018 at 8:22 PM Comments comments (78)
Write your post here.

ARE YOU A PLOTTER OR A PANTSER?

Posted on June 3, 2018 at 8:08 PM Comments comments (114)

ARE YOU A PLOTTER OR A PANTSER?

What does that mean? To a writer, it describes how you go about your writing process.

A “plotter” means that the writer starts by making an outline before the first sentence of the novel is written. She knows how the story starts, where it’s going and she knows the ending. She knows every character, what they’re going to do, where they’re going and when. Sure, once and a while she might change her mind and stray from her outline—she’s not inflexible, after all—but there will still be a revised outline and a clear ending in mind. For some people, that works. For some, that’s too restrictive.

A “pantser” is a writer who “flies by the seat of her pants.” She has an idea for a story, starts writing, and lets the characters and the story take her where they will. It’s fun, it’s creative, and it works. Most of the time. Sometimes you can write yourself into a corner. Sometimes you can go off on tangents.  But the creative freedom the pantser enjoys far outweighs, for them, the plotting and organizing that the plotter goes through prior to putting pen to paper (or fingers to keyboard).

Whichever type of writer you are, each has its merits and there are excellent authors from both camps. As writers, we all have our preferences, and we all agree—whatever process works for you is the right (write) one!

WRITING IN RHYTHM

Posted on January 23, 2018 at 5:41 PM Comments comments (50)

            Call it flow, pacing, or movement—your scenes, chapters, paragraphs, and sentences should be varied in length and technique. As a musician, I prefer to call it rhythm.

            Short, choppy sentences and fragments add tension to a scene. In real life, sentences tend to grow shorter as we become more upset. We speak in fragments, sometimes uttering single words at a time. Especially when used in dialogue, this can add a sense of reality to a scene.

            Add beats to your dialogue—bits of action interspersed through the scene. Replace the “he said, she said” tags with action or physical gestures to make your writing more interesting. Interior monologue can also be considered a sort of interior beat. Beats serve a variety of purposes, such as allowing you to vary the pace of your dialogue.

Frequent paragraphing gives dialogue extra snap and adds tension to a scene. It’s like the staccato sound of a musical instrument: sharp, crisp, quick. Also try to avoid paragraphs that run more than half a page in length. Unbroken chunks of written material are off-putting to many of today’s readers. Some white space on the page is visually inviting and can make your writing more engaging. Brief scenes and even short chapters can add to your story’s tension as well.

The opposite approach also applies. If your style is a narrative, more relaxed approach—in musician’s terms, legato—you need a more leisurely rhythm to your writing. Longer sentences and paragraphs can soothe the reader, and that’s okay if your goal is literary prose, narration, description or introspection. Just remember—sentences and paragraphs should still vary in length so as not to bore or confuse the reader.

 Sometimes a slow chapter nestled into an action-packed story can lull the reader into a false sense of security before the next tension-filled scene. The important thing to remember is that the rhythm of your writing must have variety. If you’re writing a mostly high octane story—thriller, adventure or mystery—you need a few scenes or chapters to let your characters decompress, slow down, relax, regroup. If you’re writing a slower-paced, narrative story, remember you still need some tension—your protagonist still has a goal and problems to solve.

Meet Missy Jenkins

Posted on September 28, 2016 at 11:41 PM Comments comments (69)
Missy Jenkins is a piano teacher who lives in the small community of Twin Pines, located on the outskirts of Middletown, Pennsylvania. She is in her thirties, married to a construction worker and has two young boys. The Missy Jenkins musical mystery series is set during the late 1970s so the music that weaves throughout the series includes disco, rock and classical themes. Missy teaches her students, and her readers, bits of musical history and trivia along the way.
Every protagonist needs strengths and weaknesses, and for Missy, her character strengths are also the flaws that get her into trouble. She cares about her friends and neighbors, so she feels the need to help them. Whether they want her help or not. She gives piano lessons to most of the children and teenagers in Twin Pines, so she knows everyone. She can't stop herself from getting involved, so sometimes she ends up knowing too much. And that can lead to danger . . . or murder.

WHO IS MISSY JENKINS?

Posted on July 23, 2016 at 3:21 PM Comments comments (51)

Death in 3/4 Time

Posted on June 14, 2016 at 12:30 AM Comments comments (54)
The second book in the Missy Jenkins musical mystery series, "Death in 3/4 Time," takes place in December of 1979. The following excerpt is from Chapter One:
     The sparkle of ice on the bedroom window softened the deep blue of the winter night. She glanced at the clock on the nightstand. Two a.m. With her husband on a business trip and her teenagers spending the night with friends, this was her opportunity to indulge her secret passion for ballroom dance.
     Taking a deep breath, she inhaled the cool, clean pine scent of the Christmas garland looped around the upstairs bannister. Lilting strains of a Strauss waltz played softly as the woman's slippered feet slid noiselessly across the hardwood floor. Head tilted to one side, embracing an invisible partner, she glided to the rise and fall of the waltz rhythm. One-two-three, one-two-three. Her heart soared with the freedom the music instilled in her. As she twirled, the pink chiffon skirt of the ball gown swirled out like an airy puff of cotton candy, then settled back around her shapely calves. The neckline was adorned with marabou feathers that fluttered gracefully in time with the rhythm of her movements.
     Behind her, the lid to the chest containing her ball gowns was propped open. Once, long ago, she thought she would become a dancer. But her husband scoffed at her love of dance, suppressed her joy. Her children who used to prance around the house with her as toddlers, ridiculed her as soon as their father's influence took hold. For many years she gave in and gave up. Now, with only a few weeks remaining of 1979, a new decade promised a fresh start for her. She had finally found the self-confidence to live the life she wanted, not what others demanded of her. She had shared her secret with someone she could trust, and a weight had been lifted.
     She thought about the wasted years. A rollercoaster of emotional highs and lows had marked her married life. Marital bliss had soon eroded into lies and infidelity. When her son was born, she devoted herself into becoming the perfect mother. After her daughter was born, a failed suicide attempt sent her to the psychiatrist who prescribed the drugs that had ruled her life since then. Manic-depressive, the doctor called it. Looking back, now that she no longer relied on the pills to get her through the day, she realized how overcompensating and overprotective she had become.
     A loud noise jolted her out of her reverie. What was that? She turned off the music and listened intently. Nothing. The old feeling of paranoia welled up inside her. No! She closed the lid of the chest holding the gowns and waited. The hall was dark, the house bathed in silence. A few months ago, she would have said that withdrawal symptoms were making her imagination run wild. But not any more. She definitely heard a noise. She started down the stairs.

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