Category Archives: Writing

Chapter Endings

There are so many aspects of writing to consider, that it’s hard to think about them all while writing. That’s what editing is for.

But, last night reading in bed, I was brought up short by how C. J. Box ended his chapters. Over the years, I’ve read about a dozen of his Joe Pickett series. His game warden usually gets drawn into investigating crimes that are more complicated than they first appear. His home life mimics that of the author: married with three daughters. As I’m finding, writing my Cornish Detective series, it’s crucial to give the protagonist a personal life, otherwise, he’ll come across as robotic and unfeeling. Also, surveys show that most crime readers are mature females, so it’s wise to include emotions to do with family, friends and partners.

I’ve gotten into a habit of how to end chapters. I don’t know if it’s something I noticed from my reading thousands of crime novels, or whether I saw it as a piece of writing advice, but I tend to have a final sentence that poses a question or which indicates my main character’s mindset. My chapter endings look backwards to what’s happened and forward to possibilities. Thus, from the first Cornish Detective story, Who Kills A Nudist?, (which I’m getting a sore throat narrating), my first four chapters end:

She watched him through her lens for a few more moments. He was so still, perhaps asleep. Then a gull landed and walked over to his face, pecking at his eyes. She grabbed her phone and dialled 999.

He needed to question the witness who’d found the body, an American lady waiting with Mary in her car. Calling a constable over to stand watch on the tent, Neil gave the vic one last look. Who kills a nudist?

* Concentrate Neil, there might be a murder to solve. He’d learn more from CC’s examination of the corpse. Dying on a beach, powerless against the mighty sea felt primitive. Nature reduced us to fragile specks.

* Looking back at the blank staring windows of an empty house, Neil experienced a moment of sorrow. Their victim ought to be at home, repairing the bikes he donated to others, not stretched out cold on a mortuary slab.

In C. J. Box’s Stone Coldhe sometimes just ends a chapter, as in these examples, including in mid-conversation:

He squinted and rubbed his chin.

“Just get done and hurry home”, she said. “I’m worried what I might learn from Mrs Young, and you may need to get to Laramie in a hurry.”

* “You gonna tell me what the problem is?”

No,” he said, turning away.

* Sheridan reached over and pressed PLAY on the Pandora window. Chris LeDoux again, with “Hooked on an 8 Second Ride.”

That’s Mr Templeton out checking his final cutting of the year,” Latta said. Joe noted the tone of admiration in his voice.

It’s made me wonder if I’ve been overthinking things (yet again):rolleyes:. I certainly don’t agonise about how to end a chapter, but I do like to leave off making my readers wonder what’s going to happen next. Sometimes, the reader knows more than my Cornish Detective, which gives them a feeling of superiority, wondering if he can work things out. It’s the hook that drags them back to read more.

How do you end chapters?


Smoking in Fiction

I’m currently enjoying reading Ray Celestin’s The Axeman’s JazzSet in 1919, what’s noticeable, is that everyone in it smokes! It adds to the realism but feels odd, somehow. Smoking has been outlawed and is disapproved of these days, but back then tobacco was marketed as sophisticated and as a health aid.

I’ve never smoked, not one cigarette, partly because several senior members of my family died of lung cancer. As a result, I tend to forget to include smoking in my stories. I’ve just started writing the third story in my Art Palmer series, set in 1867, two years after the American Civil War ended. Smoking was common then, indeed Art is making for his sister’s tobacco plantation, but he doesn’t smoke. Not because he dislikes it, but more because the smell of smoke alerts the enemy to his whereabouts. The war may be over, but danger lurks.

Smoking in fiction is tied to some characters. Just think of Sherlock Holmes puffing on a pipe. He gauged thinking about investigations by his smoking—in The Red-Handed League, he says to Dr Watson:

It is quite a three pipe problem, and I beg that you won’t speak to me for fifty minutes.”

Quite what variety of baccy Gandalf tokes down on with his pipe-weed still causes speculation.

The Caterpillar in Alice In Wonderland favours a hookah to inspire his pithy observations on life.

Hardboiled private-eyes of a certain era are always puffing away. Hard not to think of Humphrey Bogart playing Raymond Chandler’s Philip Marlowe without a cigarette in his mouth.

We shouldn’t forget chewing tobacco. Terry Pratchett’s Discworld books feature Blackheart and Jolly Sailor brands. And, what about the addictive tomacco in The Simpsons?

It’s not all fun…spitting chaw can say a lot about a character, such as Josey Wales:

Smoking can be used to show aspects of a character: their addictive nature, an attempt at sophistication or trying to fit in with a crowd, a means of staving off hunger, an aid to meditating and, as the old excuse goes, giving them ‘something to do with their hands.’

Do any of your characters smoke or chew tobacco?


How writing feels

Browsing the internet this morning, I came across the work of the Spanish self-taught street photographer Joan Colom.

In a portfolio of shots he took at a market, I saw a photograph that made me gasp in recognition, as it depicts how I’m feeling about my writing career at the moment.

It’s always amused me that the word career also means to stagger about…which certainly describes my erratic work history!

Although it’s joyful for me to be immersed in creating a new story, other aspects of writing can be repetitive and mundane. Self-publishing entails self-promotion, and how do I balance that with querying literary agents? I’m currently learning how to narrate and record and edit my voice, so I can add audiobooks versions of my crime novel series to Amazon KDP. But, I should really be adding posts to this writing blog Paul Pens and articles to my Cornish Detective website.

And, what about my presence on Twitter, Pinterest, LinkedIn and Instagram?

There are only so many hours in the day, so I sometimes feel like this market worker manoeuvring his inadequate trolley stacked with crates and trying not to drop any. Do you ever feel overwhelmed?


Photographs & Memories

A while back, I started a thread about Inspiration from Art, but, just recently, I’ve been inspired by photographs.

Online resources for photos are many and most are free to use. I’m currently reading  A Biography of Loneliness by Fay Bound Alberti. I usually look on the back flap to see who designed the cover and was surprised to find that there was no credit given other than Photo by Sweet Ice Cream on Unsplash—which is photo site.

Presumably, someone at the Oxford University Press design department found the photo and added the title and author’s name. It’s an evocative image.

Richard Power’s novel Three Farmers on Their Way to a Dance was inspired by a photo taken by the renowned August Sander.

My friend Mish lives in Wyoming and is a skilful photographer, artist and maker. She buys old photographs at garage sales and repurposes them into collages, which she sells at art and craft markets.

We all take photographs in our mind, memories of happy and sad times. But our memory is rebuilt each time we access it. The plasticity of our memories fascinates me, but it can lead to autoplagiarism, as Oliver Sacks explains:

I’ve confirmed that recently by re-reading some of my old novellas and the first two Cornish Detective novels. Finding the same phrases and even whole sentences in different stories makes me feel like a cheating robot! What worries me about unintentionally cribbing from myself is that it makes my characters sound the same and that they’re all mini-mes! A couple of them even look alike, as I based their appearance on an uncle of mine.

Had I used found images, I could have avoided this trap.

Do any of you get inspired by old photographs?

Jim Croce

Impostor Me….

Impostor Syndrome haunts writers.

I was reminded of it by a brilliant cartoon in today’s newsletter from Hyperallergic.

I smiled at the punchline in the final box.

Once again, I’m feeling like an impostor, as I stumble around learning how to use Twitter and Instagram. I keep wondering: “What am I doing here? Will anything I post make a difference to anything?”

But, that’s part and parcel of being a writer. The world of writing and publishing thrives on creating doubt. Subscribe to one hundred newsletters from writing gurus and soon you’ll be inundated with advice on what you’re doing wrong…and, if you simply pay £450 for a weekend residential course, all of your errors will be chased away.

What a writer desires is some form of validation. Things get so uncertain, that we analyse the language used in rejection letters for solace!

I come alive when I write more of my WIP, which is how I know I’m real and not an impostor. Tweeting and posting on social media is restrictive and repetitive, as I tailor my words to have an effect—which makes me feel like a con man—get the punters’ confidence and maybe they’ll buy my books!

Impostor me…sort of.

How about you?

Should Your Lead Character Have A Twitter Account?

A few months ago, I suggested the idea of giving your main character their own email account:

Recently, I’ve been exploring Twitter, seeking out Colony members and Crime genre authors and literary agents who like crime novels. I intended to use this personal account to make contacts and to promote myself and my Cornish Detective series in a non-pushy way.

My Twitter presence morphed from a Facebook Author page called Paul Pens, which is based on threads I started on The Colony. Last autumn, I started a Facebook business page devoted to my Cornish Detective series. Why not give my fictional hero a Twitter account too?

I searched for advice online, finding this dated article:

Apparently, Twitter verifies the accounts of fictional characters, though this article is from 2012:

There are a lot of Marvel and DC superheroes and fictional heroes tweeting away, as are Homer J. Simpson, Charlie Brown and Lord Voldermort, so I may join in with Detective Chief Inspector Neil Kettle.

Have any of you given your MC a Twitter account?

Do you follow any fictional characters