Archive for the ‘Mystery’ Category

Make a Scene with Jordan Rosenfeld

Monday, April 14th, 2014


How can you write a scene with emotional impact, reader involvement, and suspense? 

Author Jordan Rosenfeld spoke to the California Writers Club, Mt. Diablo Branch and shared valuable tips for writers of all genres.  

 With every scene you create, ask yourself, what is the point of the scene?  Does it move your story forward, or is it just a block of setting description?  In showing setting, make your character interact with her surroundings

Great advice!  I critiqued manuscripts at one conference where a writer created a lovely Victorian Christmas which dominated the first chapter.  I suggested she weave in the setting elements as the character acted and reacted, foreshadowing the mystery ahead. 

She said, “Great idea!  But this house doesn’t play a role in the rest of my story at all.”  So why include it?  Once she began writing with her plot and character in mind, her character acted, reacted, and experienced the setting through sensory images.  It wasn’t overblown this time, and she created a reason for her scene to be there: she introduced characters and hinted at the mystery coming.

Rosenfeld advised writers create tension through emotional complexity.  Characters can experience more than one feeling at a time.  The uncertainty can be showed through their thoughts and dialogue, the writer’s word choice, how a word sounds, and imagery

For more information, read her book, Make Scenes, published through Writer’s Digest, and visit her website:  

Writing Prompts:

  1. It’s your turn!  Create a scene by involving your character in the setting shown through the elements above.  Make sure your scene moves the story’s plot forward.  Ask yourself:  Why must it be here?
  2. Tony Serra, attorney for Raymond “Shrimp Boy” Cow, at a federal court appearance said, “Law enforcement is supposed to investigate crime and criminal activity.  In this case, they created crime and criminal activity.”  (Source:  Heather Knight, San Francisco Chronicle.)  Use this quote to create a scene employing Rosenfeld’s advice. 
  3. Write an article, nonfiction piece, or essay with a scene focusing on the tips above.


Deepen Your Writing with Symbols

Tuesday, February 11th, 2014

I turned the page of my book, soaking in the story, silence, and reveling in peaceful solitude. Not total solitude, since my Yorkie, Zoie’s rhythmic breathing relaxed me as she slept in my lap.


Straightening up with a jerk, I woke my deaf dog.

What was a mooing cow doing INSIDE this room?

Could it have been from an electronic device? Perhaps my husband neglected to take his phone with him. I smiled at the irony of this sound in my suburban California home. Maybe Dad was saying hello from the other side? He spent the first half of his life farming with dairy cows in southeastern Wisconsin, and as a baby and toddler I lived on that family farm, too. Hi Dad, I thought, glad he’d retained his sense of humor.

As I settled back into my story, Zoie, reassured by my calm demeanor, snoozed again.


The realistic animal sound came from our family room cupboard. I got up to investigate. Nothing in the stacks of paper, pens, and recipes gave a hint to the mystery. Old video tapes didn’t look as though they’d moo, either. But when I reached Zoie’s dog toys, I knew the puzzle’s answer. A black and white fabric ball must contain the noisemaker. Although it hadn’t worked in years, and I didn’t know it had held a noise device when I threw it in the washing machine, that process could have reactivated it.


Dad greeted me.

I prefer this answer.

Whenever we try to make this ball produce sound effects, nothing happens. But on its own . . .


Writing Prompts:

1. What signs or symbols can you discover within the book you’re reading? Through their repetition, what is its underlying meaning?
2. What sign or symbol can you develop within the project you’re writing? Through carefully placed repetition, your motif may strengthen your theme, characters, and/or plot.
3. Create an artistic representation of your symbol. How does it relate to you? Perhaps this may become another layer of its meaning.

Organize your Writing like Target Shopping Center

Tuesday, August 2nd, 2011

Today visited Target to purchase ONE item, but of course we always check out the DVD section, in case they have a $5.00 one that might be a classic.   We waltzed in to discover a shiny remodeled store. 

Instead of placing the DVDs in the front like before, we had to meander through many other aisles before finding them at the back.  Of course winding our way through other brightly colored attractively arranged sections  reminded me those pretty blue placemats and bowls with clever tight-sealing lids I couldn’t live without.

Finally reaching the DVDs, I muttered, “I wonder why they put them all the way back here?”  My hands were full of this and that.  My husband’s hands were too. 

He looked down at our stuff and said, “Gee, I WONDER why?” 

Duh.  Target wanted us to wander around and take our time see what they had to offer.   

Do this in your writing, too. 

Make your reader go deeper in your novel to find what they are looking for.  The answers shouldn’t be out there right away, easily discovered.  That’s no fun!  It’s more intriguing if the reader has to dig, search, and wander around a bit to find out what is going on.

No matter if you are 9 or 90, writing for kids or adults, a short story or a novel, your first page should place a question in the reader’s mind, begging them to turn that page and wander on for more. 

I picked up a used copy of Mary E. Pearson’s young adult novel, The Adoration of Jenna Fox, flipped it open, and saw the previous owner’s name in the cover. 


Turning to the first page, I read the first several lines of the book.  (A book I’ve previously read and loved, btw.)

I used to be someone.

Someone named Jenna Fox.

That’s what they tell me.  But I am more than a name.  More than they tell me.  More than the facts and statistics they fill me with.  More than the video clips they make me watch. 

On the side of this paragraph, Nicole had written in pencil, Why do they make her watch them?

I love the way Nicole reads.  She has comments sprinkled throughout this book written in pencil.    Some are questions about what the character’s motivation is, what a word means (followed by the definition after she looks it up) and others are her personal predictions of where the story might be going.  If she likes a moment in the book, she’ll underline it and writes thought that was nice

The best part about Nicole is how she makes a personal connection to the story.  She’ll write:  connection:  My grandparents always try to get me to eat more, when Jenna’s parents try to get her to eat when she doesn’t want to. 

That’s what it’s all about, really.  Connecting with our readers.  Mary Pearson did that with her story and Nicole. 

It’s your turn.   You can do it yours and your readers too.

Point 1. Make sure you have a sense of mystery and suspense in your story.  Ask yourself, where can I take out some information and tease the reader with bits of clues instead?

Point 2.   Read like a writer.  Like Nicole!  If it’s YOUR book, write comments in the margins.  Critique it like a writer.  How did the writer get you to feel the way you do?  If it’s not your book, place a stack of post-its in the front of the book.  Post a note where you love the passage for later study.

Klepto Kitty!

Tuesday, March 1st, 2011

Too funny NOT to write about!  Go for it.  Use this cat and/or the things she steals to create a story or a poem.  How funny or mysterious can you be?

Headline Humor

Monday, November 15th, 2010

Today on the Internet, these headlines caught my eye:

Man Once Thought Dead Arrested

Actress Criticized for Stage Debut

Time Out Problems for Super Nanny


Questions popped into my mind.   Why did they arrest the man?  Did he fake his death?  Hide out?  Disappear in a complicated scheme?  Or was it a case of mistaken identity? 

What about the actress?   What outrageous behavior on stage prompted criticism?  What made her do it?  How did she get on stage?  Was it a long and hard climb to her acting job?

Why was the nanny called a super nanny?  What kind of kids were under her care?

Each of these titles could become a movie, depending upon how the story is handled.  Each of them could be a short story or a poem or a piece of art work.  It’s your choice.   You may choose to create any piece of writing in any style or genre. 

If these titles don’t inspire you, open the newspaper, magazine, or click on your computer screen for another title.  Write your OWN version of what could follow.

Mistaken Identity

Thursday, September 23rd, 2010

The other day I took Zoie for a walk and noticed “my” red-tailed hawk flying low over our house.  Looking for lunch? 

We came inside and heard a CA-THUNK. 

“What was that?” asked my husband. 

We both looked out of the living room windows which over-look the oak trees, the open space, and our deck.  Nothing that we could see had been disturbed. 

“Probably the neighbors,” I said.  So many people around us are either retired or work at home, there is lots of noise and activity around us these days. 

It was time for Zoie to go on the downstairs deck for her good sniffs.  I joined her and glanced down at the small sliver of land we have before it drops off into a sharp hill below.   That’s where Bob perched his beloved plastic $3.99 pink flamingoes. (Sigh) Why?  Partly because he likes them, and mostly to jokingly annoy me.  It sort of matches the fuzzy dice he has hanging from the mirror in his truck.  (Sigh #2)  He USED to have them in his El Camino.  (Sigh #3)  But that’s another story . . .

It was then I noticed that one of the pink flamingoes was lying at the bottom of our hill, leaning against our fence.  Its legs were still standing firmly in the ground at the top of the hill.  Without the fence to stop it, the body of the plastic bird would be in the creek by now.  (Darn that fence . . .)

On its wings were deep gashes . . .    Holes punctured the head. 

I gazed upward and saw the hawk.  “Sorry,” I sent telepathically to him.  “Wish you would have succeeded in carrying it off.  Hope you have better luck with your lunch on your next try.”

Writing Prompts:

1. The dive-bombing hawk at the plastic pink flamingo must have been very disappointed to discover his case of mistaken identity.  When have you ever had a case of mistaken identity?  Ever think someone or something was different from reality?  Write a personal narrative about this happening. 

2.  Write a short story about a mistaken identity.  It could be a comedy, a tragedy, a mystery, a romance or even a science fiction piece. 

3.  Create a poem with that theme.  Remember a poem is not just prose set up into poetry format.  Take out all the unimportant words and replace them with images and concrete words that show and don’t tell. 

4.  Write a newspaper article about a case of mistaken identity in journalistic form. 

How do all of these types of writing differ?  Which one is the easiest for you?  The most difficult?

Calling Students, Teachers, Readers, Writers and MORE!

Tuesday, November 10th, 2009

California Writers Club, Mt. Diablo Branch
Announces a FREE opportunity for students, educators and readers to meet published authors – – – and students, how to win hundreds of dollars by writing!
Saturday, November 28, 11 a.m. – 6 p.m.
Pleasant Hill Barnes and Noble
522 Contra Costa Blvd. (Phone: 925-609-7060)

*Students! Discover how YOU can win $$$ by writing poems, short stories, or personal narratives!

*Learn how you can take a FREE writing workshop taught by authors Sarah Wilson and Elizabeth Koehler-Pentacoff.

*Find out answers to questions about writing, publishing, agents, and how YOU can become a published writer!

*Uncover published authors’ writing secrets!

* Receive guidelines for the Young Writers Contest for middle school students and sign-up forms for FREE workshops.

*Get autographs from authors!

Schedule: 11 a.m. – Noon
Nannette Rundell Carroll – Communication and Business Author
Margaret Grace – Author of Mystery Series
Noon – 1 p.m.
Nannette Rundell Carroll – Communication and Business Author
Barbara Bentley – Memoir Author
1 p.m. – 3 p.m.
Ellen Leroe – Young Adult Author
Elizabeth Koehler-Pentacoff – Picture Book Author
4 p.m. – 5 p.m.
Barbara Bentley – Memoir Author
Lynn Goodwin – Journaling Author
5 p.m. – 6 p.m.
Margaret Grace – Author of Mystery Series
Lynn Goodwin – Journaling Author

Ask the Experts! Pleasant Hill Barnes and Noble, Nov. 28

Sunday, October 25th, 2009

Where should you send your literary mystery? How should you find a critique group locally? Is there an agent right for YOU? What’s the first thing you should do if you want to write a picture book?

As a middle grade student in Contra Costa County, I want to win $100, $50 or $25 in the Young Writers Contest! How can I do this? Can you give me tips? Advice? Techniques? Secrets?

Where can you get all of these questions answered and MORE?

Come to Pleasant Hill’s Barnes and Noble on Saturday, November 28. Yes! The Saturday after Thanksgiving! From 11 a.m. through six p.m.

Schedule of authors:

11 – Noon Nannette Carroll, author of Communication to Go!
Nonfiction Expert
11 – Noon Margaret Grace Miniature Mystery Series

Noon – 1 pm Nannette Carroll

Noon – 1 pm Barbara Bentley A Dance With the Devil; Memoir Expert

1 pm – 2 pm Ellen Leroe Dear Big V; Young Adult Expert

1 pm – 2pm Liz Koehler-Pentacoff Jackson & Bud’s Bumpy Ride; Children’s Expert

2pm – 3 pm Ellen Leroe & Liz Koehler-Pentacoff

3 pm – 4 pm Barbara Bentley

3 pm – 4 pm Lynn Goodwin Journaling for Caregivers
Journaling Expert
4 pm – 5 pm Lynn Goodwin & Barbara Bentley

5 pm – 6 pm Margaret Grace & Lynn Goodwin