Writing the Cozy Mystery: Writing What You Don’t Know: 2 Bad Choices

An example of my collage work.

When I make a mistake in planning a story, it is as if the project has been sucked into a black hole: no more inspiration, no “ah-ha!” moments. Only dead silence from my muse.

Big problems have arisen from my poor choices involving the “write what you know” dictum and my idea that it’s better to “write what you want to know about.”

In my cozy mystery, the main character moves to central West Virginia because she inherits a farm from a distant relative. Her initial plan is to sell the land, return to Los Angeles and use the money to further her career as a script doctor. She discovers that she loves rural life and decides to farm. To spice it up a bit, a handsome man lives next door. He raises heritage farm animals. He comes over every day to care for a small herd of rare goats.

This seemed perfect. My six years in the L.A film industry would serve as back story, the farmer genes in my blood would find an outlet on paper, and I could promote preservation of old-time farm breeds.

Something nagged at me though, but I ignored it and pressed forward. Then came the dreadful silence of the muse. I had gone wrong in my planning and she knew it.

First, I have never spent even a weekend on a farm. My character must quickly learn enough about farm life to choose it for herself and I have to present this arc convincingly. Unlike the glass museum choice, where I can remain fairly superficial in my knowledge, farming has many, many arenas of experience that only living on a farm can provide.

Second, while I know something about script doctoring and Hollywood, this isn’t a choice that supports a series. My character could visit L.A. and Hollywood people could visit her, but there’s not much that could deepen as the book series progresses.

It took a long time for me to identify these problems and more to determine on the right changes. As my book now stands, instead of living on the farm, my character is going to lease it to the romantic interest and move into an apartment in a nearby small town. The love interest will then move into the farmhouse, but she will retain the 3rd floor as a little country studio. This allows me room to maneuver around the farm knowledge problem, and her residence in town will cause her to interact with many more people. She will also pursue a career as a collage artist and general craft designer.

The Los Angeles element is now much less important. She was until recently married to a rising movie producer and she has displayed a knack for script doctoring. The divorce led mutual friends in L.A. to choose her ex-husband over her. Bereft of her life, the inheritance of the farm was a surprise. It is the low cost of living in West Virginia that tempts her to stay for a while. By making her a visual artist, I am going to be able to write about my own art experiences.

In summary, my major mistake was to make a choice that required a depth of information impossible to acquire without a lifestyle change! The other was to use a dead-end back story.

The muse is speaking again.


About thebooksonmyshelf

Welcome to my blog. There's always a revolution going on in my home -- between art, writing, thinking, and three boy cats, there's rarely a moment without something hopping. I have lived in three major cities and now am in a small wonderful rural town. The proud author of the world's longest first-draft cowboy novel, I am now plowing into the realm of the cozy mystery. Come along and see how my journey through the woods of inexperience turns out.
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