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Friday, October 25, 2013

To Beat or Not to Beat

What is a beat? And what is its purpose? A beat is a little bit of action that can involve physical gestures. They are used to remind you of who your characters are and what they are doing. An example of a beat is:
            “Where are you going?” Charlie grabbed her arm, his fingers digging into her flesh.
They can increase the tension where needed or they can give the reader a bit of relief where the tension is really great.
            A reasonable balance is necessary or you can interfere with the flow of the scene. You have a scene where the dialogue is building the tension (example: an argument that is increasing in tension and building toward a critical moment such as a murder). Too many beats can interfere or disrupt the tension and make the murder scene less exciting. This can damage the flow of your scene and keep your scene from building. In other words, it can slow you pacing. The result can be the loss of your reader’s interest. So your goal should be a proper balance between dialogue and beats.
            Interestingly beats can be used to vary the rhythm of your dialogue. Remember, good dialogue has an ebb and flow to it. The areas where the tension is high you need to cut the beats to a bare minimum. If you have two high-tension scenes in a row, you should allow your readers to relax in the next scene with some quiet conversation containing more beats.
            If you are not sure just where to put a beat, read your scene out loud. Where you find yourself pausing between two consecutive lines, insert a beat.
            Beats can be used to define your character. A good example of this is body language. It can allow breathing room in an emotionally tense scene. To reinforce the point I’m trying to make, beats can accomplish three things: 1) They can increase tension; 2) They can allow breathing space for the reader; 3) They can define your character.
            In looking over your scene(s) there are some questions you should ask yourself:
            1. How many beats do I have? Try highlighting them. 
            2. How often am I interrupting the dialogue?
            3. What are the beats describing?
            4. How often am I repeating a beat?
            5. Do the beats help illuminate the character?
            6. Do the beats fit the rhythm of the dialogue? Read it out loud.

Faye M. Tollison                                                                                                                                                                              
Author of: To Tell the Truth
Upcoming books: The Bible Murders
                             Sarah’s Secret
Member of: Sisters in Crime
                    Writers on the Move

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Do You Use Readers?

            It used to be that an author created and wrote his story and then sent it to his editor, after which he did his rewrites and published his book. But there is one tool I use to help give me input about my story. This tool is my readers. They have become an important part of my editing and rewriting process.

            More and more authors are turning to readers to give their thoughts and opinions on the authors’ stories. This is a good idea since most people who buy and read books are ordinary everyday people and are not writers or editors.

            Editors are looking at the structure of your plot, character development, and yes, grammar and spelling among other things. But readers are looking at it for its intrest and appeal. To use both readers and an editor gives you a more rounded viewpoint of your story.

            Readers give you a perspective from a different angle. Now don’t go firing your editor. On the contrary. I prefer to get my readers’ input before I send my book to my editor. Readers view your story from a reader’s viewpoint where your editor look at your story from a writer’s viewpoint, and it is my opinion that a writer needs both.

            I do ask my readers to look for spelling/grammar errors and typos. They do a grand job of finding them, too. But I also like to get their opinion on specific parts/chapters of my story. Because they are not as picky as editors are, they can really give you a fresh and honest opinion. Once you get your readers input, then you can concentrate on the things your editor finds.

            How many readers should you have? As many as you want but definitely more than one. The difference in opinion from one reader to another can create a dilemma. A third reader’s opinion can give you the solution to that dilemma.

            So do you have a reader/s? If not, you’re missing out on a more well-rounded editing information.

Faye M. Tollison
Author of:  To Tell the Truth
Upcoming books:  The Bible Murders
                               Sarah’s Secret
Member of:  Sisters in Crime
                     Writers on the Move


Wednesday, August 21, 2013

You're An Amateur Writer If

All writers want to look like experienced, sophisticated writers. We all rush to get that first draft down on paper, but then comes the time to self-edit and rewrite our manuscripts. There lies your opportunity to slow down, have another cup of coffee, and spruce up that first draft.
            The following points are things you might want to avoid because they make you appear like an amateur or a weak writer:
            1. Avoid the use of -ing and as constructions. They can sometimes make two
                actions seem simultaneous when they are physically impossible.

                Example:  Rushing into the house, I put on a fresh blouse and skirt.
                Should be written:  I rushed into the house and put on a fresh blouse
                                                and skirt.

                Example:  As I put the kettle on the stove, I turned to face him.
                Should be written:  I put the kettle on the stove and turned to face him.

   If you just have to use that -ing phrase, try putting it in the middle of the sentence.
   Then it is less conspicuous.

            2.  Avoid the use of clich├ęs. I do not even have to explain this one. There is nothing,
                 in my opinion, that will make you look more like a weak or amateur writer
                 than this.

            3.  And then there is the adverb, the -ly word. This, I have to admit, is one of my
                 biggest downfalls. I love them, so I struggle with myself to get rid of them.
                 Now do not get me wrong. An occasional one can be forgiven. When you use
                 a weak verb and an adverb, you are using two weak words in place of one strong
                 Example:  Angrily she shut the door behind her.
                 Should be written:  She slammed the door behind her.

                 Now there can be an exception to the rule for the sake of affect.

                 Example:  She kissed him--slowly, longingly.

            4.  Avoid a lot of short sentences. Try stringing some of them together with a
                 comma. Just do not overdo it.
                 Example:  “Don’t worry. I’ll take care of it.”
                 Should be written:  “Don’t worry, I’ll take care of it.”

            5.  Using a lot of italics and exclamation marks should be used only to convey
                 your character is shouting. Otherwise, the writer appears very insecure. Just
                 let the dialogue and description convey all the emotion needed.

            6.  Another stylistic device that can make a writer come across as an amateur is
                 flowery, poetic figures of speech or metaphors.

            7.  Are your sex scenes too explicit? You may want to leave a certain amount
                 of details left to your readers’ imagination. They do quite well with this, you
                 know. No heavy breathing, please.

            8.  Profanity has been so over used that it no longer has any shock value and
                 can turn your reader off. Now if it is a characteristic of your character, then
                 by all means use it. Otherwise, it is simply a sign of a small vocabulary.

Faye M. Tollison
Author of:  To Tell the Truth
Upcoming books:  The Bible Murders
                              Sarah’s Secret
Member of:  Sisters in Crime
                     Writers on the Move

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Understanding Profiling

To truly understand profiling you must first look at the basic definition of it. With that in mind, then take and break it down into the different areas of profiling. The basic definition of profiling, according to the World English Dictionary, is as follows:  The use of personal characteristics or behavior patterns to make generalizations about a person, such as gender, unique characteristics (such as scars), hair color, color of eyes or skin, nationality. The use of these characteristics is to determine whether or not a person may be engaged in illegal activity.
            Racial profiling is considered to be used by law enforcement in deciding whether to engage in enforcement of the law, such as making an arrest or a traffic stop. It uses an individual’s race or ethnicity to make these decisions. It is controversial and in some jurisdictions illegal.
            Criminal profiling (or offender profiling) is described as using numerous factors such as race, dress, and interactions to determine whether or not a person is involved in criminal activity. Various aspects of the criminal’s personality makeup are determined from his/her choices before, during, and after the crime.
            Predictive profiling attempts to guess who is likely to commit a crime that has not happened yet. This type of profiling occurs when a police officer, while patrolling, observes and tries to spot suspicious behavior that could mean a crime is going to take place.
            Psychological profiling is a method of suspect identification which seeks to identify a person’s mental, emotional, and personality characteristics, which are manifested in things done or left at the crime scene.
            There are four phases of profiling that profilers attempt to collect to determine the personality of the offender:
            1.  Antecedent:  What fantasy, plan, or both did the murderer have in place
                  before committing the crime? What triggered the murderer to act some 
                  days and not others?

            2.  Method and manner:  What type of victim/s did the murderer select, and
                  what method and manner of murder did he/she use? Shooting, stabbing,
                  strangulation, or something else?
             3.  Body disposal:  Did the murder and body disposal take place at one
                  location or multiple locations?

            4.  Post-offence behavior:  Is the perpetrator trying to inject himself into the
                 investigation by reacting to media reports or contacting investigators?

            In the case of serial killers a phase of criminal profiling is case linkage, which is the process of determining if there are connections between two or more unrelated cases. Involved is the establishment and comparison of physical evidence, victimology, crime scene characteristics, modus operandi, and signature behaviors between each of the cases.

            As you can see there are numerous categories of profiling. As a writer, knowledge is imperative to making our story sound convincing. Do not just write, but know what you are writing.

Faye M. Tollison
Author of:  To Tell the Truth
Upcoming books:   The Bible Murders
                                Sarah’s Secret
Member of:  Sisters in Crime
                     Writers on the Move

Monday, June 24, 2013


In earlier time poisoning was a very common way to commit murder by both men and women, though probably more often by women. Then as time moved on it became mainly a woman’s murder weapon. But now, with such advances in technology, weapons, and the advancement of women in this modern world, it is rather rare to see poisoning as a murder weapon. We do see ricin used by terrorist/mentally ill to send via mail, but it is not your everyday poison.
            However, we, as writers, can still use poisons as a murder weapon, especially if we can come up with a unique murder plot. It never hurts to have the information on hand just in case. Also, those of you who like to write mysteries set in Victorian days or even into the early 1900, it would be most appropriate to use a poison. Five poisons you might want to keep in mind are as follows:
            1.  Arsenic -- used since the Roman times in ancient history. It is tasteless, making it easily administered in a drink. In the 1800’s it was put in weed killer, fly papers, and rat poisons. It was used frequently in domestic murders and cited in many murder cases. Used as a yellow oxide or a white oxide or vapor, which smells of garlic. White oxide is virtually tasteless and easily masked by food or drink. It can be given accumulatively. The fatal dose builds up over time slowly. Symptoms can resemble food poisoning. The symptoms of white oxide starts with throat irritation, nausea, faintness, and depression. Then you have vomiting, tinged with blood and mucus, severe abdominal pain exacerbated by touch tongue is white and furry, throat is constricted. Diarrhea comes after 12-18 hours, cramps in leg, weak pulse, rapid but regular. Cyanosis (blue color) of extremities. Death comes when victim is conscious.
            2. Strychnine -- Used to poison rats and other small animals, giving it easy accessibility. It has been cited in only a few domestic murders, and its availability suggests it could be used in many undiscovered murders. It is a colorless solution with a very bitter taste that is noticeable even in a very weak solution. Symptoms come on within 2-3 hours, sometimes faster. The symptoms are: restlessness, feeling of suffocation, contraction of facial muscles (victim looks as if he is grinning), violent and distorting contractions followed by a period of rest, then an attack of even more violent contractions. The victim is conscious, in agony and unable to speak. Pulse is very high, and death occurs during a convulsion from paralysis of the respiratory system.
            3. Atropine -- (aka belladonna) In small doses it causes hallucinations. It has been used since ancient Greece. In larger doses it was one of the favorite poisons of would-be murderers in medieval Europe. The juice of only a few berries would be fatal. It can be absorbed through the skin as well as ingested. Symptoms are dry mouth and tongue, difficulty swallowing, flushed skin leading to rash on upper body, headache, giddiness, hallucinations, delirium, fast respiration and pulse, dilated pupils (most distinctive feature as the victim appears to have black eyes). Later there is paralysis, coma, and then death.
            4.  Cyanide -- Sodium cyanide is used in industrial chemicals and in mining. It has been used in mass murders, the 1980’s contamination of Tylenol capsules in the Chicago area being one of the most famous. It has been used in some domestic murders also. It causes death within minutes and is the fastest acting of all poisons. For this reason, it is the poison of suicide pills, such as the type carried by secret agents. It has also been used in executions. Cyanide (or Prussic Acid) interferes with the blood’s ability to absorb oxygen and has a faint smell of bitter almonds, though less than mystery writers indicate in their writings.
            5.  Thallium -- discovered in the 1860’s, it has been used in some domestic murders. In some countries it is used in rat poison, but it has been more widely used in assassinations. It is water soluble and tasteless. It takes several days for symptoms to develop and are generally attributed to other illnesses. This poison was used by Sadam Hussein and Russia’s KGB. Symptoms can easily be confused with the flu. The most distinctive symptom is hair loss.
            These five are only a few of the poisons out there. The list is long. A writer can be quite creative with these resources at their hands.

Faye M. Tollison
Author of: To Tell the Truth
Upcoming books: The Bible Murders
                             Sarah’s Secret
Member of: Sisters In Crime
                    Writers on the Move

Saturday, May 25, 2013


            Experienced writers have learned this lesson well, but less experienced writers are still learning it or have it yet to learn. Even for experienced writers it is good to review it every so often. What am I talking about? The “show, don’t tell” rule of writing. It sounds so simple, and yet it is one of the hardest to learn for some of us.

            Telling is what you see with narratives, and it is okay in the proper prospective. But you do not want to fill your book with telling your story. Your readers like action, dialog, descriptions, emotions, all the things that your readers can take and create a picture in their minds.

            Show your story. Give it characters your reader can fall in love with and want more of them. Give them a setting or location that their mind can grab hold of and feel they are right there with the characters. Make the characters speak to them and create action that keeps the story moving. Give descriptions of the setting and characters through narrative and some through dialog, but do not insult your readers by giving them every little detail. Readers like to be a bit creative themselves so give just enough to stimulate their own imaginations, and let them run with it.

            When you have fast-paced scenes, it is good to slow things down and give your reader a chance to breathe. Your story should run in waves of fast pace and slow pace. That is where the narrative comes in. You can use it to slow down the pace of the story.

            Someone once told me to read through my story; and if there are areas where I am telling, ask myself if there is a way I can show it rather than tell it. If there are, then I need to change it.

            Narratives do serve a purpose, so remember not to change all of them. Also remember, it is the author’s responsibility to create a world in which his/her readers can get lost and want more of it.

            Following are some points to remember when self-editing your work:  1) How often do you use narrative summary?  2) Which sections do you want to convert into scenes (action)?
3) Do you have any narrative summary? (You do need some.)  4) Are you describing your characters’ feelings or are you showing them?

Faye M. Tollison
Author of:  To Tell the Truth
Upcoming books:  The Bible Murders
                                Sarah’s Secret
Member of:  Sisters In Crime
                      Writers on the Move

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

The Law of Confessions

A confession to a crime is considered a direct evidence of guilt, not a presumption of guilt. It is the main thing most often used and relied upon for a conviction.

                  The law of confessions is rather involved and is a conglomeration of Constitutional law, Federal and State statues (legislative law), and Anglo-American tradition. There are five hurdles a confession must pass in order to be considered valid:

                  1.  4th Amendment exclusionary rule -- this rule forces a suppression hearing
                       anytime someone claims a confession is not valid. In a nutshell, a
                       confession is not acceptable if obtained illegally.

                  2.  5th Amendment self-incrimination right -- no person shall be compelled in
                        any criminal case to be a witness against himself. This entails testimony,
                        not physical evidence.

                  3.  6th Amendment right to counsel -- this is extended to all “critical” pretrial
                       phases of criminal procedure.

                  4.  5th Amendment due process clause -- this rule is combined with the 14th
                       Amendment due process clause. Together they make up the basis for the
                       free and voluntary rule and is the major test in the law of confessions.

                  5.  McNabb-Mallory rule -- a legislative law which prohibits any “undue
                       delay” in arraignment and holds null and void any confession, no matter
                       how voluntary, if derived from lengthy delays in bringing the suspect to
                       to justice.

                  The free and voluntary rule is a two-part test involving subjective and objective factors. One part focuses on the susceptibility of the suspect which includes: background of the suspect, intelligence of the suspect, education of the suspect, prior experience with the system, physical condition of the suspect, mental condition of the suspect, and coping skills. The other part deals with the environment and methods used: location of the setting, length of the questioning, intensity of the questioning, frequency of the questioning, food and sleep deprivation, and intimidating presence of officers.

                  The Anglo-American tradition says that confessions must be a product of free will and voluntary choice. Free will should not be “overcome,” and voluntary choice should not be “coerced.” In other words, there must be a positive freedom of choice.

                  Suppression hearings generally occur when the accused’s lawyer determines the confession was obtained illegally. The motion for suppression must be made prior to trial, and the burden of proof is on the defense lawyer that a search was illegal or a confession was coerced. A motion for suppression is generally looked upon with skepticism by the prosecutor and the judge as a delay tactic by the defense lawyer.

                  As you can see, there is a lot involved in the acceptance of a confession. As writers we cannot always go through these steps in our story as it could be rather boring to our readers. But there may be some of you who can use some part of this to enhance your story or to even add suspense to a courtroom scene.

Faye M. Tollison
Author of:  To Tell the Truth
Upcoming books:  The Bible Murders
                              Sarah’s Secret
Member of:  Sisters in Crime
                    Writers on the Move