Guest – Karen Frisch – Time Out: Starting from Scratch

Today we have a guest. Welcome Karen Frisch author of Murder Most Civil

One of the biggest challenges for writers is getting started again after time away from writing. The struggle is almost as bad as writer’s block. For writers not under contract without a book on the horizon or those struggling with family or work commitments, breaks between books can be a death knell for creativity. A break in the routine can derail even the most dedicated writer and cost writing time as you try to reestablish a pattern that works.

Most of us know what genre we’re doing next. The basic story elements have to be confronted whether you’re writing romance or mystery, even if the whole process feels like a mystery to you. To kick start your writing routine, try some of these shortcuts to help you plan your next book. Use the ideas as springboards and writing prompts to get the ball rolling again. Come out fighting, and make a strong statement. If you’re less than 100 percent happy with your story, chances are your readers will be, too.

Characters – The old rule still holds true. Opposites not only attract, they create conflict. In my book What’s in a Name, a December release from Avalon, my hero and heroine are thrown together when she travels from rural Maine to Boston in 1871 to bring home her orphaned nephew and discovers he’s been working in a fish market to survive. The heroine is a schoolteacher; the hero owns the fish market. She’s the daughter of a professor; he’s an immigrant with little schooling. She believes in educating children; he believes in the value of hard work. When they suspect her nephew and his sister have run off with a traveling circus, they’re forced to pursue the runaways together while surviving a series of misadventures that test their mettle. To help create characters, use personality types that work for you, such as the range you’ll find in astrological signs or Myers-Briggs classifications. Introduce characters with strengths and weaknesses to make them not only appealing but realistic.

Setting – Since writing is stronger if you have some emotional attachment to your setting, select a location that has meaning for you. Choosing a place you know well gives you the advantage of an authoritative voice while letting you focus on little-known elements that fascinate you. If you feel like exploring, research allows you to be an armchair traveler. Stimulate your creativity by immersing yourself in learning about a state you’ve always wanted to visit—Alaska, for instance. Relating your setting to the plot adds richness, depth, and complexity. Look for settings that can be used as integral parts of the plot. Using Victorian Boston as the backdrop for my novel Murder Most Civil allowed me to use the tension between abolitionists and slaveholders to put my heroine’s brother in danger of hanging for a murder he didn’t commit.

Plot – Do you already feel a sagging middle coming on at the idea of plotting a story? A big stumbling block is the question of what to do with your characters. Establishing a strong conflict from the beginning and making your hero and heroine face the worst circumstances possible will challenge you to find answers to hard questions, but it will create tension and keep readers guessing. Not only will it strengthen your characters, it will help you grow as a writer. Find obstacles for heroes and heroines to overcome by forcing them to make difficult choices and to face their fears. You’ll probably face your own in the process, but you’ll learn along with your characters.

Conflict – We know opposites create conflict. The more your characters have at stake, the greater the chances they will be forced to take, and the more your readers will care about them and want them to succeed. Make their quandary so problematic even you aren’t sure how they’ll get out of it. If your characters are as real to you as flesh and blood people, you’ll find a way to help them rescue each other. Let their difficulties build toward the black moment when all seems hopelessly lost. Make your story a page-turner by putting your characters in the most difficult situations possible. Challenge yourself by asking, “What could be worse than…?” Name the dilemma, and make your characters suffer through it. Everyone loves an underdog who finds a way to overcome insurmountable difficulties despite the odds.

Now what’s your excuse not to write? The basics remain the same. The twists and turns are up to you—and that’s the fun part.

Karen Frisch is the author of Murder Most Civil, a Victorian mystery published by Mainly Murder Press in 2010, and Lady Delphinia’s Deception, a Regency romance published by ImaJinn Books in 2011. Both are available from the publisher or at


2 responses to “Guest – Karen Frisch – Time Out: Starting from Scratch

  1. Wonderful article, Karen. Great ideas, especially for me who has been on hiatus for much to long. I’ll be using some of these ideas to hopefully jump start my writing again.

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