Mystery Novel Writer’s Primer: Part 1

So, you want to write mystery novels, eh?

You might well be an excellent writer, but each genre has particular methods and techniques, and mystery writing does, too. So, let’s start with some simple tips.

First, though, I’m going to assume that you’ve been studying how to write by taking classes, going to workshops and generally trying to educate yourself about writing’s art and craft. Preparation is the critical first step. Learning how to write is the most important thing you must do, and it takes constant practice to be good.

For instance, while at a cocktail party, I overheard a conversation between a writer and a surgeon. The sawbones said, “Oh, so you’re a writer. I’ll be retiring soon and am seriously considering writing as a second career.” The writer replied, “My how interesting! It’s funny you should mention that because, when I retire, I was considering becoming a surgeon.”

Moral of the story: There is no substitute for training and experience in any field. If you are dedicated, you are always writing, learning and seeking new information and ideas about your craft.

Who’s your favorite character?

Have you read lots of mystery novels? Every writer develops plots and characters differently, and reading a wide range of authors gives you ideas about how to approach your novel. If you have read many of them, pick out some that you most remember or enjoyed, then re-read them with a critical eye. If you’ve only read a few, get busy reading.

When you return to your chosen books, try to view the stories from a 1,000-foot view and see the arc of the plot, characters, and so on. Try as best you can to re-read them with a somewhat detached view and, when you find passages that excite or fascinate you, ask yourself what moves you. Take notes about them, and perhaps sticky flags and a highlighter are in order, too. This is not an invitation to copy, but learning how to build your own style.

Who do you love, or love to hate?

Next, do you have a main character or characters? As you read, notice how the authors develop and expose the facets of their characters. Often in mystery writing, they are a policeman, detective, private eye, criminal investigator, or perhaps amateur sleuth. Don’t be bound by those, though, because maybe a lack of skills or training can serve as part of your character. For instance, they could be a genius, autistic savant, son of a famous detective, a master analyst, or anything that you can weave into a plausible character.

Your main character is pivotal to your reader’s interest. Does the reader experience your story through them in first-person, or do you write in an observational style, or … ? What is their personality like? Their morals? What drives them to seek answers, take risks and make personal sacrifices?

The more questions like those you ask, the more interesting your character, and the more ways you can develop your story. Character inspirations are everywhere. Do you have particularly interesting persons in your life? Perhaps you use them as a platform from which to build your characters. How about crimes in your area, present or past? There are story and character springboards everywhere – go find them.

Okay, now we’ve scratched the surface. These first few installments are to get you thinking about preparation before you write. Go start reading and, please, include my works in your list. Go here to see them:   http://www.celawrence.com

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