Writing Mysteries


From parlor-game puzzle to political thriller, from Agatha Christie and Dashiell Hammett to John le Carre and Sue Grafton, the most talked-about and bestselling books are often mysteries. The reason? The enduring appeal of the unknown, and readers' insatiable desire to discover who committed the crime, and why.

If you enjoy reading mysteries and have ever considered writing one, this book is for you. Writing Mysteries explores the art, craft, and business of mystery, crime, and ...

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From parlor-game puzzle to political thriller, from Agatha Christie and Dashiell Hammett to John le Carre and Sue Grafton, the most talked-about and bestselling books are often mysteries. The reason? The enduring appeal of the unknown, and readers' insatiable desire to discover who committed the crime, and why.

If you enjoy reading mysteries and have ever considered writing one, this book is for you. Writing Mysteries explores the art, craft, and business of mystery, crime, and suspense writing. It guides aspiring mystery writers through a practical process for creating a successful mystery -- from finding ideas and inventing engaging characters to getting published. Writing Mysteries also helps writers understand today's vibrant, diverse mystery genre and shows how to take advantage of the opportunities the genre presents.

Understanding that the creative process works differently for each writer, the author encourages writers to explore and expand their skills and techniques and develop a satisfying personal approach to writing. Writing Mysteries supports the efforts of novice writers with solid information, useful examples, and friendly encouragement to help build proficiency and confidence.

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781551802053
  • Publisher: Self-Counsel Press, Inc.
  • Publication date: 9/1/2004
  • Series: Self Counsel Writing Series
  • Pages: 257
  • Product dimensions: 8.32 (w) x 9.80 (h) x 0.63 (d)

Table of Contents

Introduction xvii
Part 1 Clues to Getting Started
1 Unlocking the Mystery 3
The pleasures of mysteries 3
Good storytelling 3
Order from chaos 4
Exploration of diverse subjects 4
A way to taste different kinds of lives 4
Superb entertainment 5
What is a mystery? 5
Suspense 6
A crime 6
A secret 6
A detective 7
An orderly resolution 7
The many types of mysteries 7
Private detective 8
Amateur detective 8
Police procedural 9
Other procedurals 9
Suspense 9
Thriller 10
Humorous mystery 11
Historical mystery 11
Criminal point of view 11
Juvenile and young adult 11
Mysteries: From cozy to hard-boiled 12
What type of mystery should you write? 15
2 You Can Do It 18
Making the commitment 18
Drawing on your resources 19
Curiosity, imagination, and logic 19
Your knowledge of mysteries 20
Your personal knowledge 21
Your family, friends, and acquaintances 22
Your love of language 22
Making time to write 23
Schedule a regular writing time 24
Determine your prime writing time 25
Learn to say no 26
Set mini-goals 26
Facing the blank page 26
The joy of writing 28
3 Developing Your Story 30
Finding ideas 31
The birth of a mystery 31
Story triggers 32
Capturing ideas 34
Turning ideas into a story 35
The starting points: Characters, conflict, and crime 36
Characters 39
Conflict 39
Crime 41
Which comes first: Characters or plot? 42
The surface story and the hidden story 43
The surface story 43
The hidden story 43
Weaving the surface and hidden stories together 44
To outline or not to outline? 46
What is an outline? 46
The three-stage outline 47
Part 2 Clues to Crafting a Compelling Mystery
4 Choosing Your Cast of Characters 55
The detective 55
What makes a good detective? 56
Professional or amateur? 57
Matching the detective to the case 59
A detective is born: A case history 61
The victim 63
The villain 64
Motive: The urge to kill 65
Playing fair with the villain 65
Just in case: The backup villain 66
The supporting cast 66
Secondary protagonist 66
The usual (and unusual) suspects 67
Witnesses, police officers, and others 69
Sidekicks and supporters 70
Whose point of view? 70
First-person point of view 71
Third-person point of view 73
5 Creating Characters Readers Will Care About 81
The secret to creating great characters 81
Who is this person? 82
How does this person feel? 86
What led this person into the story? 87
How will this person behave, and why? 88
Your characters' motivational problems 90
Out-of-character behavior 90
Stupid behavior 91
Avoiding pitfalls 92
Getting acquainted 93
Listening to your characters 94
Don't be afraid of your characters 95
Don't be afraid for your characters 96
6 Constructing a Convincing Plot 100
The purpose of a plot 101
To depict a series of dramatic events 101
To raise questions and then answer them 102
The structure of a mystery's plot 104
The inciting incident 105
The involving incident 105
Development and complications 106
Plot points (turning points) 106
The climax 107
The resolution (denouement) 107
Putting it together: The plot's chain of events 108
The three-act structure 110
The beginning: Hooking readers 111
The middle: Keeping readers turning the page 113
The end: Solving the mystery and satisfying readers 114
Managing multiple plot lines 117
Foul play and fair play 118
The detective solves the crime 118
The villain plays a part in the story 118
All the clues are available 119
7 Putting Your Story in Its Place 123
In this place, in this time 123
Mysterious places 124
Mysterious times 125
Secrets of creating a great setting 126
Clues to a setting's personality 127
Clues to a setting's interaction with characters 131
Choosing your setting 132
Will the setting support the story? 132
How well do you know the setting? 133
Selecting a mystery setting: A case history 133
Settings large to small 134
Real versus imaginary settings 134
Real places 135
Imaginary places 135
The illusion of reality 137
8 Bringing Your Story to Life 139
Show, don't tell 140
Dialogue: Giving your characters their say 143
Making them sound individual 143
Making them sound natural 147
Putting their words on the page 148
Details, details 149
Be specific 150
Be sensory 150
Be moody 151
Be selective 152
Building dramatic scenes 153
Who, where, when? 153
Why is this scene here? What happens next? 155
Transitions 156
9 Building Suspense with Style 158
What is suspense? 158
Suspense versus surprise 158
Four elements of suspense 159
Clues to building suspense 161
Make the potential outcome dire 161
Keep raising the stakes 161
Make the characters feel threatened 162
Challenge your detective's ingenuity 162
Let your detective make mistakes 162
Limit your detective's options 163
Isolate your detective physically 163
Isolate your detective psychologically 163
Impose a deadline 164
Controlling your mystery's pace 164
Pace: How a story flows 164
How to pick up the pace 165
10 Research: Learning about Crimes and How They Are Solved 169
Getting the facts straight 170
What you need to know 171
How to find the information you need 172
Read books 172
Read magazines and newspapers 173
Consult Web sites 174
Attend conferences 174
Go to school 174
Call the cops 175
Ask an expert 175
How much research should you do? 176
11 Helping Yourself Through the Rough Spots 178
Overcoming writer's block 178
Getting your story back on track 180
Joining a writer's group 183
What you can gain 183
How a writers' group works 184
Finding or forming your own group 185
Rewarding yourself for a job well done 186
12 Writing, Rewriting, and Revising 187
Using the 1-2-3 approach 188
The first draft: Discovering the story 188
The second draft: Expressing your vision of the story 190
The third draft: Polishing your presentation 191
Being an effective self-editor 192
Reading with fresh eyes 192
Looking at story and style 193
Capturing that elusive quality called voice 193
Getting feedback 199
Qualifications of a suitable reader 199
Finding readers 200
Paying for feedback 201
Assessing the evaluation 202
Knowing when your book is finished 202
Part 3 Clues to Selling Your Mystery
13 From Writer to Reader: An Overview of the Publishing Process 207
The writer's or agent's role: Selling the manuscript 208
The editor's role, Part 1: Acquiring the book 211
The acquisitions process 212
The publishing contract 212
The editor's role, Part 2: Producing the book 218
Revisions 218
Copy editing 218
Galleys or page proofs 220
The book's cover 220
Publication day 221
The publisher's role: Distributing and marketing the book 221
The bookstore's role: Selling the book 222
The writer's role: Promoting your current book and writing the next 223
14 Presenting Your Work to Agents and Editors 225
Your submission package 226
The query letter 227
The synopsis 227
Sample chapters 230
Making a good impression 230
Dress your manuscript in proper business attire 232
Show off your communication skills 234
Present yourself as a professional 235
15 Becoming a Professional 238
The business of mystery writing 238
Setting up shop 239
Keeping records 239
Surviving rejection 241
Celebrating success 243
A Information and resources on mystery writing and publishing 245
B Information and resources on researching crimes and crime-solving techniques 255
From the Detective's Notebook
1 A brief history of mystery 13
2 Test your knowledge of mysteries 16
3 Novel or short story? 51
4 "Elementary, my dear Watson" 71
5 Writing about series characters 97
6 The seven basic plots 121
7 Showing your characters 144
8 Handling violence with sensitivity 167
9 A self-editing checklist 194
10 Finding a literary agent 209
11 Advice from the editors 214
12 Writing a selling synopsis 231
13 A literary agent's submission guidelines 236
1 What if? story development 37
2 A page from the planning notebook 50
3 Points of view 79
4 Three-act chart 116
5 Query letter 228
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