How to Write a Mystery: A Handbook from Mystery Writers of America

How to Write a Mystery: A Handbook from Mystery Writers of America


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From the most successful mystery writers in the business, an invaluable guide to crafting mysteries—from character development and plot to procedurals and thrillers—a must-have for every aspiring mystery writer.

Mystery Writers of America (MWA) is known for providing unparalleled resources on the craft, art, and business of storytelling, helping writers of all levels improve their skills for nearly a century. Now, this new handbook helps authors navigate the ever-shifting publishing landscape—from pacing, plotting, the business side of publishing, to the current demand for diversity and inclusivity across all genres, and more.

Featuring essays by a new generation of bestselling experts on various elements of the craft and shorter pieces of crowd-sourced wisdom from the MWA membership as a whole, the topics covered can be categorized as follows:

—Before Writing (rules; genres; setting; character; research; etc.)
—While Writing (outlining; the plot; dialogue; mood; etc.)
—After Writing (agents; editors; self-pub; etc.)
—Other than Novels (short stories; true crime; etc.)
—Other Considerations (diverse characters; legal questions; criticism)

Also included is a collection of essays from MWA published authors—including Jeffery Deaver, Tess Gerritsen, and Charlaine Harris—selected by bestselling authors Lee Child and Laurie King and arranged thematically answering, “What piece of writing advice do you wish you’d had at the beginning of your career?”

Highly anticipated and incredibly useful, this new and trusted guide from MWA’s experts provides practical, current, easily digestible advice for new and established authors alike.

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Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781982149437
Publisher: Scribner
Publication date: 04/27/2021
Pages: 336
Sales rank: 83,162
Product dimensions: 6.10(w) x 8.80(h) x 1.30(d)

About the Author

Lee Child, previously a television director, union organizer, theater technician, and law student, was fired and on the dole when he hatched a harebrained scheme to write a bestselling novel, thus saving his family from ruin. Killing Floor went on to win worldwide acclaim. The Midnight Line, is his twenty-second Reacher novel. The hero of his series, Jack Reacher, besides being fictional, is a kindhearted soul who allows Lee lots of spare time for reading, listening to music, and watching Yankees and Aston Villa games. Lee was born in England but now lives in New York City and leaves the island of Manhattan only when required to by forces beyond his control. Visit Lee online at for more information about the novels, short stories, and the movies Jack Reacher and Jack Reacher: Never Go Back, starring Tom Cruise. Lee can also be found on Facebook: LeeChildOfficial, Twitter: @LeeChildReacher, and YouTube: LeeChildJackReacher.

Table of Contents

Introduction Lee Child 1

The Rules and Genres

The Rules-and When to Break Them Neil Nyren 5

Carved in stone or gentle suggestions: what are the rules in the mystery genre, why do they matter, and when don't they matter?

Carolyn Hart 12

Keeping It Thrilling Meg Gardiner 13

Nine things your thriller needs to be lean, mean, and exhilarating.

Beth Amos 22

Insider, Outsider: The Amateur Sleuth Naomi Hirahara 23

The point, and point of view, of your accidental detective.

Lindsey Davis 33

Finding Lou: The Police Procedural Rachel Howzell Hall 34

Are you a cop, or do you just play one on the page?

Linwood Barclay 39

The Mindset of Darkness: Writing Noir Alex Segura 40

It's about character: the flawed protagonist and letting your characters fail.

Hank Phillippi Ryan 46

Crossing the Genres Charlaine Harris 48

Mixing your mystery with a vampire, a talking cow, or a love interest?

Kate White 51

The Historical Mystery Jacqueline Winspear 52

Time, place, and the past.

Suzanne Chazin 58

The Medical Thriller Tess Gerritsen 59

Playing on the reader's real-life fears and hunger for insider knowledge.

Gigi Pandian 66

Researching the Spy Thriller Gayle Lynds 67

Or: Why can't I just make it all up?

Stephanie Kane 75

Other Mysteries

Mysteries for Children: An Introduction Susan Vaught 79

The kids' mystery, from picture books to YA-expectations and some hints.

C. M. Surrisi 83

Unleash Your Inner Child Chris Grabenstein 84

Middle-grade mysteries: you, too, can become a rock star for ten-year-olds.

Elizabeth Sims 91

The Young Adult Mystery Kelley Armstrong 92

Complex, authentic stories for the young adult-emphasis on adult.

Pat Gallant Weich 101

Graphic Novels Dale W. Berry Gary Phillips 103

The mystery within the panels: your conversation with words and pictures.

Dag Öhrlund 113

The Short Mystery Art Taylor 114

What do the characters (and readers) want in your mystery short story?

Charles Salzberg 121

Ten Stupid Questions about True Crime Daniel Stashower 122

Building a vivid page-turner, out of nothing but facts.

Carole Buggé 129

The Writing

On Style Lyndsay Faye 133

The writer's voice, or, cooking with cadence, rhythm, and audacity.

Steve Hockensmith 142

Always Outline! Jeffery Deaver 143

The why and the how of planning it out first.

Rob Hart 150

Hallie Ephron 151

Never Outline! Lee Child 152

The argument for spontaneity.

Shelly Frome 156

The Art of the Rewrite Laurie R. King 157

Turning your raw first draft into a clear, compelling story.

Rae Franklin James 164

Leslie Budewitz 165

Plot and the Bones of a Mystery Deborah Crombie 166

Bringing together all the elements of your novel so it stands strong.

Tim Maleeny 172

Robert Lopresti 173

Diversity in Crime Fiction Frankie Y. Bailey 174

Enriching your novel by writing characters, not categories.

Elaine Viets 183

The Protagonist Allison Brennan 184

Your hero: the one we relate to, the one who drives the story.

Stephanie Kay Bendel 191

The Villain of the Piece T. Jefferson Parker 192

Your hero in reverse: the forces that create a vivid villain.

Kris Neri 198

Supporting Characters Craig Johnson 199

The chorus of voices that backs up your protagonist.

Gay Toltl Kinman 204

Writing the Talk Greg Herren 205

Dialogue that sounds true, reveals character, and draws in the reader.

Bradley Harper 212

Stephen Ross 213

Setting William Kent Krueger 214

Your most versatile element: backdrop, player, and the all-pervading sense of place.

Thomas B. Sawyer 222

Humor in Crime Fiction Catriona McPherson 223

Funny mystery, or mystery with fun: why, how, and when to stop?

James W. Ziskin 231

Writing in Partnership Caroline Charles Todd 232

Two writers with one voice: how we learned to collaborate.

Bradley Harper 237

Tie-Ins and Continuing a Character Max Allan Collins 238

Playing in someone else's sandbox.

Hal Bodner 245

After the Writing

Secrets of a Book Critic Oline H. Cogdill 249

Reviews and reviewers: what to learn from them, and what to ignore.

Marilyn Stasio 257

Self-Publishing Liliana Hart 258

How to flourish as an independently published writer.

Nancy J. Cohen 266

Authors Online Maddee James 267

Building your author identity and reaching out to readers, online.

Mysti Berry 275

Building Your Community Louise Penny 276

It's the writer, not the book: finding a home in the virtual village.

Bev Vincent 284

Legal Considerations Daniel Steven 285

What every mystery writer needs to know about publishing law.

About the Contributors 291

Contributor Permissions 309

Index 315

Customer Reviews