Category Archives: Write a novel

Writing A Mystery Novel: 3 Tips For Starting Your Bestseller

Writing A Mystery Novel: 3 Tips For Starting Your Bestseller

You’re writing a mystery novel. Kudos to you. Mysteries are huge fun to write. They depend on skillful plotting however, so be mindful of the needs of your plot.

Essentially, mysteries depend on suspense, and your focus is on three characters: the victim, the murderer, and the sleuth.

A vital tip before we go on: focus on emotion. What are your characters feeling? What feelings do you hope to arouse in your readers?

Writing a mystery novel: the victim, the murderer and the sleuth

A mystery’s three primary characters are: the victim, the murderer, and the sleuth.

The victim won’t play an active role, but the novel depends on him, because the entire novel focuses on the crime, and the activities and motivations of your murderer and suspects.

Your sleuth is usually your viewpoint character. Be aware that in all novels, authors create two strands of a major character’s characterization:

  • Outer obstacles (in a mystery, your sleuth’s activities as he solves the crime);
  • Inner obstacles: your sleuth’s inner motivations — what personal flaws and failings must your sleuth overcome?

Your sleuth’s inner life can lift your mystery from straightforward genre potboiler status, into a more elevated “breakthrough” bestseller status. (We’ll discuss breakthrough novels in another article.)

Now let’s look at our tips.

1. Choose your genre and sub-genre with care: your novel’s sales depend on it

Before I start a new novel, I like to check Amazon. It’s important to understand Amazon’s current classifications (keep an eye on them, because they often change), so that your novel can be found by readers after you publish it.

Here’s Amazon’s best sellers in its top-level Mystery, Thriller & Suspense genre (category.) Click on one of the sub-genres in the left sidebar — and you’ll find more sub-genres.

This can get a little confusing. Some genres are more open to gaming than others, so you’ll find books where they obviously don’t belong. Please don’t try to game Amazon yourself, even though people do it. You want your book to sell for years, so choose your genres with care: you want to help readers, and guard against an Amazon purge if you try to be too clever.

When you click on the Mystery sub-genre, you’ll see another list of sub-sub-genres. Try clicking on one of these to explore the titles. For example, should you click on the Series link, you’ll find mysteries which are part of a series, as you’d expect.

My suggestion: make some notes about possible genres for your mystery, and compile a list of links to the sub-genres too, so that you can find your way back to them when you’re ready to publish.

Although you can only choose two categories for your novel, Amazon’s algorithm will add your novel to other genres and sub-genres. Not happy where Amazon’s placed you? Contact Amazon. Often, the kind people at Amazon KDP are happy to add your novel to any genres which you suggest would be appropriate.

2. Introduce your three primary characters as soon as you can

We said that in a mystery, your primary characters are the victim, the murderer, and the sleuth.

Therefore, many mysteries begin with an opening scene of the unfortunate victim’s ordinary life. He’s alive, and he’s about to meet his end.

Readers expect this type of opening. An episode of the Law & Order crime series for example always begins with the victim’s murder.

The victim is going about his or her day when the murderer (or the murderer’s agent) arrives, and the murder takes place.

Remember: feelings. Your novel’s opening is an opportunity to hook your readers, so don’t waste it. Your reader expects to be there, with the victim.

In some sub-genres, notably Suspense and Thrillers, you can go to town and indulge yourself in blood and gore. In others, like cozy mysteries, the murder is air-brushed. The murder happens, and it’s nasty, but readers read cozies for the mystery puzzle. They want to know whodunit; graphic details are unwelcome and unnecessary.

3. Focus on suspense in solving the mystery

On this blog, as well as on the Fab Freelance Writing Blog, I’ve talked about developing suspense in your novels. Suspense is important in all fiction, and in mysteries and thrillers, it’s essential.

It’s vital that you control what you tell your reader, and when. In our Write Fiction For Readers: 3 Tips For Narrative Drive post for example, we talked about controlling information, and about open loops:

Many novels use a rapid cutting technique of a series of cliffhangers — open loops. The author places a character in a tough spot, and leaves him there for a few scenes. When the author returns and rescues the character, he’s closing that loop, so he immediately opens another one.

Please be aware that readers read mysteries for the clues. So although you should be careful about what you tell readers, and when, you must play fair with them too.

Plant your clues and red herrings, and hide your clues as skillfully as possible… But don’t omit clues, or readers will hate you.

Writing a mystery novel is great fun, so happy writing — I’m looking forward to reading your next mystery. 🙂

124 Powerful Fiction Writing Tips: Win Readers And Fans, And Increase Your Sales Today

124 Powerful Fiction Writing Tips: Win Readers And Fans, And Increase Your Sales Today

eBook: $5.99

You want to write fiction. Perhaps you're a self-publishing author — or perhaps you're a ghostwriter, and want to offer fiction writing services to clients.

Whatever your needs and dreams, this book, 124 Powerful Fiction Writing Tips: Win Readers And Fans, And Increase Your Sales Today, will help.

More info →
Map It: For Writing Success — Fiction And Nonfiction Outlines Made Easy

Map It: For Writing Success — Fiction And Nonfiction Outlines Made Easy

eBook: $5.99

I developed the tactics and strategies in this book to help myself. My students have found them essential to producing both fiction and nonfiction almost effortlessly.

More info →
Buy from Apple iBooks
Buy from Barnes and Noble Nook
Buy from Scribd
Buy from Kobo
Buy from Inktera
Buy from Amazon Kindle
Plot Hot-Selling Fiction The Easy Way

Plot Hot-Selling Fiction The Easy Way

$5.99
Author:
Series: Selling Writer Strategies, Book 3
Genre: Writing

How To Write Novels And Short Stories Readers Love: You're about to discover the easiest, fastest, and most fun plotting method ever. You can use it for all your fiction, whether you're writing short stories, novellas or novels. Take control of your fiction now, and publish more, more easily.

More info →
Buy from Barnes and Noble Nook
Buy from Scribd
Buy from Kobo
Buy from Apple iBooks
Buy from Amazon Kindle

Resources to build your writing career

Get daily writing news and tips on the blog’s Facebook page.

Need help with your writing? Visit our online store, or check out Angela’s books for writers.

New Novelist: 3 Tips For Creating Great Fictional Characters

New Novelist: 3 Tips For Creating Great Fictional Characters

You’re a new novelist. You want to write a wonderful novel, with exciting characters — a bestseller. So you decide you’ll develop your characters by creating extensive bios.

Not only do you know what flavor ice cream your main characters enjoy, you also know their shoe size. You hope that all this attention to detail will make creating characters easy.

After a few weeks, you realize that your characters are boring people. You find yourself plotting their death. Unfortunately, if they die, your novel dies with them. (Sob.)

New novelist: the story question is everything to your characters

Many a new novelist has happily put the cart before the horse, so to speak. The cart being an intricate plot with exciting characters (or so you hoped — how could a private eye with a background in military intelligence be so boring)?

You forgot the horse: the story question.

From New Novelist: Write A Selling Novel With One Simple Strategy:

The point of a novel is often referred to as the “story question”, or “dramatic question.” Although the story question might not be stated overtly, it must exist for your novel to be satisfying to readers.

In many genres, the genre itself offers insight to the story question:

  • In mysteries — will the sleuth find the killer?
  • In romances — will the boy get the girl?
  • In thrillers — will the hero save the world?

Your story question always comes first. By all means, work up character bios, but do keep your story question in mind, because it maintains your narrative drive, which is what keeps readers reading:

Something important MUST be at stake in your story. If not literal life or death, then metaphorical life or death. When there’s nothing at stake, readers don’t care, and they won’t read.

For readers to care, your characters must care.

Here are three tips which will help you to create wonderful fictional characters.

1. Create a character who will help to solve the story question

Before you create any characters, know your story question. You don’t need to know details, a story seed is fine:

  • A stalker hunts Character A. Who is he, and what does he want? When she discovers what he wants, will she give it to him?
  • Character A’s son vanishes. The young man drove away to start college, but never arrived. Law enforcement won’t help. Will Character A find her son?

Your story question enables you to create a character about whom readers care.

2. His past made him what he is, so…

More than the color of his hair, or his shoe size, it’s vital that you know that your character is: someone who… (fill in the blank.)

Whether you believe that someone’s character is formed by nature or nurture, a character’s past makes him who he is. Spend time creating a backstory for each of your main characters, but keep backstory OUT of your novel.

While it’s essential that you know why your main character rushes home before dark, you don’t need to elaborate on this; keep your story moving forward.

3. A quirk makes a character real, but avoid overdoing it

Creating character quirks is fun.

Your character might:

  • Have a favorite pair of socks he always wears when giving a presentation;
  • Rescue stray animals, until his home is a menagerie;
  • Hum under his breath when driving, or checking his phone.

A character quirk or two goes a long way. More important than quirks, are a character’s attributes: your character might have a quick temper, or be secretive for no real reason.

What’s the difference between an attribute and a quirk? An attribute will affect the story question, and the plot.

For example, perhaps your main character is scared of heights (attribute.) It affects the plot, because at the novel’s climax, he has to rescue someone who’s climbed onto a bridge. The climber is ready to dive into eternity, unless your character saves him… But he’s scared of heights. Now what?

Your character’s fear affects the story; it doesn’t matter that he drinks three, and only three, cups of coffee a day (quirk.)

Master Fiction Writing: Craft A Novel in 31 Days

Master Fiction Writing: Craft A Novel in 31 Days

$4.99
Author:
Series: Selling Writer Strategies, Book 4
Genre: Writing
Tag: writing fiction

You want to write a novel. Perhaps you can't get started. Or maybe you got started, and then you stopped.You need a plan, broken down into easy steps. This program began as a 30-day challenge which I organized for readers in 2010. Hundreds of writers joined the challenge and completed it. They wrote novels.

More info →
Plot Hot-Selling Fiction The Easy Way

Plot Hot-Selling Fiction The Easy Way

$5.99
Author:
Series: Selling Writer Strategies, Book 3
Genre: Writing

How To Write Novels And Short Stories Readers Love: You're about to discover the easiest, fastest, and most fun plotting method ever. You can use it for all your fiction, whether you're writing short stories, novellas or novels. Take control of your fiction now, and publish more, more easily.

More info →
Buy from Barnes and Noble Nook
Buy from Scribd
Buy from Kobo
Buy from Apple iBooks
Buy from Amazon Kindle

Resources to build your writing career

Get daily writing news and tips on the blog’s Facebook page.

Need help with your writing? Visit our online store, or check out Angela’s books for writers.

Self-Publishing If You’re A New Fiction Author: 5 Tricks

Self-Publishing If You’re A New Fiction Author: 5 Tricks

Although the halcyon days of the Kindle gold rush are over, self-publishing still provides great rewards, even for a brand new author.

Just a few days ago a jubilant author who’s been writing for less than a year sent me an email message with a screen clip. In the first 18 days of November, her two books (I promised not to mention the genre) earned over a thousand dollars. At the rate her sales and KENPC are going, I can see her doubling that thousand within a few weeks.

Until November, her books were selling just a few copies a month. Then they took off.

Self-publishing is STILL a goldmine, if…

Why did her books suddenly take off? She’s been doing all the usual things like building a list, and spending a little money on Facebook ads. Mostly, the gods alone know, but two things she did are clever.

Here they are:

  • She’s writing in a very popular genre, and is following genre tropes which readers love;
  • She’s writing a series.

So let’s look at some self-publishing tricks especially for new authors. Established authors can learn from them too.

One thing I should mention… if you’re a new author: be patient. Overnight successes can take quite a few nights until they happen.

1. Write in a popular genre: the more readers, the more potential sales

Pay attention to your genre. Popular genres like romance, with all its sub-genres, have masses of readers who love to read, and are hungry for new books and authors.

What if your favored genre has few readers?

That’s OK. As long as you believe in yourself (see the fifth tip), and write characters YOU love, keep going. Who knows, you might be an author who drags your genre out of obscurity. 🙂

2. Write in a series: each book sells the others

Yep. Write in a series, as soon as you can.

If you can’t — you’re not sure how to turn a book into a series, or your mind doesn’t click and go hey, this world could support a series… Write short stories.

I love writing short stories for the marketing benefits, and also because I can play with many different worlds and characters. Most of my novels had their seed in a previous short story.

3. A little marketing really does help: it can be minimal

Whenever I mention “marketing” new authors have lots of objections. They don’t know how, they don’t want to blog, etc.

As I’ve always said, a little marketing can go a long way. You needn’t spend hours on it. A few minutes a day is fine.

4. Use your back matter to promote your books: add an excerpt

Use the back matter of your books to promote other books.

I’m always amazed when I mention this to authors (established authors, as well as newbies) and discover that they aren’t doing it, because it’s so simple.

When you’ve written the second book in a series, edit Book 1 to include the first scene or two of Book 2 in the back matter. Also at the end of Book 2, mention “Book 3 coming soon” and add a link to your website or Facebook page.

When Book 3 comes out, edit Book 2, to provide an except of Book 3 in the back matter. And so on and so forth.

It takes just 20 minutes to edit a book, and republish it.

5. Believe in yourself: write in a genre which is fun for you

Which genres of fiction do you read for fun? If you’re not reading a genre with pleasure, you’re unlikely to be able to write successfully in that genre. Your reading tells you what readers of the genre want.

When your writing is FUN for you, it’s likely to be fun for readers, as well. Please don’t torture yourself, trying to write in a genre which bores you, or which you actively dislike. It won’t work.

(Bonus tip) Avoid freebies and 99 cent ebooks

“Free” isn’t a guarantee of anything, least of all readers. Today, readers have so many freebies offered to them that they no longer trust “free.” They tend to look on 99 cent ebooks as trash too.

If you’re uncertain about pricing, price at the upper levels of the indie authors in your genre.

Blurbs Sell Your Books: Craft Irresistible Blurbs, And Sell More Fiction And Nonfiction Today

Blurbs Sell Your Books: Craft Irresistible Blurbs, And Sell More Fiction And Nonfiction Today

eBook: $5.99

You can, when you discover the secrets of writing blurbs (book descriptions) which sell.

More info →
Buy from Scribd
Buy from Kobo
Buy from Inktera
Buy from Barnes and Noble Nook
Buy from Apple iBooks
Buy from Amazon Kindle
Map It: For Writing Success — Fiction And Nonfiction Outlines Made Easy

Map It: For Writing Success — Fiction And Nonfiction Outlines Made Easy

eBook: $5.99

I developed the tactics and strategies in this book to help myself. My students have found them essential to producing both fiction and nonfiction almost effortlessly.

More info →
Buy from Apple iBooks
Buy from Barnes and Noble Nook
Buy from Scribd
Buy from Kobo
Buy from Inktera
Buy from Amazon Kindle

Resources to build your writing career

Get daily writing news and tips on the blog’s Facebook page.

Need help with your writing? Visit our online store, or check out Angela’s books for writers.