Category Archives: Writing techniques

Writing Mystery Novels: 3 Dramatic Plotting Strategies

Writing Mystery Novels: 3 Dramatic Plotting Strategies

I’ve received some questions about writing mystery novels; specifically about plotting them. Over the years, I’ve developed my own little specialty in ghostwriting fiction for several clients, so this genre is near and dear to my heart.

Writing mysteries is huge fun, because you’re creating a puzzle for readers to solve, as well as developing characters who can be as weird as you can contrive them.

So, how do you get started writing a mystery?

Get started writing a mystery novel: start with the crime

The crime’s at the heart of your novel; without the crime, there’s no mystery.

Therefore, you have three major characters with whom to work. As we said in Writing A Mystery Novel: 3 Tips For Starting Your Bestseller:

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

New mystery authors spend a lot of time creating an unusual sleuth, especially in “cozy” mysteries. Over the past couple of decades in cozies, there’s been an abundance of hobbyist sleuths — the sleuth is a caterer, or a dog walker, or a quilter.

My students tie themselves into knots developing unusual sleuths. That’s OK, BUT if you settle on your sleuth before you’ve organized the victim and crime, it can lead to problems later.

My suggestion: start with the crime.

Why start with the victim and crime?

Several reasons:

  • It’s easier to plot your mystery;
  • There’s less chance you’ll write yourself into a corner;
  • You may write a page-turner which becomes a bestseller.

Let’s look at three plotting strategies which give you a head start on writing a dramatic mystery.

Ask yourself these questions.

1. Where does the crime take place?

The crime’s location/ setting offers the perfect opportunity to add drama to your mystery, so don’t waste it.

It’s a few years since I read John Sandford’s Virgil Flowers mystery, Bad Blood. I’m not likely to forget the novel because the murder occurs in a grain silo, a gruesome — and very unusual — setting.

2. Who discovers the crime?

The discovery of the crime gives you another opportunity for drama. Some authors do the “discovery” scenes brilliantly; P.D. James for one.

Please don’t skimp on this scene. It’s the heart of your novel, and sets up everything to come. Additionally, this scene may be the only time readers “meet” one of the main characters, the victim.

3. Whodunnit? Planting clues and red herrings

The charm of reading mystery novels is finding clues and red herrings. That’s the charm of writing mysteries too — planting the clues and red herrings.

When you start your mystery with plotting the crime, planting your clues becomes much easier.

A tip: keep track of your clues. It’s easy to lose track, and forget where you planted what, as well as who found a specific clue, and what effect it had.

Have fun writing your mystery… 🙂

Step By Step To Fiction Which Sells: Plotting And Scene Magic

Step By Step To Fiction Which Sells: Plotting And Scene Magic

eBook: $5.99

Your readers want to enter your novel's world. They want to experience your book -- they want to live your book with your main characters.

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

Newbie Novelist: 3 Tips To Ignite Your Imagination

Newbie Novelist: 3 Tips To Ignite Your Imagination

You’re a newbie novelist. Although you have lots of ideas, you’re uncertain about shaping those ideas into a book. When you try to write down what’s in your head, your words seem flat.

Alternatively, you’ve written many novel beginnings, then run out of steam. You don’t know why you lose inspiration — you fear that you’re not meant to be a novelist.

Newbie novelist: forget the words — imagine

When you’re new to writing fiction, you focus on the words. That’s understandable: you’re “writing”. You’re self-conscious and tense. It can take years to get over that feeling, and improve your fiction, if you’re not aware of what’s happening.

Here’s the best advice anyone can give you — and I wish that someone had shared it with me. It would have eliminated years of self-doubt and misery… Forget the words, focus ONLY on your imagination. Get what’s in your imagination, and what you’re feeling, onto the page/ computer screen.

Any words will do. You can tinker with the words later, if your grammar’s shaky — but don’t try to pretty up the words and “write.” You’re a storyteller, so tell stories.

Three tips to ignite your imagination

Waiting for your imagination to ignite, and nothing happens? 🙂

Over the years, many adults lose the imagination they had as children. Everyday life takes over. Give yourself permission to play with characters and stories.

These tips may help.

1. Your imagination doesn’t take orders, relax and day dream

Imagining your stories is similar to dreaming. As with your night dreams, you can’t order your subconscious to deliver the day dreams you want on cue.

Stress kills your imagination. Some authors rely on alcohol or mind altering substances so that they can relax. Avoid these dangerous crutches. Instead, try playing music, or take long baths in a candle-lit bathroom.

Over time, you’ll be able to switch on your imagination as if you’re switching on a light, but this ability takes time to develop.

2. Where’s the feeling? Go with the emotion

Stories which excite readers need to excite you first. Although your imagination won’t take orders from you, it will take them from your emotions.

Try thinking something like… “Now, Bethany tip-toes into the room, she’s uncertain about what she’ll find there. She’s angry with Thomas. We want something surprising, and a little creepy…”

Feel those emotions — the character’s anger. Then feel surprised — and so on. Your imagination will deliver.

Yes, I know, this seems weird. However, your creative self is your illogical self; it’s separate from your rational, everyday consciousness. Try this exercise.

3. Surprise yourself: boredom is deadly

When you’re writing, you’re focused on getting the writing session done. You have a deadline (even if it’s one you set), so you want to write that day’s words, and get on with the next project on your agenda.

This morning I wrote a scene in my current historical mystery, and realized that I was bored. Oops

Watch your own emotions. Treat boredom as a big RED flashing warning sign, and STOP. Initially, this is hard to do because you make excuses for your boredom, like: “I’m not in the mood to write today,” or “of course I’m stressed, because…” Yada, yada… You’re bored because you’ve switched off your imagination.

I went back to my process and rewrote the scene.

Keep writing, and imagining

Onward. Keep writing. Before you know it, your imagination will become your partner. Writing novels will be fun for you.

Serial Fiction Bonanza returns…

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We’re thrilled that Serial Fiction Bonanza is available again. If serial fiction intrigues you, it’s a good investment in your writing.

Learn more here, and enroll now; you’ll download the entire class immediately, and you’ll work at your own pace.

The Journaling Habit: Achieve Your Goals And Change Your Life In Just Ten Minutes A Day

The Journaling Habit: Achieve Your Goals And Change Your Life In Just Ten Minutes A Day

eBook: $5.99

Do you love your life?

If you don't ADORE your life, you can change it — more easily than you can imagine.

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Yes, You’re Creative: How To Unlock Your Imagination And Build The Writing Career Of Your Dreams

Yes, You’re Creative: How To Unlock Your Imagination And Build The Writing Career Of Your Dreams

eBook: $5.99

In this book we'll aim to increase your creativity to unlock your imagination and build the writing career of your dreams.

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Resources to build your writing career

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

New Author: 4 Tips To Help You To Write Your Novel

New Author: 4 Tips To Help You To Write Your Novel

You’re a new author, and you want to write a novel — a good novel. Perhaps you’ve already started writing.

You’re excited, and nervous. So far you’ve managed to shout down all those voices in your head which tell you that writing a novel is hard, that you don’t know enough, that you don’t have time… and on, and on.

Take this to heart: baby steps.

New author: want to finish your novel? Take daily baby steps

Nothing blocks a new author as quickly as the knowledge that he’s “writing a book.” Avoid thinking that.

Here’s why. Even a short novel contains at least 40,000 words. At 250 words a page, that’s 160 pages, give or take. A year from now, after you’ve written a book (or two books, if you catch fire) 40,000 words may seem easy-peasy. A stroll in the park.

However, for a new author, when the realization hits that you’ve written five pages and have 155 more to write, the thought of writing all those pages makes you cringe.

Instead:

  • Tell yourself you’re creating a title for a book you may want to write one day, or not…
  • Describe a character, who might appear in your hypothetical book, one day;
  • Imagine your new character in his daily life. Close your eyes. Can you see him? What’s he doing? Write it down.

Think “baby steps” — and write every day. It took me many years to stop thinking about “writing a novel”, and chunk a novel down into simple and easy daily tasks. Baby steps help you avoid drama and procrastination, and make writing easier.

Here are some tips to help you to write those words with brio.

1. Have fun: if you don’t have fun, readers won’t either

Many years ago, when I was writing my first novel, I though that writing was hard. Nevertheless, I love to read, so I was convinced that I could write a novel.

It took a multi-book contract from a major publisher before I realized that:

  • If I wasn’t having fun, or was bored, it came out in the words, which meant red slashes from my editor’s pencil, and rewrites; so…
  • I decided to have fun — to entertain myself.

Not only did the writing flow more smoothly when I was writing to entertain myself, I got far fewer slashes from the editorial pencil.

Moreover, I was eager to get to my desk to write each day.

Have fun.

2. Experience your novel, so that readers will too

In a similar vein, think of your novel as a series of experiences. Readers read to experience your novel.

In my career as a ghostwriter, occasionally someone asks me to write a horror novel, or a serial killer thriller. I refuse, because I can’t read those genres with pleasure. Why would I want to put myself through those kinds of experiences?

You’re a new author, so you’re very focused on the words of your novel. Make it your goal to get beyond the words as soon as you can. Aim to put your readers right into your novel, seeing through your main character’s eyes, to experience what he experiences.

3. It’s all about the characters: what’s your main character’s flaw?

From Characters in Fiction: Love Me, Love My Flaw:

How many people do you know who are perfect? No one’s perfect. We all have flaws – many of them. So characters in fiction need flaws too. Creating a flaw which works can be a real challenge, especially if you’re new to writing fiction.

While all characters are based on aspects of their creator, if you’re a new writer you’ll create characters who are Mary Sues or Marty Stus: idealized people, representations of yourself, and your counterpart of the opposite sex.

To avoid this, focus on a character’s flaw.

Here’s my favorite list of character traits. Pick a flaw (one or two for each character in your novel) which you can SHOW readers.

4. Ramp up the tension (you may not be able to do this in your first draft)

As a new author, your primary goal is to keep readers reading.

Here’s how. Use open loops.

From Write Fiction For Readers: 3 Tips For Narrative Drive:

Open loops are psychological strategies used most often as copywriting tricks. They’re hooks and unanswered questions. You can and should use open loops right throughout your novel.

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.

As we’ve said, until you’re an experienced author, you’re unfamiliar with this strategy of writing to keep readers reading, so be happy to make this a goal when you write your second draft.

Also, in your reading, watch for open loops, and how authors use them.

And of course — have fun. 🙂

Step By Step To Fiction Which Sells: Plotting And Scene Magic

Step By Step To Fiction Which Sells: Plotting And Scene Magic

eBook: $5.99

Your readers want to enter your novel's world. They want to experience your book -- they want to live your book with your main characters.

More info →
Buy from Barnes and Noble Nook
Buy from Scribd
Buy from Kobo
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
Writing Success Secrets: How To Conquer Self Doubt, And Achieve Your Writing Goals, Starting Today

Writing Success Secrets: How To Conquer Self Doubt, And Achieve Your Writing Goals, Starting Today

eBook: $5.99
Author:
Genre: Writing

Today, the opportunities for writers have never been greater. Back in the day a writer who was making six-figures a year seemed a creature of myth. These days, highly successful writers are making six figures a month.

More info →
Buy from Scribd
Buy from Inktera
Buy from Kobo
Buy from Barnes and Noble Nook
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.