Tag Archives: characters

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.

3 Fiction Writing Tips For Beginners: Build Your Characters

3 Fiction Writing Tips For Beginners: Build Your Characters

In fiction writing, there’s an old argument among authors. Some authors believe that the plot is everything; while others believe that the plot is immaterial — fiction begins and ends with fictional characters.

If you’re unhappy with your fiction — your characters haven’t “come alive” — chances are that you’ve been pushing them around. You’re too focused on your plot.

Let’s look at some fiction writing tips which will help you to build great characters, and a wonderful plot.

Characters in fiction writing: two essentials for each character

New authors imagine that to create a character, you need to know everything about him: his shoe size, for example. Or whether or not he likes anchovies on his pizza.

To create a character who has the potential to be wonderful, you only need to know two things:

  • What he wants. What’s his heart’s desire — what will he sacrifice for?
  • What internal obstacle stops him getting what he wants?

Now let’s look at three tips to help you to build great characters who will grow your plot for you.

1. To create a character, start with an attribute to create an internal obstacle

In Craft Fictional Characters For NaNoWriMo: 3 Tips, we said:

I know some authors like to create page upon page of character bios, and that’s fine — although it’s never worked for me. I like to start with the basics, a fictional character’s name, his age, his profession, and his primary attribute.

Let’s say that we’re writing a cozy mystery, and we want to create a quirky sleuth. Without bending our brain, we decide on:

* Name: Mara Mason, age 26

* Profession: widow, who works from home, as a virtual assistant;

* Primary attribute: intense curiosity.

You can create a character within moments, as you can see. Mara’s primary attribute is curiosity, an essential for a sleuth. It’s also a double-edged sword, and this attribute helps you to create external obstacles for Mara.

Recall however that we also need Mara’s heart’s desire, and an internal obstacle which stops her getting what she wants.

Let’s say that Mara’s heart’s desire is a family of her own. Her parents died when she was young, and she lived in a long succession of foster homes. She wants what she never had. What’s the internal obstacle? It’s a lack of trust. Mara can’t trust anyone enough to reveal herself and build close relationships.

Vital: your character will usually be totally unaware that he has an internal obstacle which stops him getting what he wants. He may also be unaware of what he mostly deeply desires.

Although Mara may be unaware that she has problems with trust, and unaware that she longs for a family, you as the author are completely aware. You use this knowledge to build your plot.

Similarly with other major characters in your novel. You need to know what they most want, and what stops them getting that.

2. Once you know the internal obstacle, build your character’s backstory to explain it

Our backstory explanation of Mara’s trust issues is: orphan, foster homes.

However, if you want to write a novel which is a page-turner, keep 95% of the backstory out of your novel.

As we said in: Fiction Tips: Kill Your Backstory,

Your explanations are backstory. You need to know the backstory, but your reader doesn’t. You may have heard that you should start slotting backstory into your novel after the setup, somewhere after the first few chapters. This can work, but honestly? It still bogs down the story. You want readers to keep reading, so only tell them what they need to know, when they need to know it.

Backstory is a killer, especially for new novelists. I’m currently reading The Night Manager, by John Le Carré. He’s amazing. I love the way he handles backstory, but he’s an expert. Until you have Le Carré’s skill, avoid dumping backstory into your novel.

Instead, hint at the backstory. For example, perhaps Mara has a garden rock on her desk. She took the rock from the garden of the one foster home in which she was completely happy.

You can keep readers wondering: why is that simple rock so important to Mara? Keep them wondering, until you reveal its importance to Mara.

When you limit your revelations of backstory like this, you’ll write a more exciting novel, because you’re involving readers.

3. Develop your plot: your plot is the resolution of your main characters’ internal and external obstacles, in SCENES

You need to know the heart’s desire of all your main characters, as well as their internal obstacles. You SHOW the desires, and the external and internal obstacles in scenes.

We covered how to set a scene in Write Hot Scenes For Bestselling Fiction: 5 Magical Tips:

Character goals lead to: action, conflict, suspense… DRAMA

It’s often easier to study scenes while watching a movie. There’s less chance you’ll get lost in the words. So watch a movie, with a pen and paper. Pause the action when a scene ends, and replay the scene. Analyze it.

When you focus on your characters’ internal and external obstacles, you’ll automatically build a good plot, scene by scene, because you’re focused on your characters.

More Heart To Heart: Write Hot-Selling Romance Fiction

More Heart To Heart: Write Hot-Selling Romance Fiction

eBook: $5.99
Author:
Series: Romance Writing, Book 2
Genre: Writing
Tag: writing fiction
I adore writing romance fiction, and now you can write romance too. More info →
Buy from Scribd
Buy from Kobo
Buy from Inktera
Buy from Apple iBooks
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.

Plot Fiction: Fill-In-The-Blanks Plotting For Pantsers

Plot Fiction: Fill-In-The-Blanks Plotting For Pantsers

“I can’t plot fiction,” a student told me. “My mind doesn’t work that way.”

She’s a fellow pantser. We pantsers can plot, if we have to, but plotting kills our inspiration for our novel.

In our Hot Plots program, I teach an organic method of plotting which convinces pantsers that they can plot. However, all you need to do to become comfortable writing your novels is a basic structure for a novel which stops you getting hopelessly stuck.

Think of it as “fill-in-the-blanks” plotting.

Let’s look at that now.

Fill-in-the-blanks: a way to plot fiction for people who hate to plot

Here’s all you need to know for fill-in-the-blanks plotting from Writing Fiction: Show It, Don’t Blow It:

* The setup (approximately a quarter of your novel, in which you set up your story.) After you’ve set things up, you’re moving to…

* The midpoint — what it says. This is the first big turning point of your story, where everything changes. Your story goes in a new direction. Next you head for…

* Story twist number 2. Another turning point. Your main character has tried to change. It’s not working. Things look black, and you’re heading for…

* The showdown. The make or break. The big fight your character needs to win. The story winds down, with…

* The resolution. The killer’s identified in a mystery. The world’s saved in a thriller, and it’s hearts and flowers in a romance.

Story Twist 2 happens at around the 80% point of your novel.

How to get started with fill-in-the-blanks plotting

Yesterday I finished the first draft of a novel, so this morning I started a new novel, with very little preparation. The novel is in a sub-genre (actually a sub-sub genre of romance.) I’ve never written a novel in this category before, so it will be fun, albeit challenging.

Last night I jotted a few ideas on a pad. This morning, I roughed out a couple of ideas for the main character, using an easy character-creation method. All you need to create a basic character is an adjective, combined with a noun. The noun is usually the character’s job. Some examples:

  • Naive model;
  • Bedazzled lottery winner;
  • Hardworking hairdresser;
  • Jealous chef.

You can come up with any number of these thumbnail “characters” in a minute or two.

Once I had my main character, I wrote a couple of paragraphs of background, and I was good to start writing. I always like to keep very loose during a novel’s setup. I find the best character and plot ideas come to me while I’m writing. If I plot without writing, all I get are cliched characters and obvious plots.

After an hour, I had 1200 words, which was a good start.

By the time I’ve reached the 30% point of the novel, I’ll have the first plot twist, which kicks the main character into action, as well as the midpoint twist. And by the time I reach the novel’s midpoint, I’ll know what the novel’s climax will be so I tend to write that next.

Make fill-in-the-blanks plotting your own: it’s a freeform way to “plot”

When you’re using the fill-in-the-blanks method, you have way-markers you need to reach. In between those markers, you can write any scenes you please. There are no rules, but do remember that you essentially have two plots, as I explained in The Big Secret To Plotting Fiction:

* The external plot is what happens.

* The internal plot is what your main character, or characters, think(s) about what happens.

Just keep asking your characters WHY. I’ll need to ask my main character of my new novel exactly that shortly, because this morning I had no idea of her motivation for what she did. 🙂

Try fill-in-the-blanks plotting. It’s plotting for pantsers. 🙂

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
Short Fiction Secrets: How To Write And Sell Short Stories

Short Fiction Secrets: How To Write And Sell Short Stories

$5.99
Want to write short stories? If you answered yes, that's excellent… Here's why. Today, you can make money writing short fiction. 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.