Tag Archives: writing process

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

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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.

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Writing Fiction: How Much Dialogue?

Writing Fiction: How Much Dialogue?

When you’re writing fiction, how much dialogue do you need? a student in a recent class asked.

Great question.

Dialogue happens in scenes, so pacing might be your first consideration. Scenes heavy in dialogue read quickly, so you might avoid writing three or more chatty scenes in a row.

(On the other hand, you might not — “how much dialogue?” is a stylistic choice. Your choice.)

Next, consider your genre.

A psychological thriller might have less dialogue than a romance novel, or a mystery, for example, because the psychological thriller is concerned with characters’ state of mind: their thoughts.

Most importantly however, think about your readers’ entertainment.

Entertainment trumps all other considerations.

When you’re writing fiction, you’re creating an entertaining experience

In revision, look at each scene of your novel. Is the scene entertaining? (Ask your beta readers.)

All scenes can be improved, so check:

  • Your transitions, into and out of each scene;
  • Scene setting: is it clear who the viewpoint character is, and why he’s there?
  • Have you given a nod to time and place? (Check your timeline for continuity);
  • Who “wins” the scene (does every character in the scene have a goal?)

I like writing dialogue, so if a scene’s flagging, I’ll kick it along by adding dialogue, or spicing up the dialogue — anything to add entertainment value.

In revision, look at each scene of your novel. Is the scene entertaining?

What’s your style?

How much dialogue? is always a matter of style. You’re the boss; it’s your style for that novel.

The first time I read Robert B. Parker’s Western novel Appaloosa, I was struck by the amount of dialogue: that’s Robert B. Parker’s style.

As we’ve said, novels with lots of dialogue read more quickly than novels with extensive narrative. Done well, these novels are page-turners. Unfortunately, if the dialogue’s done badly, readers won’t finish the novel.

Tips for better dialogue

Let’s look at some tips to help you to write better dialogue.

1. Focus solely on your dialogue for a scene first (this helps you to write more dramatically)

As I said in this article:

When I write scenes, I write the first sentence, and the last sentence of the scene. I also write down what effect I want from the scene.

When you write “business” — the action part of the scene, description and other narrative — with the dialogue, your dialogue can fade into the background. You pay less attention to it.

Try writing your dialogue first: your readers will pay more attention to it than to anything else in the scene, so you should too.

2. Avoid repetition: it waters down your dialogue

As I suggested in 3 Fiction Writing Tips: Editing For Story Flow:

…when you’re lightly editing for flow, look for any “as you know” constructions, such as: “As you know Bob, my wife Tiffany is an accountant.”

Basically, avoid repetition. Nuke repetitions when you find them.

If you’ve spent three paragraphs describing the sun setting when you open the scene, avoid the sunset as a topic in your dialogue.

3. Keep your dialogue in character

Not easy, but necessary.

From John Sandford’s Silken Prey:

After a couple minutes of silence, Virgil said to Lucas, “At least we know he’s not lying to us now.”

“How’s that?” Lucas asked.

“His lips aren’t moving…”

From Philippa Gregory’s The Queen’s Fool:

I showed him a sulky face. ‘I am commanded by the king, I am commanded by the Duke of Northumberland, I am commanded by his son Lord Robert Dudley, I am commanded by my father; you might as well join in. Every other man in London seems to think he can order me.’

In summary…

Generally speaking, novels today feature more dialogue than novels written even a decade ago. Always however, the amount of dialogue is up to you. Have fun. 🙂

Self-Publishing Strategy Made Easy: How To Market Your Books In 15 Minutes A Day

Self-Publishing Strategy Made Easy: How To Market Your Books In 15 Minutes A Day

eBook: $5.99

Do you enjoy writing and publishing your books, but find that marketing them is a challenge? You're not sure what works, so your efforts are muddled, half-hearted, and inconsistent.

What if you could market in just 15 minutes daily?

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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 →
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Write A Book: 4 Ways Scrivener Makes You A Better Writer

Write A Book: 4 Ways Scrivener Makes You A Better Writer

Recently on a private forum, after responding to a plea for help with the suggestion, “use Scrivener, the program makes you a better writer,” I’ve received questions about that statement.

My first response was to giggle. Ah — NO, I’m not a shill for Scrivener’s developers. You won’t find any affiliate links in this post. Nor do I know anyone in the company, but I have immense admiration for the developers.

So, how does Scrivener make you a better writer?

I believe that Scrivener is worth every penny of your investment in its purchase, and more. Your mileage may vary of course, but I know that before Scrivener, writing a book took me three and four times as long.

If you need to write a book, you need Scrivener

Scrivener’s beta version arrived in 2005. In that year, I switched from using Windows machines as my primary computers to Macs. It took forever to make the decision to switch.

At that time, I was writing about PCs for computer magazines, as well as doing ghostwriting for a global publisher, so I still needed my Windows machines.

My contract for the large publishing house meant that not only did I write chapters for them for various books, I worked as a ghostwriter and copywriter for them as well.

My life was chaos. I spent 12 and 14 hours a day, just writing. Research took another couple of hours at least.

Then suddenly, at just the right time, Scrivener came out with a beta version — suddenly writing books was much easier.

Scrivener will make you a better writer because it makes it easier to organize your writing projects, and to think.

1. Scrivener makes it easier to organize and think, so your writing improves

Books, whether fiction or nonfiction, morph.

In this post, I suggested writing your blurb (book description) before you start outlining and writing:

Writing your blurb first is important because you need to fulfill promises you made in the blurb. It’s much easier to edit your blurb than it is to edit your book.

Nevertheless, even with your blurb as a compass to your writing, your book’s vision will change before your eyes. When this happens it’s not only disorienting, it can throw you off track. If you’re unfortunate enough to have deadlines for several books at one time, it also leads to a lot of stress.

Scrivener has a marvelous feature called Collections, which helps you to revision (re-imagine) your book, no matter how much it morphs.

An excellent article on Collections:

Before Scrivener, I’d print out a novel, then lay out “collections” of documents on the bed, and the carpet. Next, I’d create index card summaries of every document in every collection. I’d delete scenes and chapters by tossing their documents, and then type up fresh scenes, and lay them out on the carpet. It was chaotic.

2. You can view your Scrivener project from several different angles, so you get better ideas

When it’s time to outline, I start out in the Corkboard view. The Corkboard’s index cards are itty bitty things, so I usually switch from there to the Outline view, and then to the Scrivenings view, to flesh out the outline.

You can start writing at any time.

For example, with fiction I’ll usually write the first scene, and then because the final scene mirrors the first, I’ll write that scene next. Of course, the final scene needs rewriting later, but I’ve mapped out the territory.

You may find that being able to switch so easily between views helps you to keep your project on track, and become more creative.

3. Got an editor, or beta readers? It takes just a few clicks to compile a draft to send them (and you can quickly make changes)

When ghostwriting, I like to send my client or editor a copy of the first draft of each chapter when it’s done. That takes just a few clicks in Scrivener, and the PDF is ready to email to the client, or to attach to a thread in a chat program.

Sending out out ARCs (advance reading copies) is just as simple. A few clicks, and your PDF is ready to send.

4. Inspiration can strike anywhere: Scrivener has iOS and (soon) Android apps

You can get ideas anywhere. I have an “Ideas” folder in each Scrivener project, so I can type up an idea quickly. Occasionally, I’ll be on the sofa, watching a movie, when inspiration hits. It’s easy to open Scrivener on my tablet, and add a few paragraphs to a scene, or correct something in a scene if I realize that the timeline is off, for example.

So, there you have it. I truly believe that Scrivener can help almost any author to become happier and more productive.

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
Heart To Heart: Romance Writing For Beginners

Heart To Heart: Romance Writing For Beginners

eBook: $5.99
Author:
Series: Romance Writing, Book 1
Genre: Writing
Tag: writing fiction

Love makes the world go round, and of all the genres in fiction, romance, with its many sub-genres, is the most popular.

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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.