This Business of Writing

Archive for April 2nd, 2010|Daily archive page

How to Write a Mystery Novel

In How-to's, The Craft of Writing on April 2, 2010 at 8:15 am

by C. Patrick Schulze

Listen to a PODCAST of this article.

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Mystery novels are one of the most widely read genres but are novels nonetheless. Therefore, a mystery novel needs all the fundamental elements every other novel requires. Mystery novels require a well written storyline, a sympathetic hero, a villain, effective dialogue and all the rest. However, a mystery novel requires one thing other novels do not, the proverbial “twist.” That’s the unexpected yet interesting and logical conclusion.

The secret to a mystery novel is to make your reader believe they know what is going on, when in fact, they do not. After all, they are called mystery novels for a reason.

It’s often best to figure out your plot, then write to your characters. That means to first decide what type of mystery novel you’ll write. Is it a ghost story, a murder mystery or maybe a story about a baffling disappearance? You can’t get there if you don’t know where you’re going. Next, you might want to decide on your twist. Then give serious consideration to an outline. You’ll need to incorporate a few false leads or red herrings and a well thought outline will keep these on track. You’ll also have to plant all those subtle clues and your outline will assist you from missing or misplacing any of your evidence.

Once this is in place, consider the following concepts about mystery novels:

  1. You should introduce your mystery early. This means within the first fifty pages or three chapters. It’s a flexible rule, but you get the point.
  2. Ensure you make your criminal and crime relate to each other. You’ll never convince your reader it was the grandmother who strafed the politicians in an F-22 Raptor.
  3. Have your criminal appear early in your novel. Give your readers an opportunity to figure out who done it. They’ll be wrong, of course, but they don’t need to know that until the very end.
  4. You’ll want your crime to be credible and accurate. People are critical these days so don’t give them a reason to tell others your novel isn’t believable.
  5. Ensure your facts are accurate. Visit police departments, PIs and the like. Make friends of these people for they know the truth of their industries. Check out the FBI’s home page and read “A Writer’s Guide to Poisons” by Serita Stevens, if it fits your novel. Do whatever you must to become an expert in the field in which you write. I met one writer who wrote a mystery that required the use of birds of prey, so he became a falconer. As they say, no sacrifice too small.
  6. Keep away from supernatural sleuthing capabilities. (Yes, there are exceptions to this.) In general however, your reader must feel the tools and techniques the crime solver uses are at least reasonably authentic.
  7. Don’t employ luck or chance as a method of solving the crime. Give your readers an opportunity to figure it out for themselves.
  8. Create a clever ending. The reader expects to be at least fulfilled, if not shocked, by the ending.
  9. Always keep the “fair-play” rule in mind. Your reader should have a reasonable chance of solving the mystery for themselves. That’s not to say they can’t be mislead by a red herring or two, but they need to know everything, just as the detective does.

So, are there any mystery writers out there with other advice for our readers?

Until we speak again, know I wish for you only best-sellers.

C. Patrick Schulze
Author of the emerging novel, “Born to be Brothers.”


9 Essentials for Writing Your Climactic Scene

In How-to's, The Craft of Writing on April 2, 2010 at 8:03 am

by C. Patrick Schulze

To listen to a podcast of this article, click HERE.

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Every novel requires that final, explosive scene where the protagonist and his villain struggle with each other to the certain demise of one or the other. It matters not if you hero is a working mother trying to make ends meet, or the commander of the forces ready to invade Omaha Beach on D-Day. Every novel should have this climactic scene and you should consider certain criteria to make it as powerful as you can.

Here are nine tips to help you when writing that all-important scene.

This scene should be an epic confrontation with a clear winner and a clear loser. Someone gets the girl and someone goes home from the party by himself.

Your hero must confront his most worthy of adversaries. Secondary evil doers simply won’t do. Make this clash between the biggest and baddest.

Your reader expects your hero to win and so he should. However, his victory need not be what they expect. Regardless the sour taste of your hero’s success, a victory he should have.

Your hero should win something of value for his trials. It could be the realization that “The Girl” just ain’t worth the work, or it may be real estate garnered by an incredible battle. Whatever he learns or wins, it must make him a better person, or creature, as the case may be.

In this scene it is not the time for surprise arrivals of any sort. The cavalry, in any of its many forms, should not jump into the story at this point. All that should be set up earlier in your novel.

Have your hero save himself. Imagine if your hero is fighting the villain in hand-to-hand combat and just as the bad guy puts the sword to his throat, an unmentioned meteor streaks from the sky to obliterate the bad guy in a magnificent blaze of fire. Don’t you think your readers will be disappointed in that? Now, that’s not to say the beautiful model can’t Kung Fu in and save him earlier in the story, but at this time, he’s on his own.

There should be no flashbacks at this point in your novel. Flashbacks are tough anyway, but they break the tension and can kill the entire scene. Once the scene opens, focus on the conflict in that scene. Your readers’ interest should be at its peak and they deserve a healthy portion of suspense, action and conflict.

Speaking of action and conflict, this scene should be resolved with action and conflict. Let them duke it out, metaphorically, emotionally or physically, but get the tussle going. Make this thing as exciting as you can. (For more information on the difference between action and conflict, read this ARTICLE.)

Clarification of anything is death to this scene. This is the time for action and your readers should have already received any explanations they need, although mysteries might get away with this to a point.

And finally, this scene should end in a rational fashion. Make it suspenseful, but logical. You never want your readers to say, “Don’t buy it,” at the end of your story. If they do, they’ll tell their friends the same thing; “Don’t buy it.”

Now, are there any aspects to the climactic scene I’ve forgotten?

Until my next post, you knows I wish you only best-sellers.

C. Patrick Schulze
Author of the emerging novel, “Born to be Brothers”