This Business of Writing

Posts Tagged ‘genre’

How to Write a Mystery Novel

In How-to's, The Craft of Writing on April 21, 2010 at 8:05 am

by C. Patrick Schulze

Listen to a PODCAST of this article.


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:

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

Don’t employ luck or chance as a method of solving the crime. Give your readers an opportunity to figure it out for themselves.

Create a clever ending. The reader expects to be at least fulfilled, if not shocked, by the ending.

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.”


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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.

Bookmark and Share

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.”


How to Find Your Agent

In How-to's, The Craft of Writing, Working with Agents on March 23, 2010 at 6:52 am

By C. Patrick Schulze

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

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Most of us understand the passage to shelf space at the major book retailers is best realized by way of agent representation. And whether a writer wishes to admit it or not, each of us at least fantasizes about seeing our titles on the stores’ shelves.

So, how does an author find an agent to offer representation? This isn’t so difficult, though it does take time and effort.

It goes without saying you first must have mastered the craft of writing, with all that entails, and have that well-written book or novel completed. After all, an agent can’t ask to represent you unless you have a quality product they can sell for you. However, once you’ve traversed that long, arduous path of writing, it’s time to look for your agent.

A first priority is found in your professionalism. Few louts will ever receive an offer. Think of it from the agent’s perspective. Would you rather work with an idiot or a professional? So would they.

Next, you need to take the time to focus on the right kind of agents. Take careful aim at those suitable agents who might offer you the best chance of representation. The shotgun approach, that is querying every agent that might still live and breathe, will only waste your time, ego and money, not to mention the time and money of the various agents. Your purpose is to identify those agents who are most suitable to your novel or book, those who represent your genre.

Here are some tips on how to find the right agents.

If you’re unpublished to date, a great way to find your agent is at writers’ conferences. (Check out James River Writers for a great one in central Virginia, USA.) Focus on those agents who represent your genre and those with whom you’re a match on a personal level. Don’t forgo the personality match. It’s kind of like getting married to the wrong person.

There are any number of literary publications that can point you toward that perfect agent. They include, Writer’s Market, Literary Marketplace, Publishers Weekly, Writer’s Digest Magazine and the current Guide to Literary Agents. Pick up or check out these and other literary sources at your local library. All of these publications can assist you to identify those agents who might be interested in your novel.

Review books of those authors who write in your genre, then read the acknowledgement section. Quite often a novelist will mention their agent in this part of their novel. Those identified are, without question, agents who accepts your genre.

The Internet is loaded with sites to help you find that one agent you need. Consider Agent Query or The Society of Authors’ Representatives. Google “literary agents” and see what else you might find.

Network with other writers. Join a local writers’ group or two and become active in those groups. Being active is the secret to become known within these organizations. The membership should include a number of published authors and after they get to know you, they may be willing to introduce you to their agents.

Join one or more of the hundreds of national and international writers’ associations such as Poets and Writers, National Association of Women’s Writers or The Association of Writers & Writing Programs. Take the time to insure the groups you join are useful to you. Again, after they get to know you and your work, these members may be willing to pass your name along to their agents.

In time, you’ll have a list of potential agents developed. Once you do, organize it according to those who best suit your needs. If you’re an aspiring author, the secret is being honest with yourself. Look first to those who don’t represent the biggest names in the business. Try to find those agents with a bit of experience, but who still seek new authors to represent within your genre.

Once your list is complete and organized, it’s time to query. After that, it’s time to wait. On them, not on your writing. It can take months to hear from an agent, so here is where your mother’s warning comes into play: patience is a virtue. In the mean time, work on your next novel, enhance your education and so on. Just keep writing.

Once you do receive that first exhilarating call, be particular. The wrong agent can be worse than no agent at all.

Best of luck with your agent search and know I wish for you only best-sellers.

C. Patrick Schulze

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


The Sidekick as Character

In General Information, The Craft of Writing on March 4, 2010 at 8:09 am

By C. Patrick Schulze

Listen to a podcast of this article HERE.

The term, “Sidekick” comes to us from gamblers testing their luck at the card table in the 1600’s.  It meant what we now call an “ace in the hole,” or a power card held in reserve for an appropriate time.

Many novels utilize the services of this character called sidekick with great effect. Most often they contrast with the protagonist, but in a nonthreatening, possibly even humorous manner. The secret to the Sidekick when you write fiction? He’s an interactive prop against which the hero bounces.

His purpose is to enhance the characteristics of the hero and possibly offer comic relief. He also gives depth to the plot and other characters. Often a main goal is to provide counsel and/or information to the good guy. The Sidekick is also assigned those duties unsuitable for your hero or beneath his status. Another typical function is to save the hero’s hide at those times when your protagonist appears most at risk. Regardless his duties, the Sidekick participates in almost all the hero’s exploits, except of course, those of a physical nature. To his chagrin, the Sidekick never gets the girl.

Your sidekick should be developed as well as any other important character. He, like his heroic counterpart, requires motivation, he must stay consistent to his personality and have something likable about him.

His personality is typically drawn as smart, shy or even cowardly and a bit neurotic, though this stereotype is changing in literature. These days, the sidekick can be as powerful, or more so, than your hero in some ways. Think of Han Solo in Star Wars. He got the girl even before Luke knew Leia was his sister. (Come on now, as Leia was Luke’s sister, this is the exception to the rule about sidekicks and the story’s love interest mentioned above.) Regardless, The Sidekick’s skills compliment the hero’s. For example, consider Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson. The good doctor’s personality made Sherlock a more palatable character.

The Sidekick is often differentiated from the protagonist by one or more characteristics. In sci fi, for example, they are often of another species entirely. In other genres, they can differ by any number of factors which might include economic position, education, culture, race or even gender. By the way, a sidekick never has a physical relationship with the hero, which I’ll explain in a moment.

The primary relationship between the main character and the sidekick is trust and loyalty. Their bond is unbreakable, though the reader needn’t necessarily know this. Should the hero and his sidekick part for whatever reason, it can make for an exciting scene when, at his darkest moment, the hero is saved by the unexpected return of the contrite sidekick. That bond also is why the hero and his sidekick can never have a physical relationship. That can create too many opportunities for this trust to bend and break. Further, if you’re not careful, a physical relationship may even move one or both characters into a different character type altogether. This trust also is why your villain will never have a sidekick. Bad guys and their henchmen are notoriously untrustworthy.

You may wish to create a couple of sidekick types to see if you can’t insert them into your books and novels. You may find they give your story that added spark it lacks.

For more about characters, read THIS.

In the mean time, I wish you only best-sellers.

C. Patrick Schulze

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

Tips to Edit Your Novel

In Editing Your Manuscript on January 5, 2010 at 11:54 am

by C. Patrick Schulze

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Many authors, professional or otherwise, make some of the same mistakes when writing. Among them is the correct balance of “white space”, unnecessary or too much information and the infamous “as –ing” construction.

The balance between text and white space on a page is a difficult concept to explain, but you’re looking for the correct flow to your page as well as your words. To give you an idea of how to find this flow, print out your manuscript, or even your chapter, single-spaced for this exercise. Flip the pages and just get a feel for the amount of white to black you see. Then compare your manuscript to a novel of similar genre and see how it compares. Does yours have a great deal more or less white space? Do your paragraphs seem dramatically longer than the published work’s? If you have too much black, this is often caused by too little dialogue. Too much white space, in contrast, often means too much dialogue. One secret is to look for paragraphs that run more than, say, half the page. Try this a few times to see if this helps you. It’s interesting, but this simple exercise may just enhance your writing more than you’d imagine.

Another error writers make is implanting unnecessary or too much information. This often comes from the overuse of setting or a character’s personality traits. For example, if you find your character dons her threadbare coat while slipping on her gloves with only six full fingers, and she laments the hole in her hat as she places it atop her head, then picks up her worn purse that contains only a few odd coins, well then, you’ve probably told too much. Your reader will understand your character’s economic plight with much less information. Just drip these ideas by offering a detail or two then get into the story. As these details build up, your reader will understand both personality and setting. If you need this much information for word count, then your story is probably too thin.

Another way an author adds too much information is having more than one character perform the same function or provide identical information to the story. Does your story need a father to teach your hero to use tools and a grandfather to teach him to hunt? Can both of these functions be performed by a single character? Too many characters in a novel create confusion for the reader and might not add to the story. Read the first fifty or so pages of Gone with the Wind and you’ll understand what I mean. Review each character to see if they are necessary to the story and see if two or more can be combined for clarity.

The “as –ing” phraseology is also often used abused by new and experienced writers alike. To explain this, we’ll revisit our destitute woman mentioned earlier.

“As she put on her hat, she turned the key in the lock.”

Another way you might see this is as follows:

“Putting on her hat, she turned the key in the lock.”

See the “as –ing” context here?

When reading these sentences, the first action, putting on the hat, seems to have much less weight then the next action, turning the key. The hat feels inconsequential. To correct this, it might be rewritten as follows:

“She placed her hat on her head then inserted the key into the lock.”

In this case, both action appear to have significance and therefore makes the first action more important.

If you review your manuscript,  you may well find some of these issues buried within. By fixing them, you’re writing will take on a far more authoritative tone.

Best of luck and I wish you only best-sellers.

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