This Business of Writing

Posts Tagged ‘plot’

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.”


The Keys to Effective Dialogue in Novels

In dialogue, How-to's, The Craft of Writing on March 22, 2010 at 6:48 am

by C. Patrick Schulze

To listen to a podcast of this article click HERE.

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Dialogue is one of the premier aspects of your novel and every word of it should have a reason as to why it exists within your manuscript.

The reasons for dialogue in a fiction are varied, with the major goals listed below.

  1. Provide backstory
  2. Reveal a character’s personality, internal conflicts or mental state
  3. Establish the tone or mood of a particular point in your story
  4. Provide for character motivation
  5. Build reader empathy
  6. Build or expand on conflict
  7. Move the plot forward
  8. Increase or decrease the pace of your novel
  9. Tweak the reader’s memory of past events within the novel
  10. Foreshadow events yet to happen

If your dialogue does not perform one or more of the above functions, you can most likely delete it from your manuscript. A good test is to read the scene without the questionable dialogue and see if your story, or any critical plot points, are affected. If they are not, cut the dialogue.

Here are some tips for creating better dialogue.

Punctuation Counts

I hate to say this, but punctuation is key to effective dialogue. If you do not follow grammatical rules, your dialogue may not read as intended.

A quick example:

“Maggie said No I will not go with you.”

In this case, it’s difficult to understand if Maggie said the words or if someone else said Maggie said them. This distinction may have quite the effect on your story. As written, it holds little or no tension, whereas in the corrected sentence below, it implies danger and a more exciting plot.

Maggie said, “No! I will not go with you.”

For more on dialogue punctuation, read THIS blog post.

Dialogue is Different

Dialogue happens when a character speaks, of course, but the secret is to not write so your characters speak the way people do. The secret is to write so it sounds like people speaking. It’s a tricky thing to do, but an essential aspect of writing effective dialogue.
You’ll find people speak in clipped sentences peppered with, “um’s” and “ah’s” and the like. You’ll also find they speak in incomplete sentences, incomprehensible grunts and all sorts of other communication you cannot use in your manuscript. Further, and this is fact, ninety-five percent of the time people don’t answer the question asked. If you were to write as people speak, your reader would get bored at once and put down your book. Worse, they’d not recommend it to others.

So, how do you interpret speech to read as effective dialogue? The secret to translate natural linguistics into dialogue is, cut all the dull parts. (I think it was Alfred Hitchcock who first penned that phrase.) If you study the way people speak, you’ll learn the dull parts are most of what they say. Once you’ve identified and eliminated all the inconsequential words, which is most of any actual discussion, you’ll be left with the meat. And the meat is all that goes into your novel.

Here’s an example of how a real conversation might sound and how it could be altered to read as effective novel dialogue:

John said, “What did you do today?”

Mary answered, “Uh, nothing really. I went to the store, bought a pair of black slacks. What did you do?”
“Not much.”

“Oh, by the way, did you know I ran into Sara while I was shopping?”

“Sara!” John was surprised to hear her name.

When you read this exchange, you’ll notice the tension rose when Mary mentioned Sara’s name. In that case, Sara is the turning point to this exchange and the only part of this conversation necessary for novel dialogue.

If you compare their conversation with the purposes of dialogue listed above, you’ll see much of this exchange need not be included in your novel. If you eliminate the “dull parts” the result would cut fifty-one words to twenty-one and might read as follows:

John said, “What did you do today?”

Mary answered, “I ran into Sara.”

“Sara!” John was surprised to hear her name.

Compare this second exchange to our ten reasons to include dialogue in your novel and you’ll find it adheres to seven of the ten rationale on the list. Can you identify the seven it does match? If so, you’re well on your way to understand the use of dialogue in novels.

Once you’ve learned how to write effective dialogue, you’ll see there is a secret in how it relates to your plot. As with the mention of Sara, turning points are often found within your dialogue. That is, things don’t often just happen to characters, characters tell each other what transpires or is about to transpire.

A “rule” found within the craft of writing says dialogue should comprise as much as fifty percent of your book, specifically your word count. Now we all know there are no rules in writing, but the idea does offer an indication of how powerful and meaningful dialogue is to your novel. Therefore, it is one of aspects to the craft of writing you should spend a great deal of your time to study and learn.

I hope you know by now I wish you only best-sellers.

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


Plot Tips for the Aspiring Author

In How-to's, The Craft of Writing on March 11, 2010 at 7:30 am

by C. Patrick Schulze

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

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Before we begin, it’s probably a good idea to define the concept of plot. In general terms, it’s the problems your hero confronts as he travels through the world you’ve created for him. Plot is what keeps your readers’ interest.

Those areas of your story that most affect your hero are called plot points. Plot points are situations that turn your novel in a new direction. They alter your hero’s quest. For an example, let’s consider the scene in Star Wars when Luke Skywalker first sees the hologram of Princess Leia. This initial plot point shifts Luke’s life in a dramatic fashion. His quest begins with that recording of the princess. Though that story had many plot points, another was when Darth Vader told Luke he was the young Jedi’s father. That, like the hologram, changed everything.

Your plot is comprised of three major components, the Complication, the Climax and the Resolution. The Complication involves those scenes that begin your major conflict or plot point.  The Complication identifies for your reader what dramatic quest your hero must undergo. The Climax is that plot point where your premier character faces his Complication, the bad guy. The Resolution, of course, is that series of events that solve the conflict outlined in the Complication. It closes the story.

It may help to think of your plot as a three-act play. Your first act is the Complication, the second the Climax and the third, of course, the Resolution.

For some general tips on how to develop your plot, consider the following:

1. Make sure your hero suffers. His trials can be emotional, physical, mental, or best of all, a combination of the three. Keep in mind the more he suffers, the better is his exhilaration during the Resolution phase.

2.  The conflict you create must have enough power to encompass the entirety of your story. A secret to this is to interweave subplots into your novel. (For more on subplots, read THIS article.)

3.  Insure your hero and villain are evenly matched. It’s important for the story that your reader never knows if your hero will survive his ordeal. He will, and they know it, but you do need to create that sense of doubt for your plot to work with efficiency.

4. Each chapter of your story should hang on an issue. As a famous author whom I can’t quote at this time said, someone must want something in every chapter, even if it’s only a glass of water. This constant tension will keep your audience wanting to read more.

5. Make sure you couple the correct setting with your conflict and plot points. It’s more riveting for your hero to suffer thirst in the desert than a coffee shop. (For more on setting, read THIS article.)

6. At some time, your hero must grab the bull by the horns and get into it with the villain. Nobody wants to read about an indecisive hero. Get that man dirty.

7. It’s not nice to fool Mother Nature, but it’s just fine to fool your reader. Give your plot twists and turns to confuse and surprise them. I think they call this, “mystery.”

8. Foreshadowing is a powerful tool when developing your plot. Let them know something ominous is coming, just don’t spill those proverbial beans too soon.

9. Try to stay away from stereotypes in fiction. The nun who works for the underground is more interesting than the soldier who does so.

10. Let your plot develop as you move through your story. Don’t be afraid to allow your imagination to take your characters where it wants them to go.

11. The secret to your success as a writer of fiction is the good story. And the good story is all about plot. And plot is all about conflict.

What tips might you wish to share as to how you develop your plot?

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

C. Patrick Schulze

Author of the emerging novel, Born to be Brothers.

Tips on How to Title Your Novel

In How-to's, The Craft of Writing on March 9, 2010 at 9:19 pm

by C. Patrick Schulze

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

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Understand your title is a sales tool. You therefore, should approach your title with the same eyes you use to design your web site, your bookmarks and your elevator pitch. It’s a premier component of your marketing.

So, how might you decide upon this all-important aspect of your book? As with so many things in our chosen field, there are dozens of ideas to consider. In this article, I’ll offer a few and hope some hit the mark with you.

First, your title could spring from its storyline and your target audience, those who might purchase your book. Look to the plot, your major characters, special articles or powers of your hero, or even his quest for sources of inspiration.

Because I can, I’ll use my current manuscript as our example of how to pull from within the story itself. My novel is about two unrelated men who develop a bond reserved for few but brothers and how a woman and war disrupt their relationship. The title? Born to be Brothers. Whether you like the title or not, I’m certain you see how is springs from the story itself. I’m also sure you can see how The Lord of the Rings came from a talisman within its story. Where might the inspiration for the title, Gone with the Wind have come? How about War and Peace? All these titles originated within the conceptual ideas of their stories. Your title can too.

If you review the titles mentioned above, you might also notice they adhere to the tone, the feel if you will, of their stories. This tells us another important aspect of your book title is how it should pull from the feeling you wish your reader to garner as they decide to purchase it.

Search for some sort of emotional pull and tug on it with all your might. Strive to tweak their curiosity or their fear, their love, their fear of love, whatever string you can pluck, pluck it. Quite often, that implies relationships.

As with so many things in life, your title needs to paint a picture for your prospective reader. The title, Buy Me, will not encourage many purchases whereas, Buy Me for the Health of it, might.

Try to find a phrase that tugs at their ear as well as their heart. Alliteration works well, as do catch phrases, rhymes and clichés where you’ve changed one word. Keep it short, five words or less is a good rule of thumb. Keep in mind your title won’t tug at anything if they can’t pronounce or understand the words of your title.

I’ve mentioned your title is a sales tool, so try to think like a salesperson. The reader unfamiliar with your writing will give your title a quick once-over, then move on. In that ten-second time frame, it needs to hook them. So, think of your title as a sales pitch. I know that word conjures negative emotions, but a sales pitch simply tells them what’s in it for them.

Consider how your title will read on the spine of a book as it sits on a shelf among your many competitors.

Here’s an interesting tip. Make sure your title is Google-able. (Say that three time fast.) This means you should insure your title doesn’t compete with others. Gone with the Winded will just cause too much confusion when people search for your novel.

Here’s yet another tip of interest I found when I researched this article. Create your title from a metaphor of your story in iambic pentameter. (An unrhymed line with five words where each word contains one accented and one unaccented syllable.) Wow! If you can do this, let me know.

For more on how to title your novels, read THIS article by Rachelle Gardner or THIS article from my blog.

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

C. Patrick Schulze

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