This Business of Writing

Posts Tagged ‘secret’

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.”


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.”


The Secrets to Backstory in Your Novel

In How-to's, The Craft of Writing on March 30, 2010 at 6:20 am

by C. Patrick Schulze

For a podcast of this article, click HERE.

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Backstory is narrative that hints at or describes a character’s past. Often it presents itself in long-winded passages known as an info dump. It’s improper use conflicts with a number of the “rules” writers are supposed to follow including, providing too much information, too much information too soon, it shows rather than tells and worst of all, does not hold your reader’s interest.

Possibly the most common mistake writers make relative to backstory is to include too much too soon in their novels.

Another issue with backstory is writers think their readers need this information. Yet, more often than not, they require much less than you give them. The truth about backstory? Most of it is forgotten or ignored.

Everyone in the industry knows good writing is alive, it’s exciting and vibrant. Therefore, the most interesting writing is usually in the now, it’s immediate in its presentation. Backstory is not in the now by its very nature. That fact alone tells us to limit the backstory in our novels.

The secret to backstory is to introduce it in miniscule amounts and only as necessary. Let it loose when your reader needs to know about it and then drip it into your novel rather than pour it. Offering your reader pieces of information is much more effective than info dumps.

Think of backstory as morsels of your character’s prior life rather than meals of data about them. Offer your reader a taste of what they need to know and allow their imagination to fill in the rest of the picture.

Now for some tips as to how to infiltrate backstory into your novel.

Introduce backstory only after you’ve secured your reader’s interest in the story and in the character. Write about the action first.

Incorporate backstory when the specific character is the focus on your narrative. This, I think, is self-explanatory.

Convey backstory as soon as it’s needed, but only when its needed. That is, incorporate it just before the reader needs to know it. For example, if your character is a murderer, your reader might not need to know what draws him to this explosive mode of expression until after he kills his first victim, and maybe even later.

You may wish to use flashbacks to introduce large amounts of backstory. As your story moves along, you can write a single flashback chapter, then return to your storyline in the following chapter. Be cautious however, for flashbacks are tricky things to master and many readers, agents and editors don’t care for them.

You might introduce a dream to outline the needed backstory. Again, this is another tricky technique and is overused, so take care.

You can divulge family secrets to bring out backstory. Secrets are always exciting, so they have a better chance to keep from losing your reader’s interest.

Memories are another tool to consider. Often this comes out in dialogue or a character’s thoughts.

Regardless how you introduce your necessary backstory, keep in mind that it’s mystery that hooks your reader. Don’t tell them too much or they’ll have no reason to learn more about your characters.

Don’t be concerned if this technique takes a while to learn. It does for most writers. Just keep an eye open for excessive backstory then cut or disperse it wherever and whenever you can. You’ll do well with a little practice.

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 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.”