Category Archives: Mystery Writing Tips

The Ten Commandments for Detective Fiction (1929): A Brief History and Update

Photo showing potential murder weapons (rope, knife, )and the post title 'The 10 Commandments of Detective Fiction 1929) is superimposed on the top.

by Gretchen Mullen, @GretchenMdm9524

“Thou shalt not cheat thy reader”

Ronald Knox (1888-1957) was an English priest who moonlighted as a well-regarded author of detective novels and short stories. His reputation was such that in 1928, during the Golden Era of Detective Fiction, when a group of British mystery authors gathered to exchange ideas and collaborate, Knox was included in this elite group. Officially known as The Detection Club, the group formally organized in 1930. Membership was and still is by invitation only. Original members included such greats as Agatha Christie, Dorothy Sayers, and first elected president G.K. Chesterson.

Knox co-edited and penned the “Introduction” to The Best English Detective Stories of 1928. Knox’s essay (originally dated February 28, 1929), was later reprinted as “The Detective Story Decalogue” in 1946.

According to the Ronald Knox Society of North America, the Decalogue became known as “the Ten Commandments for Detective Novelists as a set of by-laws for the [Detection] club.” Often reprinted in short form, the commandments (also referred to as Rules of Fair Play) are meant to remind authors that the reader deserves a fighting chance to solve the mystery without the author’s use of cheap tricks. Continue reading The Ten Commandments for Detective Fiction (1929): A Brief History and Update

10 Best Things About Writing Cozy Mysteries

A tabby cat in front of a black background is on the right hand side of the photo and the post title, 10 best things about writing cozy mysteries, is superimposed on the left.

by Elizabeth S. Craig, @elizabethscraig

I like reading many different kinds of books. Everything from biographies to literary fiction and classic literature interests me.

But for writing, I’ve been sticking with cozy mysteries. There are a few reasons for that.  For one, I’m pretty well branded as a cozy mystery writer and that’s what readers are looking for and expecting from me. For another, it takes a whole lot more effort and research for me to switch to another genre (although I’ve done that…once.)

The biggest reason, though, is that writing cozy mysteries is so much fun.

Here are the 10 best things about writing cozy mysteries: Continue reading 10 Best Things About Writing Cozy Mysteries

Unpleasant Characters in Mysteries

Screaming ape in the background with teeth exposed and the post title, "unpleasant characters in mysteries" superimposed on top.

by Elizabeth S. Craig, @elizabethscraig

Unpleasant characters are tough for any genre.  But for mysteries, they present special challenges.

My editors from Penguin would often bring up concerns they had with unpleasant characters in my manuscripts.

My feeling is that unpleasant characters are incredibly useful in mysteries. They provide motive.  They provide realism. They can even provide humor.

Although I find these characters helpful, I do recognize the pitfalls.  Unpleasant characters are tricky for mysteries (and, likely, for most genres). Continue reading Unpleasant Characters in Mysteries

Weaving Backstory into Mysteries

 

Hill Country Siren is a thriller from author Patrick Kelly.

by Patrick Kelly,  @pkfiction

For two and a half years I slaved over my first novel, arranged and rearranged the plot, constructed and deconstructed the characters, and polished each sentence twice. Then I gave it to my editor and waited . . . anxiously . . . for three weeks.

Her response came.

She loved the story and my writing but had some “meta-feedback.”

First suggestion: Delete the first five chapters.

OUCH!!!!

My baby.

What about my hero? Readers need to know where he comes from, why he’s here, and all about his relationship to the other characters. They care about these things.

Ah . . . actually . . . they don’t, at least not yet.

I need to SHOW readers the backstory, not TELL them (Heaven forbid I should tell them . . . SHOW don’t TELL).

Ah . . . actually . . . don’t do that, either.

Hill Country Siren is a thriller from author Patrick Kelly.

What readers care about up front is THE FORWARD STORY not the backstory. They want to know what the story is about, and they want to be hooked, early.

Get to the forward story fast and weave the backstory in as you go.

To study how one successful author handled backstory, I suggest you read (or reread) the first chapter of The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins.

I counted forty instances of backstory in the first chapter, which seemed like a lot, but Collins integrated it into the forward story so well that millions of readers (repeat-millions of readers) gobbled it up and went on to read the entire series. Continue reading Weaving Backstory into Mysteries

Pre-Writing

Are you immobilized by pre-writing? by Elizabeth Spann Craig

by Elizabeth S. Craig, @elizabethscraig

In the past month, I’ve had three writers reach out to me.  They were all writing mysteries for the first time.

They asked me about outlining with arcs and three-act sequences and character development sheets.  Two writers reported feeling extremely overwhelmed and frustrated to the point of being immobilized.

I suggested that they might be overthinking it, at least when writing traditional mysteries. That’s because mysteries provide their own structure–a very familiar structure that avid mystery readers both know by heart and expect to encounter.

In fact, when we deviate from this structure or pattern, readers usually let us know about it.

I explained my own, very simple process:

I start out by writing the back cover copy. There are a couple of reasons for this. One, it gives me a global view of my story and its set-up. For another…I already have a cover for the book a year before I write it (I like working ahead with my cover designer). So there’s a print cover with copy all ready to go.

Then there’s a simple outline.  Nothing fancy.

Here’s the structure for a cozy mystery (if you fill in the blanks with your own characters, victims, suspects, it becomes a very basic outline):  Continue reading Pre-Writing