Category Archives: Writing Tips

Setting the Scene for Mystery

A wooden dock leads off to some sunset-illuminated water and the post title, "Setting the Scene for Mystery" is superimposed on the top.

The setting for the Sgt. Windflower Mysteries is not just a prop or a way to entice the reader to enter the realm of these books, although I certainly hope that it does. It is much more than that. For me the setting is the story, at least the beginning of the adventure. It is the only part of the story that I control. I get to start the story by setting the scene. Once I begin the journey the characters come and tell me the rest of the story and I just write it down.

It’s been like that from the very first time I sat down on the wharf in Grand Bank, Newfoundland on the easternmost tip of Canada and gazed out into the fog at the blinking lighthouse. Sgt. Winston Windflower almost walked out of that fog and introduced himself to me and started telling me his story. Sure, I get to limit some character’s voices from time to time and maybe I have a little say over the moral lines that I will allow the characters to play within. But once I have the setting, that opening scene, the story flows on its own.

So, for me, the bigger question is not how the setting affects the story, but rather why an author would choose a particular setting. Because once that choice has been made a lot of things flow from that including the physical environment, the weather and what the characters can actually do during the progression of the story line. I chose the Grand Bank area of Canada because it is located in my home province and I wanted to describe the physical beauty of the natural surroundings and tell some of the history of the area.

I have tried to capture the beauty of the ever-moving ocean and banks of fog that linger on the horizon, but words can barely touch the canvas that creation has revealed to us. That’s why I always put a picture on the front cover that illustrates it far better than my words ever could. Like the lighthouse in Grand Bank on The Walker in the Cape and the boardwalk in Burin on The Body on the T. Or the fishermen’s wharf and fishing stages or rooms in Fortune on A Twist of Fortune. All real places that I have visited and that a reader can too by looking at the cover or reading the book.

The setting by the Atlantic Ocean also makes the weather a real character in all of the Sgt. Windflower Mysteries. It is almost always windy and the potential for some form of precipitation is high at any time of day or in any season. Both of those force people inside, sometimes for a meal, sometimes for coffee, sometimes just for shelter from a storm. It allows me to show people in close quarters where their interactions reveal more of themselves, their true selves and their intentions. Maybe even their motives…. Plus, it’s always a great opportunity to show off the delicious cuisine of the local area and maybe even a chance for Windflower to get a piece of his favorite chocolate peanut butter cheesecake.

For me, I simply couldn’t set the Sgt. Windflower Mysteries anywhere but in Newfoundland. It gives it the touch, texture, smell and feel of the ocean breeze blowing in my hair. The salt air wind whipping the bedsheets drying on the clothesline. It makes the characters come alive and hopefully makes them real to the readers as well. Come back to Grand Bank and experience it yourself in the latest adventure, A Tangled Web.

Cover shows a coastal village with the name of the book "A Tangled Web" by Mike Martin, superimposed on the front.
A Tangled Web is the latest book in the Sgt. Windflower Mystery series set on the East Coast of Canada. The previous book in the Series A Long Ways from Home was shortlisted for the Bony Blithe Award as the “Best Light Mystery of the year”.
“Life is good for Sgt. Wind­flower in Grand Bank, Newfoundland. But something’s missing from the Mountie’s life. Actually, a lot of things go missing, including a little girl and supplies from the new factory. It’s Windflower’s job to unravel the tangled web of murder, deceit and an accidental kidnapping that threatens to engulf this sleepy little town and destroy those closest to him. But there’s always good food, good friends and the love of a great woman to make everything better in the end.”
Photo via Visualhunt.com

The Villain Reveal: Three Different Approaches

Storm clouds over a dark ocean is in the background, and the post title: "The Villain Reveal: 3 Different Approaches" by Jonathan Vars is in the foreground.

by Jonathan Vars 

A dark figure emerges from the shadows. In a raspy voice, he taunts the hero, having once again bested him. Stepping into the light, the figure thrusts back his hood, revealing the face of…

               Sound familiar?

Every story of good vs. evil story needs a villain revelation scene; a sequence in which the great mastermind behind the evil plot is revealed for who he/she is. In many instances, this can be the critical moment of the story: the “hot point” of the climax in which the hero comes face to face with his/her nemesis. Being that this moment is so key to both the climax and the story as a whole, it is crucial that you are equipped with the right tools to bring the moment to a crashing crescendo, as a poorly written revelation can crash the story at its most critical point.

Of course, you should keep in mind that there are many different ways to construct a villain revelation scene. Choosing the right option is often half the battle. Here are three potential ways you can reveal the villain in your story: Continue reading The Villain Reveal: Three Different Approaches

How Do I Make Dialogue Meaningful?

Photo by Pic Fix via VisualHunt shows two women talking in front of a city backdrop of skyscrapers. The post title, "How Do I Make Dialogue Meaningful" is superimposed on the top.

By Hyu-Wai Loucks

One of the most difficult aspects of writing a novel, or any narrative for that matter, is striking the delicate balance between dialogue and description. While insight into a character’s thoughts, emotions, and perceptions help shape the audience’s understanding of the character’s mind, dialogue aids readers in developing an accurate and full understanding of the character’s complete self. It offers an external glimpse into how a character moves, speaks, and reacts to the world surrounding them; dialogue is a character’s internal motives coming to life. Even so, it is difficult to develop a meaningful flow of speech which progresses the plot, rather than stagnating it.

Countless times while I have been writing, I will be immersed in the world of my own mind, putting down the situations being played out in my head by pen to paper, only later realizing that my dialogue loops in circles, or even worse, straying entirely from the point I am trying articulate.

How can I prevent this????

Thus, there are three necessary regulations dialogue must follow: Continue reading How Do I Make Dialogue Meaningful?

What Conflict Really Means

Janice Hardy's cover for "Understanding Conflict (And What it REALLY Means) is in the background and the post title, 'What Conflict Really Means' is superimposed on the top.

By Janice Hardy, @Janice_Hardy

Ask any agent or editor to list the top three reasons manuscripts get rejected and you’ll find “not enough conflict” on that list. Conflict is at the core of every story, and without conflict, there is no story. It’s so vital, “conflict” and “story” are almost interchangeable when writers talk about it. It’s common to ask, “What’s your story about?” and have the author describe the conflict.

Which is part of the problem.

Since conflict covers such a wide range of storytelling, it isn’t always clear what people mean when they say “conflict.” Does it mean the plot of the story? The character arc? Does conflict mean the characters have to argue? Does it mean a physical battle? Does it mean soul-crushing angst or a mustached villain plotting against the hero at every turn?

No. Conflict fuels the plot and character arc, but they’re separate elements. You can have conflict without battles, without major angst, and without evil villains bent on world domination. Some of the best conflicts are those between characters who love each other deeply, but can’t agree on what to do about a problem.

I think the biggest reason writers struggle with conflict is that it’s not just one thing. Conflict is a one-two combo of a challenge faced and the struggle to overcome that challenge.

  • The conflict of the plot (the physical challenges faced to resolve the problem)
  • The conflict of the character (the mental challenges faced to resolve the problem)

These are the two sides of conflict and they appear in every story (and scene) in some fashion. Let’s look at each of them a little closer. Continue reading What Conflict Really Means

Theme in Commercial Fiction

Sunset over the mountains with the post title superimposed on the top: 'Theme in Genre Fiction."

by Elizabeth S. Craig, @elizabethscraig

Years ago I was stumped when I received an email from a middle school student. He was reading one of my books for a school assignment (this, in itself, was startling), and he was trying to figure out what the theme of the book was.  I guess he decided to cut to the chase and just ask the author directly. Because surely the author would know.

But the book was simple crime fiction. Cozy crime fiction. Maybe this is why the student was having such trouble figuring it out. I hadn’t explored theme in the story other than the typical ‘good versus evil,’ or ‘the importance of justice’ of your typical mystery novel.

After that incident, I made more of a conscious effort to incorporate theme, very lightly, in my books.  I didn’t want to hit the reader over the head with it and I still wanted to keep the lighter, comedic tone that I strive for in my cozies. Continue reading Theme in Commercial Fiction