Happy Friday readers and writers! Please join me in welcoming Mystery Author, Anne Marie Stoddard to Clara’s writer’s forum.
It’s no secret that I’m a lover of mysteries (and as you can tell from the title of this post, the secret’s out that I’m also an old school Sarah McLachlan fan—everyone has their guilty pleasures!). I grew up reading everything from the Nancy Drew and Sherlock Holmes’ series to Agatha Christie. Lately I’ve been enjoying some great who-dunnit’s from Charlaine Harris, Victoria Laurie, Madelyn Alt, and P.J. Morse. There’s just something so satisfying about curling up with a good puzzle in book form and challenging myself to solve the crime before the author reveals the culprit. Sometimes, I can point out the killer by the end of the second chapter, and other times an author leaves me stumped right up until the guilty party reveals him or herself.
It’s that exhilarating feeling of piecing the clues together along with the characters that led me to write my first mystery novel, “Murder At Castle Rock.” Why not? I thought to myself as I begin typing the first page of Chapter One. I’m pretty good at solving them when I’m in the reader’s shoes, writing my own should be a piece of cake—right? Not exactly. Still, it can be done, and here are the lessons I learned along the way:
Use an Outline to Plan Your Clues
One very important part of the writing process for most authors is creating an outline for the plot and scenes of the story. Sure, there are quite a few “pantsers” out there—myself included—who simply start from scratch and let the story evolve as they write, with little to no sense of direction. Plenty of books have been written this way and turned out great, but not planning ahead can often lead you to writing your characters into a corner that you can’t write them out of. I started writing “Murder At Castle Rock” with no outline, and I found my characters reaching dead ends (no pun intended) every couple of chapters. If I had created a full outline before I began writing, I might have saved myself a LOT of rewriting and stress!
Writing an outline helps you to put all your cards on the table before you begin the writing process. If you determined who committed the crime, you’ve got to decide where it’s best to drop some hints for your readers. In any mystery, readers want to pick up on clues along the way that help them narrow down the suspects along with the detectives. Make rational decisions about where to place your clues—is the killer the town baker? Perhaps you can include a hint in Chapter 4 where the sleuth smells yeast or finds a white powder at the crime scene that turns out to be flour.
Your Characters Know the Story Better Than You Do—It’s Their Story, After All
This will sound like almost the opposite of the advice that I gave above about outlines, but just hear me out: Sometimes during the writing process, you have to concede from your own ideas about a scene and let your characters do the writing. Get to know your main character—step into her two-inch heels for a minute and see your way through a scene through her eyes. It’s best to ultimately stick to your outline in order to arrive at the desired end result, but sometimes you have to let your characters decide how to get there. Would my main character, Amelia, run away if she heard footsteps behind her—or would she turn around and make a snarky comment to her stalker before defending herself? Once you’ve developed a character, make sure that his or her actions reflect his or her personality—not yours.
Get Creative to Keep it Interesting
If you’ve got an understanding of how to logically place your clues and plan your story, that’s awesome! Still, in order to write a mystery novel that will leave your readers craving more, you have to keep it interesting—it’s time to flex your creative muscles!
Here’s an example: Would you rather read a book about a detective who goes to the office every day, solves a crime from his desk, and then goes home to bed—or would you rather read about a crime-solving supermodel who goes undercover at fashion shoots to track down a ring of high-end designers who are producing their clothing in sweat shops?
See, it’s easy to plan a Plain Jane story that doesn’t include much action—but you’ve got to get creative in order to pull readers along to the end. Choose a fun or interesting setting (like the fashion industry), and create characters that have personality. Give them quirks, fears, doubts, ambitions—there should be more at stake in your novel than simply finding out who killed the mailman. In the model example, perhaps if our heroine doesn’t catch the culprits and shut down the sweatshops in time, New York Fashion Week will be cancelled. (And perhaps the mail man was killed because he was delivering photographs of the guilty parties to someone who wanted to turn them in to the police!)
Writing your own mystery is an invaluable learning experience that will test your own wit, creativity, and deductive reasoning skills—and the story you create might surprise even you!
About the Author:
Anne Marie Stoddard is a mystery author and writing tip blogger in Atlanta, GA. Her music industry thriller, “Murder At Castle Rock,” was the winner of the 2012 AJC Decatur Book Festival & BookLogix Publishing Service, Inc. Writing Contest, and it will be published in April 2013.
Connect with Anne Marie on Twitter: https://twitter.com/AMStoddardBooks
Connect with Anne Marie on Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/AmStoddardBooks
Connect with Anne Marie on Goodreads: http://www.goodreads.com/author/show/6949689.Anne_Marie_Stoddard