Tag: writing a mystery novel

Untangling The Genre Labels: #Mystery #Thriller #Suspense

A few weeks ago I shared the premise of my “mystery” work in progress with a published mystery author and she said it wouldn’t work. She gave me the following reasons:  There has to be a dead body in the first few pages, the female main character needs to be an expert from the beginning (my character learns her trade and grows throughout the story), a female main character couldn’t learn from an older male character who is her mentor (which would make her look weak, plus is sexist), and to never, never, never have characters who get or are married (which my characters are likely to do at some point). She suggested I shelve the project.

I was devastated. I put aside my manuscript and started working on another book. The stoppage lasted for about a week, until I started to question what she told me. What about Precious Ramotswe, the main character in Alexander McCall Smith’s hugely popular No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency series, who rarely encounters a dead body, learns as she goes, and gets married to Mr. J. L. B. Matekoni?  Or how about the protagonist in Dorothy Gilman’s Mrs. Pollifax series? She doesn’t fit the mystery detective stereotype. Then it struck me. What if the problem wasn’t the product, but the label?

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The Labels:  Mystery, Suspense and Thriller

The dividing lines between mystery, suspense, and thriller genres can be blurry because:

  • The terms have been used interchangeably in the past.
  • They have been defined differently by various agents and publishers.
  • The definitions are made more confusing by popular novels that cross the boundaries into two or more genres.

Regardless, having a clear genre in mind will help you write and sell your work.

Mystery
Usually the protagonist stumbles on a murder or other serious crime early in the book and struggles to find out the truth about it. The level of danger/action is moderate. The identity of the culprit is the main secret.

Suspense
The crime or murder hasn’t taken place in the beginning of the story and the reader may know more about it than the protagonist. Tension arises from wondering whether the characters will be able to stop bad things from happening. In suspense, the identity of the culprit is usually known. It is not a secret or surprise.

Thriller
Danger and tension are the key words in a thriller. Packed with action, the protagonist and other characters are usually under threat from the beginning and the levels escalate. Some people consider thrillers to be a branch of suspense, or basically suspense on steroids.

Based on these definitions, the best label for my work in progress is suspense. Looking deeper, it turns out there are many sub-genres of suspense.

Some Sub-genres of Suspense

Romantic Suspense
Vastly different novels have been labelled as “romantic suspense,” from the Sisterhood series by Fern Michaels  to Shelley Coriell’s dark, twisty The Apostles series, to Janet Evanovich’s Stephanie Plum series. The common thread is that relationships pop up between characters and prove to be an essential part of the plot.

Domestic or Relationship Suspense
Domestic suspense novels feature crimes revolving around family members. Although examples have been around for awhile, it has recently been gaining in popularity as more readers discover it. Depending on the level of action/danger, this sub-genre may be called a family thriller. Also related is the malice domestic mystery, which involves solving a crime against a family member.

Personal Jeopardy
In this sub-genre an ordinary person goes up against a powerful enemy. Will they be able to prevail? Sometimes if the persons in jeopardy are family members, this may overlap with domestic suspense.

Paranormal/Supernatural Suspense
This is a suspense novel with supernatural or paranormal elements.

Bickering Team or Cohort
Two friends, acquaintances, or a married couple work together to prevent bad things from happening. The less-than-smooth relationship between the two adds to the interest/tension in the story.

Of course, there are more sub-genres of suspense and even more thriller sub-genres. Hopefully, knowing that the different types exist will free you to explore the story you want to tell.

What are your thoughts about these categories? Do you think they are helpful or lead to formulaic fiction?

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If you’d like to learn more about mysteries, thrillers, and suspense, try Carolyn Wheat’s How to Write Killer Fiction

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#Amwriting #Mystery: 5 Tips For Making Revisions Less Painful

You’ve blasted out the first draft draft of your novel and have patted yourself on the back for a job well done. But is it done? Looming large is the abyss known as revisions.

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Here are five tips for getting the most out of revisions as painlessly as possible.

  1. Get fresh eyes on your project.

Although writing a novel is perceived as a solo enterprise, realistically you should have a support network of experts and fellow writers to give you feedback and make your novel shine. Look for reading and writing groups through libraries, bookstores, writing societies, and online networks like Meetup. Friends and family may be convenient readers, but ask them for help only if they have the expertise to make your writing better.

If you are the type of writer who slaves over every word, critiques can be difficult at first. Remember that you don’t have to make every change, but if you are open to suggestions, people will be more willing to offer their honest opinions in the future. Provide paper copies, if possible, so less vocal readers can mark your work with comments to be read in private.

Another benefit of participating in a writing group is that you get experience reading your work in front of an audience.

2.   Make sure each chapter ends with some tension.

Imagine your reader is comfortable in bed reading your book. Your reader says, “I’ll just read to the end of this chapter and then I’ll turn out the light.” If you ramp up the tension or suspense at the end of the chapter, you will entice your reader to move on to see what happens. Sometimes leaving a question unanswered is enough to get the pages turning.

Now you have your draft finished, turn to the end of each chapter and ask yourself, “Would I turn the page or turn off the light?”

3. Attack your personal writing imperfections with the “Find” function

Once you start having others critique your work, you may find you have quirks or issues that pop up again and again in your writing. For example, in my case I use “I think,” “He decided,”  and other thought verbs too often.

What I write:  I think I’ll go to the store. She decided to go to the store.

Much stronger:  I went to the store. She ran to the store.

If you are like me, the thought verbs are so ingrained I don’t even notice them when I read my work. To get brutal during revisions I used the “find” editing tool and looked for every “think” and “decided.”

Another writing trap is to use the same descriptions again and again. “She shrugged, he nodded, he wrinkled his nose.” Use “find” to get an idea how often you use a given phrase and decide if you need to generate some fresh ones.

Once you locate the offending words, rewrite the sentences to make them stronger. Do this again on the finished draft to make sure your personal quirks haven’t slipped back in.

4. Walk through your characters’ world to strengthen descriptions

I recently had the opportunity to meet with a wonderful writer who shared his techniques for making his scene descriptions specific and clear. Rather than simply visualizing events in his head, he actually stood up and acted them out.

For example, character A meets character B, who is much younger and has her eyes on her cell phone. How does character A get character B’s attention? The written description of the actions became more realistic with a little play acting. Enlist friends and family to play charades with some of your trickier scenes and see how they work.

5. Have your computer read your novel to you.

As a final step, if your software has a speaking or reading function, have your computer read your work to you as you silently read the text, preferably from a paper copy. The computer will have a measured pace, which allows you to find double words, words that were left out, spacing issues and all sorts of other flaws that are easy for you to overlook while reading silently.

The revision process is a necessary step for making your novel the best it can be. Hopefully these tips will help.

Do you have any tips to make revising easier? If your choose, please share them.

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#amwriting #mystery: Why There Are Holes In My Plot

Writing a mystery novel can be difficult under the best of circumstances, but today was a particular strain. You see, I organized a bunch of notes detailing my plot last night longhand on a poster-sized piece of paper. It didn’t help my writing, however, because now I can’t read it.

 

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Yes, there’s going to be a cat-shaped hole in the plot.

Have you ever had difficulties plotting like this?

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