Writing Mysteries

Originally posted to SuiteU, part of Suite101. SuiteU is being removed from the site. I wanted to save the ecourses so this resource would not disappear.

Writing Mysteries

By Janet Blaylock

Janet Blaylock writing on Helium

Introduction

What are your favorite genres? Romance perhaps? Maybe it’s Adventures or Comedies? How about the more intense genres of Mysteries, Detective Fiction, Suspense, Horror, or just good old Thrillers? Have you ever wondered how they are written? How the author builds up the suspense and the excitement that keeps you turning those pages right to the very end? If you do, then you will probably find “Writing Mysteries” intriguing. In the previous course, “Mysteries,” you learned about the different writers such as Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, Agatha Christie; or the later writers such as Catherine Coulter, Nevada Barr, Sara Paretsky; or the famous authors of suspense or thrillers such as Mary Higgins Clark, Tess Gerritsen, Stephen King, and John Grisham. They have learned the essence of a good thriller/suspense book. When you first pick up a book and you say to yourself, “This looks like a great book.” They have already captured you and will now hold you hostage until the plot is inevitably revealed. Finally, you say to yourself, “Wow, I wish I could write a book like that!” Well, you can! You will learn about the elements of fiction writing such as settings, themes, characters, plots, etc. You will also learn how to write mini-mysteries and short stories. The information you receive in this course will help you to write your first novel, so lets climb on board and let the suspense begin!

 

Lesson 1: Gathering Ideas

In Lesson One, you will learn how to gather information to write your mini-mysteries, short stories, or novels. I will be giving you ideas from notable authors and how they gathered their ideas for their stories, and I will be sharing with you how I have come up with my ideas.

Introduction

Have you ever had trouble thinking of an idea for a short story? Did you know that ideas are everywhere around you? In this lesson you will discover how easy it is to come up with some ideas for mini-mysteries, short stories, and novels.

In section two, you will discover that ideas are everywhere around you. You will also learn the importance of keeping a journal, and that the ideas you think of can be recycled.

In the third section, you will learn that if you are in a group of people or just talking with someone individually, that it is important to listen to their conversation. Ideas will spark your imagination just by listening to someone talk.

Newspapers, Magazines, and Television are other sources that provide ideas for writers. You could take just one statement or idea that you read or heard and develop it into your own short story as long as you did plagarize something.

Have you every thought about your childhood? Here are a few questions to think about: What types of books did you read or your parents read to you? What friends did you have in school? Were you a loner, or were you popular? All of these can be turned into ideas. Your present life as an adult is also filled with ideas.

Emotions that you experience can be turned into a short story. How do you feel about your life? Are you happy? Do you enjoy working? What kind of occupation do you have? What sports do you enjoy? What kinds of television shows or movies do you like? What kind of music do you enjoy? What about your religious beliefs? All of these activities can be sources for short stories or books. They can also be used to describe characters in your stories.

Did you know that when a thought comes across your mind that it could be the start of a story or book? It can. That happened to me the other night. This section will reveal what happened as a result of that experience.

Remember: Whatever you do or wherever you are, ideas for short stories or books will spark your imagination. All you have to do is be alert to your environment. Be observant, and be a good listener.

 

Lesson 1: Gathering Ideas

Ideas Are Everywhere

Suggested Reading Assignment

(1) You Can Write A Mystery by Gillian Roberts Read Chapter Four

(2) Writing the Novel From Plot To Print by Lawrence Block

Materials Needed For This Section

(1) A notebook, pens, and white outs.

Suggested Writing Assignment

(1) After reading the information below, make a list of five to ten ideas for story plots or short stories.

In this section, you will learn the importance of keeping a notebook, note cards, or some kind of system where you can record the ideas that spark your imagination.

Ideas Are Everywhere

What would you do if you didn’t have a pen, pencil, or a notebook? How would you write down your ideas? Ideas come and go. That’s why you shouldn’t trust your memory. Sometimes, I have found that if I left the house without my notebook, I feel lost. I always want it with me and handy so I can write down the idea immediately.

Keeping Track Of Your Ideas

Gillian Roberts also suggests that you carry a small notebook or cards with you so that you can write down anything that comes to you. That way, these great ideas that come to your mind will remain.

Writers should make a habit of having a notebook with them. It should be “as routinely as you carry your house key or wallet.” (Block, 58)

You can also record “emotional experiences, even if you don’t have a function work in mind to attach them to when you write them down.” (Highsmith, 16-17). By collecting ideas when they come to you, you will have something to look back on at a later time when you are ready to write a story. If you always carry a notebook and a pen with you, then you won’t have to rely on your memory. Sometimes, people may forget the ideas that spark their imagination because of their daily activities. Life becomes so hectic at times, that it’s easy to forget things.

My Experiences

Sometimes I keep a notebook or post-it notes and a pen beside my bed so I can write down ideas that come to me in the night. If I wait until morning, I may forget what I thought about in the night. I have a bedside table by my bed. It’s the kind they have in hospitals. My mother had been seriously ill, so we had hospice care as well as the 24 hour care that I had given. They gave me a bedside table so I could be with her. The English Department let me stay home with my mother so I could take care of her the last two months of her life as well as finish my studies so I could graduate. I put note pads, pens, whiteouts, etc. inside the table so I could have it handy for my work. When she passed away, the Hospice staff let me keep the table. I still use it for my pens and note pads.

In September, my girl friend helped me bring up a desk I had in the basement. Now, I have even more space for my books, paper, and pens, etc. Those things are in the drawers. I also have a lamp on the desk. Everything is handy when an idea comes to my mind.

I have a medium size spiral notebook that has three sections. I use one section to write down ideas, another section to write down my thoughts from the short stories or books that I read, and the last section I may start an outline for a short story or book. Whenever I leave the house, I take it with me so I can have it available when ideas spark my imagination. If I leave the house without my notebook, then I feel lost.

In the past, I used to write down ideas on 3 x 5 cards. However, that didn’t seem to work. I didn’t have enough room to write. Sometimes, I still use the note cards for very short ideas, then I write the longer ideas in my spiral notebook. I also put some 3×5 index cards in the pocket that was in the notebook. I also carry cards in my zipper appointment book and my purse. I try to make sure I have something with me all the time.

I also teach piano. Sometimes, I’ve had an idea come to me when I was teaching a piano student. Since I had my notebook, I was able to write it down quickly and continue teaching. It would have been difficult for me to remember the idea if I hadn’t had anything to write down my ideas. You never know when something will pop into your mind.

One idea that I came up with is teaching a piano student. One week I started a new piano student, and the next week something was different about the student. I became to feel uncomfortable. Later, I found out he was an identical twin. This idea came to me as a result of teaching one of my piano students. The first week I had him, he had long hair. The second week, his hair was cut really short. I felt like I was teaching a different student. That’s when the idea came to me about teaching identical twins and not knowing it.

Another story idea I had was about a preschooler I had in my day care. While he was at home, he had disappeared for awhile. When I heard about the story, I developed a similar story about a preschooler who was riding on his big wheel and disappeared. His parents finally found him at MacDonald’s because he was hungry. His dad paid for the meal and ordered food for all of them.

I have also written stories about my dogs that I have had or have now. We’ll be reading a mini-mystery about one of my dogs.

Ideas Are Recycled

According to Gillian Roberts, “[story] ideas are eternally recycled, adapted and made new via fresh characters and the voice and world view of their author. This means that anything is grist for your mill. Anything that produces interest and emotions in you can be made to do so in a reader and can be the basis of a mystery.” (17) Ideas can be recycled. Your emotions or interests can produce an idea for a story. Ideas are anywhere and can be used over again. Be alert to your environment, your interests, and your emotions. Somewhere an idea will spark your imagination.

Also using different viewpoints can be an idea for another story. Any idea can be written more than once by changing something in the story so that it is given a fresh approach. For example. A story could be told by the detective, and then recycled and told again by the villain. You’ll be reading a story later on that is told by the villain.

 

Lesson 1: Gathering Ideas

Are You A Good Listener?

Required Reading Assignment

(1) “You Can Write A Mystery” by Gillian Roberts Read Chapter Four

Required Writing Assignment

(1) After reading the information below, write down: a brief summary of a recent conversation you heard between two people, or between you and someone else. This is to go in your notebook.

Be A Good Listener

Being a good listener will also help you come up with ideas for your short stories. Something that somebody says may trigger a thought. Then, your imagination starts to develop that thought. After that, you’ll have a great idea for a story or an article. All you need to do is listen to people you are with and be alert to what they are telling you. Be aware of your emotions as well.

In You Can Write A Mystery, Gillian Roberts states, “The news makers themselves-people-are another splendid source (not, alas, the people who say, ‘I have a mystery plot for you!’). People telling their stories, gossiping, chatting and looking at life are full of material. Follow your nosiness. Overheard scraps of conversation that leave you wondering what on earth he meant by that or what he could have done to make her so coldly furious with him or ideas.”(18-19) What kind of conversations do you hear when you are among people? Are they telling any interesting stories that you could use for a story idea?

Listening to conversations can be valuable. For instance, a relative of mine began telling me about a couple of incidents that happened to her in her life. As a result, I was able to write three mini-mysteries. These mini-mysteries can be read at the following links:

http://www.suite101.com/article.cfm/3056… http://www.suite101.com/article.cfm/3056… http://www.suite101.com/article.cfm/3056…

I have also come up with story ideas when I was teaching a piano student or as a day care provider. No matter what you do, there is always some kind of idea that will come to your mind as long as you are open to it. In The Plot Thickens, Noah Lukeman discusses how ideas mainly come from building the plot or characterization. He also mentions that if you develop a character, then you might come up with some story ideas. He states, “The subtitle mentions eight ways. The first three characterization (the outer life, the inner life, and applied); these show how your characters, if examined in depth, can give you ideas for story.” (210-211) He is saying that when we study characters and their lives, we will be able to come up with story ideas. We can also learn about people by listening to them talk about their lives.

Lesson 1: Gathering Ideas

Are You A Good Listener?

Required Reading Assignment

(1) “You Can Write A Mystery” by Gillian Roberts Read Chapter Four

Required Writing Assignment

(1) After reading the information below, write down: a brief summary of a recent conversation you heard between two people, or between you and someone else. This is to go in your notebook.

Be A Good Listener

Being a good listener will also help you come up with ideas for your short stories. Something that somebody says may trigger a thought. Then, your imagination starts to develop that thought. After that, you’ll have a great idea for a story or an article. All you need to do is listen to people you are with and be alert to what they are telling you. Be aware of your emotions as well.

In You Can Write A Mystery, Gillian Roberts states, “The news makers themselves-people-are another splendid source (not, alas, the people who say, ‘I have a mystery plot for you!’). People telling their stories, gossiping, chatting and looking at life are full of material. Follow your nosiness. Overheard scraps of conversation that leave you wondering what on earth he meant by that or what he could have done to make her so coldly furious with him or ideas.”(18-19) What kind of conversations do you hear when you are among people? Are they telling any interesting stories that you could use for a story idea?

Listening to conversations can be valuable. For instance, a relative of mine began telling me about a couple of incidents that happened to her in her life. As a result, I was able to write three mini-mysteries. These mini-mysteries can be read at the following links:

http://www.suite101.com/article.cfm/3056… http://www.suite101.com/article.cfm/3056… http://www.suite101.com/article.cfm/3056…

I have also come up with story ideas when I was teaching a piano student or as a day care provider. No matter what you do, there is always some kind of idea that will come to your mind as long as you are open to it. In The Plot Thickens, Noah Lukeman discusses how ideas mainly come from building the plot or characterization. He also mentions that if you develop a character, then you might come up with some story ideas. He states, “The subtitle mentions eight ways. The first three characterization (the outer life, the inner life, and applied); these show how your characters, if examined in depth, can give you ideas for story.” (210-211) He is saying that when we study characters and their lives, we will be able to come up with story ideas. We can also learn about people by listening to them talk about their lives.

 

Lesson 1: Gathering Ideas

Literature and the Media

Suggested Reading Assignment

(1) You Can Write A Mystery by Gillian Roberts Read Chapter Four.

(2) Read some articles in a daily newspaper.

Suggested Writing Assignment

(1) After reading the information below, write down five to ten ideas that you have found in newspapers, books, or from watching television.

Ideas are found in the daily newspapers, books, and television. They are everywhere.

The Daily Newspapers

Have you thought about looking in the daily newspapers? They are filled with all kinds of ideas that you could use and fictionalize.

In another passage, Gillian Roberts states, “The daily paper is the mother lode of murderous ideas. Mysteries are about passions run amuck-desire for love, money, power or safety pushed beyond sane confines. News is about what people want and what they do to get it, which means it’s filled with potential idea springboards.” (17) She is saying that writers should search the newspaper daily for any events that may have happened such as murder, robbery, car wrecks, anything that will elate the imagination. Check motives such as money, power, envy, jealousy, etc. Any of these motives can spark your imagination that will lead to a great story.

Other Novels

Reading novels that are already published can be another creative source. For example, maybe after you have finished reading a book, you thought of another way the book could have progressed. Gillian Roberts suggests this in her book. However, you must never plagiarize someone else’s work. You can take a thought and change it completely, so as to develop your own characters and plot. She uses the example of someone inheriting money. (20) There could be a number of ideas that you could develop into a short story or novel.

Television or Movies

Watching television or going to a movie can also be a source for ideas. One thing that Gillian Roberts suggests is looking at the TV summaries in the listings. They could give you an idea for a story. Something that you have seen on television could also start your imagination rolling. You could develop your own characters, theme, and plot just by watching a show or movie.

For example, I have seen westerns where there have been secret entrances behind waterfalls or hidden caves in shows. I took these ideas and developed a novel titled “Strange Happenings.”

Story Sparkers

Story sparkers are another way where you can come up with ideas for short stories or novels. I have four small boxes of story sparkers that were published by Educational Insights. I wrote to them and asked them if I could develop a story using their ideas and have the stories published. They wrote back and gave me permission to develop stories and have them published as long as I gave them credit. I developed a three part mini-mystery using one of the ideas I got from their collection. Their sparker was titled “Past or Future.” You can read the mini-mysteries at these links: http://www.suite101.com/article.cfm/3056… http://www.suite101.com/article.cfm/3056… http://www.suite101.com/article.cfm/3056…

 

Lesson 1: Gathering Ideas

Childhood Memories

Reading Material

The information in this lesson was found in a book titled How To Write Mysteries by Shannon OCork. However, this book isn’t available any more.

Suggested Writing Assignment

(1) After reading the material below, take your notebook and make a list of five to ten ideas remembered from childhood.

(2) In your notebook, write down five to ten ideas that derive from your present life.

In this section, you will learn that ideas can come from childhood memories. Also, your personal life as an adult is filled with ideas.

Childhood Memories

Do you have a favorite book that you read or your parents read to you? Have they made up stories and said them to you? How about nursery rhymes? Think back into your childhood and see what kinds of ideas you might remember. Maybe you kept track of your favorite things. What about things that happened to you when your were in school? Is there anything that stands out in your mind? Did you have a special playmate? Were you ever in trouble and had to go to the principal’s office? How about friends? Did you have many friends or were they mean to you? All of these things are ideas for stories.

In How To Write Mysteries Shannon OCork discusses childhood memories. Writers should “start jotting down ‘favorite’ things. Books you loved as a child and perhaps still do. Your best-loved fairy tales and nursery rhymes. Memories of best times. Childhood dreams. Look to your fantasies-they are fuel for your stories and they will reveal much that is initimate and hidden.” (9-10) Anything you read as a child or that your parents read to you could result in story ideas. That’s why keeping a journal is important. You never know what will kind of story ideas you will come up with.

Adult Experiences

She also mentions that you need to look at your present life. Think about your fears, daily routine, work, favorite shows, movies, sports. Everyday emotions associated with such activities are fruitful fare for creativity.

One highly beneficial activity I’d recommend is for you to make a list of personal daily activities. After you write them down, search your heart and ask yourself some questions. How do you feel about these activities? Do they easily frustrate you? Are you happy with your job? Would you enjoy doing something else? Do you have time for sports? Do you like going out to eat? Do you enjoy the movies you see? Why do you prefer certain kinds of movies to others? Do you like music? What kind? Do you like to read? What kinds of books? Answers to these questions will act as guides in the development of future characters’ personalities and mini-mysteries.

My Childhood Memories

Sometimes, I have taken a specific house that I have lived in and used the general setting as well as developed other physical surroundings to make it fictional. For example, the novel I have finished writing titled “Strange Happenings” is based on the farm I used to live on when I was born until the end of the second grade. I took the basic environment and changed several things to fit the plot and setting of my novel. I also fictionalized the names of cities and schools.

All you have to do is to think about your life and see what kinds of ideas you can develop into a short story or novel.

 

Lesson 1: Gathering Ideas

How Do You Feel About Life?

Required Reading Assignment

(1) “You Can Write A Mystery” by Gillian Roberts Read Chapter Four

Suggested Reading Assignment

(1) “Plotting and Writing Suspense Fiction” by Patricia Highsmith.

Required Writing Assignment

(1) After reading the material below, write five to ten ideas about some emotional experiences you have had. Just write down enough information so that you can use it later.

Emotions Are A Source For Ideas

In “You Can Write A Mystery”, Gillian Roberts gives several ideas for short stories or questions that you can think about: “What troubles or intrigues you? What image, situation, issue, news story, person-read about or known personally-infuriates, confuses, frightens, disgusts, amazes or appalls you? What topic keeps coming up in your conversation?” (17) Writers need to think about their lives, their emotions, interests, etc. Writers need to be acutely aware of their environment. By listening to their thoughts and what is nagging them continually, they will be able to come up with several story ideas.

According to Patricia Highsmith, “Good short stories are made from the writer’s emotions alone, and their themes might often be equally well stated in poems.” (16) What we feel, think, see, or experience might make good story ideas. For example, “the sight of a dog being run over, a feeling of being followed in a dark street.” (16) These emotions or anything similar will make good story ideas.

My Emotional Experiences

For several of my short stories, I have used my dogs as inspiration for characters. I also have taken specific incidents that have happened and turned them into a fictional story. For example. I adopted a puppy at a Humane Shelter. The puppy wouldn’t eat and had to be taken back to the shelter to be put to sleep. That was a very difficult time for me. However, I went back and looked again and found a very cute puppy that I adopted. His name was Toby. I wrote a story about the first puppy, whose name was Skippy, and how I got Toby.

Writing about your personal experiences, especially the difficult and emotional times that you are going through or have gone through can be great therapy as well. It has helped me work through my emotional difficulties with losing my pets by writing about them. Most of my stories that I have written are for children and have been about some kind of memory that I have had as a child or as an adult. I take a certain event in my life and completely change the circumstances to develop a fictional story for children.

 

Lesson 1: Gathering Ideas

Your Imagination Sparks Ideas!

Suggested Reading Assignment

(1) Writing The Novel From Plot To Print by Lawrence Block

Suggested Writing Assignment

(1) Write down things that suddenly pop into your mind. These could turn into story ideas.

Writer’s Imagination

Lawrence Block reveals his conviction about ideas: “It’s my own conviction that we do not get our ideas. They are given to us, bubbling up out of our own subconscious minds as if from some dark and murky ferment. When the conditions are right, it is neither more nor less than the natural condition of things for a writer’s imagination to produce those ideas which constitute the raw material of his fiction.” (50-51). You need to listen to your heart and mind and be open to what sparks your imagination. If something comes to your mind, then it could be an idea.

As I mentioned earlier, that happened to me. I was ready to go to bed when an idea for a book popped into my head. All I had was the title of the story. The next day, I sat down at my computer and wrote ten pages.

In order for me to come up with ideas, I have learned to be observant and listen to other people. I also pay attention to people’s motives. I like to think about and wonder why people commit crimes. Are they greedy, self-centered, prone to accidents, wanting attention, enjoy blackmailing people, hiding secrets, or do they have some other kind of motive? Whatever causes a character to commit a crime can be a plot. Have you ever gone into a store and watched how people react to the circumstances surrounding them? How do they treat clerks? How do clerks treat them? How do other customers treat them? How are you treated by clerks or customers? How would you react if someone barged in front of you? How would you react if a parent started yelling or slapping one of their children for misbehaving? What would you do if you saw a lost child? Answers to these questions will lead you down more exciting story paths.

When I had my day care, a couple came to me for an interview. During that time, they told me what they had seen or heard about another day care provider. They said that children were locked up in the basement and kept there most of the day. That shocked me. I couldn’t believe how a day care provider could do that to children. As a result of that experience, I came up with an article idea. I’m including that information in a book that I have started titled “Children Are Our Future.” In this book, I want to inform parents about raising their children and to search their own lives about how they are doing as parents. Young children will be our future. What kind of future will we have? Our future depends on how children are raised today. Ideas that I have had as a result of being a day care provider for eleven years have become chapters in my book.

Your job, your activites, your friends, your relatives, and your shopping sprees will provide opportunities for you to develop articles, short stories and novels. All you need to learn is to be observant and a good listener.

 

Lesson 1: Gathering Ideas

Bibliography

Block, Lawrence. Writing the Novel From Plot to Print. Ohio: F&W Publications, 1986.

Conrad, Hy. Whodunit Crime Puzzles. New York: sterling Publishing Co., Inc., 2002.

Grafton, Sue. Writing Mysteries. Ohio: F&W Publications, 2001.

Grant-Adamson, Lesley. Writing Crime and Suspense Fiction and Getting Published. Chicago: NTC Publications, 1986.

Highsmith, Patricia. Plotting and Writing Suspense Fiction. New York: St. Martins, 1993.

Lukeman, Noah. The Plot thickens: 8 Ways to Bring Fiction to Life. New York: St. Martin’s, 2002.

OCork, Shannon. How To Write Mysteries. Ohio: F&W Publications, 1989. Pullman, Philip. Detective Stories. Larousse Kingfisher Chambers, Inc., 1998. Roberts, Gillian. You Can Write A Mystery. Ohio: F&W Publications, 1999.

 

Lesson 2: Elements of Fiction

Where will your story take place? What is your main idea that you hope to get across to readers? How about your characters? What kind of characters will you develop in your stories? How will you develop the structure of your story? All of these questions are basic elements of writing. You will learn about these elements and how to develop them in your stories.

Introduction

Where will you have your story located? That’s an important question. You need to have a familiar location so that you will be able to write your story. We will be looking at different authors and what they have to say about settings.

Once you have your idea and your setting, then you need to think about your protagonist. Who will he or she? Will it be a detective, amateur sleuth, private investigator, or uniform police officer, etc.? Who will be the villain in your story? What type of character will this person be? What crime will he or she commit? Will this person escape or be caught? What about the other characters? Who will they be? What will they be like? Are any of them going to be suspects? It is important to know who your characters are going to be and what their personalities are like. You need to develop these personalities according to how you have developed their past.

What about the structure of your story? How will you develop it? Will it be a suspense, detective fiction, or thriller? Knowing the type of genre or subgenre is important to the development of your plot. You also need to know what clues you will be using in your story and how you will be planting them.

When your themes, settings, characters, and plots are well developed, readers will not put down until they have finished reading the last page.

 

Lesson 2: Elements of Fiction

Themes

Themes are the basic idea of the story. For this lesson we will be discussing my article I wrote about themes.

Required Reading Assignment

(1) Read the article titled “Themes.” http://www.suite101.com/article.cfm/3056…

Suggested Reading Assignment

Writing and Plotting Suspense Fiction by Patricia Highsmith.

Required Writing Assignment

(1) After reading the information below, write down five to ten general topics that could be themes for stories.

Recycled Themes

Just as story ideas can be recycled, themes can be too. For example if you have a theme dealing with good and evil, you can have two women who are friends, but one woman may develop other friendships that lead her in a different direction–a direction of criminal activities. The other woman could be going in the direction of helping others learn how to overcome their trials.

Another example could be about a criminal and how he wants to straighten out his life. He meets another person whom he likes and receives help from.

Relationships that deal with the theme of good and evil can be recycled into all kinds of stories with different characters and circumstances.

According to Patricia Highsmith, “a writer has a theme or a pattern that he uses over and over again in his novels. He should be aware of this, not in a hampering way, but to exploit it well and to repeat it only deliberately.” (138) Some writers want to use the same theme in different novels, but they would use different characters, settings, and plots.

One theme that she has used over and over in her novels is the theme of “relationship between two men, usually quite different in make-up, sometimes an obvious contrast in good and evil, sometimes merely ill-matched friends.” (138) This type of theme can be used over again.

For each novel you write, you can develop other characters with different personalities and circumstances. You can also use the relationship between two women, a man and a woman, two sisters, cousins, other friends and relatives. Any kind of relationship that comes to your mind would be appropriate. You could even write about a person and their pet or pets.

I have written short stories about children and their experiences with pets. One theme was about a child who had to put his puppy too sleep. He was given another puppy, but he had a difficult time accepting the new puppy. As a result of the puppy coming up to him, the child began to accept the puppy. Almost all of my stories have a pet involved because I have dogs and hamsters and enjoy them.

Themes May Not Appear

Later on, she mentions that “[themes] cannot be sought after or strained for; they appear.” (139) Before writers start writing their novels, they may not know what point they want to make. As they begin their novel, it becomes evident that they are trying to get across a certain theme to their readers. Sometimes they might end up with a different theme than they thought of in the beginning.

In my book “Strange Happenings,” I have changed my themes a few times before I decided on the particular point I wanted to make. My story has two themes. The story is basically about Christy and Megan, who are identical twins. Megan isn’t as secure in her self-image as Christy is. Megan isn’t sure that she can do things like Christy. Throughout the story, Megan and Christy experience all kinds of interesting obstacles. When the climax happens, Megan begins to realize that she can do things on her own.

Another theme is the idea that something good comes from something bad. Even though the girls are experiencing different trials, they begin to realize that something good will happen, and it does. More than they realized in the beginning. You can have an idea of what your theme might be, but until you start writing your short story or novel, you might not be sure. Themes can appear any time during the short story or novel, or it can be set in your mind before you begin writing.

 

Lesson 2: Elements of Fiction

Settings

Suggested Reading Assignments

(1) You Can Write A Mystery by Gillian Roberts. Chapter Six.

Suggested Writing Assignment

(1) In your notebook, make a list of the different places you have lived or have visited that could be settings for stories.

Part One – Settings Are Important

Settings are an important element in writing stories or novels. It is where the story takes place. Settings can be like characters; you can visualize them, or you can imagine them.

Be Like Characters

Settings can be like a character. You can describe your settings like you do your characters. Gillian Roberts mentions that a “[setting] can, in fact, be the equivalent of another character, and in order to fully envision it, you can write another bio-….” (28). Writers can make a list of the information they need to describe the setting such as: landmarks, scenery, houses, buildings, people, etc.

Visualize Them

Lesley Grant-Adamson mentions that “[every} location and building you use has to be fixed in the reader’s mind.” (19). Writers should describe the setting in a way that readers can visualize the environment. Then, it will become more realistic. Readers will feel like they are right there with the characters.

Example Number One: River City

Here is an example of the description of the fictious city I used in my book.

They climbed on their bicycles and started searching the nearby streets. River City had a main street with five blocks on each side. On the main street were several stores such as a grocery store, meat market, bank, restaurant, general store, post office, courthouse, etc. The side streets consisted of houses. One of the side streets had the school and a church. One street led to a country road where there were farm houses and the river.

This passage gives readers a visual setting of River City. By visualizing the setting, it becomes more realistic. It indicates a main street and how many side streets there are, and that one side street leads to a country road. There are also farm houses and the river.

Imagine Them

Lawrence Block mentions that writers should use settings that are familiar to them. However, if you aren’t familiar with a setting, then you can do some research on that area. He states that maybe “there’s no such place in reality, but you can build one in your imagination readily enough.” (98) You can always develop an imaginary setting and make it realistic.

He also suggests that writers can use settings of their past experiences. For example, any place where you have lived can be used as a setting. If you can’t remember exactly what the setting was, you can imagine it.

Before I wrote the description of River City, I made a list of the items I wanted to include in my settings. My mother, who also enjoyed writing, made a map of the farm we lived on when I was younger. I used the general description of the city and our farm, but added fictional settings and changed the name of the city.

Part Two – Ways Settings Can Be Used

There are three ways that Gillian Roberts mentions how settings can be used: action, characterization, and emotional information.

Action

Settings can be used to illustrate action. Action will move the plot forward.

When Christy and Megan climbed off the bus, they noticed that the lane leading to their house was wet. “It must have rained here,” Christy said.

“It looks that way. I wonder why it didn’t rain at school?”

“I guess it rains some places and not others. Our school is five miles from here.”

“That’s true. It must be far enough to rain in one place and not the other. Since we live in the country, and our school is in the city, it would be too far to walk.” The plot is moving forward and going from their school in the city to their farm five miles away. The girls ride the bus to get from their school to the lane that leads to their farm. Then, they walk down the lane to their farm.

Characterization

Settings can be used as characterization. They can reveal something about the characters.

“I can’t put these clothes on. What am I going to do now? I don’t want mom to see us dressed alike. You know how she feels about us wearing different outfits.”

“I know. I’ll go around to the back door and distract Mom somehow” Christy replied.

“Thanks.”

Megan is worried that she will be caught and doesn’t know what to do. Megan likes to be sneaky, but she doesn’t like to be caught. Christy doesn’t want to be caught either, so they usually come up with plans to get away with their sneaky actis.

Emotional Information

Settings can also provide emotional information. The following passage illustrates Megan’s emotions about the weather.

“Oh no!”

“What’s wrong?” Christy asked.

“My clothes. I hid them under the bushes this morning.” Megan rushed to the bushes and picked up her clothes. “They’re all wet.”

“I know. I guess you shouldn’t have left them there.”

“I didn’t know it was going to rain. The sky was clear. Why did it have to rain here?”

“I don’t know.”

Megan noticed that the sky wasn’t cloudy that morning. However, when they returned home from school, Megan saw that the ground was wet. She wondered why it didn’t rain at their school. Her emotions began to stir up inside when she remembered her clothes were underneath the bushes.

 

Lesson 2: Elements of Fiction

Characters – Who Are They?

This section covers characters. You will learn the importance of making your characters realistic. It is important for characters to be described so that readers can identify with them. You will also learn about protagonists, villains, and victims. When you are writing your story, you must include these three characters as well as the other characters. You will also learn about suspects and their motives.

Suggested Reading Assignment

(1) You Can Write A Mystery by Gillian Roberts Page 20. (2) Suspects and Their Motives by Janet Blaylock

Writing Assignments

(1) In your notebook, write down names that you might use for characters.

(2) Give your characters tags: protagonist (detective), villain, victim, and suspects.

(3) Write down motives and weapons that you want to give the suspects.

Making Your Characters Real

It is important to make your characters realistic. Readers want to identify with the characters in the stories they are reading. When you read a story about someone experiencing a difficult trial such as a relationship between a man and his wife, then you might be able to relate to that couple if you are married. The main focus of stories is the characters and the obstacles they have to overcome. You need to have well-developed characters whom people can identify with so they well continue reading the short story or novel. Everyone experiences some kind of turmoil in their lives, so it helps when you read a book about a character who is experiencing similar trials.

Michael Connelly also agrees about making characters realistic and believable. He wrote an article titled “Characterization” that appears in Writing Mysteries edited by Sue Grafton. He states that a “book lacking in true and believable characterization is just so many pieces of broken china on the ground.” (58). They want to relate to characters, especially the protagonist. If characters aren’t real, then readers will become discouraged.

Lawrence Block mentions that “[characters] are most effective when they are so drawn that the author can identify with them, sympathize with them, care about them, and enjoy their company.” (69) When the characters are realistic, then you can identify with them. You may even feel like you are right there with them.

Example of Character Description

The following passage is an example of how I made my characters realistic.

“Christy and I want to ride our bicycles.”

“After you eat breakfast,” her mother ordered. She stood up to clear the table.

“Can I be excused?” Christy asked.

“Yes.”

“Megan, I’m, going downstairs to start the laundry. When I return, you’d better be finished.”

Hoping that her mother wouldn’t hear her, Megan dumped her food in the sink and turned on the garbage disposal. Megan ran outside to escape before her mother caught her. When Megan heard the back door open and her mother calling her, she walked back inside. “What do you want, Mom?”

“You can’t fool me. I heard the garbage disposal running. Now, you’ll stay in your room.”

“I want to go outside.”

“Sorry, go to your room.”

Stomping upstairs to her room, Megan plopped onto her bed and cried.

These passages reveal that Megan likes to be sneaky. She thought she could get away with fooling her mother, but she couldn’t. She was also angry and hurt. Her actions showed this in the last sentence.

Sleuths, Villains, and Victims

Sleuths, Villains, and Victims are the main characters involved in Detective Fiction. It’s important that these characters are well-developed and realistic. Readers what to relate to the characters.

Gillian Roberts states that “A mystery is not what happened, but what happened to a person or people. In order for a reader to care about your plot, he needs to care about your characters, particularly the all-important trio of sleuth, villain and victim.” (21) These three people are the main characters in any mystery, and readers want to know more about them and what happens to each one. They want to be able to relate to the protagonist and how he solves the crime. They also want to sympathize with the victim. Readers also are interested in human nature and wonder why people commit crimes.

Example of Action with Villains

The following passage indicates what happened when Christy and Megan were trapped in a shack.

Megan watched apprehensively as Christy started to climb out the window. The door burst open and a short, stocky man hollered, “Hey, what are you doing here?” Christy stopped and turned around. “Who are you?” Christy didn’t repond. “I’m not going to hurt you. Just answer my questions.”

Christy still didn’t respond.

“Frank! Who ya’ talkin’ to in there?”

“Come and see.”

The door opened and another man, who was a bit taller and thinner entered the room. “Who’s this?”

“She won’t tell me.”

Christy tried to escape out the window. “Jim, go outside and catch her.”

“She won’t get away. Remember the thorn bush below the window?”

When Christy screamed, Megan realized she landed in the thorns. As she stood up, Jim and Frank grabbed her and pulled her back inside and removed the thorns. “What’a we gonna do with her?”

“Let’s tie her up. We could ask for a ransom.”

This passage indicated the interaction between Christy and the two kidnappers. Christy wouldn’t respond to any of their questions. She wasn’t about to give them her name. She was also brave enough to try to escape even though she was caught. Readers could sympathize with Christy now because she had been caught and tied up. The scene changed at this point. It moved to Megan and her thoughts as she lay under the bed and watched what happened to Christy. Suspense also increased in this passage because readers don’t know what was going to happen to Christy or if the kidnappers would find Megan.

Suspects and Their Motives

When a crime has been committed, the detective, private investigator, or sleuth will enter the scene and start their investigation. They will first find out what happened, who the victim was, and the possible suspects who were in the area at the time of the crime. They will make a list of the suspects and their possible motives or alibis. I have written an article titled “Suspects and Their Motives.” To read the article click on the following link: http://www.suite101.com/article.cfm/3056…

 

Lesson 2: Elements of Fiction

Narration – View Point

This section will cover point of view. Before you start to write your story, it is obvious that you need to know who will be telling the story. Will it be the detective, the villain, or the omnisicient narrator? Also, what view point will you be using? Will it be first person, third person, or omnisicient?

Suggested Reading Assignments

(1) You Can Write A Mystery by Gillian Roberts. Read Chapters Seven, Thirteen, and Fourteen.

(2) Writing Mysteries edited by Sue Grafton. Read Chapters Nine, Sixteen, and Eighteen

Suggested Writing Assignments

(1) In your notebook, write down the different points of view that are listed below. Think of which one you might use for your story ideas that you wrote down earlier and write the point of view beside each idea.

Let’s first discuss the different view points writers can use. First person, third person, or omnisicient view points are all used by writers depending on the style they choose.

First person view point is written by using the pronoun “I.” Most detective fiction stories are written in first person. However, some of them are written in third person. The detective is the one who usually tells the story in detective fiction. He is the protagonist. Readers can identify with the protagonist. When stories are told from the detective’s point of view, readers can solve the crime right along with the detective. The following passages on view points are found in You Can Write A Mystery by Gillian Roberts.

First Person View Point

Writers “may never violate the idea that you are inside the character. You couldn’t, for example, write ‘I searched the chest, a frown contorting my mouth’ because the character doesn’t see that frown.” (39). Writers need to be careful of the way the narrator is speaking. The narrator cannot see the expressions on his/her own face unless he/she is standing in front of a mirror. The narrator is inside the protagonist when the story is written in first person view point. Narrators can feel their muscles or aches, but they cannot see their expressions.

Gillian gives an example that writers could use: “‘Every muscle in my face tightened and pulled down.'” Since the narrator is inside the protagonist, they can feel the aching muscles or the face tightening.

In another passage, she mentions how “[first] person is definitely a way to give your detective a unique sound, world view and opinions. The downside is the possibility of your detective’s preaching his views too much, so beware.” (40) If you want to use first-person point of view, you need to be aware of the limitations that the protagonist has. You also don’t want the narrator to become preachy. It’s important to think about your plot, the point you are trying to get across to readers, and which view point would be the best way to handle your story.

Third Person View Point

Third-person point of view is told by someone who moves about throughout the story. There is objective point of view and close third point of view.

If you are using objective point of view, then writers are foreced “to show, not tell, and to avoid sentimentality; for those reasons writing in the objective point of view is a good exercise to try. But it also leaves out the distinguishing feature of fiction-the ability to read people’s minds and hearts.” (37)

Close third point of view. By using close third point of view, you “can actually hear his thoughts and feel his emotions, often without needing the words he thought or he felt.” (38)

Omniscient Point Of View

Omniscient point of view. If writers use omniscient point of view, then the “author can go anywhere in time and space and can be in any character’s mind. This point of view option distances the reader. We can’t identify with anyone because the God-like author is talking about ‘those people,’ leading us around, telling us what they think and what they can’t know.” (41) This point of view is okay, but readers won’t be able to identify with any particular person, like the protagonist. Everything will be known through the eyes of the narrator, who will be able to get into the mind of every character, anywhere, and at any time.

 

Lesson 2: Elements of Fiction

Dialogue

Suggested Reading Assignment

(1) You Can Write A Mystery by Gillian Roberts Read Chapter Fourteen.

(2) Writing Mysteries edited by Sue Grafton. Read How To Write Convincing Dialogue by Aaron Elkins.

Suggested Writing Assignment

(1) In your notebook, write down different phrases that you find interesting when you are listening to people talk. You might be able to use these phrases in your stories.

Gillian refers to three functions of dialogue in her book. They are: Provides information that’s needed, moves the story forward, and characterizes the speaker.

Provides Information That’s Needed

Dialogue provides information to the reader. For example, let’s look at the following passage:

“I’m glad we live in town. It’s nice to walk across the street to school.” Megan said.

“I know. River City isn’t too large. We could live almost anywhere in the city and be close to the school,” Christy replied.

“That’s true.”

This passage indicates the size of the city where Christy and Megan live. It also shows readers that their school is across the street from where they live.

You can use dialogue to reveal any kind of information that you want readers to know. You might discuss the weather, size of the setting, people, etc.

Moves The Story Forward

In chapter fourteen of Gillian Roberts’ book, she mentions that “[good] dialogue is action. If your story contains dialogue that advances the action, then you have written it correctly. If your dialogue is stale and doesn’t advance the action, then you need to get rid of it.”

When readers are searching for a book to read, they open it up and see how it is written. If it contains very little dialogue, they are likely to put in back. If the story contains dialogue, then they will pick it up and read it.

One author whose books I have read and enjoyed is Jay Bennett. He writes young adult suspense books. His style of writing moves the action along. The books are short and easy to read because it contains short speeches between the characters.

There needs to be a balance between narration and dialogue. You don’t want the whole book written with dialogue, and you don’t want to read a book that contains very little to no dialogue.

Characterizes the Speaker

Think about the types of characters you want to use in your story. Then, have the dialogue reflect their personality. One passage Gillian mentions in her book is, “Think about the roles people play and have yours speak accordingly. Do you have a yes-man? A negotiator? A smoother-over? An agitator? A confrontational devil’s advocate? A timid, fearful, non-commital type? Each would shape different sentences.” (87) People don’t speak the same way. Everybody has developed their own style of speech. Therefore, your characters need to develop their own style of speech that fits their personalities.

You learned that your characters need to be believable and realistic. Your dialogue is the same way. You need to write dialogue that is believable. Dialogue should sound natural.

Testing Your Dialogue

In an article written by Aaron Elkins, he mentions that “The critical test of dialogue is how well it stands up to being read aloud. There is just no better way to show up awkwardness or artificiality in written speech than trying to say it.” (137) I have found this to be true in just reading my manuscripts aloud. If you stumble over words or dialogue, then you need to change that portion of your manuscript. It always helps to read your writing aloud to yourself or to someone else.

 

Lesson 2: Elements of Fiction

Plots

Suggested Reading Assignments

(1) You Can Write A Mystery by Gillian Roberts. Read Chapter Eight.

(2) Writing The Novel From Plot to Print by Lawrence Block.

(3) The Plot Thickens by Noah Lukeman.

Plots are the main structure of the story. Without plots (main and subplots), you wouldn’t have a story.

Planning Your Plot

Gillian Roberts mentions that you can “plan your entire route in advance or proceed knowing only a general direction. Either way, you’ll get there.” (45) If you plan your plot, then you will have a starting point and know where you are headed. If you just start out writing your story, you may not know what is ahead.

I have written stories both ways. When I started my children’s novel, I first wrote down the chapters. I knew the basic setting of the story because I used my home town. However, I added a lot of fictional description, especially of the main farm house my characters moved to. I basically knew the beginning of the story and where I was headed. When I first started the manuscript, I had only nine chapters. The completed novel kept growing and ended up with sixteen chapters. Even though I started with a plan, it changed throughout the writing process. So, you see, you can start with a plan, but you need to be flexible with your plan in case the plot moves in a different direction.

Another story I recently started was titled “Romance On A Deserted Island-Or Is It?” I started with the title of the short story. I wasn’t sure why that title kept gnawing at me one night, but it did. I got up and wrote the title down so I wouldn’t forget it. The next day, I sat down at the computer and started writing everything that came to my mind. I ended up with ten pages of a story that I had no idea about when I first sat down. Now, as it turns out, this short story will probably turn into a novel.

When an idea comes to you, you need to write it down and continue writing when you have the time. You never know what will come of the story.

Once you have your characters and have outlined each of their lives, then you will be able to connect the plot. Each character will have a definite part to play. Who is your protagonist? Is he the detective, amateur sleth, private investigator, or someone else? Who is your villain? What crime did he or she commit? What was his or her motive? Did he or she know the person they murdered? Were they related? What other characters are involved in the plot? Are they going to be suspects? All of these questions need to be answered and connected to form the structure of the story.

 

Lesson 2: Elements of Fiction

Bibliography

Block, Lawrence. Writing the Novel From Plot to Print. Ohio: F&W Publications, 1986.

Conrad, Hy. Whodunit Crime Puzzles. New York: sterling Publishing Co., Inc., 2002.

Grafton, Sue. Writing Mysteries. Ohio: F&W Publications, 2001.

Grant-Adamson, Lesley. Writing Crime and Suspense Fiction and Getting Published. Chicago: NTC Publications, 1986.

Highsmith, Patricia. Plotting and Writing Suspense Fiction. New York: St. Martins, 1993.

Lukeman, Noah. The Plot thickens: 8 Ways to Bring Fiction to Life. New York: St. Martin’s, 2002.

OCork, Shannon. How To Write Mysteries. Ohio: F&W Publications, 1989. Pullman, Philip. Detective Stories. Larousse Kingfisher Chambers, Inc., 1998. Roberts, Gillian. You Can Write A Mystery. Ohio: F&W Publications, 1999.

 

Lesson 3: The Writing Process

Now the fun begins. Outlining your stories will be a helpful exercise. When you write down your character profiles, details of your settings, your plot outline, etc., then you will be able to take those notes and start writing your story plot, short stories, or novel. These notes will help you to include the important information that you don’t want to forget.

You get to start writing your mini-mystery and learn how to develop your short stories and novels. All of the previous lessons have prepared you to write mini-mysteries, short stories, and novels. Are you ready to begin the final project?

Introduction

In this lesson, you will learn how to organize your thoughts so you can write your short story in the next lesson. This information will also prepare you to write a novel.

However, sometimes you may feel that it will take too long. You probably would rather skip this part and start writing your story, but it’s worth taking the time to plan your story or book.

You can outline characters, settings, and plots. This can be done by lists if you are writing a short story or by chapter outlines if you are writing a book.

When you make a character outline, you will list each character whom you want to use in your story and their personal information. For example, you will write down their names, what they are like inwardly, and what they are like outwardly. You want to know everything about them, including their past history. You want your characters to be realistic so your readers can relate to them.

Besides outlining your characters, you will do the same thing for your settings. You need to write down the location and what type of setting you will have. Will it be a large city, small town, island, a place in the country, inside a building? Where? After you decide where you want it to be, then you need to write down the types of houses, people, income status: rich, poor, middle class, etc. What race or races will there be? What kind of trees, lakes, parks, etc.? All of these things are important to your setting. You need to become familiar with your background so you can write it in such a way that your readers can visualize the setting.

Outlining your plot is also important. You need to write down the characters for each scene, the important events that will be taking place, and the clues you want to plant throughout your story or novel. What chapters will they be placed in? What are the titles of your chapters? Your plot outline will help you to structure your story or novel.

If you know the type of characters, settings, and the plot structure of your story, then it will be much easier to write it. By developing outlines on these different elements, you will remember the important points, and you will be consistent throughout your story structure.

Throughout this course, you have been given information on the differences between suspense, detective fiction, and thrillers; gathering ideas; learning the elements of fiction; reading and analyzing short stories and mini-mysteries; outlining; and now you’ll learn how to put this information together.

My goal for the course has been to teach you the information you needed to write suspense, detective fiction, and thrillers. Are you ready to begin the writing process?

 

Lesson 3: The Writing Process

Outlining and Writing Settings

Suggested Reading Assignment

(1) You Can Write A Mystery by Gillian Roberts Chapter Six

Suggested Writing Assignment.

(1) In your journal, you are to outline your setting using the information or similar information that you read in your assignment. It doesn’t have to be the same topics. Use the information as a guide. You just need to have an outline prepared for your story ideas.

Outlining Your Settings

In You Can Write A Mystery by Gillian Roberts, she lists different items that you can use to make an outline of your settings. This list is revealed in Chapter Six, Page 28.

“* Map (What’s the general terrain? Where are parks, highways, neighborhoods?)

* Buildings, if any (Are there stores, and if so, what sort? Libraries? Services available?)

* Weather

* Transportation (What sorts are there? Is it a problem?) * Population density

* Economic level

* Ethnic mix

* Crime level

* Traditions, mores, sense of community

Where do the protagonist, villain and victim live and work within that place? What are the physical properties of these places? How do the characters fit into and/or view all these things?” (28-29)

All of these things are important to your setting. If you can answer these questions about your setting, then you will be able to describe your setting in such a way that readers can visualize it. That’s important in short stories or books. You want readers to feel like they are right there where the action is taking place.

Drawing a map and writing an outline of your settings can be very helpful. It was to me when my mother drew the map of our farm. I was able to write the description, and knew where I wanted to put certain buildings, trees, etc.

Once you have your outline of your settings, then you are able to write your setting.

Writing Your Settings

Writing settings can be done through narration or dialogue. Use the following examples to explore various settings.

Example Number One: River City

Everything was quiet in River City, where Christy and Megan, identical twin sisters, lived with their parents. The sputtering of a car outside their bedroom window broke the silence. Megan dashed out of bed and looked out. No one was in sight. She wondered who had been there and why?

This setting indicates that the place was River City. It was quiet because some people were still sleeping. The only noise was the sputtering of a car.

Example Number Two: The City Park

Soon they were in the city park, two blocks from their house. They found a cozy place under a big shady maple tree. The park had a shelter house, lots of trees and bushes, and play ground equipment. As they sat there listening to the birds, Megan thought about her mother and father.

Example Number Three: The Deserted Shack

They walked cautiously up to the cabin and knelt underneath a window. Lifting up their heads and peeking in they saw a room with some living room furniture and a small kitchen. Everything seemed old. They opened the door and walked inside. Looking around the room, they saw dust on the tables. From the dishes, food, and other items, they knew someone lived there, but they didn’t know who. Also, they knew the people didn’t have much money.

This is a description of the deserted shack where Christy and Megan are trapped. The following example is an example of the weather.

Example Number Four: Weather

Megan looked out the window and saw dark rain clouds, followed by a sudden cloudburst. “Now we’re trapped,” Megan declared softly.

This shows that there were dark clouds forming above, and then it started to rain. The girls were trapped inside and couldn’t escape.

All of these examples illustrate how you can describe the setting. These passages were written throughout the first four chapters of my book. Wherever the characters are located is when you want to describe the setting. You want to see their reactions to their environment as well.

 

Lesson 3: The Writing Process

Outlining Characters and Writing Scenes

For this section, you will learn how to outline characters and learn how to write scenes using different types of dialogue.

Suggested Reading Assignment

(1) You Can Write A Mystery by Gillian Roberts Chapters Five and Fourteen.

Suggested Writing Assignment

(1) Make a list of each character. Use a separate page for each one. Then start writing down the characteristics that you would like to attach to a particular character. The following lists will help you form your characters.

(2) Take your list of characters and write four short scenes illustrating a scene for each of the following types of dialogue: summary, direct dialogue, indirect dialogue, and direct address. These scenes don’t have to be the ones you will use in your story.

Outlining Your Characters

You will first learn how to outline your characters. There are different aspects of a character’s personality that you need to know and to develop in your story. By outlining your characters, you will be able to understand them and to make them more realistic. Readers want to identify with specific characters. That’s why it’s important to make them realistic.

Characters and Their Histories

Gillian Roberts mentions that “a character can do anything you like if he has a reason and the reason comes out of his history.”(22). The history of a character is important so that you will know what kind of person your character is. You wouldn’t want to develop a character who is not like his past. That would make your story and character development inconsistent. Everything in your story needs to be consistent and fit together in an organized manner. She also has a list of different characteristics that you should list about each character. After each one, she suggests questions, etc. to help writers think about their outline and what they want their characters to be like. You may or may not use everything that is listed. Your outline has to be the way you want it for your own personal use.

Characters – Their Outer and Inner Lives

Noah Lukeman in his book The Plot thickens takes three chapters to discuss characters. In his first chapter, he discusses the outer life of characters. For example, this could include activites such as sports, education, family, pets, occupation, etc.

In his second chapter, he talks about the inner life of characters. This could include, religious beliefs, emotions, relationships, habits, etc.

Chapter three is about how to develop the characters you created in the first two chapters. This chapter focuses on how to develop the characters in your story. You first learned about the outer life, then their inner life, and now, you’ll learn how to put those characteristics together to create your characters. You also need to answer the following questions: Who do you want to be the protagonist to be? What about the villain? Who are the suspects? What are their motives? What weapons would be available to each character? etc.? All of these chapters explain in detail how to develop your characters so that you can use them in the stories that you write.

Character Tags

In How To Write Mysteries by Shannon OCork, she suggests that “[you] could make a list of your characters and tag them as the list is made, even if you change a tag or two later.” (68) She lists different characters and this a a short paragraph about each character.

When you introduce a character, Shannon OCork suggests that “you have them on each character when he’s introduced and carry one along for a while, until the readers know everybody well. Then you need only refer to a tag when you want to.” (69) It’s important to tell something about a character when you introduce that person because readers need to know something about him or her.

Writing Your Scenes

Gillian Roberts discusses three different types of dialogue: summaries, indirect dialogue, and direct dialogue.

Summaries

A summary is just narration. The narrator is stating the action of the characters and what they are saying to each other in his/her own words. The following passage is an example of a summary:

Noticing the sun beginning to set, they knew it was almost supper time. They parked their bicycles and planned what they would say to their parents. Christy always liked to think of things before she made a decision. She pondered over their situation. The sparkle in Christy’s eyes showed Megan she had come up with a plan.

The two girls had parked their bicycles and planned what they would say to their parents. This statement is a summary of what they were doing. It doesn’t state specifically what they were saying to each other.

Indirect Dialogue

Indirect dialogue is when the narration is more specific about the details of the conversation between two people. Below is a passage of indirect dialogue:

Example of Indirect Dialogue

During breakfast, their father told them they could stay home or go to the park while their mother and he ran some errands.

In this passage, the narrator is showing readers that Christy and Megan’s father is talking to them about the things they could do while their parents were gone. He is not speaking directly to them. He is telling them they could stay home or go to the park.

Example Number Two

Their mother interrupted the conversation and told Megan she had to stay in her room during the morning. This statement reveals what their mother wants Megan to do without saying it directly. It indicates their mother’s intentions. She didn’t want Megan to go anywhere. She wanted Megan to stay in her room.

Direct Dialogue

Direct dialogue is used when there is something specific you want to mention and there is action. The characters are speaking to each other. There is action in the passage by what they are saying and wanting to do.

The following example is taken from my book that I have written titled “Strange Happenings.” In a previous passage, Christy and Megan were worried about a conversation they had overheard. They didn’t want their mom to sign the papers. They thought their parents were getting a divorce. They didn’t know the papers involved getting a house in the country. Their parents wanted to surprise them.

Example of Direct Dialogue

“We have to find those papers,” Christy insisted.

“We don’t have much time. Mom said she was going to read them today.”

“I’ve got to find out what’s going on,” Christy said.

“How are we going to get the papers?”

“When we come home from school, we can sneak into Dad’s office and find them.”

“What if Mom’s already signed them?” Megan asked.

“Maybe we should look for them before we go to school,” Christy suggested.

All three of these types of dialogue can be used in your stories.

Direct Address

Another example that Gillian Roberts uses is Direct Address. She also cautions writers to not use it too often because we don’t speak that way in reality. Direct address is when someone you are talking with says your name at the beginning of the conversation. In normal speech people wouldn’t say “Christy, how are you today?” People would normally say, “How are you today?”

Example of Direct Address

After their mother left the room, Megan looked at Christy and said, “Christy, let’s follow Dad again.”

Megan is using direct address by saying Christy’s name before she says the rest of her statement. That is unnecessary because readers already know that Megan is speaking to Christy since they are the only ones in the room.

Also,it is already stated that Megan is speaking to Christy: Megan looked at Christy and said.

Then, she uses “Christy, let’s follow Dad again.” The better way to make that statement is to have said, “Let’s follow Dad again.”

 

Lesson 3: The Writing Process

Clues: Hidden or Revealed

There are other elements that writers use in the supsense, detective fiction, and thrillers to intrigue readers. They are clues, red herrings, and shocker endings.

Suggested Reading Assignment

(1) You Can Write A Mystery by Gillian Roberts Chapter Fifteen

(2) Read Detective Fiction Stories–Shocker Endings by Janet Blaylock. This can be found at the following link: http://www.suite101.com/article.cfm/3056…

Suggested Writing Assignment

(1) Make a list of clues and red herrings you want to use in your story.

(2) Write scenes planting clues in the methods we will discuss in the following reading.

Outlining Your Plot

Let’s first look at clues and how famous authors outline their clues and red herrings.

Clues and Red Herrings

Gillian Roberts reveals her views about clues in her book: “The unraveling of the clues provides much of the basic framework of your novel, so try to have each chapter/scene frame a clue. This will also move your story along.” (95) Writers will plant clues that will help readers identify the villain. However, some writers use red herrings, which are false clues.

Red herrings are used to throw readers off track. For example, Gillian mentions that “[the] actual red herring was smoked, then dragged across the trail to distract hunting dogs from their objective.” (95) Hunting dogs were thrown off track. They were given false clues that led them in a different direction from their prey.

This happens in detective stories. Writers want to throw readers off track so they will plant red herrings throughout the story. However, Gillian Roberts cautions writers to not use many of these because readers might grow annoyed.

You need to know what clues you are wanting to use in your stories that will reveal the identity of the villain. You also need to know what red herrings you will use.

Making a list of clues that you want to use is important. You could write a list of clues, red herrings, and the scenes or chapters where you would like these planted. If you choose to write a chapter outline, you would first write down a chapter and what you want to reveal in that chapter. Then you would give it a title. From that point, you would proceed to the rest of the chapters.

P.M. Carlson also discusses clues in her article titled “Clues, Red Herrings, and Other Plot Devices.” This article is featured in Writing Mysteries edited by Sue Grafton. She says “once I’ve outlined the basic story of the victim and the murderer, together with the unusual motive or unusual murder method that links them, I go back to the victim and think about him or her. Who else might want this person murdered, and why? Several more stories have to be outlined about people who have good reasons to desire the victim dead and who have the means and opportunity to kill the victim.” (161-162) These suspects and their motives are examples where writers can plant clues.

Outlining Your Characters

Making a list of the characters: suspects, victim, and villains will be helpful to you when you begin the writing process. These lists need to contain the character’s names, motives, alibis, clues or red herrings attached to certain characters, and weapons they might have.

Also, answering these questions and placing them beside the right character will help structure your novel:

(1) Who are the suspects?

(2) Who is the villain?

(3) What crime was committed?

(4) How was the crime committed?

(5) What were the possible motives the suspects had?

(6) Who had alibis?

(7) What weapons did the suspects have in their possession?

(8) What clues were given?

(9) What red herrings were given?

(10) Where are the clues and red herrings going to be planted?

You can reveal different suspects and their motives for committing the crime by having a perfect motive. However, if someone had an alibi, then he or she couldn’t have committed the crime. Suspects can even be given certain weapons that will also lead readers in different directions.

Shocker Endings

Shocker endings are endings that writers use to throw readers off guard. For example, a reader may think they know who killed the victim, but when they have reached the end of the story, the villain is actually another person. By reading the required article I wrote, you will understand more about shocker endings. Beware! You will be thrown off guard.

Writing Scenes With Clues

There are several ways that writers plant clues in their stories.

Clues

Gillian Roberts mentions that clues “can be nearly anything-action, gesture, movement, speech pattern, attire-particularly if, in a subtle manner, it does not go with the way the person presents himself or his history.” (96)

For example, if a person is normally calm and handles his/her situations calmly, and then suddenly changes and becomes very nervous and can’t sit or stand still, then that is a clue. The person may be hiding something. He/she could be a suspect or villain.

Another clue might be if a person suddenly leaves town after a crime has been committed. He/she could be considered a suspect or villain. He/she is trying to escape the situation.

In the following passages, clues can be planted in different ways: Tucking them in a paragraph, heighten the drama, clues of omission, the missing weapons, and clues from real life.

Tucking Them In A Paragraph

Lesley Grant-Adamson states in her book Writing Crime and Suspense and Getting Published that “clues to the killer’s identity should be plentiful but may be tucked away in a pargraph that tells the reader about something else of, apparently, greater significance. This way you play fair and provide the information but the reader is gulled into missing it.

Heighten The Drama

Another trick is to heighten the drama immediately after planting the clue; the change of pace forces the reader to go scooting by instead of pondering the lines that contain the clue. This principle of revealing information while slyly distracting attention from it applies to most novels within the crime and suspense genre.” (79) You want to plant clues in such a way that the reader sees it but misses it at the same time. Also, you want to keep the pace moving throughout the story.

Clues Of Omission

Shannon OCork states in her book How to Write Mysteries that “[one of the most famous clues in mystery literature is the dog in the night that didn’t bark, when, if the story that was told of what happened was true, the dog should have. Arthur Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes figured out that one. And a good clue it is, because it’s one of omission; instead of something dropped in, something is subtly and simply left out.” (81) Sometimes writers leave out clues to throw readers off guard.

Missing Weapons

She further states that “[another] famous clue is the murder weapon that can’t be found in Roald Dahl’s short story, ‘Lamb to the Slaughter.’ In this example of superb mystery-telling, the wife kills her husband with a frozen leg of lamb, then cooks it and serves it up to the unsuspecting quartet of police who investigate so long they miss their dinner hour.” (81). This is a popular way of deceiving the police or detectives.

Clues From Real Life

Other clues come from real life. Shannon OCork states, that “[in] true-life tragedy of the kidnapped Lindbergh baby, the lot number of the lumber used to build the ladder became a famous clue. Real-life crimes are a good place to scout for clues, but change them to suit your story.” (81) Clues can be found anywhere. Try searching for clues in real-life situations. All you have to do is change the clues instead of using the real-life clues. Write the clues according to your specific needs in your stories.

 

Lesson 3: The Writing Process

Plotting Your Story

Suggested Reading Assignment

(1) Chapter 8 in You Can Write A Mystery by Gillian Roberts.

Writing Assignment

(1) Write a plot outline.

(2) Write a plot summary of your mini-mystery.

(3) Write a plot summary of your short story.

Knowing how you are going to develop your plot is important in your writing. In this section, we will learn about chapter by chapter outlines.

Chapter By Chapter Outlines

“The next step is to write the outline itself, in as much or as little detail as you wish. I have frequently found it useful to make this a chapter outline, with a paragraph given to describe the action that will take place in each chapter.” (88) Outlining each chapter is what Lawrence Block has found beneficial before he starts writing his books. I have, too. Before I start to write a book, I write a synopsis of each chapter. When I have my chapter outlines completed, then I start writing the novel. Sometimes, I have found that my outline has changed as I start the writing process. When that happens, I change the outline to be the same as what I wrote in the book. It is worth writing outlines because you have a guide that you can follow, even if it is a temporary guide. At least you have something to use. Your outline has to be the way that it is best for you. You can have chapter by chapter outlines or write down different scenes and then put them together. You have to experiment with your outlines. Sometimes your outlines might change after you have started writing your book just like mine did, but that’s okay.

Writing Your Plot Summary

You will need your outlines to begin your plot summary. Once you have everything in front of you, you will need to decide the answers to the following questions:

(1) Where will your story take place?

(2) Which characters will start your story?

(3) Who is the detective, villain, and victim?

(4) What crime will be committed?

(5) What is the motive?

When you are writing your plot summary, you will basically write down the actions that will take place in your story. After you have written a summary, then you will be able to start writing your first draft.

When I started my outlines, I wrote down a chapter and title on each page. Then, I wrote a sentence about each action of the character. For example,

Chapter One – The Intruder

Penny goes home.

Sees her door to her apartment opened.

Fear overwhelms her.

She enters her apartment.

Sees it in a mess.

Doesn’t know who did it or why?

She continues looking in the other rooms.

She enters the bathroom and is stunned by what she sees–a body lying in the bathtub.

She rushes to Abby’s apartment.

They return to Penny’s apartment.

They enter the bathroom.

Penny is shocked–the body is gone.

Penny and Abby wonder what to do next.

Penny gathers up a few things to stay with Abby.

They call the police.

This gives you an idea of what I have planned for my first chapter of the book I have just started writing. Each chapter consists of this kind of synopsis. It gives the plot structure for each chapter.

Now, I know you are going to write a mini-mystery and a short story for this lesson, but the idea is still the same. You can take your outline and write a summary of the plot. You will basically write down the actions without the characters saying anything. All you need to do is summarize the plot. For example, I could take those simple sentences I put in chapter one, and write down the main actions in a paragraph.

 

Lesson 3: The Writing Process

Building Suspense

The next outline is to write the main points of your story. For short stories, you want to outline the main events: characters, setting, plot, protagonist, victim, villain, etc. and what happens to the characters or write summaries of specific scenes you want to include.

For writing a novel, you can use chapter outlines. This can be done by writing down specific events that happen in each chapter. This can also be known as a chapter analysis. This kind of outline helps when you start writing your novel.

Suggested Reading Assignment

(1) You Can Write A Mystery by Gillian Roberts Chapter Eight

Suggested Writing Assignment

(1) Write down the main points of your story.

First Act Of Your Story

Gillian Roberts suggesting that writers “think in terms of stage and screen. Your drama, too, will have three acts. Your first act is roughly the first third of the book. Here you set up and present the crime, establishing the conflict. You also introduce your cast of characters, their relationships and your setting.” (53)

You could write down the first act at the top of a page, then start listing the characters, their relationships, and your setting. Go into as much detail as you wish. However, write down as much as you need to so you can remember what you wanted in the first third of the book.

The Second Act Of Your Story

“The second act, usually the bulk of the book, is devoted to complications and crises; the great middle muddle-the sleuthing in a mystery, further threats and escalating dangers in suspense.” (54)

In the second part of the book, you need to develop the complications and the crises that will occur. Also, you want to keep readers in suspense by planting more clues, red herrings, and more threats or dangers to the protagonist or other characters.

The Third Act Of Your Story

“The third act eliminates more theories, thereby tying up subplots while building to ‘The Big Scene’-that do-or-die point of no return, the crisis when the sleuth finally figures it out and confronts the villain or the suspense protagonist finally meets his demon face-to-face.” (54)

The final part contains the main point of your story. The villain will confront the protagonist. The suspense still needs to build to keep readers turning those pages to the very end of the book.

You will first write down a chapter and what you want to reveal in that chapter. Then give it a title. From that point, you will proceed to the rest of the chapters. When you are finished with this outline, you are ready to start writing your book.

Lawrence Block has also found chapter by chapter outlines beneficial. He says that he has “frequently found it useful to make this a chapter outline, with a paragraph given to describe the action that will take place in each chapter.” (88) When you use a chapter outline, all you need to write are the main points that you want to include in that chapter. This will help you when you start to write your novel.

Building Suspense

When you are writing your short story, you want to build suspense from the beginning. Readers will not want to put your short story or novel down if beginning grabs their attention.

Let’s look at this:

When I mentioned my story beginning earlier, I had Penny enter her apartment building and saw her door slightly ajar. Then she enters the apartment and sees it ranshacked. After that, she sees a body lying in the bathtub. She rushes out to Abby’s apartment. When they return, the body is gone. They start to wonder what is happening. They gather a few of Penny’s belongings and call the police. Penny is going to stay with Abby.

This grabs the readers’ attention. They want to know what is happening with Penny and who the body is in the bathtub. What does he have to do with Penny? Does she know him? Is he a stranger? Who is this person?

If you had a beginning that didn’t grab readers’ attention, they wouldn’t want to continue reading the book. You want readers to continue reading until the very last page.

What is Pacing?

Pacing is one technique that writers use to build suspense in their novels. That means they build up the suspense, and then there is a let down. Then, suddenly the readers are caught up in the action again. If everything was the same all the way through, readers wouldn’t want to continue with the short story or book. You need to pace the action throughout.

Phyllis A. Whitney has written an article titled “Pacing and Suspense.” It is featured in Writing Mysteries edited by Sue Grafton. The plot can have “a strong buildup to a dramatic scene, after which we must allow for a let-down, a rest, before we start building up all over again. That is what pacing is.” (138) The pacing has to be at different levels throughout the book. If it was all the same, it would be boring.

The plot has to be set up like life. Not every circumstance you go through is the same. Things change throughout your life. Sometimes, you’ll experience small trials, then something good may happen. Other times, you may constantly experience trials and become so frustrated that you don’t know what will happen next. You wonder if you will ever overcome these obstacles that stand in your way for happiness. If your life was all the same, you would be bored. Life experiences are constantly changing. It’s the same way with plots. Characters need to experience changes throughout the story. Nothing should remain the same.

How To Build Suspense?

In that same article, the author is showing writers that they need to give a “character a purpose–something she must strive for in every scene–is not always a major problem, but at least something that will lead into the main goal of the character. Sometimes there may really be a situation in which my heroine can take no action on her own. Then I bring on another character who has a strong drive, and perhaps a very different goal, so that she is forced into taking action. Suspense results.” (141) When two characters are involved in conflict against each other, then the suspense begins to increase.

The Unexpected

In another passage she explains that if writers want to build suspense, they can “do the unexpected. If a reader can guess what is going to happen, we lose him. So we push ourselves to discard easy approaches and try to surprise with the astonishing, but logical.” (143)

When something happens that you don’t expect to happen, then you are surprised. As you are reading, you formulate the actions of the characters in your mind. You think you may know what the characters may or may not do, but if something unexpected happens, then you are thrown off guard. This builds up suspense. You begin to wonder what will happen next. Throughout life, the unexpected happens. You never know what will come your way. You could be experiencing some very difficult circumstances, and then all of a sudden something good might happen.

Time Element

Later on, she gives another example of how writers can build suspense. They can use the time element by creating a situation where someone has to race against time. For example, if a child has been kidnapped, and the parents have been notified, they could be given a certain amount of time to locate their child or do what the kidnappers ask. If they don’t meet the time limit, they could lose their child. This action builds suspense. Readers are anxiously waiting to know if the parents will locate their child in time.

I have seen this element used in television shows. One show in particular that I remember was about a young girl who was kidnapped and placed in an underground tube with a limited amount of air and light. She couldn’t move. She just had to lie their and wait for her parents. Her parents had a few hours to locate her or she would die.

That whole incident built up suspense. You wanted to know if her parents would locate her in time. While I watched the show, I could sense the tension in me and sympathize with the girl.

Characters and Their Secrets

Secrets can cause suspense. If a character has a secret, then readers are held in suspense. This can be a “useful device to think about in the planning stage is to give every character a secret. As a writer you need to know about the hidden goals, the past guilts of every character. Such secrets can be used to make your story people behave in mysterious and suspense-building ways.” (144). If characters are given secrets, then suspense starts to build in your plot. People who are acting mysteriously will also build suspense. I’ve seen this technique used a lot in television shows as well as books I have read.

 

Lesson 3: The Writing Process

Scenes: Beginning, Middle, and Ending

In this section you will develop your outlines and learn how to start your short story. The information I present in this section will also help you prepare your outlines for writing a novel.

Suggested Reading Assignments

(1) Detective Fiction Stories–Shocker Endings by Janet Blaylock. Go to the following link: http://www.suite101.com/article.cfm/3056…

(2) You Can Write A Mystery by Gillian Roberts Chapter Eleven: Structuring Your Mystery

Suggested Writing Assignments

(1) In your notebook, you are to write a scene that you might want to include in your short story.

One way you can write an outline is to write down the main points you want to include in these different sections: Beginning, Middle, and Ending. This will also help you organize your thoughts and help you to include the most important information.

(2) Write down the following on separate pages: Beginning, Middle, and Ending. On each page, you will write some major points that you want to include in the story you will be writing.

Outlining Your Scenes Beginning: Catching the Reader’s Attention.

Lawrence Block states in his book that “the first chapter does indeed sell the book. If it is to do so successfully, the reader must be caught up in the story as quickly as possible. Things must be going on in which he can become immediately involved. If you can open with action, physical or otherwise, so much the better.” (111-112) If you start with a scene that will entice readers, then you have captured them, and they will keep turning those pages until the end. If the beginning of the story or book has a boring scene, readers will put the book down and forget it. Readers want excitement.

Gillian Roberts makes the statement that “[scenes] have in miniature everything your novel has–conflicts, characters, a crisis and a change.” (65) Each scene needs to have these elements and to move the story forward. If your story isn’t moving forward, then you’re in trouble.

Make sure when you outline your scenes that you include the elements listed in the passage above.

Middle: Holding the Reader’s Attention.

If you have a great beginning that will entice readers, then you don’t want to let them down by writing a boring middle section. This section is where writers will continue to build the suspense and reveal clues. Also, you need to include in your outline the four elements that you listed in the beginning part: Conflicts, characters, a crisis, and a change. However, the situations the characters are experiencing will be different. Your clues will also be different. You will also reveal suspects and their different motives.

Ending: The Suspense Heightens

Now, you have reached the ending of your story. You will be heightening the suspense as the detective starts to close in on the villain. More clues are revealed, and more action. Finally, you will have a climax where the detective comes face to face with the villain. The battle has begun, and then the ending where the investigation is resolved and the villain is brought to justice.

However, you might be one of those writers who enjoys using shocker endings. If so, you hsould consider rereading Detective Fiction Stories–Shocker Endings to get a solid feel for them. (see the link above)

Structuring Your Scenes

Gillian Roberts mentions how “scenes are essential to fiction. Scenes have in miniature everything your novel has–conflict, characters, a crisis and a change. The situation is not exactly the same at the end as it was at the beginning.” (66)

Writers also need to “vary the length of scenes and the number of characters in them. It’s awfully easy to fall into the trap of having your sleuth slog from person to person, asking questions, getting answers and moving on.” (66) When you have scenes that have different characters and different lengths, then readers will enjoy the story more. It won’t be the same way throughout the book. This becomes boring to the readers. The plot needs to move along.

She also discusses transitions. A transition is what comes between two scenes. It moves the story ahead. When you are in one scene and you need to move to another scene, then you need to double space after the first scene, write a transition, and then continue with the next scene. This helps readers to know that the scenes have changed.

I have seen this a lot in books. Mary Higgins Clark uses a double space between the scenes, and she switches completely to a different character. Sometimes this gets confusing to readers, but it sure keeps up the suspense in her books. I keep wanting to read the book to find out what happened to the previous characters.

In Writing Mysteries edited by Sue Grafton, Robert Campbell wrote an article titled Outlining. In his writing, he develops a scene, he makes “a similar note locating it in a word map of the building, city, or countryside. For instance, in my book about Chicago I like to know what parish, political ward, and police district the build, house, or street corner, is in, even if I intend to fictionalize the locality for some reason or other.” (108) It helps to write down the information you need for the particular buildings you want to use in your stories. When it comes time to write your story, the information will be handy and ready to use.

 

Lesson 3: The Writing Process

Bibliography

Block, Lawrence. Writing the Novel From Plot to Print. Ohio: F&W Publications, 1986.

Conrad, Hy. Whodunit Crime Puzzles. New York: sterling Publishing Co., Inc., 2002.

Grafton, Sue. Writing Mysteries. Ohio: F&W Publications, 2001.

Grant-Adamson, Lesley. Writing Crime and Suspense Fiction and Getting Published. Chicago: NTC Publications, 1986.

Highsmith, Patricia. Plotting and Writing Suspense Fiction. New York: St. Martins, 1993.

Lukeman, Noah. The Plot thickens: 8 Ways to Bring Fiction to Life. New York: St. Martin’s, 2002.

OCork, Shannon. How To Write Mysteries. Ohio: F&W Publications, 1989. Pullman, Philip. Detective Stories. Larousse Kingfisher Chambers, Inc., 1998. Roberts, Gillian. You Can Write A Mystery. Ohio: F&W Publications, 1999.

 

 

Lesson 4: Your Final Projects

You have reached the final lesson of your course. By now, you are ready to write your mini-mystery and your short story. Then, you will learn how to edit your work, revise it, and publish it.

Introduction

In this lesson you will be writing your mini-mystery and your short story. You will also learn how to edit and revise each one. However, before you will practice editing and revising another mini-mystery and a short story.

 

Lesson 4: Your Final Projects

Writing Your Mini-Mystery

Now, you are ready to begin writing your mini-mystery.

Part One Of Your Mini-Mystery

For this suggested writing assignment, you will need your story idea, your list of characters, the description of each character, your setting, theme, and the questions that you want to add at the end of your mini-mystery.

When you have everything in front of you, you are ready to start writing. Remember to stop your mini-mystery at the perfect spot where readers will be left in suspense. You don’t want to reveal who the villain is until the second part of your mini-mystery.

When you have finished writing your mini-mystery, then you will write your questions for readers to think about. Here is a list of questions that you might want to use. You could also write your own questions. There isn’t a specific required number of questions to use. Remember, the mini-mystery that you read, only had two questions. Develop the questions according to your specific needs.

(1) What clues were given in the story?

(2) Were there any red herrings?

(3) Who were the suspects?

(4) Who had the motives to commit the crime?

(5) Which suspects had alibis?

You want to leave the reader hanging until you are ready to reveal the solution.

Part Two Of Your Mini-Mystery

For part two of your mini-mystery, you need to write a short summary of what happened and then take one question at a time and answer it. Give the reason behind your answers to the questions. This is where you will reveal the clues that you planted in your mini-mystery.

You can use the questions that I gave you in the previous lessons, or you can develop some of your own. After you have written the questions, then you are ready to write the solution.

Remember to use a different page for the solution. You don’t want readers to see the solution before they read the story or immediately after. Let readers think about the story first. That way, they will develop their detective skills. It also keeps them in suspense.

Now, you have finished your mini-mystery, questions, and solution.

The next part is to critique your work. Lay it aside for a few hours, and then return to your work. That way, it will be fresh in your mind, and you’ll be able to look at it more objectively.

Good luck in writing your mini-mystery.

 

Lesson 4: Your Final Projects

Editing and Revising Your Mini-Mystery

After your mini-mystery is written, you are probably relieved and eager to send it off to a publisher. However, there are still more steps to come before you can submit it to a publisher. The first step is editing. What if your manuscript was full of spelling errors, or filled with grammar errors? Would you want to send it off that way? Of course not! Now, you will learn how to edit your work. Are you ready to take the next step – Editing?

You will take your manuscript and carefully go over the manuscript and correct the errors that you find in the manuscript.

Here is a list of questions that you can think about as you are reading and editing the material:

Questions For Part One of the Mini-Mystery

(1) Where did the story take place?

(2) Who were the characters in the story? Did they seem realistic?

(3) Were there any spelling errors?

(4) What about grammar? Were the tenses consistent?

(5) What about the questions at the end of Part One? Did they seem okay?

Questions for Part Two of the Mini-Mystery

(1) Were the clues obvious or hidden?

(2) Was this mini-mystery too easy for you to solve, or was it too difficult?

(3) How did Part Two begin?

(4) Were the questions that were listed in Part One answered in Part Two?

(5) Were you satisfied with the way the mini-mystery was written?

 

Lesson 4: Your Final Projects

Writing Your Short Story

Choosing Your Story Idea

In order to write any kind of story, you need an idea. Let’s think about the type of genre you might want to write for a short story. First of all since you are taking a course about writing suspense, detective fiction, and thrillers, then your genre needs to be one of those.

You’ve also learned about gathering ideas. This is the time that you need to take out your notebook that you have been using since the beginning of the course.

Your first step is to look at your list of ideas and choose one that you would like to write.

Your Settings

The second step is to review your list of settings. Where would you like your story to take place? What kind of place do you want? Will it be focused outside, inside, or both?

Your Characters

The third step is to take your list of characters and choose the ones you want to use in this story. Use the following list as a guide. You should have also made a list of your characters and what part you designed for each one. (1) Who is the protagonist? (Detective, etc.)

(2) Who is the villain? What is the movtive?

(3) Who is the victim? What happened to the victim?

(4) Who are the suspects? What are their motives?

(5) Who had the alibis?

Writing Your Short Story

Once you have everything organized, then you may proceed with your first draft.

Remember to start your story with a scene that will grab the reader’s attention and hold him/her until the end of the story. If you start with a boring scene, readers are likely to put it down. A normal length of a short story is 2,000 words.

 

Lesson 4: Your Final Projects

Editing and Revising Your Short Story

Suggested Reading Assignment

(1) Read Chapters 17 and 18 in You Can Write A Mystery by Gillian Roberts.

Suggested Writing Assignment

(1) Edit and Revise Your Short Story

After your short story is written, you are probably relieved and eager to send it off to a publisher. However, there are still more steps to come before you can submit it to a publisher. The first step is editing. What if your manuscript was full of spelling errors, or filled with grammar errors? Would you want to send it off that way? Of course not! Now, you will learn how to edit your work.

Editing Process

Are you ready to take the next step – Editing?

In Chapter 17, Gillian mentions two ways that you can edit your work. First, you can write a sentence for each scene. Then, you can record your manuscript and play it back. That way you can hear what your manuscript sounds like. If it doesn’t sound right, then you need to work on that part.

Editing the Smaller Points

In Chapter 18 of her book, Gillian mentions several points that you need to remember when editing your manuscript. They are active voice, strong verbs, positive form, parallel construction, placing words for clarity, figures of speech, etc.

Check For Spelling

The first step is to check for spelling errors. You need to read over the manuscript very carefully and with an open mind. You need to be objective and willing to search for mistakes. Everybody makes mistakes in their writing at first, so read slowly and make sure that you are checking for any typos or spelling errors.

If you are editing a print out, then it would be helpful to use a red ink pen or marker to correct your spelling errors. If you aren’t sure of a word, then you need to look it up in a good dictionary.

If you are using the computer, edit your work first by reading the manuscript and changing the errors. Then, you can use the spell checker. I want you to learn to edit without the spell checker first because you will catch more mistakes. The spell checker doesn’t catch everything. For example, it wouldn’t catch words like there or their. It wouldn’t know you were wanting one or the other.

Check For Grammar Mistakes

After you have corrected all of the spelling mistakes, your next step is to check for grammar errors. Make sure the tenses (past, present, and future) are the same. You don’t want to change tenses in the story. Everything needs to be consistent. Also, make sure your sentences are complete sentences, that they make sense. Check for punctuation errors. Make sure the words that are to be capitalized are that way. Make sure your sentences end with correct punctuation. Check your commas and other marks.

Check The Characters

The third step is to check the characters. Are the characters and their profiles the way they should be? Are they realistic? If you picked up your manuscript, would you be able to relate to a specific character? Are the situations and character experiences lifelike?

Check The Settings

The fourth step is to check the setting. Is the setting realistic? Can you visualize the setting? Does it seem real to you?

Revising Your Manuscript

Correct your errors in your original manuscript as you did for the mini-mystery.

 

Lesson 4: Your Final Projects

Publishing

You have come to the final step in your writing process. After you have edited and revised your manuscript, then you are ready to submit it to publishers.

First, you need to search for an agent or a publisher who might be willing to read your manuscript. When I am ready to search for a publisher or an agent, I search the Internet or The Writer’s Digest Market Book for someone who is wanting to read manuscripts that are similar to my genre.

When you have located a few agents or publishers, then you need to make sure you have your manuscript ready to send. You wouldn’t want to wait around for a few days to print off your manuscript or search for envelopes, etc.

Gillian Roberts mentions the proper way to send manuscripts to publishers. Read Chapter 19 for more information. Briefly, make sure you have 8 1/2 inch by 11 inch paper that is 20lb weight. Don’t bind your manuscript. Mail it with a cardboard backing and secure with a rubber band.

After I have found a few agents or publishers, then I make sure I have the proper paper, ink cartridge, and the envelopes ready to use. I usually use the bubble envelopes that are large enough to hold the manuscript and cardboard. You want to protect your manuscript so that it is delivered in good shape.

I usually use laser print paper because it makes clear copies. I also use Times New Roman or Arial with a size 12 font. It looks professional, and either one is easy to read.

When your manuscript is ready to mail, then you can mail it and relax. However, you might want to start another manuscript. If publishers like your work, they may want another one.

Lesson 4: Your Final Projects

Resources for Writers

This section is basically about other resources on these genres. I wanted to mention them because I felt they were excellent sources for readers and writers. You’ll have to check them out and see what these sites offer.

 

(1) Falcon’s Pen: http://www.dreamwater.org/art/falconspen… The Falcon’s Pen is a good site that contains mysteries as well as books on writing suspense, detective fiction, and thrillers. Miranda has done a good job with her site. She wants to make her site a complete resource for writers. She’s also open to suggestions on how to improve her site. Feel free to e-mail her and let her know what you think.

(2) The Mystery Reader: http://www.themysteryreader.com

The Mystery Reader is an excellent site for these genres. There are books about Police Procedures, Historical Detective Fiction, Thrillers, Suspense, etc. It contains valuable information to further your knowledge of these genres. I recommend this site highly.

 

Lesson 4: Your Final Projects

Bibliography

Block, Lawrence. Writing the Novel From Plot to Print. Ohio: F&W Publications, 1986.

Conrad, Hy. Whodunit Crime Puzzles. New York: Sterling Publishing Co., Inc., 2002.

Grafton, Sue. Writing Mysteries. Ohio: F&W Publications, 2001.

Grant-Adamson, Lesley. Writing Crime and Suspense Fiction and Getting Published. Chicago: NTC Publications, 1986.

Highsmith, Patricia. Plotting and Writing Suspense Fiction. New York: St. Martins, 1993.

Lukeman, Noah. The Plot thickens: 8 Ways to Bring Fiction to Life. New York: St. Martin’s, 2002.

OCork, Shannon. How To Write Mysteries. Ohio: F&W Publications, 1989. Pullman, Philip. Detective Stories. Larousse Kingfisher Chambers, Inc., 1998. Roberts, Gillian. You Can Write A Mystery. Ohio: F&W Publications, 1999.

 

 

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