Monday, June 6, 2022

 How to Add Details to Your First Draft to Show Your Reader the Effects of Setting

Details Bring Your Story to Life

Story details ground your reader, making them feel as though they are there-in your story. To keep your reader present in the story, add details to each scene.

You’ll help your reader experience the sensory world in your setting. You guide them into the story world with sensory images that elicit emotional responses.

Details provide the context of when and where the story takes place.

Solid Research Builds Story Details

Your work with details rests with solid research. Know the elements of your setting and search for details that will enliven your scenes.

Details In The Setting

Setting is like a character in your story that has no dialogue. Setting not only grounds your characters and your readers, setting interacts with characters to enhance your story. The setting is what makes readers feel like they are there.

Beginning writers often overlook the depth that setting adds to a story. Setting embellishes the storyline and characters. As you write, you can pull details from your setting research to give your reader a sense of where they are in the story.

  1. Location. This relates to the physical environment where your story happens and what many people consider as setting. Country, region, state, town, Shoreline, lakeside, inner-city, countryside, forest trail, Neighborhood, street, school, county seat, sheriff’s office. Ancient manor, modern apartment, seaside cottage, suburban home. Kitchen, bedroom, patio, dining room, hallway, kid’s room. Wherever your characters go in your story provides ample details to include.
  2. Seasons. Time of year provides details that directly impact characters who march through snow, swelter in the sun, enjoy spring flowers or suffer from allergies, or bask in the slanted light on autumn leaves. Holidays and festivals vary in different seasons as well. Plus, personal anniversaries like birthdays, anniversaries, or death of a friend or loved one.
  3. Time of Day. Morning, afternoon, dead of night, dawn, dusk. Light or the absence of light intensifies the sense of being in the moment in your story.
  4. Elapsed Time. Guide your reader through the story with the passage of time. Is it a few minutes after the last scene or months? What happened in the interim? Keep your reader in the time flow.
  5. Atmosphere. Weather, temperature, and lighting are tangible to your characters influencing how they act in your story. Give readers the details to help them “feel” the story.
  6. Climate. Where your story is located, the geography, will impact the overall climate. Hot and humid. Hot and dry. Cold with fierce winds. Another enjoyable 72℉ day. Do people stay indoors? Are they out and about? Latitude, altitude, prevailing winds, and even ocean currents all influence the setting of your characters.
  7. Geography. Your story setting may be set far, far away from your reader. Help them understand the ecosystem, flora and fauna, land masses, and the climate in your story’s universe. Humankind influences geography with man-made changes like dams, river diversions, bridges, ports, cities and other constructions.
  8. Cultural Environment. Social and political influences surround your characters. Culture, politics influence your story with conventions about family roles, community involvement, patterns of speech, and slavery. These influence your characters’ sensibilities and the way they interact with other characters.

Thorough background research is your encyclopedia of details. Keep your background notes, so you have your collection of details on hand as you write.

Edit for Missing Details

When you are in the flow of writing your focus is building the story. Add missing details during the editing process.

Just as you edit for strong verbs or clunky syntax, go through your story for details. Check each scene for each of the five senses. Each of the five senses has a unique and powerful impact on the reader. Aim for sensory elements in each scene.

Aim for at least three sensory elements in each scene. Be sure to vary the senses in sequential scenes. If you have sight, sound, and taste in one, create a different mix, like smell, touch, and sight in the next.

Avoid long, descriptive narrative passages and choose to add your detail words throughout the scene. The idea is to enhance the reading experience at each moment rather than “tell” information. For example:

Change: Outside the house, wet leaves blanketed the ground, after the downpour. (Telling)

To: Wet leaves clung to Laura’s boots as she crept around the slippery mud puddle toward the house. (Showing)

Create Your After-Flow Details

In your first draft, you may miss sensory details as your focus is storytelling. That’s why you need to edit with a specific focus on details. You’ll learn to increase sensory language without taking your reader out of the story. At the same time, your book will fill with small details that add up to sensory engagement for your reader.

Photo by Lucinda Hershberger on Unsplash

Originally published at on June 7, 2022.

Monday, May 2, 2022


Mystery Writing Research Guidelines

Doing thorough research is important when writing a story. Although research can take many forms, great writers make sure to know about the topic they’re writing about. They interview people, they go on-site, and they read extensively to gather background details.

Readers must believe what they are reading is true. To make the details true in your story you need the information to write realistic details. Readers enjoy your book when they can thoroughly immerse themselves in the story. Research is how you make the story world real for your reader.

Know The Two Phases of Novel Research

You need two areas of research to create a believable story world.

  1. Broad background research before you write
  2. Specific scene details as the story progresses

In the first phase you gather information for a broad and deep understanding of the story world. You may use maps, or study a culture, or investigate weapons.

In the second phase, you need a specific detail to finish a scene. With all the background research you may have done, you discover an area where you need details. Does a Glock have a hammer? Do they eat cheese stakes in Georgia? Which dog breed excels at cadaver work?

Research Before You Write The Story

You’ll need background material for your first round of research. You may look for settings, like hidden alleys or a great beach. Or, murder weapons or poison. Or, the psychology of being a mistress. Or, how to clean a Sig. Or, pharmaceutical drug research lab procedures.

Base your research requirements on your story premise.

Gather Broad-base Details

The aim of the first research is to discover background that will enrich the story for your readers. You are in discovery mode. When you find details, store them away. For beginning writers, know that 80% of your research will not show up in your story. The reverse of this that when you want a detail, you will have material to enliven your characters and enrich scenes.

Feet On the Ground

​​While an online search, will give you generic information, there’s nothing like going to the place of your story.

It doesn’t take much to explore your story’s location. You’ll need:

  • An open mind to find settings
  • A camera to record your discoveries. Most mobile devices have a camera capable of capturing what you need without the expense or weight of a camera.
  • A notebook to record impressions, sounds, smells, and other sensory details, plus any scene ideas prompted by the location.

You will discover details that no amount of online searching will offer.

  • what your character(s) know and don’t know
  • route shortcuts that may offer surprises for your action
  • interior details of buildings, rooms, grand halls, and back kitchens
  • Word of mouth from residents can give you new resources and introduce you to specialists.


As you meet people and tell them why you are visiting, you’ll be surprised at how people help you with your background research.

They’ll refer you to others. You should talk to my neighbor. He was here in the 50s, has a passion for hand weapons, grows herbs, knows all the bars. They will offer details you would never have considered on your own.

  • They’ll do research for you, offering magazine articles or websites that address specifics of your story
  • You’ll taste authentic food different from the food in your home
  • Find surprises just from being there and your conversations

Online Resources

Google is a great place to start. But sometimes you need more detail or scholarly background.

Google Scholar gives you access to articles, book excerpts, and abstracts that won’t display in regular search results.

If you can’t get your feet on the ground, Google Earth displays very detailed images of cities and towns. Plug in a zip code or city to search a certain area.

Need a mansion for a rich villain or a humble condo for your sleuth? Try Redfin or another real estate listing service. Images of exterior and interiors are yours for the asking. Be sure to save your images to your research folder. These properties sell. ​

Books and Print Materials

Build a personal reference collection of books you can grab to enhance your overall knowledge and gather specific details.

As you search for just the right answers you may collect details from many sources: travel brochures, firearm manuals, used bookstores, government websites, maps, documentaries, medical journals, guidebooks, news broadcasts, trade magazines, public trials, almanacs, memoirs, regional histories, and other discoveries you find.

Research During Writing

​Story scene-specific research arises when you are writing a scene and don’t know the answer. You may need to know how a device works or the best transportation to get from one side of town to another. Or, you may want to know how an off-duty detective carries a weapon.

You’ll use the same tools you use for the broad background research. And you may find that direct connection with people will give you the most realistic story detail.

How to Know When to Stop Research

Research can lead you down rabbit holes. You could spend years doing research. Your main goal is to write the story.

Beginning writers can feel that they don’t know enough. You can get trapped in an endless search for more information. Gather basic information and then start writing.

Because you won’t use 80% of the research you’ve done, the best approach is to begin your story.

Let the Story Guide the Research

No matter how much research you do, as you are writing you’ll discover details you want to know. Rather than trying to know everything before you start, do your general background research, then let the story guide the details you need.

As you write, you’ll discover needs you had not imagined. So, instead of attempting to get everything you need, collect general background. The story will tell you the specific details you need.

Photo by OMID VISUALS on Unsplash

Originally published at on May 3, 2022.

Monday, April 25, 2022

 Read to Write: 6 Benefits to Improve Your Writing Abilities

One of the best ways to become a better writer is by reading. By reading, you can learn how to improve your writing through observation. You can also learn about new techniques and develop a unique style for yourself.

If you want to become a better writer, books can get you there. No matter the genre, reading is an essential piece of the puzzle for writers.

Read to learn creative writing strategies, word choice strategies, and syntax control that will supplement your own writing abilities.

Reading Expands Your Thinking

While you may think of reading to discover style or vocabulary, at the highest level, reading expands your thinking. Reading generates divergent thinking. Divergent thinking generates creative ideas.

Divergent thinking explores many possibilities and solutions in a non-linear process. While you are reading, you form new ideas.

You expand your thinking about your current writing project or discover ideas for a subsequent project.

Reading is an idea generator.

Reading Refines Your Critical Thinking

Because you discover a wealth of ideas, you expand the choices for decision-making about your own writing. Decision-making is the process of making choices by gathering information, assessing alternative resolutions, and choosing the best option as the final resolution.

What makes a great book for you? How does your favorite author use theme or subtext? If you can critically assess a book and determine what makes good writing good, you will be better able to bring a similar thoughtfulness to your own work.

As a writer, you have a multitude of choices about how to construct your mystery novel. From characters and dialogue to tone and sentence length your choices result in the final version of your story.

Reading Reveals Different Writing Styles

Reading different styles of books exposes you to a variety of mechanics and stylistic choices that make various genres of writing work. That is why it is important to read outside of your own genre, mystery.

Style is how you tell the story. You may have a great plot for your mystery, but unless your style is engaging, you will lose readers.

Reading a variety of styles helps you make stylistic choices for your own work and develop your own unique writing style.

Reading Demonstrates Grammar in Context

Grammar in context shows you how other writers communicate with the use of sentence structure, phrasing, and punctuation.

Without studying a grammar textbook, you’ll see how subordinate clauses embellish a thought or how a sentence fragment emphasizes a point.

Reading a wide variety of books will probably teach you more about grammar usage than any textbook.

Reading Inspires Fresh Ideas

Regular reading exposes you to new ideas and techniques. You reinvigorate your creative juices and inspire new ideas for your writing project.

The first-person narration is filled with subtext that would be difficult to write in a third-person point of view. The staccato sentences imply urgency even when they fill the story with details.

Reading Expands Your Vocabulary

Words are the building blocks of writing. Reading exposes you to new ways to use familiar words and introduces new words that you can incorporate into your own writing.

The more words you know, the easier it is for you to use the right word as you write. Your writing will flow without you having to stop to search for the right word to express your idea.

Read as a Writer

Reading is a step in the writing process. Reading makes stories vivid, human, and readable. Reading teaches you a lot by providing necessary information and the opportunity to think about what you have read and how you feel about what you’ve read.

Reading can also shape your initial thoughts about your current writing project. Many times, you will find yourself thinking about how your character felt or what your protagonist wanted before you pick up your pen and start writing.

The more you read and use specific writing techniques to analyze a text, the more you will improve as a writer. And while these are just a few methods to help you develop your own style, they’re just a small sample of why reading is so important: a well-read author is a well-rounded author, meaning you’ll likely develop your own voice (and style) as a writer.

Photo by Attentie Attentie on Unsplash

Originally published at on April 25, 2022.

Wednesday, April 20, 2022


Your Mystery Villain in Hiding

Mystery writers create hidden villains. They are part of the mystery genre reader expectations. Unlike suspense or thrillers where the protagonist knows the villain often, from the beginning, in a mystery, revealing the villain is the climax of the story. The final puzzle piece falls into place.

Know Your Villain to Hide Them Well

Careful planning helps you plant clues in your puzzle. In order to do this well, you need to know your villain.

Your villain needs to be more than a bad guy or gal, they require motivation and a worldview. In the villain’s mind, the crime they commit is logical and even the right thing to do.

The more you, the author understand the villain, the better you can write around the obvious by creating subtext, misstatements, and actions that seem appropriate in the story moment, but hide the villain’s true intent.

Use Your Character Background to Go Deep

For most of the story, the villain is one of several suspects. Create a rich background for your villain. You’ll give yourself a variety of puzzle pieces to drop into your story. Go beyond the villain as a character role. Give her a name, a background with relationships, physical fallibility, and emotional weakness. And, remember from the villain’s point of view, they are right.

Aspects to include in the villain’s character background:

  • How the villain relates to other characters (suspects)
  • The lies he tells to hide his secret
  • His stated beliefs in dialogue
  • How other characters see his relationship with the victim
  • The action, clue, or dialogue that is misread by the sleuth
  • The action, clue, or dialogue that reveals the murder to the sleuth

In your background, focus on the relationship between the villain and the victim. Their relationship is the basis for the murder and the sleuth’s involvement. Think of ways the two connected, then the ways things went wrong, and finally the one incident that tipped the villain to murder.

Hiding to Reveal

Experienced writers know that rich background allows for opportunities to use details as they are writing. Even you, the writer, may not know which details you will use in your mystery until you are writing.

Once you paint a detailed portrait in your character background, think about ways you can drip details and, at the same time, keep your reader from guessing whodunit.

Play with these successful ways to drip clues about your villain and still keep them hidden.

Sequence Diversion

Put the real clue right before the false one. Readers and your sleuth often focus on the last clue presented. If you are getting started with mystery writing, this tactic is a great place to start. Mention or show the clue first and then immediately focus on a different clue or red herring.

Secret Emphasis

Emphasize the unimportant, but de-emphasize the clue. The reader sees the clue but doesn’t see what’s important about it. For example, your sleuth may see the value of a company report and the statistical details but doesn’t look at the man who researched and wrote the report.

Before It Counts

Early on plant the clue before it has any context. Your sleuth may walk by a man cleaning his yacht with chemicals before a business partner dies of toxic chemical poisoning. Carolyn Graham uses this tactic in her Inspector Barnaby mysteries.

Missed It

Your sleuth misinterprets the meaning of a clue. You villain lies to hide a secret. Your detective believes what the villain says at the moment. But what the villain says points to his act, even though he lies. This technique is a great tool to use with a flawed sleuth whose flaw keeps her from seeing the real meaning.

Piece by Piece

A time-release method to scatter clues about the villain in different places throughout the story, then mix up the logical order. Your sleuth finds an empty letterbox while visiting the villain. Later she finds six letters hidden in the closet. She has an “epiphany” when she remembers the empty letterbox.

In Plain Sight

Create a cluster of clues and squeeze the real clue in with all the others. Hide the clue in plain sight. While your sleuth interviews the villain as a suspect, they rattle on with false clues, but one real clue is hidden in the cluster. This technique works well in a story with multiple suspects from Agatha Christie’s Murder On The Orient Express to John D. MacDonald’s hard-boiled Travis McGee (pick one).


Draw your reader’s attention away from the villain. The sleuth and the reader follow a false trail. A suspect who seems like the most evident villain is not the real trail to the villain. In Adrian McKinty’s The Cold, Cold Ground, the clues seem to lead toward a serial killer who targets homosexuals. Not the case at all.

Camouflage with Action

Camouflage a clue with action. Just as your sleuth glances at a scrap of paper on the floor, he’s hit from behind. In the ensuing action and consequences-a trip to the hospital, a missed appointment because of time in the hospital, etc.-your sleuth overlooks the clue that points straight to the villain. Jo Nesbø uses action camouflage in his Harry Høle series.

The More You Know, The Less You Show

Every mystery has three main characters-detective, victim, and villain. When you create a full, detailed character background for your villain, you’ll be ready to plant villain clues with multiple details. They all add up in your character background, but they will be disjointed when you sprinkle them throughout the story.

Creating a multifaceted villain is paramount to writing a mystery where your reader has the clues and says, I should have guessed. Your craft keeps the villain hidden until the end.

Photo by Icons8 Team on Unsplash

Originally published at on April 20, 2022.

Tuesday, March 29, 2022

 How To Finish Your First Mystery Novel

Facing the Long Haul 

I want to talk about finishing your novel and the struggles that can happen and how you can actually get it done. It's a big project.

I have two mystery writing groups. One is the group for students of Write A Killer Mystery and the other is an open group about mystery writing. What I see is people without a plan can struggle with getting their novel finished.

So, let’s delve into things that can happen and steps you can take as a beginning mystery writer to actually get to the end of your novel.

97% of the people who start a novel never finish, and I don't want you to be one of those people. I want you to be part of the 3% who actually finish their novel. It. It's a big project, and it's going to take a lot of time. It's going to demand commitment on your part. Without commitment, it's not going to happen. 

Ignore Perfectionism

One of the biggest obstacles when you first start writing a novel is to seek perfection. You want to write perfectly the first time around. 

One of the words might not be right and you want everything to be wonderful (think perfect) for your readers.  But at the beginning, when you're writing the first draft, just let stuff go. 

If you think a passage needs a better word, just put a marker there for that word and keep writing.  I use four X's, but you can use anything. Then I can search through the entire manuscript and find those places that I want to augment. 

Your very first goal is to get to the end. So just put perfectionism aside and work on getting to the end.

Have a Story Concept

To begin, you need that mystery concept. You may have an idea. But there's a difference between an idea for a story and actually writing the story. 

This is where so many people get stuck. 

It's better if you have a plan, even in your head. I've talked to a lot of people who call themselves Pantsers who write by the seat of their pants and don't have an outline. But even so, they have an idea of a plan in their head what they want to have happen and who the characters are. 

Whether you're a pantser or an outliner you want to have a basic idea of the story. Especially for a mystery, it helps to know the end. 

Know Your Characters

You want to know who actually committed the crime. 

Your job will be to work through the whole novel, to get to reveal the killer, the villain of your story. You want to know who the basic characters are. You want to know that villain. You want to know your sleuth. You want to know the victim. You want to have suspects. 

Have an idea of who the characters are and what their personalities are like.

Make Time to Write 

Make time in your daily life to write. That means that almost every day. Life happens, but almost every day. 

Writing is how you work on your novel. 

Even if there's a day where the day is full, and you only have 15 minutes, there are things that you can do to help move your story forward.

  • you can write an outline for the next scene. That you want to write. 

  • You can add to a character's profile and build more detail about a particular character.

  • You can brainstorm a location you can for mysteries

  • you can brainstorm clues 

  • you can brainstorm how a suspect responds to your sleuth 

  • You can create a timeline for your character’s main story events. 

Even in small amounts of time, there are things you can do. So if 15 minutes is all you have, don't let it go by. Use that 15 minutes to work on some aspect of your novel

Make a Story Plan 

Outlines help your writing go faster.  

I work with a software called Plottr. It's amazing how many people who were plot Pantsers now use that outlining system to work on their novel—even if they write the whole novel by the seat of their pants. 

When they get to the editing stage. They use it to fill in the gaps in the story, the plot holes, to smooth out the story.

On the other hand, if you outline the story before you write, your writing goes faster because you don’t have to stop to wonder what happens next.

Write The First Draft 

Here’s the hard part, the long consistent part—write that first draft. 

Start at the beginning, get through the middle, and get to the end to get that first draft done. You aren't going to finish until you do it. 

You're not going to believe how much getting to the end means.

There are things you can do in the editing stage to go back and fix. But while you are writing the first draft, you don't have to figure all those things out.

I can't stress enough, just get the story written. 

Then you'll have a much better idea of things that you want to build. 

  • find plot hoes, 

  • ways to add to the story

  • when you find a long narrative passage 

  • a way to add a little mini-action scenes to spice things up 

but you don't worry about those fixes in the first draft. 

The first draft is not perfectionism. The first draft is getting the story told. You will feel a great sense of accomplishment when you do that.

Prepare for the Big Hump

Sometimes there's a place in the story writing process where you feel stuck. That stuck feeling is part of the writing process. Don’t give up.

It happens to all writers. So another thing I want you to know is all writers go through this novel-writing process. 

What happens is that the story can feel stuck or you lose the motivation for the story. It’s often because you don't know where this story's going. That happens usually someplace after the midpoint in that third section of your story. 

There are things that you can do to help you get through that stuck place. 

  • writing an outline of what happens next

  • and then what happens next and 

  • what the reversals are and 

  • what the twists might be, 

  • digging deep into that part of the story 

Now you can keep writing. Planning that section where you get stuck can help you keep going. 

Want to Finish Your Story

One thing that happens when people give up and join that 97% is they aren't motivated to finish the story. You do need motivation. 

One of the ways that you can help yourself with motivation is to connect with other writers.

Some people use a writing buddy. You each make a commitment to a certain amount per week or time writing, or however you arrange the commitment. Also, you may meet once a week to talk about what you've been doing and what your plans are for the next step in your story.

The benefit is you just get that emotional support to know that you're on your way to finishing your story. 

Another way is to join a writers group. Learn how to find the right writer's group because the wrong one will be bad. You can get emotional support from a writer's group and make new friends. 

It is critical to keep your motivation going. Motivation will help you finish that story as well. You want to finish that story.  

Without motivation to finish as a goal, you're not going to get there. Motivation is a big part of getting to the end.

The reward is absolutely fantastic when you finish your story. It's the great feeling of I did it. I finished.

If you're like me, you’ll be motivated to write another novel. 

But of course, the first one is the big challenge. So I just encourage you to do it. Do it, write that mystery novel.