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. 

Monday, March 21, 2022


How To Conquer Writer Fear, Deal With It, and Finish Your Story

There are dozens and dozens of reasons to write, but if you ask writers, they’ll tell you they thought about giving up. It’s easy to think about giving up when you’ve been working on a project. Perhaps you wrote ten chapters in your novel but ran out of steam.

At some point in the novel-writing process, almost every author wonders if the story is good enough to keep going. Self-doubt creeps in about their craft. Or, the plot doesn’t seem to work. Or, they’re bored with a character.

What do stalled writers do when they think about giving up?

They hit pause. And then they hit refresh. And keep hitting refresh until the story takes their fancy once again.

Here Are Some Ways To Get Back to Writing

If you’re burned out, don’t force yourself to hold on. You can always find yourself in a temporary slump if you just grant yourself permission to take a break from writing.

This enormous gap in perspective usually happens when you are well into your story, somewhere around the middle, or well into the last act. You disassociate from the story. It feels as though you are high on a cliff looking down and you’ve lost sight of your vision. You cannot evaluate your writing. 

Revisit Why You Are Writing 

You are writing a mystery, creating a puzzle for your readers. Mystery readers are not scrutinizing every sentence for the mot juste or intricate syntax. You are not aiming for a great literary masterpiece. You are writing to entertain your readers. 

Stop Comparing

Your favorite mystery author may have a skill that is not yours. They may pull out the feelz or make the antagonist scary. If that’s not your skill, stop comparing. Your readers will love your mystery for your skills.

Go Back Into Your Story

Read your story, so far, as a reader. Two things will happen. You’ll find you enjoy the story. That means it isn’t drivel. And the other is, as you read, you may find places you want to edit. Do those edits. They’ll get you back into reality mode with your story.

Self-Doubt Is The Number One Writer Fear

Blame it on your amygdala, part of your body’s alarm system. Located at the root of your brain, the amygdala does everything it can—automatically—keep you safe. If there is risk, the amygdala sends out signals to keep your body safe. Creativity is risk. Fear will happen.

You’ll get fear-lessening signals of every kind.

  • My writing sucks.
  • That just-out-of-college and read 10 books editor who rewrote everything was right. My writing sucks.
  • My Mom/Sister/Uncle/Spouse/Best Friend hates it. No one will like it. I should quit now.

You’re a writer. You know what the fears are. They don’t go away. So, if you are a beginning writer, know that these fears are going to pop up. The key is to recognize the fears and calm them down.Best-selling author Caroline Leavitt says in a recent interview on The Writer,

So you can’t listen to what people say. There will always be people telling you “you can’t do this,” or “I don’t like this.” There are so many writers who have gotten 80,000 rejections and then suddenly they sell a book and it’s a huge critical and commercial success. So you never know. Just keep writing.

Self-doubt manifests as self-censorship, so one of the best ways to calm that fear is to keep writing until you find your voice. That unique voice that makes a reader love what you write.

So, keep writing. Don’t get thrown off track. Focus on your current project and your long-term writing goals.

Fear of Rejection

One major element of writer fear is rejection. Just about anyone can trigger rejection fear. You can find yourself in a shutdown of getting your work out, even for help from professionals like editors. So, you can end up not sharing your work, even bits of it, with other people.

  • Other writers
  • Readers
  • Editors
  • Agents

On the one hand, adverse reactions happen. I have writer friends who have received devastating comments from editors who didn’t understand their genre and terse rejection letters from agents. They found others and published their books with success.

Join A Writer Group

One of the best ways to combat this fear is to join a local writer’s group. To start, find a mutually supportive group with fewer than ten people and make certain they are simpatico. Avoid groups with:

  • An overbearing “leader”
  • Without group guidelines
  • A group that doesn’t follow the stated guidelines or allows members to captivate time

Don’t hesitate to leave if the group doesn’t fit.

The people in the group are also writers with the same fears. Every writer has fears.

Other writers understand your fears. You’ll discover that other writers are one of your best fear conquering connections.

So Many Fears

As if self-doubt and fear of rejection weren’t enough, writer and writing coach Jurgen Wolff has identified seven basic writer fears in his book Your Writing Coach:

  • Rejection
  • Inadequacy
  • Success
  • Exposing Yourself
  • Only One Book
  • Too Old to Write
  • Fear of Research

And, I’m sure you, as a writer, can add your personal list.

With so many fears lurking in your writer’s mind, it’s easy to succumb. Writers who succeed keep writing.

The Determination Antidote

Know that doubts are going to creep in. They never go away. But you can work to minimize the fear. The best antidote to writer fear is determination.

Continue to write and not let fear bring your creativity to a halt. Continue to stand up to fear, no matter what—even when fear temporarily wins.

Author and writing coach Joanna Penn calls working on your work the “palette cleanser.” Get the taste of those fears out and work to find your writer voice by continuing to write. She talks about The Successful Author Mindset in a recent podcast. This is a great talk to bookmark, so you can listen when those fears pop up.

Evaluate Your Fears

Realize that every writer has feelings of inadequacy about their work and about themselves. Experience those doubts as part of the writing process.

You’ll find you can deal with the doubts, overcome the fear, and teach yourself how to continue writing. 

Monday, March 14, 2022

 What is Rising Action in a Mystery?

Rising action carries your story from the inciting incident of your mystery to the climax. Rising action uses a number of events to build on the conflict and increase tension, driving the story to a dramatic end.

Your mystery novel has one major goal—to find the villain. Once your detective reveals the villain, your story is over as far as mystery readers are concerned.

Your sleuth’s journey to the reveal comprises the rising action of your mystery. 

The Beginning

The beginning of your mystery introduces your sleuth. Your reader sees your hero or heroine in action and gets to know how they work. 

This section of your story is called exposition. You literally “expose” your detective so your reader has an opportunity to know them and develop an attraction to them as a character before the real action of the story begins.

The Inciting Incident 

Soon after you introduce your protagonist detective, something happens that triggers their involvement in the mystery. That something is called the inciting incident

At this point, your detective makes a commitment to solving the crime. 

The Climax

After your detective’s search for the truth, he or she finally arrives at who the villain is and reveals the villain to other characters and the reader. 

For mystery readers, this revelation is the climax of your mystery. The detective ends their search for the truth. 

Everything In the Middle is Rising Action

Between the inciting incident and the climax comprises the rising action of the story. For mystery writers, this is most of your story. In other words, rising action is the great, big middle of your book.

Rising action in mysteries is your detective’s journey toward revealing the truth. Although you may think of action as fight scenes, that is not the action that happens in a traditional mystery. Most of the “action” is cerebral. The focus is what your detective discovers and how that information brings them closer to the truth.

It’s easier to moderate how the action progresses if you think of it in two parts—the discovery and the narrowing of suspects. 

After the Inciting Incident Discover Information 

The first half of your story is all about your detective discovering the victim’s world. The action rises as your detective learns more and more about the victim and their world.

The detective knows little or nothing about the victim. A cop may be assigned a case. A cozy heroine may only know the victim as a friend of a friend. And, even if the detective knows the victim, the game is reset when they have to discover more in order to discover who the real villain is. 

This section of the mystery’s rising action involves collecting and interpreting evidence, finding clues, and discovering and interviewing suspects. 

As a writer, you introduce the key characters to the mystery and any subplots. And you create a big problem for your sleuth—whatever they do, they are no closer to finding the villain. 

At The Midpoint Regroup

At the midpoint, the main action is that your detective has to regroup. Everything that they’ve discovered so far gets them no closer to finding the culprit. Your detective is discouraged. They may want to give up.

Then something happens, usually rethinking what they’ve learned so far that gives them a new insight. Once again, you detective takes action based on the new insight.

After The Midpoint Narrow The Possibilities 

After the midpoint, your detective re-examines all the information they’ve collected so far. They begin taking action on the information, interviewing suspects for a second or third time, re-interpreting clues and evidence, and rethinking what they previously thought. 

All the action after the midpoint is geared toward narrowing the possibilities. Red herrings are dismissed. Suspects are eliminated one by one. The logical conclusion leads toward the one last suspect who is the villain.

Depending on your mystery subgenre, you may have a conflict that is an action scene. Often, this is a fight with the villain because the villain is cornered.

The rising action from inciting incident onward focuses on the puzzle of the mystery and how your detective, using their unique skills, arrives at the revelation of the villain.

The Climax Ends the Rising Action 

Once your detective reveals the villain in the climax, the mystery is solved. As far as mystery readers are concerned, the story is over. 

Bring your story to a quick conclusion so you leave your reader with a positive feeling about your story. 

Why Your Reader Loves Rising Action

Your reader is there to solve the mystery puzzle. Your challenge as a mystery writer is to keep the puzzle mysterious until the end. 

Rising action in a mystery works when you present puzzle pieces that seem unrelated. The rising action is all about making your mystery mysterious. Everything you do as a writer to create and hide clues and give your sleuth trouble when they interview suspects raises the stakes. Your goal with the rising action is to puzzle your reader. 

At the same time, you want to plant hints to the real villain. Your reader will look for those hints. Part of the mystery-writing craft is planting the hints but hiding them in plain sight. That’s the hidden rising action of your mystery. 

 Photo by mwangi gatheca on Unsplash

Monday, March 7, 2022

 What Is Your Mystery Suspect Hiding?

Difficult Suspects: The Lifeblood of Your Mystery 

The reader wants the suspects in your mystery to help the sleuth find the villain. And so does your sleuth. But your role as a writer is to make the suspects difficult. You want them to mislead your sleuth, lie to protect their secrets, forget important details and cause trouble for your sleuth. 

A mystery story is about a search for the truth. But along the way, you want to create multiple problems for your sleuth. Conflict keeps readers reading. As you create your character background for each suspect, list how a character can confound your sleuth. 

The Suspect’s Story Role

While evidence, clues, and red herrings help your reader keep guessing, the suspects provide personal interaction with your sleuth. That interaction is the story world that keeps your reader turning pages.

Your challenge as a mystery writer is to create characters that challenge your sleuth. Your detective must track down, examine, and determine each suspect’s relationship to the victim. Each interaction with a suspect drives your sleuth—and your reader—toward the final solution.

The Suspect’s Relationship to the Victim

​Each suspect had a relationship with the victim. Use that relationship to provide insight into the victim’s world. But, each suspect also has a private life. That private life drives the interaction with your sleuth.

The more readers see your characters hiding secrets, the more they engage in solving the mystery. Your sleuth works hard to uncover the secrets suspects hide. Your readers will work just as hard as suspects throw up screens and hide personal secrets. As long as you have a firm grasp on each suspect’s relationship to the victim, you’ll help your reader plunge into the clues, relate to the suspects, question their actions, and keep guessing until the end.

Round Out Your Suspect’s Role

To help you know what your suspect hides, ask yourself questions about the suspect.

  • how are they suspicious in your sleuth’s eyes? 

  • What secret do they want to keep secret? 

  • What lie do they normally tell to hide the secret? 

  • What is their backup lie when someone, like your detective, pierces through the first lie?

You’ll end up with not just a picture of your suspect, but ways they can hide information from your sleuth. 

A Primary Obstruction for Each Suspect 

In your character background. Include at least one way a suspect creates a problem for your detective. People are rife with character flaws, so put them to use to baffle your protagonist.

Give each suspect one major way to create conflict for your sleuth. Here are some examples:

  • Doesn’t have a clear picture of the victim, so leaves out important details

  • Lies about something else they don’t want to be discovered

  • An angry, aggressive person who resents any questions

  • A shy, withdrawn character who doesn’t tell what they know

  • An ally of the (yet unknown) villain, protecting the villain’s privacy, actions, motivations, etc.

When you first introduce the suspect in your story, you have an idea of how the suspect will add obstruction to solving the mystery puzzle. You control how the information the suspect gives your sleuth reveals clues. And hides information.

The more you know about each suspect, the easier it is to use a suspect’s character traits, habits, and personality to create engaging and obstructing interactions with your sleuth.

What is Your Suspect Hiding?

When you identify each suspect’s main hidden truth, you’ll enrich your story with engaging characters. More importantly, you’ll create obstacles that make your reader ask questions and instill a desire to keep reading. 

Photo by Alexandru Zdrob─âu on Unsplash