Read, read, read, read. Write, write, write, write. My writing year has been pretty busy. In addition to the nonfiction writing I do for pay, I’ve also been roughing out a mystery. Fiction isn’t something I have much experience writing so I’ve been educating myself by reading as much as possible. Some of what I’ve learned has been what not to do when writing fiction in general, mysteries in particular.
‘If it bleeds it leads’ does not work in fiction. Unfortunately, many of us have heard the advice that we need to start with action. Something exciting has to happen right away to pull readers in. I was guilty of that when I outlined my mystery.
But the reader wants to care about your characters before things get gory. Otherwise, the blood is gratuitous. That’s why cozy mysteries spend several chapters acquainting the reader with everyday life in whatever corner of the world the story takes place. Only when the reader has a feel for the world and genuine affection for the main character does the writer bump someone off.
Description needs to be about more than how the character looks. I know that. Really I do. So I know not to have the character studying her reflection in a mirror or a shop window, unless she’s worried that her make up isn’t hiding her black eye.
See how I slipped that in there. You know that the character has a black eye which means that something happened and maybe, just maybe, you’re a little concerned about her.
Angela Ackerman, co-author of The Emotion Thesaurus and other how-to books, recently wrote a blog post, “Describing Your Character: How to Make Each Detail Count.” In this post, she shows how description can give the reader information about the character’s personality, emotion, and motivation as well as escalate the tension in a story.
Learn the rules for your genre instead of making assumptions. Ninety-nine percent of my writing time is spent creating educational nonfiction for young readers. I know that for a 15,000 word title, each chapter has to be about 1,670 words or my editor will ask for a rewrite. So I assumed that mystery chapters had the same limitations – all of the chapters in a book had to be approximately the same length. Fortunately the ladies in my WOW accountability group set me straight.
Whether you are writing horror, fantasy or a mystery, there are rules that you will have to follow. To learn these rules, read how-tos, top-notch examples of the genre in question, and blogs. Talk to your fellow writers.
Writing a new type of book has definitely been a learning experience. Fingers crossed that the lessons keep coming in a timely matter. At only 6,650 words, I suspect I still have a lot to learn.
To find out more about Sue Bradford Edwards' writing, visit her blog, One Writer's Journey. Sue is also the instructor for Writing Nonfiction for Children and Young Adults. The next session begins November 12th, 2018.