Meet Angela Kay as she stands on the cusp of her first novel coming out, The Murder of Manny Grimes, and lays out the important elements in writing for one of the biggest genres out there.
I’m looking forward to writing a mystery one day, and I know a lot of you are, too, so let’s learn a little about it from our friend.
I remember a few years ago, I met a writer at a conference. Her writing consists mainly of comedy through her fiction, nonfiction, and children books. After she and I got to chatting, I informed her that my genre of interest lies primarily in mysteries. She told me that she loved reading and watching mystery/thrillers, but she wished she knew how to write them. My thought was “surely someone who has perfected the craft of writing as she had could write mysteries.” Well, over the years of writing my debut, The Murder of Manny Grimes (due out soon, so if you want to keep a look out, “like” my FB page, Angela Kay’s Books.), I realized that
writing a mystery is much harder than my small mind made it out to be!
Learn the hard, frustrating way, right?
So, I learned the best way as I could: as the years crawled by as well as trial and error. Honestly, I’m shocked that I remained sane.
For those who want to learn the wonderful craft of mystery writing…
It doesn’t matter whether it’s cozy mysteries, hard-boiled crimes, or somewhere in between. The concept is pretty much the same.
For some novels, we know who did it right from the start. Either the author tells us because it’s their intent, or they don’t hide the clues well enough. For some, authors expertly spin the tale so when we do find the culprit, we want to throw the book across the room and shout I should have known! Finally, some write the story and by the ending, they say “this person did it there you go.” Only then we stare at the page like “oookay…I never heard of this character before…”
Personally, I like to solve the crimes along with our hero. I hope my books are that way. But the only way for me to know is for people to buy my novels and leave me feedback (without spoilers) once it’s on Amazon or Barnes and Noble–or email me directly of what they liked, they didn’t like, or they wished was included. That’s one thing that’s alike in all genre of novels: we like to hear your feedback. I can’t speak for all authors, but
I personally want to hear feedback because I will take it into consideration while writing my other novels. After all, I want each writing to be better than the last.
I write for myself, but I also write for my readers. This is a profession…a very difficult profession…that I have always been passionate about.
So for those of you who wants to master the wonderful craft of mysteries, which is one of the highest selling, here are my suggestions.
1) Research. Research. Research.
Readers wants a sense of realism, right? We may be writing fiction, but unless it’s science fiction, then a realistic story is the way to go. But while keeping it real does not mean you can’t embellish it. A typical lawyer may just question witnesses or their clients in addition to pushing paper, but it’s boring unless he’s searching the judge’s chambers in the dark for clues that he’s being paid off by the DA’s office to throw a guilty sentence. In my second manuscript, I wrote the first draft of a serial killer thriller. I’ve researched by watching shows such as Criminal Minds, NCIS, and real-life stories. I even watched countless of movies and documentaries about Jack the Ripper, Ted Bundy, etc. I researched so many serial crimes that I pretty much dreamed of them.
2) Plant enough red herrings.
This can be hard to do at times. We don’t want to give too much away, but we want to give readers room to guess. Maybe in the beginning of the story, you mention three characters that wear glasses, then later there’s a scene in the killer’s POV and he’s also wearing glasses. We’ll remember that three characters have glasses…so there’s three suspects. Then, later on, you mention the killer wiping his brow from relief with a handkerchief and you remember two of the characters with glasses has handkerchiefs…you get the point. My publisher for my debut didn’t think I had enough red herring, so he allowed me to tweak the story just enough. Since he’s a lover of mysteries, I welcomed his advice.
Red herrings are tricky little creatures…in my own opinion! You don’t want to give too much, but you also don’t want to give too little.
3) Here’s where the joy of trial and error happens.
Some writers know how their stories will end, some just let the story flow. I’m kind of in-between. For my debut novel, The Murder of Manny Grimes, I knew who the killer was from the start. But as I wrote, I had zero clue about why the victim dies. I rewrote the entire manuscript three times before I finally found out why. For my second book, I studied why serial killer kills and how they did, ultimately deciding how I wanted the book to come to an end. Because I got the whole why, who and how down,
I managed to write my second novel in less than a month.
For Manny Grimes, it took seven years to complete. The best advice I can give is to try both ways. See what works. I like to know the whole who and how, first…then the rest of the story, including the capture, will come along, and may even surprise you.
4) And finally, when you’re rereading, make note of your evidence.
They need to remain consistent as the story flows. I recheck my work by letting my computer read it back to me. I’ve caught many errors and holes by doing it that way, rather than reading to myself. If you’re unsure about what a detective would do in certain points of the novel, it’s back to more research. The best thing in such situations is ask someone in the profession rather than relying on Google. While writing my serial killer thriller, I kept in contact with someone from the FBI. She went above and beyond to give me the answers I needed.
5) Ask a friend or someone who loves mysteries to read your book.
This is something we all need to do for many reason. Yes, it’s best to have others that don’t know you to read your book and give you feedback. But, if you’re like me and have trust issues on your “baby,” then find a trustworthy friend. They may be able to recommend a friend they trust. And if you trust your friend, then surely you can trust theirs…right?!?
So, there you go, my five wonders of wisdom to mystery writing.
Yes, I write mysteries, and no I’m not an expert. I’m an independent author who is learning as I go. And the way I can learn is through feedback. So, help me by getting on Facebook and “like” Angela Kay’s Books (click HERE). If you’re a mystery fan, you’ll be able to find out when my book will be available. It’s at the printers now and will be on the market soon. As of right now, I don’t know the exact date. And invite your friends! Help me spread the word. That’s the only way I’ll be able to get noticed! Not only will you learn about my own writing projects, you’ll find that I post book reviews and other fun things as well!
What a terrific post! I hope all of you will join me in liking Angela’s Facebook author page and will check out her book when it’s available!
Check this out.
I asked Angela how she got the FBI to help with her novel.
I emailed the FBI asking if there was anyone willing to help me out with fact checking for my book. I just had to give them information they asked for such as what my project was, etc (I can’t remember everything), then I started emailing a woman in Washington back and forth. She was super helpful!! I was amazed!
THAT is initiative! I’d have never thought to email the FBI and have them help me with a book.
Also, I asked her about having a computer read your book out loud to catch mistakes (in the past, I have recommended reading your MS out loud to yourself):
It was the computer that reads me my book, but some Word programs have it built in, however, since mine is 2007…way outdated, I downloaded a program called AudioDocs. The voice is a bit dull, but does the trick. I find that if something’s reading it to me out loud, I tend to catch more than I would reading it to myself. Even though it is an imperfect machine and doesn’t get every word correct. It just makes sure I’m reading everything and not absentmindedly skipping.
I love it when we get helpful tips like that!