For all of you writers out there who have found mystery writing as your Muses calling, author A.T. Hicks is here to help you! Read today’s guest post and find out how she cracked the mystery novel formula! Thanks for sharing A.T.!
Mystery writing to me was as complex as the Di Vinci Code and as befuddling as Egyptian Hieroglyphics. I didn’t understand how those clever writers did it. How they came up with their daring plots and sub-plots, their nefarious characters and the resolving of the crime at the end. In other words, becoming a mystery writer was as far from my goals as climbing Mount Everest. It just wasn’t gonna happen.
But alas, my own creativity told me, I was wrong…
Now, I’m a very curious person and I’m arrogant enough to believe that I can solve any puzzle I put my mind to work on. Last year–February 2012 in fact–I told myself I was going to learn to write cozy mysteries. You know–those stories where a woman in a small village or town digs out the pie thief and the murderer of that pretty girl next-door–all while knitting mittens and drinking hot toddies. Very cute, right? But I wanted to write my own mysteries; one that was a bit more risqué. A not so cozy mystery series, if you will.
The series would be penned A Peaches Donnelly Mystery.
But before all this fabulousness could start, I had to crack the Mystery Novel Code. After weeks of studying the structure of plot, development of character and general lay of the land of many mysteries, I had one of those illuminating moments where the mystery (no pun intended!) is finally solved. And it was oh, so simple. One can use this formula to write a mystery, suspense or thriller as complex as their mind, and research, can devise.
The Mystery Plot Rules:
1) Set from the very beginning who will be murdered and why. The murder can happen at any time, but you need to have a pretty good idea of who the victim, or victims, will be. IE: Regina is found impaled with a spiked heel the day after her big promotion.
2) Decide who the murderer is. Now, this rule is a little flexible. I have had in mind one would-be murderer, then, after getting deep into the plot, found a better, less obvious murderer. This changes from writer to writer and in the end, you’ll figure out who the best murderer is for your stories plot.
3) Decide why the murderer has murdered this person and don’t give it away! The reason why someone killed someone else can again be as complex or rudimentary or hilarious as you want it to be.
4) Sprinkle subtle clues in from the very beginning and continue to consistently sprinkle clues in most chapters. The clues should always tie neatly–and sensibly!–into the storyline. Important: be sure different clues from the victim’s life or from the crime scene tie in with a word or a line or a theme about the murderer. IE: the deceased was immoral and slept with folk’s men. Show that the killer was a fiery Bible thumper or that the killer was a mousy woman with a gorgeous husband. But in no way should these people be at the forefront of the readers mind as a suspect. A light hand is required here.
5) Sprinkle in red herrings that throw the reader for a loop. These red herrings can be in the form of jealous spouses, angry co-workers or hateful neighbors. IE: Becky had always hated Regina and when she got the promotion she was after, a nasty argument ensued. Three days later, Regina was found murdered with Becky’s spiked heel. In the mind of the reader, this makes Becky a likely suspect. They can also be in the form of something that ties a particular person to the victim. IE: Regina’s ex-boyfriend was had a restraining order levied against him because he was stalking Regina. But remember, none of these obvious suspects should ever be the killer.
6) Don’t forget to summarize what the investigator has discovered throughout varying chapters where our heroine/hero interviews a suspect or discovers a clue(s). Now, this can be done in varying ways, either through a conversation with a sidekick or partner throughout the chapter, with a bit of a mental summery of clues discovered thus far, or a bit of both. This is stylistic and up to you. But it must be done. This way the reader doesn’t get lost in the book.
7) No matter what, move the plot forward! Everything you write should be moving the investigator, amateur sleuth or hard boiled detective inexorably to the killer. The clues should stack up, perhaps leading the reader astray at times, but always leading the reader forward. There’s nothing worse than a storyline that plods along!
8) The discovery of the murderer, no matter how ridiculous or hard-boiled, should always surprise the reader. This is the fun part where all your excellent writing comes together. It should be fast-paced, fun and exciting. It should take the reader on a roller coaster ride of ‘Ohhh–yeahhhh!’ They should be remembering your red herrings and clue summaries.
I view writing mysteries as a person who puts together a thousand piece puzzle would: piece by piece. Each piece should fit neatly into the other to give the reader a tight, seamless ending that makes sense and provides them with a feeling of satisfaction.
There you have it folk. I’ve cracked the Mystery Novel Code now you can, too!
Check out A.T. Hicks novel today!
Peaches Donnelly has a major problem: she’s just been fired. Unaccustomed to filling her days with nothingness, she embroils herself in the murder of a childhood friend. However, standing between her and the solving of this heinous
crime are two pesky daughters, a selfish opera singer sister, the diet from hell and two sexy men she can’t resist.
Add to this bubbling pot a hasty decision to go undercover as a stripper and you have a story rife with drama, laughs and a little dash of danger.
Follow Peaches and the always funny cast of characters in this first installment of a rollicking series of cozy mysteries.
About the Author:
When A. T. Hicks isn’t penning outrageous fiction, she’s shooing a renegade tomcat out of her garden, trying to prevent her escape artist dog from slipping out under the fence once again and negotiating with her teenaged daughter to complete her chores.