Building Suspense as a Mystery Writer or How to Carry Around a Bomb in your Lunch Pail

Crime Scene PhotoA cardinal rule for mystery novels is that the reader must know everything the sleuth knows and the reader and sleuth must realize who the culprit is at the same time. Cheat the readers and they will dig under the fence like a new puppy and never come back. Yet, telling all without telling too much, like a lot of things is easier said than done.

So, the author must continually juggle escalating tension while judiciously parceling out of a plethora of clues – all of them forming a bridge to the villain, but not doing so, until the last page when all the other nefarious suspects have been eliminated, maybe even literally.

As for this avalanche of evidence, is this yellow brick road of threads paved by clues hidden innocuously in a to-do list found at the scene, or on a movie ticket found in the victim’s pocket, or awash in an office aquarium filled with piranhas that have not been fed?

The phrase, pick your poison, could not be more apropos. Simply put, the possibilities for an author to include something that at first glance appears quite ordinary to Susie Sleuth, but which later blooms into a crucial piece of evidence, are as endless and as varied as fish under the sea and not formulaic in the least.

Also, how the murder is perpetrated, and the where can create tension for the reader and reveal clues about both the victim and the perpetrator. Perhaps the murder occurred in an ice plant where a hard icicle was driven into the victim’s brain through the eardrum and the weapon subsequently melted. Perhaps the body of the victim, a member of the jet set, polo crowd, was found splayed like a macabre double-jointed acrobat in a seedy alley strewn with skinny two and four-legged cats and smelling of foul living and gutters leading straight to Hell.

And perhaps most important to the reader is the reason why Susie Sleuth cares about solving a murder of someone she has never met. Maybe the victim was the town’s most hated citizen and one that few will miss, but Susie has a gut feeling (which never fails her) that the killing will not stop with this one bloodletting, that her new lover is next in line and that she (Susie) is the only one who can stop the carnage.

Happy Writing! Until Next Time.

R.R. Harris, author of Double Take, an Island Travel Mystery of Lively Romance and Deadly Betrayal and which is available for Free Kindle download on May 6-8, 2014.

Double Take, a mystery thriller set on the Big Island of Hawaii is loosely defined by a love triangle that devolves wickedly into a red-hot flow of despair, frustration and anger.

Double Take, a mystery thriller set on the Big Island of Hawaii is loosely defined by a love triangle that devolves wickedly into a red-hot flow of despair, frustration and anger.

 

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Now I have got a Plot, What’s Next?

 

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Natalie Goldberg says, “There is no separation between writing, life and the mind,” and I agree with her, at least on most days.
So, let’s turn your wonderful and amazing plot ideas into a first draft.

First, keep your hand(s) moving. Do not pause to reread, revise or attempt to wrest some control over what is pouring from you. Let it flow unfettered and undammed. Simply put, just lose control, no matter how hard that may be. Your writing will thank you for it.

Stuck on how to begin? Start with “I remember…” and keep going. The past, present and future, as well as your dreams are all fair game. Visit them, invite yourself in, get acquainted and sit down for a spell. Listen to their tales without judgement or censorship. Learn from them as you drink them in.

Next,  a caveat – you should not be editing or crossing out at this stage. Leave it, even unbelievable mush will still be there later and ripe for trimming or deletion.

Also, leave your inner dictionaries and style books closed, your spell-check off. Rampaging typos, dangling modifiers and sordid syntax can be corralled during the revision process. Go for the kill shot. If something leaks out that scares the hell out of you and makes you want to delete it before the light of the world shines on it, savor it for such nuggets may be rare but always treasured.

Happy Writing.

“Till Next Time.

R.R. Harris

Author of Double Take, an Island Travel Mystery of Lively Romance and Deadly Betrayal, available on Amazon.Double Take Kindle Cover

How to Jump Start your Writing

If we were to modify a popular expression, we could say, She who hesitates gets no writing done.  Natalie Goldberg exhorts writers to “burn through their first thoughts, coming to a place where you are writing what your mind sees and feels, not what it thinks it should see and feel.”

If the act of starting to write is hard for you, begin with I remember and keep going. If you get stuck, repeat the phrase and move forward again.

Keep your hands moving. Don’t re-read the line you have just written or try to wrangle control of what you are saying. Don’t revise as you are writing. There will be plenty of time for that later.

Don’t edit, censor or cross-out.

Don’t correct typos, punctuation or grammar. That too can happen later AFTER your first thoughts are on paper.

Don’t think or try to be logical. If the naked and the scary and horrible emerge, invite them in for a cup of tea and take down their stories.

Now…that your first draft is down on paper, literally or digitally, let me know how it went, and share your tips and tools for plowing forward.

Thanks for visiting and come back often.

R. R. Harris, author of Double Take, a romantic mystery-thriller set on the Big Island of Hawaii and soon to be available on Amazon.

THE MARRIAGE OF BELIEVABLE CHARACTERS AND ENGAGING SETTINGS

Screen shot 2012-04-16 at 5.23.25 PMWhat makes a character come alive in a news report, work of fantasy, memoir or mystery-thriller?

Readers say they enjoy their lovers and villains, mothers and neighbors to be complicated, passionate, painted in vivid hues, believable and consistent, even if being constantly inconsistent is the character’s only consistency.

“Sitting in black revolving chair, my chin in a rest, my forehead against a strap, and facing an intense light about to be shined on my inner eye, while the doctor at his illuminated glass counter made entries into my record, I turned pessimistic.” ~ Harriet Doerr

The reader could cut the palpable tension in the narrator’s mind with a dull scalpel. Why is Ms. Inner Eye even in the doctor’s office? What conflict(s) might be poised to leapfrog from languorous lounging on a lily pad to violently and irreparably shatter the pristine surface of the pond that has pooled her mundane and entirely matronly 57 years?

We simply have no choice – we must keep reading. We care what happens to this woman. Indeed, she has entered the open door of our hearts as brazenly and uninvited as Goldilocks, is getting comfortable in our heads and is warming her size 10-AA feet on the crackling fire of our curiosity. She is no longer a character in a story, she is someone we either know, or must get to know. Now!

READ ON

Please enjoy the following examples, chew them slowly, savoring every intriguing bite.

“I opened my eyes to the sound of new people brushing past my aisle seat. And looked up to see a colored woman holding a large sleeping baby, who, with the heaviness of sleep, his arms so tight around her neck, seemed to be pulling her head down. I looked around and noticed that I was in the last white row.” ~Grace Paley

“They sat at the Martinique Café, a café frequented by mulattos, prize fighters, drug addicts. He had chosen dark corner of the café and now he bent over and began to kiss her. He did not pause. He kept his mouth on hers and did not move. She dissolved in this kiss.” ~Anais Nin

“I was sitting in a taxi, wondering if I had overdressed for the evening, when I looked outside of the window and saw Mom rooting through a Dumpster. It was just after dark. A blustery March wind whipped the steam coming from the manholes, and people hurried along the sidewalks with their collars turned up. I was stuck in traffic two blocks from the party where I was heading.” ~ Jeannette Walls

“Did Will love Emma? I’m certain he did. The memory of his hand wrapped around my arm and his whisper, this part of her makes you want to hold on, still makes me shiver sometimes when others touched me there, because I remember the longing in his voice to touch his wife there when he was touching me.” ~ Sarah Blake

“I was coming back from the grocery store with two bags of groceries when I saw her there with her dirty-faced toddler. I offered her an orange, then my loaf of bread and jar of peanut butter. I nearly croaked then I heard the sound of crying coming from the cooler on the ground behind her, looked inside to see a baby.” ~ Yvonne Daley

“Blond hair and anorexia were passed down like family jewels to my sisters, but not to me, the brown-haired blob. I did not know who I was or wanted to be, but then again, neither did my parents. My grandparents anglicized their names and left their Jewish heritage behind when they fled Poland to America years before. And don’t even ask me about my immediate family. They just mimicked the Long Island losers they befriended at the WASP Country Club; no, that wasn’t its name, but it should have been.” ~ Becca Chopra

Thanks for visiting. Please come back often and tell all of your friends and colleagues about our Editing Services.

 R. R. Harris

Author of Double Take, a mystery set on the Big Island of Hawaii and set for publication on Amazon, Fall 2013.

Info@Indie AuthorCounsel.com

http://www.IndieAuthorCounsel.com

BEYOND A REASONABLE DOUBT: What is Your Fodder for Writing?

Double Take, a mystery thriller set on the Big Island of Hawaii is loosely defined by a love triangle that devolves wickedly into a red-hot flow of despair, frustration and anger.

Double Take, a mystery thriller set on the Big Island of Hawaii is loosely defined by a love triangle that devolves wickedly into a red-hot flow of despair, frustration and anger.

CSI, Law & Order, Criminal Minds and NCIS are all shows that have thrilled, enraptured and captivated audiences and garnered ratings and the all-important advertising dollars, but as a budding writer of thrillers, I don’t watch them. Am I making a mistake? Could they provide me with who-dunits and how-dunits and the all-important why-doits?

I just served as a criminal trial juror on a case in U.S. District Court that was 2 ½ years in the making. Not a capital murder case, there were no bullet-riddled bodies growing fish at the bottom of the bay, no double-crossed drug deals, no vengeful ex-lovers with long memories and arsenic on their breaths and definitely, no smoking guns – only an empty magazine for an elusive automatic weapon that was never recovered.

Instead, even in a short, four-day trial, there were reams of transcribed phone conversations, dozens of photos of suspicious individuals at crime scenes, a hard-working, flat-footed waitress with a floor safe bulging with $171K in tip money, exhibits of boxes, briefcases and bags in the hundreds, some damning, some almost peevish in nature. The only knife in the case was an all-pink one (I am not making this up) brought in by a well-meaning juror to cut the red velvet cake that she baked to share with the jury members and court staff.

In short, it was not a front page case, especially since during this trial, a nationally notorious, fugitive ex-policeman was holed up cross-country in a mountain lodge, perhaps with hostages and seemingly bent on suicide by cop. So, no bleached-blonde reporters in dangerously high heels lurked outside our hulking courthouse, no helicopters buzzed insistently overhead or satellite trucks dotted the manicured lawn like mushrooms after a rainy spell. Inside Courtroom #6, a usually smirking defendant twirled his caterpillar of a moustache and pulled up his mismatched socks, the harried public defender’s neckties were more convincing than his arguments, the spit-n-polished prosecutor suffered not even the tiniest detail out of place, and a note-jotting jury hoped their kids made it home from school and that their forgetful spouses remembered Valentine’s Day.

Food for fodder? Write and tell me what sparks your mystery-writing juices? What are your ideas for getting ideas?

Thanks for stopping by.

R. R. Harris

Author of Double Take

Is It Time to Have your Book Edited?

Dear IAC, I’ve finished my first draft and would like to have my novel edited. And I don’t want to miss your summer sale. Should I send you my manuscript now or wait till I’ve revised it as well as I can myself?
Confused at the Computer

Dear Confused, It’s always better to refine your script as much as possible before forwarding it to an editor. Then, they can offer a fresh eye on your plot and characters if you’re writing fiction, or the organization of your information if you’re writing non-fiction.

Here’s an excerpt from Joanna Penn’s blog, The Creative Penn, in which she interviews editor Matt Garland, that explains this further.

“If you want to be a successful independent author, I believe that editing is one of the top things you can do to set yourself apart from the pack.

There’s only so far you can go with self-editing, and critique groups sometimes don’t quite hit the mark. In today’s interview, I talk with Matt Gartland from WinningEdits about his tips for editing.

What should you do before engaging an editor?

  • A certain amount of editing should be done by the author before it is handed over to an editor. A good editor still can’t save a bad book, or bad writing. But a book after editing should have more ‘weight’ to it in terms of the characters for fiction, or the content for non-fiction. A professional approach to maturing the concepts as well as the language of the text is part of the editing process. But we sometimes lose perspective when we try to continue editing on our own. We fall into patterns that sometimes it takes someone else to see.
  • First drafts vs. what you give to an editor. Matt quotes Neil Gaiman – first drafts don’t matter but it is a continuous struggle to think this. We naturally want to self-edit as we write that first draft material. But take what’s in your head and as a non-sequential, creative process, just get it on the page. Worry about refining later. The first draft is just about getting something down so you can work it in the subsequent drafts. I talk about struggling with my own first drafts in terms of getting the stuff from my head onto the page. But no one is going to see this draft so we should stop worrying so much. 
  • It is important to only engage an editor when the book can’t go any further in your own hands. You need to mature your ideas on your own. Then pay someone to take it further. This will mean you get the best service and the editor can do the best job.
  • Try using beta readers, lovers of your genre who will read and critique the book which will help improve it before using an editor. Matt recommends friends and family but I think it must be people who enjoy your genre first. They read for free and often, finding authors in your genre to swap books with will help. They give feedback from a reader perspective e.g. plot points, characters, what they liked, what they skippedThen you can revise from there.”

Check out The Creative Penn – Joanna inspires us all to reach for success as Indie Authors. And be sure to create a market for your work as you pen your masterpiece. Download our Free BOOK MARKETING CHECKLIST and other useful info, available when you join our Indie Author Council FaceBook community.

Happy writing!
Roger Harris, editor and consultant

www.IndieAuthorCounsel.com