Tag Archives: character

How To Write a Mystery Novel

Once again, thanks to the insight of professional writer Brad Geagley. He shares how-to  advice for the aspiring novelist. His “How To Write a Mystery Novel” can be read in entirety here: http://bradgeagley.wordpress.com/2012/04/16/how-to-write-a-mystery-novel-2/

This excerpt intrigued me. Hope you find the information helpful as you write:

I like it best when a detective is a flawed man, like my poor, alcoholic Semerket, so that in addition to solving the mystery at hand he must also solve part of the mystery within himself. Like the protagonists in Martin Cruz Smith novels, they also become the seat of moral authority.  All around them are crimes, official corruption, and indifference, but they remain committed to the truth, regardless of how unpleasant it is.  No matter how dark or dismal they are, they become heroic in the process – and your readers root for their success.

In my novel, I’ve done something right — my detective is flawed, committed to truth, and, at moments, heroic. My detective is a she.  To me, that makes character development more challenging; male mystery readers I know prefer male lead characters. I am determined to snag one male fan from my circle of acquaintance for my female character. More on that another day.

Dialogue – Speaking Directly

What does one do with rainy miserable weather on a weekend? Read a book.

A friend loaned me a book more than a year ago. It is a first edition book from his personal library, so I placed it beside the bed to read. Other books were recommended or given to me later and also tidily stacked. I kept my friend’s book on top of the pile. I wanted to take care of it. I also wanted to read it first, when the spare hours presented themselves. Finally, a rainy weekend arrived with weather too cold for other activities.  So, out came the book I’d preserved for this chance.

It is a wonder full (yes, that is exactly what I meant to say) book, lyrically and imaginatively written.  I cannot speed read through this book. There is too much wordsmithing to miss a single turn of phrase. It is an old book (1983) written in a style that is non-existent in the realm of Elmore Leonard-molded authors. It is other worldly thus far, so I assume that deserves the stained-glass word window the author painstakingly puts together a piece at a time.

The title is Winter’s Tale by Mark Helprin.

Do you remember a couple of posts back I confessed my sin of communicating in a very direct manner? In Helprin’s book, I found a segment of dialogue that made me giggle because the character is like me. He doesn’t want to beat around the bush, but urges the other character to get to the point. I also happen to think it is well done dialogue, so will share a snippet of it here. I hope you enjoy it.

    “You know what?” said Issac Penn.


     “You look like a crook. Who are you, what do you do, what is your relationship to Beverly, are you aware of her special condition, and what are your motivations, intentions, and desires? Tell the absolute truth, don’t elaborate, stop if a child or servant comes in, and be brief.”

     “How can I be brief? These are complicated questions.”

     “You can be brief. If you were one of my journalists, you’d be finished by now. God created the world in six days. Ape him.”

     “I’ll try.”


     “All right.”


I will admit that real-life conversation with someone that “direct” feels like an interrogation.  Yes, I get it.

Does Your Reader Care?

Yesterday I made a bold assertion in my post. I said, “What keeps a reader going is his care about what happens to the character, as much as his interest in the story line.” I believe that. And I’ll give a real life example.

I was watching an episode on Animal Planet about abused and neglected animals and the people who rescue them. Early in the segment, an SPCA staff member receives a call about a cat locked inside a house. No one lives in the house. It is for sale. The SPCA staffer calls the real estate agent to let him in the house. Sure enough, an emaciated cat, which is so dehydrated that it is unable to stand or walk, is found. It is barely alive.

Now, let me interject that I am a “dog” person by nature; dog stories captivate me more than cat stories. Nevertheless, I am invested in what happens to this cat. I want to know if the animal survives. I want the cat to make it. I care about the cat.

My concern about the cat kept me watching for the next twenty minutes, through rescues of pot belly pigs (an uninteresting animal to me) and other animals. I thought to turn the channel more than once, but I wanted to know what happened to that cat.

Finally, the program returned to the cat’s tale (pun fully intended). With rehydration by the vet, the cat’s bodily functions returned to normal. Kitty looked like a new creature, healthy and beautiful.

“Yes!” I shout.  I fist pump.  The cat made it.

The point is I sat through a story line that didn’t really interest me for twenty minutes to find out what happened to a cat. The segment writer evoked caring in me for one of the featured characters. That caring kept me involved in the story to find out what would happen to the character I cared about.

Therein is the lesson for the author. Make your reader care about a character. When the reader cares about a character, he or she will stick it out through parts of the story that may be less interesting to find out what happens to the character that matters.