Ten Tips On Writing Mysteries

First off, these writing tips are not just for mystery writers. Gail Bowen is the author of the Joanne Kilbourn mysteries. She’s written 16 of them so far and if you’re a fan of Joanne Kilbourne you’ll learn a lot about her in this book. Secondly, the tips aren’t just for writers of series although quite a long section in a chapter titled Creating a Robust Series is devoted to that.

  1. When writing take breaks. Well, this is hardly new advice but the author suggests writing for twenty-five minutes and then take five-minute breaks. I’ve tried it and set my timer for twenty-five minutes which works marvelously well and am always surprised at how quickly the time goes by and how I get into my writing although my five-minute breaks tend to be much longer.
  2. Write early in the morning. She gets up at five am to write claiming that two hours of writing in the mourning is worth four hours of writing later in the day. I’m with her on that although not that early!  
  3. Select brief but telling details about weather and its effect on character in order to create a mood to draw the reader into the story.
  4. Make your characters deeply flawed so that your reader will be able to identify and connect with them.
  5. Use minor characters to lighten the mood while still keeping the plot moving.
  6. Give your first draft a rigorous edit before sending it off. Rigorous being the operative word.
  7. Try to give your book a title as early in the process as possible. This will guide you in keeping to the theme of your novel.  
  8. Almost every piece of writing can be improved if you cut it by a third (ouch!)
  9. Your first obligation as a writer is to offer a powerful human story.
  10. If you can’t imagine your life without writing, then you’re a real writer. Stay the course.

Bau: Let me Know When It’s Over

My Doggy Mom is still working on her book. Because she wants to change the title I am forced to endure hours lying next to her as she keeps searching for a suitable one. It’s enough to put a dog to sleep. I wonder if she spent that much time searching for my name.

Doggy Mom: Well, in fact, it was easier. You are of French origin and I wanted you to have a literary name.

Bau: As if I can read French!

Doggy Mom: I thought of Hugo, as in Victor Hugo, but I didn’t think that my daughter’s friend, Hugo, would appreciate me naming you after him.

Bau: He should have been honored.

Doggy Mom: So, anyway there was Baudelaire but that was too long. So I shortened it to Bau. Here in Montreal where almost everyone speaks French, when they ask what your name is, they think I mean Beau, which means handsome.

Bau: Oh, I quite like that!

Doggy Mom: Fits you perfectly. Anyway back to my book title.

Bau: Oh yeah (Yawn, Yawn). What was wrong with The Set Up? Lots of books have that title.

Doggy Mom: That’s the problem. I don’t want my book to get lost in the slush pile.

Bau: If that’s the case, you should have checked before wasting my time.

Doggy Mom: You’re right. Learn from my mistakes. Also the title gives the story plot away.

Bau: What about the cover?

Doggy Mom: Finally, I found what I was looking for. Now, I’m just waiting for the graphic designer to get back to me. Could be a few weeks. Of course there’s going to be the extra headache of formatting my book to fit Amazon standards.

Bau: Oh, boy! I think I’m going to go for a nap. Wake me when it’s over.