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Mystery Writing Tips

IMPS is primarily interested in conventional mystery novels. We are not interested in stories with excessive sex and violence, but rather tales involving clever and creative solutions to a puzzle or one or more crimes. Both genre and mainstream novels are of interest to us, but the ultimate solution must be based on information that has at least been obliquely presented to the reader. Solving a mystery through sudden visions or magic is considered unfair to the reader.

Many mysteries are like a wrinkled shirt, the more wrinkles the better. A straight line is the shortest distance between two points, but taking a straight line in the plot of a mystery story or novel is uninteresting and probably obvious to the reader. Create interest by interweaving three or more plots, and take the reader to unexpected places.

As in the creation of any story, two extremely important ingredients are Unity and Coherence. The story you create should have a beginning, a middle, and an end. There should be sound logic in creating the paths the reader treads, and the wrapup of the story should answer dangling questions. Generally, the protagonist and the main supporting characters should grow through their experiences in a novel. Growth in a short story may be limited or difficult.

One of the author's most important tools is the Timeline. The author must keep track of the relative ages of all of his characters and the dates when major events in their lives and in the story occurred. The story won't feel real if dates are omitted and lives described without documented details. Without a timeline, the author and his readers get confused. Another valuable tool in generating a manuscript is a Table of Contents which may be retained or removed from the published novel. We suggest the use of chapter titles but removal of the Table of Contents after the work is complete. Titles on chapters can be useful to set the time or point of view or the mood. Exposing the reader to the complete Table of Contents can give too many clues as to the road map of the story. The true value of the Table of Contents comes during the Revision Phase of writing the novel. Every change to the manuscript requires easy access to other points in the manuscript where the initial change causes falling domino effects. The modern reader gets bogged down in long descriptive pasages. We recommend short chapters that balance lively dialog with terse exposition in order to secure the reader's continuing attention.

Don't spend too much time worrying in advance about the details of your project. Just write! Your characters and situations will tell you how to proceed to the next logical step in plot development. Some feel more comfortable with detailed outlines, but we prefer plot development through logic as the story develops, in order to achieve a novel that has spontaneity and creativity.

There is nothing more important in pursuing a writing career or any other career than the making of good decisions. Follow our guidance and commentary on this subject as applied to writing and living successfully on the Decision Time! Blog.