29 January 2014

10 Tips For Writing A Murder Mystery

I think that murder mysteries are popular because the reader gets to participate in solving the puzzle.  As you read, it’s almost like a contest to see who will solve it first.  The reader or the sleuth!  It’s also fun for the writer to try to create a mystery that keeps the reader guessing till the very end.  So, what are some of the things you need to do to write a good murder mystery?

First you have to decide what type of murder mystery you want to write.  A police procedural with a detective for your sleuth, an amateur sleuth who has a compulsion for being nosey, or a private investigator.  Or you might decide to use a semi-professional like an investigative journalist, for instance.  But whatever you choose, there are certain things that remain the same.

  1. If you have an amateur sleuth, there must be a plausible reason why he/she wants to solve the crime.
  2. Have at least 4 or 5 suspects.  With this many, your reader may very well be surprised by whodunit!
  3. Make sure all your suspects have a motive, the means, and the opportunity to kill the victim.  In other words, it has to be possible that any one of them could have committed the crime. 
  4. Each of your suspects must have a believable motive whether it be jealousy, revenge, greed, etc.  If they don't, your readers will spot it a mile away.
  5. Don't keep your readers waiting too long for the murder to happen.  Whether your victim is already dead when the book starts or later on, have it happen within the first three chapters. 
  6. Distract your readers with red herrings.
  7. Create a character who your sleuth or detective can discuss the case with. 
  8. And here is a golden rule.  Your readers must know everything that your sleuth or detective knows.  In other words, don't keep secrets. 
  9. Make sure that all loose ends are tied up before the end.  There's nothing more frustrating than having unanswered questions.
  10. Keep your reader in mind at all times.
Do you have any tips to add to this list?

20 January 2014

MYSTERY WRITERS OF THE PAST - Dame Ngaio Marsh 1895-1982

Ngaio Marsh - yet another mystery writer from the Golden Age, whose books and television series have transcended in to the 21st century.

Born in Christchurch, New Zealand Dame Ngaio Marsh is the author of 32 detective novels written between 1934-1982.  Set in 1930s London, they were dramatised in the 1990s on a BBC television series, entitled The Inspector Alleyn Mysteries.

Ngaio became a Dame Commander of the Order of the British Empire in 1966, and in 1978, she won the Grand Master Award from Mystery Writers of America.

Along with Agatha Christie, Dorothy L. Sayers and Margery Alingham, Ngaio Marsh is known as one of the four Queens of Crime of the Golden Age 1920s-1940s.

Her other great passion in life was the theatre.  Between 1942-1969, she was  theatre director with the University of Canterberry Drama Society in New Zealand where the Ngaio Marsh Theatre is now named in her honour.

Her home in the Cashmere Hills, is preserved as a museum.

Other mystery writers of the past:-

13 January 2014


by Margaret Leroy

Set in 1937-38, The English Girl is the story of Stella Whittaker, who travels to Vienna to further her music studies at the Academy of Vienna.  17 years old and thriving in her new life in such a beautiful city, it’s not long before she falls in love with a young Jewish doctor.  When, however, it becomes apparent that this idyllic existence is threatened, Stella struggles to accept what she knows in her heart.
In such a turbulent time in our history, Margaret Leroy set out to provide the reader with an exciting story full of twists and turns as well as a sense of foreboding throughout, and she did not disappoint.  All the elements of the plot come together with great success.  The characters are well developed and appear real, and the settings are brought to life with Ms Leroy’s gift of lacing description throughout.
As with her previous books, The Collaborator and The Soldiers Wife, Margaret Leroy has given us, yet again, a window into the lives of those people who lived through one of the world’s most turbulent times, WWII.
Definitely a page turner that will be enjoyed by many readers.

6 January 2014

WRITING - Settings - Micro and Macro

The settings that your character inhabits, help to bring life to that character because they can show where he or she lives, works, travels, in fact, they can convey just about anything you want your reader to know about the character including his foibles and idiosyncrasies.  For example, what does a character wearing an unpressed suit, sitting in a messy office tell you?  He’s a disorderly person who isn’t too concerned about his appearance?  Lazy perhaps.  Or has he just lost his one true love?  He could be grief stricken, or has gone broke and declared bankruptcy.  Obviously, there are loads of possibilities.  Only the writer knows which one he wants to go with to suit the story.

Settings that you revisit throughout your story.
When your character re-enters a setting that has already been described, don’t forget to remind the reader what it looks like in just a few words.  This can be done by the characters interaction in that setting.

Settings can be anywhere as well as micro or macro

In a car
Example 1
As the taxi wended its way through the streets, James sat back and stared out at the figures of pedestrians distorted by the rain- spattered windows, his thoughts turning to Simon Rhodes.

Example 2 
It was late on Saturday evening when Ben Carmichael climbed into a Silver Cab at Sydney’s Kingsford Smith Airport, on the last leg of his journey home from the Middle East.  Weary, and yet tense, he stretched his long lean body out and tried to quell his thoughts and shut out images of the horrors he had witnessed during the past four weeks.  

A pathway to the front door
Example 1

When the taxi pulled up in front of the home he and Emma shared in Crows Nest, he paid the driver, and slinging his haversack over his shoulder, walked through the garden to the front door.  In the darkness he did not notice the mail spilling out of the letterbox at the front gate or see a yellow tinge to the grass on either side of the path.
Example 2
Forty minutes later, he paid the driver and turned toward a narrow Victorian terrace house, its drawn curtains and peeling paint lending a feeling of abandonment to the place.  The wooden gate squeaked as he pushed it open and made his way through the small neglected garden to the front door. 

An attic room
The steps creaked under his weight and cobwebs stuck to his face as he climbed to the top and walked into the room, its air musty and close.  James moved to the dormer window, pushed it open and felt a gust of cold night air rush in and with it, the sound of the wind.  The temperature in the room dropped and particles of dust flew as the sheet that covered Louise's easel billowed and fell to the floor.  At the same time, the attic door slammed.  James turned back to the window and pulled it shut.  Silence returned.
He stood for a time, taking in the shadows that moved around him before his eyes came to rest on a painting, dwarfed by the easel on which it sat.  It was a small oil painting of a woman’s head and shoulders in a gilded frame. 

In a greenhouse
Instead, Fitzjohn made his way through the house and out into the garden and the greenhouse.  With the full moon casting shadows across the rows of orchids and feeling the warmth the sun had generated on the glass throughout the day, he turned on the CD player.  The first movement of Beethoven’s Moonlight Sonata, with its haunting whisper, filled the air while he made slow progress along the rows.  He tended to each plant as he went, the body of the man in the lane that morning, and the events that followed during the day, slipping from his mind.