For anyone working on their writing skills in one capacity or another—and we all know that in writing, there’s ALWAYS room for improvement—keep your eye out for local writing resources. Many community centers and libraries provide free writing workshops and lectures on a wide array of topics from poetry and short story writing to resume building and cover letter crafting.
On Sunday at the Morse Institute Library in Natick, MA, I had the pleasure of attending one of these free events: an insightful writing presentation called “Writing a Killer Mystery—a Crash Course.” The session was led by mystery author Hallie Ephron, who is also a crime fiction reviewer for the Boston Globe. Fully submerged in the genre, and having penned the book Writing and Selling Your Mystery Novel: How to Knock ’em Dead with Style, Ephron was the perfect candidate to address the crowd of (presumably) aspiring crime and mystery writers. She was friendly, professional and full of useful suggestions for doing research, coming up with original mystery plots, developing characters, and engaging the reader with gripping language. Here are a few take-aways:
- Research mystery-related venues. Call or visit your local police station or prison—it just may spark some great ideas for plot, setting or characters.
- Secrets are key. Once you have a basic idea for a storyline, come up with a list of secrets you will reveal to the reader. From that list, strategize about where and when to insert them—keeping in mind that you don’t want to give away too much too fast. Disperse your secrets throughout the text so as to keep those pages turning.
- Give your sleuth resources. In order to solve a mystery over the course of 200 pages, your detective/reporter/investigator will need to know, let’s say, a computer geek to be able to hack into a suspect’s email account, or he (or she) will need to have a contact at the morgue in order to be afforded the necessary access to a case-related body. Also, be sure that your sleuth has funds of some sort, to ensure a believable sudden trip abroad to follow up on a lead.
- Cut and paste. Knowing when to cut out writing that just isn’t working within a manuscript is critical. It’s difficult to do with one’s own work but luckily you can easily make edits and save them just in case you want to reintroduce them later (or even use parts in a completely different story!) Ephron recommends starting out your novel with two files: “[Working title] 1” and “[Working title] Out.” This way you can simply cut and paste anything you want and you have the ability to access all of that material in one central document if need be.
Here are a few pics of the event and be sure to check your local library and community websites for other great free writing resources like this one!