Today I am delighted to introduce author JoAnne Myers, who is here to talk about one of my favorite genres: mystery. Whether you’re an author who wants to deepen your understanding of the genre or a reader who wants a behind the scenes glimpse, you’re bound to enjoy this look at what goes into writing a killer whodunit.
JoAnne Myers: Writing Mystery
Before writing a word, take some time to jot down key story points. As you’re writing, the story will want to take on a life of its own. Having a handy reference of key points will help keep your story on track and you from pulling your hair out. A list of key points is also helpful when outlining the story plot. You may very well find that the story begins to unfold as you’re writing down the key points. If this happens…let it! Write down any ideas or details that come to you, they’ll come in handy later.
Some key points to consider are; what is the mystery? This is the underlying theme to the entire story so be as in-depth as possible (has there been a murder or a theft or a kidnapping? If so, how and where was it committed?).
Hunt for the culprit. Every good story has at least one antagonist, but what steps must the hero or heroine take to find him/her? How will the villain evade the hero? How is the mystery solved? In mystery writing there are a lot of twists and turns. Write down your initial thoughts for plot twists, red herrings to throw the readers off the trail of the true villain, and of course the final stages of how the good guy will prevail…or does he? You need to decide whether or not the hero or the villain wins in the end. Many hero’s die trying to solve their case. Many are involved in physical altercations with other characters. You must decide how many altercations, the number of characters involved, and what weapons if any are used. It is not a good idea to only engage your characters with fist fighting. Throw in some knives, chains, falling from windows, or my favorite, a poisoning, and other nasty assaults.
Every great story has well rounded characters. We read fiction because we want to be entertained and develop a connection with the characters. Outlining items such as personality traits, physical features, and quirks can help bring your characters to life; a speech impediment, or limp, or a nervous twitch.
For the Protagonist, decide the name, age, where does he/she live, does he/she have a family or pets, what is their driving goal for taking on this particular case? Is the hero a police officer, a person sworn to honesty, pride, and valor. Or is the good guy a private detective being paid to find a certain someone. Or your main character could be a parent or sibling searching for a missing loved one.
For the Antagonist, decide the name, age, where does he/she live, is there an underlying reason for being the antagonist? Perhaps this person is a career criminal. On the other hand, maybe he/she is a good person that suffered an unjust and turned to crime out of bitterness and despair.
Then you have your support characters, who are the color of the story. They provide depth to the story whether good or bad. A support character could be as simple as a loud mouth hot dog vendor standing on a street corner or as in-depth as the villain’s partner in crime. In writing a mystery story, support characters can take on a life of their own with the reader, so make them interesting. Just because they are labeled support characters does not mean they are any less important than the main characters.
Next is the location of the story. When and where is the story set? These two key elements are what bring your story to life. Mystery story writing is a broad genre and could be set in any time period and in any place. When working with actual locations it is a good idea to do research on the location first. Readers want to feel as though they are there with the characters, so being able to accurately describe a location is vital. Time periods are no exception. If the story is set in 1940’s New Orleans, the reader will want to see their surroundings, not just be told the story is taking place in a speakeasy or church. Be descriptive!
A mystery story is not a story without a solid well thought out plot. Some things to consider when developing the story plot: What is the driving force of the mystery? To solve a murder, or rescue a kidnap victim? What does the villain do to thwart the hero? Does the villain get his goons on the hero? Is the hero being set up by the villain and now he is being hunted by police. What other obstacles get in the way of solving the mystery?
One of the most important elements of writing a mystery story is suspense. Giving away too much too soon will bore the reader. It is best if the suspense is sprinkled throughout the story; bring the mystery to light within the first few chapters, then as the story progresses add a clue here and there without revealing the outcome until the final chapter. Do not be afraid to add a “red herring” or false clue, within the stories context. Readers love nothing better than to think they have everything figured out only to find in the end they were mistaken the entire time.
The final few chapters of the story should hold the climax of the conflict and resolution between the hero and villain, including how all of the clues scattered throughout the story cumulatively solves the mystery. A good conclusion gives the reader a sense of closure in finding out how the hero solved the mystery. Remember that not all mysteries have to be completely solved or have a “happy” ending. If you are writing a series of stories, the villain may get away at the end of story #1 with the hero using clues from story #1 to track down the villain in story #2. In mystery story writing, the possibilities are only limited by your imagination.
Murder Most Foul
When two dismembered torsos wash up on the banks of the local river in the small industrial town of Pleasant Valley, residents are horrified. Between contradicting statements, police ineptitude, lust, lies, manipulation, incest, the motorcycle gang The Devil’s Disciples, crooked cops, and a botched crime scene, everyone becomes a suspect.
The young beautiful Jackie Reeves, a registered nurse, believes the killer is a man from her past. She contacts the dangerously handsome FBI Agent Walker Harmon. An arrest is made, but Harmon and Jackie believe an innocent man is being railroaded by local cops. How far will these lover’s go to solve this heinous crime before anymore killings. Determined to find the truth, Agent Harmon and Jackie are forced to run a gauntlet of deep trouble and turmoil, which marks them for death.
Undaunted and short on patience, the agent stared at the fat jerk sitting before him gleefully puffing on a cigar, most likely homegrown in Detroit, Michigan, not Cuba. “I attend the Kingdom Hall on occasion,” he said.
“Well most of us like Malloy. He’s helped rid this town of criminals. He was a volunteer firefighter, and his wife cooks for the annual policeman’s ball. Hell, Malloy even coached volleyball for the kids when he wuz younger. Now a person who does that ain’t all bad,” the chief declared.
Barstow’s sudden burst of energy to safeguard his fishy friend, picqued Harmon’s interest. What had Malloy done? He decided he wasn’t leaving until he had the full, sordid story.
“So you and Malloy are pals, and he did something he couldn’t get out of, and you tried to salvage his job, but the big shots said, ‘No!’ Is that how it went?” Harmon asked.
“Yeah, Malloy did somethin’ real stupid.”
“I’m listening,” Harmon replied.
“The rumors of Malloy allowin’ his friends and family members to snoop through the cornfield, and photograph the area after the victims were removed, was true. Everyone is curious about this crime. Nothin’ this big ever happened in this town before, and the pictures were for souvenirs, you know. Then after the limbs were removed, he brought in a back hoe, and tore up the whole damned crime scene, involving Thomas.” The chief growled in disgust.
“Yeah, that was stupid,” Harmon said. “So Malloy’s unethical conduct was the reason the disciplinary board was in session?”
“Yep, they made their decision this mornin’,” the chief said. “He’s out. There was nothin’ I could do for him.”
“You’d think a cop with over twenty years’ experience would demonstrate better reasoning then destroy evidence. Unless he’s covering his own tracks,” Harmon said realizing what he was implying. “Do you believe Malloy committed the murders?”
“Now, I didn’t say that. A lot of officers were on this case, so a lot of mistakes happened. We never dealt with this type crime before. Many might have made the same mistakes Malloy did.”
Dismissing the chief’s excuses for Malloy’s incompetence, Harmon demanded an answer. He was tired of being duped by the local cops and wanted the truth, and wanted it now. Standing and placing both palms on the chief’s shiny desk, the agent looked the chief square in his squinty brown eyes and said, “Cough it up, Chief! There’s more to it then that. If there were numerous mistakes made by officers other then Malloy, why was he the only one kicked off the force? Now spit it out! What the hell did Malloy do?”
“All right, all right!” the chief whined, “Malloy screwed the dead girl three weeks before she was killed–and got caught!”
The Agent was speechless. Walking to the window overlooking Main Street, he stared vacantly. Hadn’t one of our witnesses suggested something like that? But–with the crisp wind howling, the citizens dining in the local cafés, others window shopping for Christmas or starting their shift at the town’s businesses–this seems unreal. How can such a seemingly sweet country town be so full of bad apples, savage murders, police misconduct and corruption, evidence tampering? This town is certainly no Mayberry, thought Harmon.
Review for “Murder Most Foul”
BTS Magazine-December 2013 Issue 17- Reviewer Marie Haney
Review: 5***** The author recreates the scenes with dramatic fashion, adding characters that are so realistic; it feels like you’re living the moment right along with them. She is a wonderful storyteller, paying attention to every intricate detail and leaving you hanging onto every word. If you’re a fan of crime thrillers, this book will definitely not disappoint!
About JoAnne Myers
I have been a long-time resident of southeastern Ohio, and worked in the blue-collar industry most of my life. Besides having several novels under my belt, I canvas paints.
When not busy with hobbies or working outside the home, I spend time with relatives, my dog Jasmine, and volunteer my time within the community. I am a member of the International Women’s Writing Guild, Savvy Authors, Coffee Time Romance, Paranormal Romance Guild, True Romance Studios, National Writers Association, the Hocking Hill’s Arts and Craftsmen Association, The Hocking County Historical Society and Museum, and the Hocking Hills Regional Welcome Center. I believe in family values and following your dreams. My original canvas paintings, can be found at: booksandpaintingsbyjoanne.com
Other books by JoAnne Myers
“WICKED INTENTIONS” a paranormal/mystery anthology
“LOVES’, MYTHS’ AND MONSTERS’,” a fantasy anthology
“THE CRIME OF THE CENTURY,” a biography true-crime
“POEMS ABOUT LIFE, LOVE, AND EVERYTHING IN BETWEEN”
Other books soon available:
“TWISTED LOVE,” a true-crime anthology
“FLAGITIOUS,” a crime/mystery novella collection
JoAnne Myers said:
Reblogged this on JoAnne Myers' WordPress.com Blog.
Melissa MacKinnon said:
A lot of detail goes into writing a mystery! The excerpt sounds great.
Thanks for stopping by, Melissa!
JoAnne Myers said:
Hi Melissa, that you for the compliment. If you get this reply I would like to send you a print copy of my poetry book, “Poems About Life, Love, and Everything in Between” for commenting. Again thank you.
Melissa MacKinnon said:
Thank you, JoAnne!! ❤ Here's my email: email@example.com
Tonette Joyce said:
Love it, love it, love it! I love a mystery and I enjoy figuring out “whodunit” but honestly, I LOVE it when I can be taken by surprise!
Continued success to you, JoAnne!
I am SO with you! There’s nothing better than a surprise (or one that makes sense…not the ones that came out of left field and feel entirely disconnected from the story, which I mention b/c I read one of those lately and was so bummed, lol.) Thanks for commenting, Tonette! I hope things are calming down in your household. 🙂
JoAnne Myers said:
Hi Tonette, thank you for commenting. I appreciate each comment. If you would like a free print copy of my poetry collection please email me your mailing address to my email here, firstname.lastname@example.org Again thank you.