By Reece Hirsch
While I would love to have a one-on-one master class in writing from one of my favorites like Elmore Leonard or Richard Price, that is unlikely to come to pass. However, I recently picked up a new book entitled Now Write! Mysteries: Suspense, Crime, Thriller, and Other Mystery Fiction Exercises from Today’s Best Writers and Teachers that provides a far more attainable dose of writing wisdom.
Here’s some of wise writing advice dispensed by a few of our own Criminal Minds:
Graham Brown on “Humanizing the Character Arc”: “If readers connect with your main characters, identify and mentally put themselves in the place of those characters – in other words, feel their pain – then, when your heroes overcome whatever deadly and impressive obstacles you’ve put in their path, your readers will feel the great endorphin boost that goes along with succeeding, as if they’d done it themselves. And that’s what makes them remember your book, because the triumph of your novel is the reader’s victory as well as the character’s.”
Rebecca Cantrell (who has already mentioned the book here at CM) on “Murder from the Point of View of the Murderer, Victim, and Detective”: “In my early drafts [of A Trace of Smoke], Ernst talked from beyond the grave. Unfortunately, it was never quite right. My writing group struggled with it, and the first question my future agent asked was, ‘If I agree to represent you, would you be willing to consider removing the dead brother’s voice from the manuscript?
I was willing. … I also made a surprise discovery: Writing the murder from the victim’s point of view gave me a very clear picture of all the events surrounding it. It gave me the sights, sounds, and feelings for the very heart of the book.”
Kelli Stanley, “She Can Bring Home the Bacon”: “Playing right tackle in football demands a certain kind of strength. Caring for an ill relative demands another. Women can be quite tough – anyone who’s been through childbirth can testify to that. You don’t need to resort to gender clichés to write a female detective.”
Michael Wiley on “Writing in Place”: “Robert Graves used to advise writers to adopt the perspective of ‘readers over their own shoulders’ when making revisions. In observing a familiar place, you need to defamiliarize yourself; try to watch yourself in the act of looking and notice both what you see and what you miss.”
And you will even find the mutterings of yours truly on “The Most Common Mistakes in Plotting a Thriller (from Someone Who Has Made Them All)”: “A thriller is like a rock-and-roll song. Immediacy is one of the most highly valued virtues of both forms and, while the basic elements are well established, there is nearly infinite room for variation and expression within that framework. You can take a few basic chord progressions and a time limit of three minutes or so and get everything from ‘I Wanna Be Sedated’ to ‘Strawberry Fields Forever.’ But if you stray too far from the rules, like, say, the Beatles' ‘Revolution 9,’ then it may be interesting, but it ceases to be something that will ever get played on the radio."
There are 86 authors represented in the collection and anyone who is interested in reading or writing mysteries or thrillers will find these three-to-four-page exercises less addictive than crack but more addictive than Maui Onion Kettle Chips.