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Sometimes real life is stranger than fiction. That’s certainly the case with these four true, unsolved mysteries. These investigations spooked me, and — in all respect to the victims — would make great fiction.

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We all get stuck with writer’s block. And who hasn’t gotten bogged down in the murky middle? If you find yourself stuck, it’s good to stop, brain storm and think about “what if…” Ask a few questions to get those creative juices flowing again. Here are fifteen “What If…” questions you can ask to spur your imagination and hopefully get those fingers back on the keyboard.

What if…

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With the job of marketing falling square on the author’s shoulders nowadays, it seems like most of us are spending more time peddling our books and less time writing new ones. That’s why Good Reads is such an important tool. Michelle Campbell Scott’s Goodreads For Authors: How To Use Goodreads To Promote Your Books is a comprehensive guide to the social networking site.

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Is it legal to mention places like Starbucks or sites like Facebook in a novel? I’m writing a book about a couple who meet on Facebook, then later in person at Starbucks. Right now, I’ve been referring to these settings as “the coffee shop” and “the Internet site,” but I’d like to be more specific. Do I have to invent a new social network and coffee shop name?

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The mystery genre has a deep subgenre which defines the degree of adult language, the amount of gore, the type of sleuth and even the level of investigation, among other things. Understanding your subgenre will help you market the story to the write audience and sell it to the right publisher.

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Photos from the Tampa Bay Times Festival of Reading at the University of South Florida in St. Petersburg – Saturday, October 25, 2014

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Have you ever read one of those novels that just keeps going on and on? Have you ever stopped reading at Chapter 7 and asked, “What’s the point here?” Or when writing, have you ever felt lost? Not sure what should happen next? Well, using a formula helps keep mysteries on track.

Formula might sound like “cookie cutter writing” but it’s not. It’s about meeting reader expectations of the genre. If you’re reading a romance, you expect the boy to meet the girl, the boy to lose the girl, then the boy gets the girl back. In mystery-suspense, readers expect the sleuth to investigate the murder, the sleuth hits a wall, then the sleuth overcomes and solves the murder. The formula simply charts the emotional high points to keep the story moving forward within the genre’s expectations.

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One can learn a lot from this book. On the other hand, one can read a few chapters and say – “I knew all that already!”

The second was my original reaction after I’ve read the opening paragraphs. There are literally hundreds of “How-To” books for self-publishing on Amazon alone so, if you’ve read a few of them, you most likely already know some of the material included. Not to mention that some of the books cover the basic topics in much more detail.

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Yesterday someone told me, “I started your book, but then I went on vacation…”

I get that SO much (not go on vacation, just “I started your book but…”). I know this probably sounds weird, but I would love to get a negative comment or two on my book. In fact, I would be happy with any feed back. Mostly I get no response at all and it makes me feel quite invisible. So I don’t really know what to think. But it doesn’t indicate a page-turner, does it?

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I’ve found five more sentiments that can add a layer of personal growth for your sleuth and leave the reader feeling that the book meant something. Sure, the adventure is fun or the mystery is thrilling, but readers love character development because it adds weight to the story. As the old saying goes, a strong plot plus a strong character arc equals a great novel.

There are many examples of character growth out there. These are a few additional ideas I had, especially for an amateur sleuth thrust into the middle of a murder mystery.

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