Index of A to Z Blog Challenge Articles – April 2014

A2Z-BADGE-0002014-small_zps8300775cJust completed the Blogging From A to Z Challenge. Nearly 2,000 bloggers signed-up to participate this year. We started on April 1, 2014 with a topic themed on something with the letter “A,” then on April second another topic starting with the letter B, and so on until you finish on April 30, 2014 with a topic based on the letter “Z.”

My theme was, obviously, on mystery writing — and I wrote about everything from Amateur Sleuths to Zealous Zodiac. Participating in the challenge doubled the number of my blog followers, and I met several interesting writers!

Here’s the rundown of my articles in the challenge:

A – Amateur Sleuths: How Your Next Door Neighbor Solves Crimes

B – Bad Guys: The Whole Point of the Mystery

C – Cause of Death: Procedure from Crime Scene to Death Certificate

D – Deadly Doses: Death by Poison

E – Endings: Crisis, Climax & Resolution

F – Forensic Files: Bridging Fiction with Science

G – Great Escape: Getting your Sleuth Safely Out of the Frying Pan

H – Heroes & Heroines: 3 Tips for Writing a Kick-ass Protagonist

I – Investigations: Steps in Investigating the Crime Scene

J – Jargon: Classifications of Murder

K – Keen Killings: 24 Inventive Ways to do in Your Victim

L – Language of the Body: Add Visual Dialog to your Conversations

M – Motives for Murder Mysteries

N – Nobody Knows: What Type of Mystery are you Writing?

O – Obstacles: Road Blocks in your Hero’s Journey

P – Private Eyes: Getting a P.I. involved in a Murder Mystery

Q – Quirky Character Traits

R – Romantic Subplots: 20 Ideas Beyond Romeo & Juliet

S – Suspicious Behavior

T – The Ticking Clock: 25 Ideas to add Suspense to your Mystery

U – Unlawful Behavior: Just How Bad is Your Bad Guy

V – Vibrant Victims: Two Types of Dead Bodies in Your Murder Mystery

W – Writer’s Block: Stuck on What’s Supposed to Happen Next

X – The X Factor: The Unexpected Twist

Y – Yielding Yesterdays: Writing a Character History

Z – Zealous Zodiac Characteristics: Basic Character Templates

Whew! That was tougher than I thought it was going to be. I guess that’s why they call it a “challenge.” :)

Zealous Zodiac Characteristics: Basic Character Templates

canstockphoto11107671Sometimes when creating characters, it helps to begin with a character template. There’s a great set of character traits described in the Zodiac. Each sign has specific personality traits that describe who a person is and the type of emotions they are likely to display.


A Capricorn is hardworking, responsible, reliable, loyal, sincere and has a strong will power. They also tend to be introverted, slightly obstinate, short tempered and have difficulty accepting authority. Capricorns are very calm individuals. They do not become agitated easily. Capricorns like being leaders in the workplace and they do not take orders from others well at all. You may find a Capricorn unleashing a sharp tongue lashing if you try to take control of a project. In matters of the heart, Capricorns are very romantic. Dinners by candlelight and flowers for no reason are qualities you can expect from a Capricorn. Capricorns like to be wanted and needed.


Aquarius is friendly, affable, intelligent, kind, compassionate and practical. Weaknesses of the Aquarius are being unpredictable, adamant, dislike towards making commitments and hating adhering to conventions. Aquarius are generally soft spoken but can demonstrate the ability to change up now and again. They love things that are new and enjoy experimenting with new ideas and concepts. Creativity flows through their veins. Aquarius tend to have a large number of friends though normally not many close or best buddies. They are friendly and nice and enjoy being around other people. Their flighty and ever-changing personality make getting close with an Aquarius next to impossible. One minute you may be an Aquarius’ best friend and the next just someone who is in the way.


Strengths of the Pisces include being intuitive, empathetic, uninterested in material things and having a sharp memory. Weaknesses of the Pisces include being emotional or sensitive, and prone to wistfulness, mood swings and inflexibility. Greed in not a quality Pisces possess. They are not materialistic people. Pisces are well aware of how the world works but they also know their place. Pisces either run with the flow of the people around them or they run against it. They are either one extreme or the other there is no in between. Pisces are calm and cool and rarely lose their tempers. Pisces can charm your socks off without blinking an eye. In the event of troubling situations, Pisces have the ability to remain calm and rational. They think through situations rather than through reacting impulsively. Pisces are great lovers of music and art. You may find a Pisces in an orchestra or crafting a new picture for an art gallery. Pisces try to help everyone around them. They dislike their friends being unhappy and they will bend over backwards to be helpful.


Adventurous, energetic, courageous, and confident are the strengths of Aries. Weaknesses include being self-centered, short-tempered, impulsive, and impatient. Aries are known to be friendly and outgoing people. You would notice an Aries in a room full of people since they would be the ones talking and introducing themselves. Aries stand up for what they believe in. You will find them rooting for the underdog or defending and assisting those with weaker personality traits. Aries only are aware of their wants and needs. They are not selfish they just don’t always realize they are putting someone else out.Though an Aries can be pushed to have a temper, it normally won’t last long. Seldom will you come across an Aries that holds a grudge. Forgive and forget is a motto most Aries live by.


The Bull symbolizes strong and silent, and this is exactly how a Taurus is said to be. Until you really get to know a Taurus you will probably not see his or her true self. Strengths of Taurus include being compassionate, dependable, loyal, reliable, and also being strong both physically and emotionally. Stubbornness, aggressiveness, sensitivity and a dislike when faced with change are all weaknesses associated with a Taurus. Taurus are very stubborn individuals and once their minds are made up, swaying them even a little is next to impossible. If you do not try to push, Taurus folks will come across as being laid back and reserved. Take heed though because if you anger a Taurus, it is likely that you might find a violent temper. However, Taurus tempers generally will not flare until they are pushed. Taurus make wonderful friends, and whenever you need them they will certainly be some of the first ones there. Taurus know exactly how to brighten the day of friends in need. Don’t count on a Taurus ever calling on you to return the favor. They are very in tune with their emotions and rarely display them. Taurus are loyal and will stand beside a friend until the bitter end.


Jovial, good communication skills, inquisitiveness and flexibility are all strengths of the Gemini. Weaknesses of the Gemini include selfishness, restlessness, confusing personalities and difficulty being on time. Gemini change their minds as often as they change their underwear. Boredom quickly makes a Gemini turn and look for other avenues of excitement and entertainment. Gemini have little to no patience. Ironically, they do not flourish in environments where indecisive people are present. Gemini can talk themselves in and out of a situation all in the same breath. They do not stay in one place too long. In most disagreements, Gemini will come out the victor with an extraordinary ability to use words in their favor. Falling in love with a Gemini can be exciting and dangerous. With their dual personalities Gemini keep their love life spicy. In matters of the heart, hang on tight because you are in for an ever-changing ride. Don’t hold them to a time schedule as something can catch their eye and cause them to be late in a heartbeat.


Cancer strengths are adaptability, loyalty, genuine attachment to a family, and empathy. Weaknesses of Cancer include moodiness, sensitivity, and emotional outbursts and indecisiveness. People assigned the sign of Cancer are genuinely moody and have ever changing emotions. One minute they may be laughing and having a good time and the next minute you may find them mad at the world. No one single emotion or personality can label a Cancer. Cancer will often masquerade their emotions with humor. Laughing is a common disguise used by Cancer to hide signs of depression. Cancer will set their aspirations high. Constant struggles for success and achievement lay beneath the exterior shell of Cancer.


Strengths of a Leo include kindness, big-heartedness, an energetic nature, optimism, honesty and loyalty. The weaknesses of a Leo are prone to jealousy, possessiveness, egotism or a more dominating personality. Leos dislike being bored and enjoy being around many people as they are at home playing the role of a leader. When Leos love, they love with all their hearts, and they take what they believe is theirs. They enjoy dishing out tons of advice and they expect that you should heed their advice as truth. The best way to tame the proud lion is to feed into their opinion of themselves. You can easily have the roaring lion eating out of the palm of your hand with kind words and praise. A Leo will tell it like it is – always. They have difficulty holding their tongues whether they are right or not. Leos will mean what they say and say what they mean. They speak their opinion whether you want to hear it or not so be prepared. Leo prospers most when in a loving relationship. You will rarely find a Leo alone. Leos automatically take on the leading role in a relationship even though they may complain now and again about having too much responsibility. They really do not feel that way they just growl now and again.


Strengths of Virgo are perfectionist, realistic, practical, dependable, sincere and patient. Weaknesses of Virgo include being way too critical, restless, and they lack demonstrativeness and tend to push themselves too much. Virgo also tend to be quiet and family oriented people. Though you may notice a Virgo quietly off to the side, you can bet that he or she is simply taking in the details of every little thing. Virgos do not often put themselves in crowded situations, as they prefer to socialize one on one. Virgos are perfectionists meaning everything has its place. Virgos live in reality and seldom daydream. They take life for what it is and don’t set themselves up for disappointment. Virgos are workaholics and even in their work they expect and demand perfection from themselves. From their clothes to their homes, everything must be perfect. Much time is spent worrying about whether things are correct. Virgos are tidy and neat freaks. Dirt and sloppiness can cause a Virgo to offer a harsh tongue-lashing. A Virgo can also be a wonderful friend. Knowing what to say and when to say it is a trait most Virgos possess.


The strengths of a Libra are patience, balance, gregarious, loving, affectionate, cheerful, energetic and a social nature. Weaknesses of the Libra include indecisiveness, carelessness, prone to indulgence, and being overly emotional and sensitive. You will find a Libra to be extremely nice and polite. Libras love being around people and often serve as mediators between quarreling parties. A Libra will most always appear cheerful. Libras are very independent individuals and do not take orders well. Libras are intelligent and excellent listeners. They can also be naive and restless. Libras are often as confused as the people surrounding them by their wishy-washy traits. A Libra can bring laughter to the dreariest of circumstances. They are happiest when the people surrounding them are happy as well. They do not like for friends to be sad or upset. Libras take their time weighing pros and cons of a decision before committing one way or the other.


Strengths of the Scorpio include loyalty, trustworthiness, passionate, charismatic, mystifying, caring and patience. Weaknesses of Scorpio are stubbornness, becoming jealous easily, and being overly sensitive and egotistical. Scorpios have the ability to appear as though they are staring through people. Their gaze seems to penetrate the outer body and see directly into the soul. Scorpios have large egos and can stand on their own. Once they get something in their heads they can’t rest until they finish the task. Scorpios rarely let their emotions surface. They possess a sense of knowing when they are right and when they are wrong. Rarely will you notice a Scorpio playing bashful or shy. If you want an honest opinion about anything ask a Scorpio. Brutal honesty is a feature they cannot help but offer.Scorpios love with their complete hearts, but they have no tolerance for unfaithfulness. Questioning their own worth causes Scorpios to be very jealous and overly possessive especially in matters of the heart. They will stand beside the ones they love come what may, through thick and thin. You could not ask for a more loyal friend.


Strengths of the Sagittarius include honesty, forthrightness, lightheartedness, intellectualism, and possession of excellent communication skills. Weaknesses of the Sagittarius are sharp tongue, prone to change, restlessness and a flirtatious nature. Sagittarius have a way with words like no other. They try to come across nice and friendly but normally end up hurting the feelings of others or just downright annoying others. They are not at all gifted with a talent for dishing out compliments. Most often compliments will come out more like insults and any attempts to correct misunderstandings are futile. Sagittarius are animal lovers and are most always the ones apt to take in homeless and stray animals that no one else would think about touching. They will nurture these outcasts back to health and prove they can be wonderful pets. Decisions of the heart take Sagittarius some time to make. They fall in love easily, but do not love lightly. A long internal struggle goes on inside the head of a Sagittarius before a decision related to commitment can be arrived at.



Yielding Yesterdays – Writing a Character History

canstockphoto18571274Does the plot create the characters or do the characters create the plot? Which comes first, the chicken or the egg?

Every once in awhile I come up with a fun, fascinating character and I go searching for the right story in which to place that character. Then again, and more often than not, I have a plot — a specific mystery idea — and begin creating characters to bring that story to life. Ultimately, the characters will determine the structure and direction of the plot anyway. So, maybe the chicken and the egg is kind of irrelevant.

Since I write about amateur sleuths with no to very little investigative experience, their motivation and approach are very different from, say, a law enforcer or a hired P.I. The amateur sleuth must rely on unique character traits, and fall back on previous experiences that are in no way related to the murder investigation but are surprisingly useful. It’s almost as if she’s lived a lifetime of yesterdays of unique experiences that prepared her for the day when she’d have to seek out the truth in an odd and suspicious murder.

Whatever the murder, the sleuth I eventually develop must be a living, breathing personality who is capable of solving the murder and keeping the reader engaged for 300 pages. There’s a lot that goes into creating a fully-developed character but here’s where I start:

  • Where was your character born and raised?
  • Who were the parents?
  • What was the character’s childhood like?
  • What members of a family does the character have?
  • What kind of student was the character?
  • What special skills or knowledge does the character possess?
  • What hobbies did or does the character have?
  • What are some of the traits of the character – emotional, mental and physical?
  • Does the character have any quirky personality traits?
  • What kind of job or profession is the character occupied with, past and present?
  • And finally, what are some of the character’s past and present relationships?



X Factor – The Unexpected Twist

canstockphoto2447238Every murder mystery must include an X Factor — the twist that heightens the suspense in the story and keeps it as unpredictable as possible.

Story twists should always come when the reader least expects them. Twists or surprises can be obstacles for the protagonists to overcome or temporary setbacks just as it looks like everything is going well.

Here are a few twists, surprises and curves I’ve come across over the years that could make great X Factors.

  • An unexpected discovery is made
  • Someone gets or delivers the wrong message
  • An urgent call is made, but the person who was to receive the call isn’t there
  • An inheritance comes unexpectedly
  • Help is refused sight, hearing or motion
  • Something of value had disappeared
  • A suspected enemy turns out to be a friend
  • The main suspect was being framed
  • The bluff is called
  • Parents interfere
  • A person thought to be dead is found to be alive
  • The suspected motive is shown to be false
  • An unexpected corpse shows up
  • There is no money in the account
  • An old wound is opened
  • The enemy discovers the plan
  • A man turns out to be a woman, or vice versa
  • Help that is expected and urgently needed doesn’t arrive
  • A traitor is present
  • Secret information is revealed
  • A letter arrives or is discovered that changes the course of events
  • The child is not waiting at the school
  • A trusted friend, lover, or coworker is not what he appeared to be
  • An unexpected invitation shows up
  • A witness comes forth
  • The car is stopped, but the wrong driver is behind the wheel
  • A suspect’s alibi turns out to be false
  • The wrong person shows up
  • A trusted character had lost a previous spouse under mysterious circumstances
  • Expected information doesn’t arrive or isn’t what was expected
  • A character suddenly loses
  • A character reveals that she is dying

Writer’s Block: Stuck on What’s Supposed to Happen Next

canstockphoto12444307For me, writer’s block hits for one real reason: I’m not sure what’s supposed to happen next. I generally have a clear outline, and I know I want to take the murder mystery from point “A” to point “C.” It’s “B” — or the murky middle — that either veers off path or writes itself into a corner. When this happens, I have to go back to that outline and take some time to plan.

One surefire tip I use to get back on path is to give the Protagonist a backseat and focus on another character. Returning to the outline, I pick a supporting character (often one of the key suspects) and plot out his story. What was he doing when the murder occurred? Where was he when the sleuth began the murder investigation? I take it scene by scene and explore what this character was doing. This will often reveal bridges from points where the narrative veers off path to the critical scenes that lead to the climax.

Plotting a supporting character’s story arc will hopefully develop into an exciting sub plot, one that leads the sleuth and the reader on a wild and bumpy ride away from the true murderer. However, if the supporting character’s story turns out to be just outline material, where very little of it is actually fleshed out and written into the story, that’s okay. It will still help strengthen the continuity of the mystery as a whole.

So, if like me you find yourself reluctant to to even think about your mystery novel, it could be you’re not thinking about it enough. Instead of forcing yourself to write the next scene, let the keyboard sit idle and invest thinking time in plotting a supporting character’s story. You may be surprised where it takes you.

Unlawful Behavior: Just how bad is your bad guy?

canstockphoto9774163Unlawful behavior is a violation of the laws of a civilized society. In every society, a code of behavior exists that governs right from wrong. Behavior that violates that code of is considered an unlawful act.

Many different codes and systems exist for regulating behavior. Some countries, such as the United States and United Kingdom, operate on a common law system. Other countries, such as France, operate on a civil law system.

Under a common legal system, the law is developed by judges through decisions of the courts. The legislature or executive branch can pass formal statutory laws, which are written laws published in code books. Judges can also make law in the form of case law, which means that when a judge sets forth a rule, that rule applies in other cases as well.

In a civil legal system, all legislation is codified into a referable system which serves as the primary source of law. Only this written formal law is enforced.

Just how bad is your bad guy?

  • Armed robbery
  • Arson
  • Art theft
  • Assault
  • Bribery
  • Burglary
  • Child endangerment
  • Computer theft
  • Computer hacking
  • Conspiracy
  • Counterfeiting
  • Drug trafficking
  • Embezzlement
  • Extortion
  • Forgery
  • Fraud
  • Gambling
  • Hijacking
  • Homicide / murder
  • Identity Theft
  • Kidnapping
  • Larceny
  • Loan Sharking
  • Piracy
  • Prostitution
  • Racketeering
  • Rape
  • Robbery
  • Slavery
  • Smuggling


The Ticking Clock: 25 Ideas to add Suspense to your Mystery

canstockphoto16299362Want to heighten the drama and suspense in your thriller? Then your story better have a ticking clock.

This element is used to increase the intensity of a situation that must be resolved within a given time.Time limits combined with various obstacles put additional pressure on the protagonist. If the goal is not accomplished within the time set by the clock, all will be lost. And it keeps the reader on the edge of her seat.

The following lists some ideas to add a ticking clock device to your story.

  1. The protagonist will lose a lover or loved one
  2. The patient will die
  3. A bomb will detonate
  4. A storm will arrive
  5. A collision will occur
  6. A person will commit suicide
  7. A terrible, irreversible mistake will take place
  8. A secret will be revealed
  9. A marriage will be torn asunder
  10. Oxygen will run out within an enclosed space
  11. Something important will be destroyed
  12. The only path home will be blocked
  13. An identity will be revealed
  14. A witness will be silenced
  15. A pet will be put down
  16. The wrong person will die or suffer a terrible fate
  17. A donor will not be found
  18. An innocent man will be put to death
  19. Someone will drown
  20. The bank will foreclose
  21. The plane, train or ship will depart
  22. A warning will not be received in time
  23. A fortune will be lost
  24. The enemy will attack
  25. The environment will be affected


Suspicious Behavior

canstockphoto1131704A big part of hiding the murderer in your mystery novel is to distract the reader with another character who displays blatantly suspicious behavior. On the surface, this suspicious character appears to be the murderer. He’s clearly hiding a secret — it’s just not THE secret. And his actions confuse the sleuth and the reader alike, leading them down the wrong path and away from the true murderer.

Here are a few ideas for suspicious behavior. Why would a suspect in your mystery do one of these actions and how would it impact the investigation?

  • Alter appearance of crime scene
  • Alter his or her identity
  • Attempt to flee
  • Destroy evidence
  • Lie to discredit another
  • Lie about an alibi
  • Frame another
  • Get rid of the body
  • Get rid of the murder weapon
  • Go into hiding
  • Remove prints from the scene
  • Start a fire to cover another crime
  • Tamper with evidence
  • Threaten a witness


Romantic Subplots: 20 ideas beyond Romeo & Juliet

canstockphoto4542744Granted, the focus of the mystery is, well, solving the murder. However, a romantic subplot can enrich your story, adding humor, tension, suspense and character development. In interwoven subplots, the outcome of the main story will in some way depend on the outcome of the subplot.

The following is a list of premises that can be interwoven into the main plot. When the idea is added to the basic formula “Boy meets Girl, Boy loses Girl, Boy gets Girl,” you can start to see how the plot would develop. There are endless variations on this theme and it’s as trite and mundane as your characters, plot, and resolution.

  1. An individual is in love with someone who doesn’t know the individual even exists
  2. Lovers are kept apart by external forces, such as disaster, family feud, misfortune, or war,
  3. Lovers are forced apart by a misunderstanding
  4. Lovers are separated because of another person’s deceit
  5. Two people with a similar weakness, addiction, losses find strength and love in one another
  6. Two people from different worlds, cultures, classes, positions, politics, religions, or nationalities find themselves attracted to each other
  7. A person falls in love with someone who is secretly terminally ill
  8. An individual is forced to marry someone he doesn’t love to protect the person he does love
  9. Two people, each engaged/married to another person, fall in love
  10. Two competitors who initially dislike one another grow to harbor deep feelings for each other
  11. A couple who never considered themselves more than good friends discover their feelings run much deeper
  12. Two childhood sweethearts rediscover each other and rekindle that old spark
  13. An individual falls in love with someone who won’t commit because of having to hide a secret
  14. An employee falls in love with the boss, or vice versa
  15. A trusted friend, associate or investigator falls in love with the person he or she was hired to watch
  16. A divorced or separated couple discovers how much they really need or care for one another
  17. An individual falls in love with a photograph of another and seeks to find that person
  18. A young person falls in love with an older person, or vice versa
  19. A brief encounter occurs between two people who know their love can never be
  20. A loner is in love with his best friend’s girl

Quirky Character Traits

canstockphoto13465010I love quirky characters. Their offbeat personality traits can be endearing, making a character memorable and unique. Done right, character quirks can leave a lasting impression and be far more rewarding than vanilla, Boy Scout manikins with perfect hair and white teeth. Quirks can add depth that dialog and prose alone can’t reach. In fact, those peculiar little idiosyncrasies should make readers FEEL a deeper understanding of that character.

However, it’s critical that a quirky trait compliments the character’s established personality. It should reveal the character’s inner-workings, hinting at lingering shadows of childhood trauma or alluding to generations of odd behavior hardwired in his DNA. When an author simply tacks on a personality quirk in an attempt to add color to an otherwise stale, lifeless character, it tends to be distracting and cheapen the writing.

I’m always writing down ideas for quirky character traits in hopes that one day they’ll jump off the page and attach perfectly to a future character. Here are a few of my ideas that might inspire you and a few you may recognize in some of my current characters.

  • Constantly smacks gum and has a habit of putting the entire pack of gum in her mouth — all five pieces at once.
  • Chews on a cigar — never lights it, just chews on it.
  • Uses really big words incorrectly
  • Claims to be psychic but all the predictions are either very obvious or very wrong
  • Talks to his house plants and worries that they might be resentful
  • Has an inappropriate sense of humor,
  • Is brutally honest,
  • Uncomfortably hugs everyone, even those just recently met
  • Uses napkins to turn the faucet on and off as well as open doors or cabinets,
  • Constantly photographs all the mundane activities of life and brags about her scrapbook with the most boring photos ever
  • Has a fear of riding in cars — won’t drive, won’t ride in the passenger seat — and walks everywhere
  • Turns all photographs hanging on the wall, dolls or teddy bears on beds, or anything with eyes around, because “they’re always watching”
  • In love with a fictional character from a TV show; talks about the character as if he is real
  • Believes that unrelated events relate to him in some important way.

Looking for more infomation? Check out these articles:

100 Character Quirks You Can Steal From Me
Beyond the Cliche: How to Create Characters That Fascinate
35 Weird Traits Your Characters May Have