Death of a Murder Mystery Novel

canstockphoto8528152The Librarian stepped around the corner of the bookshelf and froze. She raised her hands to her cheeks and screamed. Still, she couldn’t look away. Beaten, battered and ripped apart, it lay in pieces at her feet.

Clearly, the book was dead.

When the police arrived, the librarian pointed them to the gruesome scene. Two detectives approached the book, lying open on its spine. Its cover spread eagle. Black ink spilled off its earmarked pages and pooled on the carpet.

“Another discarded book,” Detective Barnes said, leaning down on one knee to get a closer look at the corpse.

“Like yesterday’s garbage.” The other detective, Noble, took a pen from his jacket and used it to close the book cover. “It was a mystery novel.”

Together, Barnes and Noble stood and walked toward the librarian. She cowered near the checkout counter, trembling.

“You hear about this kind of thing happening,” she said, looking up at Detective Barnes. “You just never think you’ll actually witness this kind of horror.”

“Just tell us what happened.” Barnes slipped a hand inside his jacket and pulled out a pen and note pad. He nodded toward the Librarian. She took a deep breath and looked back in the direction of the crime scene.

“Several people started the book.” Her voice was barely a whisper, as if she was frightened of what she might say. “Some would read a few chapters, others just a few pages, but the outcome was always the same: The readers would just lose interest, shut the book, and discard it.”

“And do you know why?”

She closed her eyes, scrunched her face. “The book was a murder mystery, but after a hundred pages, there was still no victim. No murder. No crime scene.”

“You mean the murder in the book didn’t occur within the first three chapters?”

“That is correct. And nobody knows exactly when the murder did occur because…” She stopped suddenly, sighed, and brought a hand to her face. It looked as if she might faint. “Because every reader gave up on the book before the mystery began.”

“Well, that’s crazy.” Barnes shut his note pad with a huff and dropped his pen. “The crime and the ensuing questions are what hook the reader. As with any fiction, but especially in a murder mystery, you want to do that as quickly as possible.”

Standing beside him, Noble nodded. “Mystery readers pick up a book for the blood, and they want it sooner, rather than later. They won’t wait a hundred pages for something to happen.”

The Librarian reached for Barnes, grasping his forearm and squeezed. “Wait,” she said. “It gets worse.”

The Detective shuddered. “You mean?”

“Yes.” The Librarian shrank back toward the edge of the counter and gripped it to support her weight. Her legs were wobbly. Her face flushed. Looking down at her feet, she spoke slowly, deliberately. “The beginning chapters were just pages of set-up and back story.”

Both detectives looked away in shame. There were some cases that were so ghastly, so incomprehensible, that it made their stomachs turn. Detective Barnes’ eyes burned, and he squinted to hold back the tears. “Readers are just sort of left in suspended animation, waiting for the murder to occur so they can participate in solving it.  It’s the whole point of a murder mystery.”

“We’ve seen it a hundred times,” Noble said. “That book lived dangerously. It broke all the rules. It was bound to get discarded like that.”

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

 

Your Author Platform: What is it? Do you really need one?

canstockphoto0897631I’ve heard a lot of buzz lately about creating an Author Platform. Professional writers need it; agents and publishers expect it. But what exactly is it?

Putting it simply: your platform is the strategy to reach your target market, i.e. the people who are interested in you, what you have to say and, of course, who will potentially buy your book.

I’ve just started constructing my platform.

The first step was setting up a blog and website. I’m still perfecting this site and finding my voice. But it’s a logical step one.

Step two has been broadening my reach with social media. I’ve set up a Facebook fan page and a YouTube channel. I’ve got a GoodReads page and an Amazon author page. But I know that’s just a tip of the iceberg. There are so many social media programs out there, that it can get a little intimidating. Most experts tell you to select two or three programs and use them regularly, rather than do very little across many sites.

The next step is to start compiling a mailing list. Some articles advise to set-up a newsletter or some reason for people to give you their email address, and want to receive information from you. In this day and age, I’m hard pressed to figure out what I could email people that they can’t just as easily Google on their own. And I don’t think this world needs another newsletter. :)

Somewhere down the line I’ll jump into the Twitter-verse. But that’s another day.

All in all, it’s going to take time to build a solid platform, setting up one component then the next. And, it’s going to take even longer for those components to grow  and build momentum. But you’ve got to start somewhere, right?

Want to read some good articles about building an Author Platform? Check out:

 

Electively Paige reviews The Designated Survivor

The Designated Survivor Cover PhotoElectively Paige reviewed The Designated Survivor.

In the review, she writes:

“This short novella has enough action packed suspense to fill a full-length novel and I found it to be a very entertaining read.The Designated Survivor is certainly… different, and I don’t mean that in a bad way. I felt like I’d never read something quite like it and I was delighted to find it a very entertaining story. The twists and turns had me on edge and I easily read this book in one setting.
“Tess is on the run after escaping from prison and hitches a ride from a not-quite-right man who is convinced she’s his(dead) wife. That’s crazy enough, not to mention the urn in the passenger seat and the body in the trunk. Yes, Tess is in for one crazy ride, and I was happy to ride–er, read along. I recommend for any fan of a quick, suspenseful read that’s a little on the quirky side! “

The Art of Planting Clues in a Murder Mystery

canstockphoto9200023Are you struggling with planting all those subtle clues into your murder mystery, and looking for some tips on how to misdirect your reader while still playing fair? Check out this informative article “Don’t Drop Clues, Place Them Carefully” by Stephen Rogers published on writing-world.com.

In it, he explains that “when planting clues, there are a number of tricks you can use.

  • Clues can have ambiguous meanings. A large footprint implies someone with large feet or a small-footed person wearing large shoes.
  • Clues can point to several people. A diamond ring can implicate someone who wears diamonds, someone who sells them, or someone who steals them. It could also be a plant.
  • Clues can be misread. The detective jumps to a wrong conclusion. Will the reader follow?
  • Clues can unfold. The flat piece of metal discovered on page three makes no sense until its mate is discovered many scenes later.”

I hate that he calls them “tricks” though, as readers don’t like to be tricked. They want to be surprised. And his list above, and more within the article, explains a lot of DEVICES that a well-written mystery utilizes to keep the reader guessing. He also illustrates how to play fair.

As the article states, “clues should appear and be visible before they play their part. If the killer is arrested because of a fingerprint lifted from a shell casing, you want to mention the discovery of a shell casing if not describe the actual lifting of the print. If a shotgun is fired in the third act, you want to show the gun hanging over the fireplace in the first. (Chekhov reminds us that if you place a shotgun in the first act, you must have it fired by the third.) The reader should see the wires and mirrors but not recognize their significance. This is how the writer plays fair.”

The most brilliant nugget in the article though is his explanation of what not to do when burying a clue within a list.  He refers to a recurring example of a stealth helicopter as a being an important clue in previous sections, and then refers to again.

“So my boss hands me this folder with all the items I’m responsible for and tells me I need to tag them with inventory stickers. I start thumbing through the sheets. One metal desk, beige. One motorcycle. One filing cabinet. One laptop. One helicopter, stealth. One stapler. Fifteen desk chairs. Fifteen chairs? Why would I have fifteen chairs?”

“The danger of hiding a clue within a list is that readers may recognize a list is coming and skip ahead. While you can stand on high ground and berate readers for not savoring each and every word, this is not the way to build a fan base.”

That completely tripped me up, as I skipped right over the list. Then read the final sentence and said, “Oh, yeah. He’s right. This is brilliant!”

If you’re currently writing a mystery and struggling with clue placement, jump over to “Don’t Drop Clues, Place Them Carefully.” It’ll get you thinking…

Now You See It, Now You Don’t: Hiding Clues in a Murder Mystery Novel

Keyhole with hidden murdererWriting a mystery novel is tough. You can’t withhold all the details until the end, but if you give too much away, your reader will discover who the murderer is before your sleuth. Both should realize the identity of the murderer at the same time. So how do you keep the mystery from unraveling before the end of your story? How do you hide the culprit in a good whodunit?

Here are some techniques I found to keep the reader guessing.

Draw attention elsewhere. Basically, use the old magician’s trick of distracting the eye. Emphasize the unimportant; de-emphasize the clue. That way, the reader sees the clue but not what’s important about it and is apt to glide right over its significance.

Camouflage a clue with action. Reveal the clue in the midst of a lot of action to distract attention.

Stage the real clue right before a red herring. Generally, people tend to remember the last item in a series. So, if your clue is among a series of items (say the contents of a purse) name the item you want the reader to remember last.

Create a time problem. Manipulate time to your own advantage. On the surface, the timeline of events or the time of death appears one way, but the truth is something else. Perhaps an incorrect time of death gives a suspect an alibi.

Hide the clue in plain sight. Tuck the clue among so many other possible clues that it doesn’t stand out.

Scatter pieces of the clue in different places and mix up the logical order. Challenge your reader by revealing only part of a clue at a time.

Have the clue turn out to be what isn’t there. The suspect painstakingly explains what happened in great detail, but the clue your reader needs to notice is what should’ve happened but didn’t. .

Have your Protagonist misinterpret the meaning of a clue. Your sleuth can make a logical mistake that sends the reader’s focus on a red herring.

Establish a clue before the reader can know its significance. Introduce the key information before the reader has a context to fit it into, generally at the beginning of the book and often before the murder takes place.

Writing a Murder Mystery: Motives for Murder

canstockphoto14386385After revealing “Who Done It,” the most important piece of the puzzle in a good murder mystery is “Why Done It.” The Antagonist’s reason to commit murder and hide it must be creative, make sense and be ultimately satisfying to your reader. So, it got me thinking: What are some basic motives for murder?

Here’s the list I started. Feel free to comment and add to the list.

TEN MOTIVES FOR MURDER

1. To hide a secret. This is the most obvious motive. The Victim stumbles upon the Antagonist’s closely guarded secret, and he kills her so she won’t reveal it.

  • A father, scared of losing his daughter’s love if she ever finds out that she was adopted, murders the child’s biological mother when she suddenly reappears in their lives.

2. Greed. The Antagonist wants the victim’s fortune, property or something else of value… and is willing to kill to get his hands on it.

  • The Femme Fatale murders her wealthy, old lover with a heart condition after he names her in his last will and testament.

3. Revenge. The Antagonist wants to even the score for some past wrong doing (which is often detailed in the prologue) and the victim pays the price.

  • The successful computer geek attends his high school reunion and kills the formal popular cheerleader who made fun of him some twenty years ago
  • The successful computer geek murders the red-headed dance teacher who looks eerily similar to that hateful cheerleader who made fun of him in high school

4. Obsession, Frustration & Hate. Have you hugged a sociopath today? This is a great opportunity to expose your Antagonist’s prejudices and/or deep-seeded obsessions.

  • A deeply religious mother murders her son’s college professor because of something taught at school.
  • The shy, awkward boy in the back of class has been sending notes to the popular girl in his Chemistry class. Unfortunately. when she rebukes his advances, he lashes out by killing her.
  • After a lifetime of seething jealousy, the unemployed, divorced, broke older brother finally murders his successful, wealthy, happily married with a beautiful home and three beautiful kids, younger brother.

5. Love, Sex & Jealousy. Maybe this should be motive #1. At least it seems like it in real life if you watch any of the murder investigation documentaries on cable television. Does it even need an example? Pick a love triangle and you’ve got a motive.

  • The Traveling Salesman’s pregnant wife is found dead after he tells his college-aged girlfriend won’t end his marriage.

6. Crime of Passion.  Your Antagonist’s anger gets the best of him, and he snaps in a fit of rage. Generally, everyone is shocked by his actions, as he seems like the last person on the planet who’d ever commit such a heinous murder. Often the Antagonist doesn’t remember what happened, as he was out of his head at the time.

  • A father becomes so enraged at his wife for ripping the family apart when she tells him that she’s leaving him for her personal trainer that he shoots their two children dead before turning the gun on himself. Neighbors couldn’t believe it; he was such a normal, quiet Family Man.

7. Psychosis & Mental Disorders.  The Antagonist is detached from society (maybe even humanity) and does something unthinkable, generally for reasons that are just in his head.

  • A mother, who believes voices are instructing her to do bad things, drowns her children 

8. To protect personal status. Your Antagonist is very threatened by the Victim’s success, talents or attention, and commits murder to balance the scales.

  • An incensed, corporate ladder-climber murders her competition for a high-profile, high-paying position.
  • An aging rock star — who is now humiliating reduced to opening act for a new, popular, younger pop star  — plots a stage mishap to get the young phenom out of the way.

9. To protect a loved one. You would do anything for your kids, including murder if someone was hurting one of them. Well, so would your Antagonist. And sometimes loved ones moves beyond family, or even people.

  • A father kills a teacher who was abusing his child
  • An over-protective mother murders the high school student who has been mercilessly bullying her son
  • A deer hunter and wildlife enthusiast murders the CEO of logging company that is decimating his forest. 

10. Empathy or Sympathy. The Antagonist doesn’t have malicious intent; in fact, he’s acting (or believes) in the Victim’s best interest. .

  • The Caregiver gives the ailing, elderly patient a heavy sleeping potion so she slips quietly away in the night.
  • A nursing student helps a dying cancer patient commit suicide so that he can die with dignity.

Hope these help. If you have any examples or other ideas, please post in the comments!