Thursday, January 8, 2009

Ideas not to use in mysteries by Vivian Zabel

I read books that sometimes irritate me because they contain cheap tricks, but nothing causes me to grit my teeth and throw the book across the room than when it's a mystery with cheap writing tricks. What are some of these "don't use ideas"? Ah, let me count the ways. Sorry, wrong analogy.

Don't have a protagonist, which is usually a woman, insert herself into a dangerous situation when she could call 911. How many stupid people are there in the literary world?

Don't leave the reader guessing about what the hero finds. A clue, a piece of evidence, whatever, should be shared with the reader when the character finds it.

Don't make dialogue boring, unreal, filled with background information. Have you ever become irate when one character explains something to another that the second person should know? I don't like it when one CSI person tells someone running a test all the steps. Surely the one running the test would know what to do.

Don't make the police appear stupid or dumb. Law enforcement officers should be realistic, not buffoons. Yes, they can make mistakes and actually appear flawed as we all are, but they should be intelligent enough to be on the force.

Just a few of my "don't dos," but I'll have more another time.

Vivian Zabel
Brain Cells & Bubble Wrap
Midnight Hours
Prairie Dog Cowboy
4RV Publishing
Vivian's Mysteries


Holly Jahangiri said...

About your halfway intelligent heroine, calling 911? I asked my mother, once, why there were no loving, effectual mothers in Disney movies. She said, "Because then the girls would never have gotten into these predicaments, and there would BE no story!"

It's a point worth noting. ;)

Travel Writer said...

I feel the same... Amen to the Police part

Morgan Mandel said...

That first one we like to call the Too Stupid To Live person.

Morgan Mandel

Nocturnal Intellect said...

Something tells me V. received some pretty lame manuscripts to read lately and just couldn't hold in. LOL
I agree that boring dialogues can ruin the whole read and a mystery book should not look like an instruction booklet on "How to use a hair dryer - for idiots".

Vivian Zabel said...

Oh, A., How did you know? *laugh*

Holly, if there wouldn't be a story unless some poor female was too dumb to do the logical thing, then we have very uncreative writers. Oh, that's right (refer to comment by Nocturnal Intellect), according to some of the slush pile I've waded through, we do have some very uncreative (poor) writers.

Morgan, yes, the too-stupid-to-live character.

Mark said...

There's certainly a lot of what some people call "as you know, Bob" on CSI where information is passed for the reader's benefit, not the character's who should know already. Maybe we should update the lexicon and call such dialogue "as you know, Grissom."

OTOH, I think the main attraction of CSI is the info the writers dump on the viewer, whether it's through an "as you know, Grissom" or through a graphic showing a bullet traveling through a human brain. Overall, I think they do a good job of dumping it on us without making us feel dumped on.

Ginger Simpson said...

Thanks for the tips. I'm working on my first real 'mystery', and these were most helpful...especially the keeping a clue from the reader. I would have thought it added a hook that kept the reader turning pages. I'm new to this genre, so I appreciate the tips. seeing Anne Carter on your page. I knew her when she was a pirate a few years back. :)

Heidiwriter said...

Good advice!
Thanks for stopping by my blog. I'm having trouble with the time organization myself!


Holly Jahangiri said...

Oh, she's not stupid - stupid is when the heroine hears the creepy music and climbs the darkened staircase, anyway, despite the audience shouting, "No! Don't go up the stairs! Call 911! Get out of the house - NOW! @#$%! idiot, you deserve to die, b@#$%."

Holly Jahangiri said...

Your example isn't stupid. She's...plucky. Foolhardy. Brave, but prone to poor impulse control.

You should admire the type. Mine was ready to call everyone in her contact list, go to Kroger for poster board and markers, have a sign-making party, and storm our Congress-critters' offices - at 10PM last night.

(Sometimes, Google's "word verification" word is just too good not to share. Today's word: "peedat." "Johnny, did you peedat on da floor? Shame on you.")

F. M. Meredith, author said...

There must be a very good reason for the heroine to go into a scary place by herself and not call:

her child is there.
phone lines cut.
no cell phone access.

Where we live the only cell phones that work are with AT and T, once anyone with Verizon or Sprint passes the lake on the way to where I live, there phones are no longer working.

I always laugh at the Verizon commercials since we do live in a dead zone.


Dana Fredsti said...

My cell phone carrier gives me no bars in the weirdest not being able to call 911 is a very real thing for me. Back when I wrote the first draft of MFH...well, dating myself here...cell phones were not common. At all.