Monday, January 21, 2013

Twelve Elements to Consider When Writing a Mystery Series

1. Your sleuth should be likable, interesting and resourceful, with a definite personality that includes quirks and personal issues that have yet to be resolved. Your sleuth needs to have a personal stake in solving the mystery.

2. Consider your setting a major character. Use your setting well--its geography and flavor, its contrasting neighborhoods, businesses, parks and restaurants. Set your scenes in various locales to avoid monotony.

3. Occasionally change your setting. If most of the books in your series take place in a small town, you might have you sleuth solve a murder in Manhattan.

4. Your sleuth needs a best friend or confidant with whom to brainstorm. Consider his/her having a nemesis, as well, to up the tension and add red herrings to the mix.

5. A love interest or interests spices up your plot and adds another dimension. While your reader enjoys the puzzle-mystery aspect of your novel, his/her ties to your sleuth are even stronger.

6. Choose your victim carefully. Why was he/she murdered? What connects the victim to the suspects? Why was the second victim murdered?

7. As for suspects, have many, with various motives, and with varying connections to the victim(s). Don’t telescope the identity of the murderer, but let your murderer appear often enough so that your reader doesn’t feel cheated when all is revealed.

8. Secrets relating to the past are like chunks of dark Belgian chocolate in a chocolate brownie. Every character should have a secret or two. Reveal each secret only when necessary. Use them to your advantage.

9. Every mystery should have a theme. Be it a dispute regarding an inheritance, collecting butterflies or coins, each mystery should include a theme that reflects the concerns of the village or the outside world.

10. Decide what role official crime solvers play in your mystery. Even if you’re writing a cozy series, the police must appear in your books. Is your sleuth friendly with the homicide detective? Do they have an adversarial relationship?

11. Sub plots are essential to any novel, including your mystery. They arise from the theme such as a dispute over land development, or from an issue in your sleuth’s personal life.

12. Make sure your personal viewpoint comes through in your writing. You are unique. Your take on the human condition will help make your series stand out.


cj petterson said...

Great timely blog for me since I'm just starting a detective story (and hope to turn it into a series). I think I'm going to post these elements on my computer to keep me focused. Thanks.

Guppy Marilyn / cj
DEADLY STAR by Crimson Romance, available Feb. 2013
"A Fool's Gold" in TRIBUTARIES 2012 anthology.

Jim Cangany said...

Great guidelines, Marilyn. A lot of them can easily be applied to other genres, too. Thanks!

Patricia Gligor said...

Great post! As I read your 12 elements, I related them to my Malone mystery series. Thankfully, I believe (hope) I've included all of them. Thanks for the reminders!

Patg said...

Nice list to keep handy when you get stumped. Thanks, Marilyn.

Marilyn Levinson said...

Marilyn, Jim, Patricia and Pat,
I'm delighted you find this post helpful. Happy Writing to you all!

Mary Ricksen said...

Great advise!

Terry Ambrose said...

Hi Marilyn,
A really good list...the only thing I'd add is that on #6, it presumes there's a murder. But, in fact, maybe the crime is just a big heist or something else with no killing involved. We're so accustomed to mysteries including murders that we tend to forget that it IS possible to write them without the proverbial dead body!

Sharon Buchbinder said...

Great points, Marilyn!

Nancy J. Cohen said...

These are excellent tips, thanks for sharing. I will be dealing with the "change the location" one in my next Bad Hair Day mystery. After two stories centered around my hairstylist sleuth's salon and her home town, I need to send her somewhere different for a change of pace. I've done this twice before in the series, once sending her on a cruise and another time she attended a family reunion at a haunted resort.

Kaye George said...

Very nice summary, Marilyn! Something to save.

Marilyn Levinson said...

You make a very good point. Not all mysteries are murder mysteries.
Sharon and Kaye, glad you like the list.
I love the idea of a series changing location occasionally. And I'll never forget a tip you once gave me--romances in a series should go sloow-ly.

Marilyn Levinson said...

You make a very good point. Not all mysteries are murder mysteries.
Sharon and Kaye, glad you like the list.
I love the idea of a series changing location occasionally. And I'll never forget a tip you once gave me--romances in a series should go sloow-ly.

Gloria Alden said...

Good rules, Marilyn, and ones all we mystery writers should adhere to.

Anonymous said...

I think you nailed it right from number one. If your reader can't identify with the main character or at least sympathize, you have lost them from the beginning.

Lorna Collins - said...

Well said! Of course, I measured our cozies against this criteria and they measure up. Fortunately!

Marilyn Levinson said...

Gloria, WD, and Lorna,
I think we all keep these points in mind as we write mysteries. Our readers thrive on the suspense and "who dun it" aspect of the novel, but they need to connect to and care for our sleuth.

lynnerose said...

Great Post, Marilyn! I really need these to keep in mind. I'm printing you out and putting these points right in front of me. Thanks for covering so much of the essentials.

Kirby Dunton Carespodi said...

You make some great points!

Linda R said...

This was both fascinating and informative, Marilyn. Thanks for a great post!

Pam Ripling said...

Really great post, Marilyn! I'll be bookmarking this one for sure. Inspiring!

Marilyn Levinson said...

Lynnerose, Kirby, Linda, and Pam,
I'm glad that you find these points of value.

Jacqueline Seewald said...

Excellent tips, Marilyn! A very helpful post.