Thursday, December 11, 2008

Some Mystery Help by Vivian Zabel

In my forays into writing and reading, I visit the works of many mystery writers and sites for information. Allow me to share a few of my finds.

Places to look: I receive several writing magazines, and I've found The Writer and Writer's Digest to have more information about mysteries and writing mysteries (including suspense and thriller sub-genres) than most. For example, the July, 2008 The Writer has articles by Anne Perry (one of my favorites), William G. Tapply, and John D. MacDonald (from their achieves). I suggest that everyone find a copy of the July issue and read all three articles that I'll mention.

One place to find all types of information dealing with forensics, police procedure, types of guns, and other material a writer may need is Lee Lofland's website Graveyard Shift. Lee is a retired law enforcement person with a list of credentials that's most impressive.

Ideas to use: John D. MacDonald wrote a series based on the character Travis McGee. The article in The Writer appeared the first time in September 1964, but the journey taken by MacDonald holds true today.He said that "successful" to him meant two things: Not just a public acceptance ... but also a format which would give him the chance to continue to do paper-bounds originals satisfying to him. MacDonald wrote two full-length books, which he scraped because the hero didn't work. His third try he had Travis McGee, who had some of the man from the first book and some of the man of the second. MacDonald then allowed his character to "live" and become himself. "The only way to find out (what will work with characters) is to keep trying."

William G. Tapply offers tips about developing a series character in his article, "Create a sleuth for the LONG Haul." He has five which he labels: 1. Think big, have faith, and plan ahead; 2. Decide if your sleuth is going to be a pro, semipro or amateur; 3. Decide on voice, tone and personality; 4. Focus on flaws, foibles, weaknesses and quirks; and 5. Decide to what extent and how you'll reveal personal history, tastes, preferences and appearance. Reading and following some of Tapply's advice will strengthen anyone's detective.

Anne Perry sets her mysteries in the past, and she states that details need to be placed accurately. "Clothes, fabrics and fashion have to be right ... Of course, they can also reveal a great deal about characters ..." Perry says that characters must sit easily in their time and place, and an author's job is to do this well enough that readers feel as if they are in the time and place of the story. A few examples she gives in "Set your characters in their TIME & PLACE" to give fiction the feel of daily life include the following: domestic chores that go with the time; food of the time, preparation, quantity and locality; flowers and plants of the time; medicine and medical practices of the time period. The most important ingredient is accuracy.

I like mysteries, and have since I discovered Nancy Drew, but I want to be able to lose myself in the believability of the characters and plot. Anything that helps me accomplish that goal as a writer, I want to learn.

Please visit the site for my books Midnight Hours; Prairie Dog Cowboy
and Vivian's Mysteries.

Vivian Zabel
4RV Publishing


Morgan Mandel said...

Although sometimes it can be a pain, research is important. No author wants to find out after the fact that something in the book is inaccurate. Thanks for the tips.

Morgan Mandel

Mark Troy said...

Thanks for this info, Vivian. That insight about McGee being the third try is really helpful. As readers we only see he success. We don't see the work that went into it unless we look really close and we never see the failed attempts that went before unless the author chooses to reveal them. Characters that live on their own don't spring out of their author's heads fully formed. It's too bad there's not a fiction museum where we can see the prototype McGees, and maybe the prototype Spencers and Milhones.