Tuesday, July 27, 2021

Building and Maintaing Supense for your Mystery

 I was the moderator for this panel--here is what was shared:

First of course, every novel must have conflict.

1. Let the reader know what's at stake.

2.  The main character has to work against the clock.

3. Uncertainty.

4. Awkward challenges--moral dilemmas.

5. Suspenseful happenings.

6. Chapter endings--leaving things hanging.

7. Create a promise, hidden identity, a puzzle

8. Use flashbacks.

9. Characters with complicated histories.

10. Create a hero the reader will believe in and care about--and is vulnerable. 

11. Create a great villain, smart, motivated and a worthy opponent for the hero.

12. Dramatic irony.

13. A countdown

Of course there was much more--but these should help.


Tuesday, July 20, 2021

What Does A Murderer Look Like?

by Janis Patterson

Answer - just like anyone else.

Back in the early days of mysteries it was a trope to have the villain be either ugly, deformed or physically handicapped, as if their outward appearance were some sort of resonance to their inner deformity. (And let’s face it, deliberate murder is a deformity of the soul. I’m not talking about in self defense or defense of another, either. You know what I mean.)

Anyway, besides being cruel and extremely politically incorrect, it was also a dead giveaway to anyone who read more than one or two stories.

I believe that under the right (wrong?) circumstances and pressures, anyone can take another’s life, but we’re talking about those who do it deliberately and with malice aforethought. How do we spot them?

Answer - sometimes we don’t.

Life would be so much easier for everyone if one’s outward appearance revealed their inner proclivities, but it doesn’t work that way. Think of Ted Bundy, who by outward appearances was the kind of young man every mother prayed her daughter would bring home - good looking, well-mannered, well-educated, apparently with a shining future awaiting him.

Nothing could have been further from the truth. Beneath his almost leading-man exterior lurked a monster who loved to kidnap, rape, torture and kill young women. A low estimate of his kill tally is around 30, while most say it is probably much more.

Another deceptive monster is the sexual sadist and murderer Dennis Rader (aka the ‘Bind Torture Kill’ / BTK killer). He looked just like a kindly suburban father/grandfather type - balding, glasses, an open, plain face and lived an almost stereotypical modest suburban life with his family. But - he had definite weird and kinky sexual tastes, though he kept them well hidden, and he was thought of as normal, polite and well-mannered. He also liked sadism and killing and is reputed to have killed at least 10 people.

Remember the fictional (thank Heavens!) little girl so expertly played by Patti McCormack in the 1950s film THE BAD SEED? She was absolutely average looking, but evil to the core, killing everyone who displeased her. I remember I was about the same age as she when I first saw the film and was absolutely horrified. A little girl the same age as I, a cold-blooded murderess? That little girl could be sitting next to me in class. She might be in my Girl Scout troop! The revelation of the ubiquity of human evil shook me to the core.

The two killers who murdered the Clutter family and shot to fame because of Truman Capote’s IN COLD BLOOD certainly looked (to the popular imagination) like killers, but to say that is an indication of prejudice, just as it is to say that Bundy had to be a hero because he was handsome.

Almost every day in the news we see pictures of ordinary people who have either committed great crimes or performed good and heroic deeds. Some are handsome and some are plain and some are downright ugly, but their looks in no way equates their actions. To paraphrase MLK, people should be judged not for their appearance, but for their character.

So - the endgame of this overly-long little homily is that when you create your characters, do not automatically match their physiognomy to their actions. On the other hand, don’t go too far the other way and make every handsome person a villain. Our job is to create believable characters, not perpetuate stereotypes. There are handsome heroes - and villains. There are ugly villains - and heroes. And most people are a mixture of both. Make your characters real.

Tuesday, July 13, 2021


One of the former panels, obviously about law enforcement of some kind.

This was a fun mock mystery  radio program--made us all laugh. 

 As I've said before, the Public Safety Writers Association's writers' conference is my favorite. And after not being able to have one because of the pandemic--this month we're getting together once again.

Not surprisingly, we don't have as many attendees as usual. Though this is always a smaller conference, usually around 50, this time it's under 40. Some folks are still wary about the corona virus, others aren't ready to fly again. 

The attendees are most made up of people in law enforcement and other public safety fields who are writing or wanting to write, and a scattering of mystery writers who want to rub elbows and learn from the experts. 

I've been with this group since they reorganized several years ago and worked as the program chair. I turned that job over to a retired police detective who is a multi-published and award winning author--Michael A. Black. He's doing a fantastic job.

I have several reasons for being excited about going, I've made many friends with these folks and I'll be happy to see them again. Also some close mystery writers friends will be there and I haven't seen them for a long time either. A fun reunion is ahead.

I expect to learn a lot too. One of the main speakers is former LAPD homicide investigator, Mike Brandt who will talk about effective interviewing as a writer. Rannah Grey is going to tell about how her true crime book make it into a prime-time TV documentary. Terry L. Kerns, former FBI agent, and at present is the Opiate Coordinator with the Nevada Attorney General's Office-- topic is Examining the Opioid Epidemic. Friends Larry and Lorna Collins are going to present how to write the prefect pitch letter to agents and editors.

And of course there are the panels--from various members of law enforcement, Keeping Things Real in Your Writing; The Art of Mining Yourself and Experiences into Writing Fiction; Steps in Conducting and Investigation; What's your Jurisdiction; Writing Action Scenes

On the Writing and Publishing Side: Fiction Type-casting; Dealing with Censorship; Non-fiction Do's and Don'ts; Stepping into Publications; Animals, Aliens, and Other Things That Go Bump in the Night; Building and Maintaining Suspense in Your Fiction; Polishing Your Manuscript.

Like to get in on this one? It's not too late, https://policewriter.com/ It's in Vegas, could sign up the first evening of the conference--Thursday at 3 p.m.

Believe me, I can hardly wait/ It's been far too long.