Just because I've written a few mysteries doesn't mean that I can't use a refresher course, and this is one of the best how-tos on the market. Here's our Hallie!
HALLIE EPHRON: It’s been more than 10 years since my how-to book on writing a mystery, was published and nominated for Edgar and Anthony awards. Since then, I’ve written eight more mystery and suspense novels, reviewed hundreds of crime novels for the Boston Globe, and given over 100 writing workshops and presentations.
In short, I’ve learned a lot, so I’m thrilled that Writers Digest tapped me to update my book. The new edition, WRITING & SELLING YOUR MYSTERY NOVEL: REVISED AND EXPANDED, is packed with new examples, exercises, and most of all insights about writing that I’ve gleaned since it was first published. The new introduction from Sara Paretsky is a special bonus.
Best of all, technology has evolved and now all of the exercises in it are available for download.
Here’s just a few of the things I’ve learned about writing a crime novel that I packed into the new edition (see the Table of Contents if you want to see more):
- Suspense is about the potential for something bad happening, and often the writer has to choose between suspense and surprise. When to reveal is as important as what to conceal.
- Secrets play a key role in in driving suspense. Lies protect the innocent as well as the guilty. The revelation of secrets can beef up a slow second act.
- It’s not plot or character, it’s plot and character: they have to dance together. The protagonist’s journey is as important as whodunit.
- Character need to have competing goals (sounds obvious, I know, but it wasn’t to me); creating a character web helps you harness the tension inherent in competing goals
- Much has changed,but professional quality editing is as important as ever in this brave new world of indie publishing.
The book is laced with quotes that I cherry-picked to reinforce the ideas. Here are some of my favorites:
On doing something hard like writing...
“In order to become even sort of good at it, you have to be willing to be bad at it for a long time” —David Owen in The New YorkerOn getting started...
(The “it” that Mr. Owen is talking about is playing bridge, but he might as well have been talking about writing a crime novel, another game with a steep learning curve. Almost everyone’s first efforts stink. Which led me to my advice to the aspiring writer: Just hold your nose and write.)
“Anyone who ever waited for the great inspiration to strike is still waiting to write her first book or short story. I start with an idea, of course; something that intrigues me. Then I start asking myself three questions: Suppose, what if, and why?” —Mary Higgins ClarkOn playing fair with the reader…
“Do you promise that your detectives shall well and truly detect the crimes presented to them, using those wits which it may please you to bestow upon them and not placing reliance on Divine Revelation, Feminine Intuition, Mumbo-Jumbo, Jiggery-Pokery, Coincidence or the Act of God?” —Membership oath of The Detection Club, founded in 1928; past presidents include Dorothy L. Sayers and Agatha ChristieOn the sleuth…
“A really good detective never gets married.” —Raymond Chandler,On the villain:
“I do empathise with people who are driven by dreadful impulses. I think to be driven to want to kill must be such a terrible burden. I try, and I think I succeed, in making my readers feel sorry for my psychopaths, because I do.” —Ruth RendellOn the suspects:
“Everybody has something to conceal.” —Sam Spade in Dashiell Hammett’s The Maltese FalconOn planning vs pantsing:
“An outline is crucial. It saves so much time. When you write suspense, you have to know where you’re going because you have to drop little hints along the way. With the outline, I always know where the story is going.” —John GrishamThe book can be pre-ordered now on Amazon or Barnes and Noble, or ordered now from Writers Digest Books.
“I do a very minimal synopsis before I start, and I know where I end up, I know sort of stations along the way, but I give myself freedom to kind of just discover things as I go along.” —Louis Bayard
“I just dive in and hope the book comes out at the other end. And as I get to the character, slowly the plot develops like a Polaroid.”—Tana French
Today's questions: Why do you think RC thought a married sleuth was a bad idea? Can you get away with "jiggery-Pokery"? And what else in life do you have to resign yourself to being bad at for a good long time before you get good?
About Writing and Selling Your Mystery Novel: Revised and Expanded
To piece together the puzzle of your mystery novel, you need patience, resilience, a solid understanding of the craft, and a clear blueprint for combining the plot, characters, setting, and more. And while patience and resilience must come from you, the essentials of craft and the plan to execute them are right at your fingertips with Writing and Selling Your Mystery Novel: Revised and Expanded. This completely revised and expanded edition features solid strategies for drafting, revising, and selling an intriguing novel that grips your readers and refuses to let them go.
New York Times best-selling author Hallie Ephron shows you how to:
- Create a compelling sleuth and a worthy villain
- Construct a plot rich in twists, red herrings, and misdirection
- Bring the story to a satisfying conclusion
- Sharpen characters and optimize pace during revision
- Seek publication through both traditional and indie paths
Filled with helpful worksheets and exercises for every step of the process, Writing and Selling Your Mystery Novel Revised and Expanded reveals the secrets of writing a memorable story that will have fans of mystery, suspense, and crime clamoring for more.
"The best how-to guide I have ever seen—I just wish I could have read it twenty years ago." -Lee Child, New York Times best-selling mystery authorDEBS: The only one I would disagree with is the stricture against married sleuths, since I've done it... READERS, what do you think?
And Hallie, did revising this book help you with your novel-in-progress?
PS: A fun side note--I met Hallie when we were both teaching at workshop given every year at Book Passage in Corte Madera, California. Hallie is a regular instructor, and I can tell you that if you ever get a chance to attend one of Hallie's classes or talks, take it. She is fabulous!