One Writer’s Journey

November 12, 2019

How to Create Suspense in Your Story

Filed under: Uncategorized — suebe @ 3:30 am
Tags: , , ,

As I work on my mystery during NaNoWriMo, I’m keeping my eyes open for any tips on how to lay in clues and create suspense.  I’m already fairly good at using cliff hangers to create suspense.  If you aren’t familiar with this term, a cliff hanger occurs when the author breaks a scene mid-action.  The heroine is dangling over the cliff.  Will she make it to the top?  You have to go to the next chapter (or whatever) to find out.

I’m less confident in my ability to use foreshadowing which is when you hint at something to come.  It may be as simple as mirroring something in a subplot that will later take place in the plot.  This could be an important item being lost or a missed opportunity.

But in one a diyMFA pre-Halloween posts, Savannah Cordova added three more ways to build suspense to my list.  The first of these was using flashbacks.  Often we think of flashbacks as a way to reveal what happened before the story takes place.  But a flashback can also, much like foreshadowing, hint at coming action.

Cordova also discusses creating what she calls ambiguous characters.  Thsi character can be an unreliable narrator, either someone who is intentionally lying or who has misinterpretted a critical event.  In my mystery, I have a character who while very sure of himself passes on a lot of incorrect information.  This may also be a character who lies about their identity.

The Writer’s Journey also discusses characters who while initially allies later betray the main character.  This could be because she has done something that goes against this person’s beliefs or simply because the person was too afraid to take a certain course of action.

I’m not sure how many of these techniques will eventually make their way into my mystery.  But I’m fairly certain that it won’t happen until the rewrite.


February 22, 2018

An Arguement for Plotting

Filed under: Uncategorized — suebe @ 7:11 am
Tags: , ,

make things happen

The last couple of weeks, I’ve been getting ready to start writing an adult mystery, a cozy.  When I tried to develop my premise, I discovered that I just didn’t know enough. I needed to do more work with my characters.

I’ve also been a little iffy on whether or not I wanted to plot out a novel vs just pantsing it.  But this time around and really seeing the benefit of plotting.  My character works at a museum.  Initially, I thought she was the archivist of the museums book collection and documents because the “person of note” was a children’s author.  But that still felt generic especially when I started really getting into the character.  She seemed real but her occupation felt thin.

So I started thinking about my character and what kind of children’s author she would be passionate about.  Over the course of Wednesday afternoon, I came up with the name for and premise of the fictitious series written by the “person of note.”  I knew when the books were written as well as the moral code they represented.

It seems like a bit much, doesn’t it?  But the important thing is that it is going to play into the background of the town.  This will come into play perhaps not in book 1 but in later mysteries.  See – I’m thinking series.

But I wouldn’t have come up with all of this if I was just winging it – aka pantsing.  I needed the space and the time to develop her occupation.  And I can see now how this will complicate all kinds of things through the various books.

On one hand, I’m hoping that I don’t have to go this deep for every character but I have my suspicions that it would be worthwhile, helping to create a setting and a world that is only loosely based on anywhere in particular but feels concrete and real.  Plotting is definitely worth the effort.


March 31, 2016

Mystery Writing: Historic Detecting for Today’s Reader

Filed under: Uncategorized — suebe @ 1:26 am
Tags: , ,

Detective, Clues, Find, Finger, Fingerprints, MysteryWhen you write a mystery set in the past, you have to do it knowing what your detective would have known about solving crimes.  It seems obvious but a detective going after Jack the Ripper wouldn’t have known anything about profiling or the psychology of serial killers.  The problem is that you still have to write with these things in mind because they are a part of your reader’s knowledge.

What does this mean for my story set in the 1970s?  I will have to find out:

  • Whether or not blood evidence was used and tested for blood type.
  • What were the prevailing theories about crime and criminals.
  • What did they call PTSD?  What were the theories about same?
  • Suspects civil rights.

In spite of these things, I will have to write with the following in mind:

  • My readers will have a set of expectations based on too much NCSI.
  • No matter what the theories are about crimes and PTSD, my characters will have to behave in accordance to today’s theories/expectations.

My detective and her investigation have to mesh with the time period.  She may be progressive or think in ways that are not typical for her time period, after all people are not part of a hive mind.  But she cannot know things that have only recently been discovered.

The more I learn, the more that I realize — writing historic fiction is like walking a tightrope strung between then and now.



March 2, 2016

Writing the Historic Mystery: When To Set Your Story

Filed under: Uncategorized — suebe @ 1:57 am
Tags: , ,

historic mysteryI’ve been doing some reading on writing historic mysteries.  The first discussion that I came across surprised me —  Is Your Time Period Truly Historic?

A group of historic mystery writers had come to some sort of consensus that unless the setting is 50 years in the past when the book is published, it is not historic fiction.  Me being me, I had a bit of a panic and did a wee bit of math beginning with the year my story begins.  1975 + 50 = 2025.

According to these writers, my book will not be historic fiction.  I still haven’t decided if I think this is a problem or not.  I want it set in the Cold War but I need the Vietnam War to be in the recent past.  Of course, I don’t have a draft completed.  Heck, I’m still researching.  I don’t technically have a draft started.  I’ve decided that at least for now, I will ignore this potential problem.

The other interesting (ie troubling) discussion was when to set your story. In other words, what time periods are popular.  The hands down favorites were Edwardian and Victorian England.  There was also a nod, although much less enthusiastic, for the Roaring 20s.  Of course, if you pick one of these time periods, it is also recommended that you dodge the specific years in use by other authors if at all possible.

Again, I seem to have a bit of a problem.  Not only have a committed the somewhat grand faux pas of not basing my story in England, I have failed to select one of the favored time periods.

The problem is that I don’t think my story would work somewhen else.  I have to add that I also think my time will help readers connect to the story since I will be dealing with racial tension and war veterans.

Things to consider as I continue to mull over my story…


March 3, 2014

Red Herrings: What I Learned in my February Reading

Filed under: Uncategorized — suebe @ 1:43 am
Tags: , , ,

Not the mystery in question! In fact, none of the books I’ve imaged are.

I’ve been doing a lot of mystery reading lately in part because I’m contemplating writing a mystery. I know I want to write one, and I even have a few ideas, but I’m trying to decide which one to write.  So, in a grand act of perseverance, I’m reading instead.

One of the things that I’ve noticed is how hard it is to position the red herrings in your story so that they work and work well.  For those of you who don’t know, a red herring is a false lead.  Red herrings are what make both the reader and the sleuth suspect that an innocent person is the bad guy.  They are essential but difficult to place well:

Make them too subtle and your readers feel cheated.  “Hey, there was no way we could solve this!:

Make them too obvious and you give away your surprise ending.

Make them too similiar and things feel weird.  This one is going to require some explanation.  I recently listened to an urban fantasy/mystery in which the killer obviously had medical knowledge.  His kills revealed the skill of a surgeon.  Suspect number 1 (a lawyer), briefly went to medical school.  Suspect #2 was thrown out of medical school.  The detective could go toe-to-toe with the bad guy because, in spite of the fact that she is an archaeology specializing in the Anasazi, she too has a medical school background.

Seriously?  I could see if one was ex-military trained in field medicine, one was ex-medical school and one had veterinary training but all three had gone to medical school.  I feel like I’m the only one who missed out.

When you lay out your clues and give your characters the background needed to make your story work, don’t always go with your first thought (medical school).  Get creative.  Come at some of the clues sideways.  Lay them out there but make sure they are believable.

Here is my February reading list:

  1. Admirand, C.H.  Welcome Back to Apple Grove (Sourcebooks/Cacablanca)
  2. Averbeck, Jim.  Oh No, Little Dragon! (Atheneum Books for Young Readers)
  3. Averbeck, Jim.  The Market Bowl (Charlesbridge)
  4. Baker, Jeanie.  Mirror (Candlewick Press)
  5. Blackwell, Juliet.  Home for the Haunting (Obsidian/Penguin Group)
  6. Campbell, K. G. The Mermaid and the Shoe (Kids Can Press)
  7. Carleson, C.J., The Tyrant’s Daughter (Alfred A. Knopf)
  8. da Costa, Deboarh.  Snow in Jerusalem (Albert Whitman and Company)
  9. Fleming, Candace.  Papa’s Mechanical Fish (Margaret Ferguson Books/Farrar Straus Giroux)
  10. Ilibagiza, Immaculee.  Left to Tell.  
  11. Kiefer, Erica.  Lingering Echoes (Clean Teen Press)
  12. LaRochelle, David.  Moo! (Walker Books for Young Readers)
  13. Preston, Douglas and Lincoln Child.  The Cabinet of Curiosities.  
  14. Root, Phyllis. Plant a Pocket of Prairie (University of Minnesota Press)
  15. Turnage, Sheila.  Three Times Lucky 


September 15, 2010

Writing Mysteries: Layering in the Clues

Filed under: Uncategorized — suebe @ 2:32 am
Tags: , ,

One of the things that I love about writing is that I get to call reading research.  What is more fun than reading great books and actually learning from the process?

Recently, I read Suspect by Kristin Wolden Nitz.  It is a young adult mystery set in Missouri’s wine country.

I have to admit that as much as I enjoy reading mysteries, it is often something of a game.  Just how early can I pick out the murderer and what gives this person away?

Not only did I not figure it out in Kristin’s book, I didn’t even try.  I was far too caught up in the mystery.  Part of the reason that it snared me so successfully was that it was so carefully crafted.   Normally, I start trying to figure out who done it when I come across a detail that screams clue or red herring.  Kris layered in a lot of detail, using it to establish character and give a feel for place.  Because these same details were often also  clues and red herrings, they didn’t stand out.

The other thing that worked to her advantage was that, for the most part, her characters were likable.  Sure, some of them were incredibly shallow but there really wasn’t anyone that you wanted to be the bad guy (or gal).

Before too long, I’m going to have to read this one again so that I can get a better feel for how Kristin pulled this off.

Until then?  Thank you, Kristin for creating a great read that is also a great learning experience from the perspective of another writer.


Blog at

%d bloggers like this: