When my last novel On Behalf of the Family was published, my head felt emptied. I had nothing left to say. Perhaps some of you know that feeling. A new plot wasn’t waiting in the wings. I didn’t have a file folder of ideas percolating. My characters weren’t demanding to take the stage once again. And for sure, I knew the world wasn’t breathless with anticipation for the next Detective Dave Mason mystery.
Short eBooks of about ten thousand words.
The writing was a joy because it flowed so easily. None of that head-scratching anxiety of write three sentences, delete two. I discovered how much I’d learned in the process of writing four unpublishable novels, then four fairly successful whodunits.
In that long process I had taught myself how to write, how to plot, and how to motivate memorable characters on the printed page. The ebooks on mystery writing were meant to share what I’d learned. I was writing for someone out there with a burning idea who didn’t know where to start. Or had begun and hit a wall.
I didn’t do any of the sensible things I should have done, for example, research the market on writing craft books, think about marketing strategies—any of that. I learned when the books were finished that there are many books on the craft of writing mysteries.
Some of them are thoughtful and good guides into the basics. For example, the detective and the killer are introduced quickly to play fair with the reader. The killer may look like a good guy and the reader’s attention misdirected in a welter of details. Have you noticed there are usually three red herrings?
I’m a great believer in writing character sketches, that is, writing a detailed backstory for each of the major characters. The detective and the killer must be equally strong and interesting to carry the reader’s attention for roughly 300 pages. To suggest ways you can bring your major characters to life I gave 20 questions as a prompt.
I wrote about naming characters, and choosing a setting and a time period. I suggested how to kick yourself in the pants when the plot stalls, and how to craft the thrilling chase scene at the climax when the detective brings down the killer.
Writing Your First Mystery is available as a free download on my website. The others are cheap enough to take a chance on.
My voice may not ignite the spark to write your first mystery. If this is not the book for you, try another craft book. Study the first 50 pages of mysteries that you love. Figure out why you like them.
The barriers to publishing your own first mystery have broken down. There is an insatiable appetite for crime fiction. If you are a reader who has even a vague idea of writing a mystery, I urge you to begin. No one else will ever have the same life experience and voice as you do. You are the only one who can tell your story. And your story is important.
Mar Preston is the author of four police procedurals set in the Santa Monica Police Department against the backdrop of a glitzy beach city bristling with celebrity, international, and homeless crime. A second series takes place in a tranquil California mountain village. Preston is a co-founder of the local SPCA, a dog park, a network of low-power radio stations, and picks up road kill for her wildlife rehab buddies to feed the big raptors. She would like to tell you that she has a fixed writing schedule that she adheres to rigidly, but this is not true.