View the archive of my two-hour class and discover the Five Things I’ve Learned about the essential elements of a great mystery, and the rewards they make possible for readers and writers.
Why write a Mystery novel?
I’ve been a published author for thirty years. I’ve won major awards and made all kinds of Bestseller lists. So why do I stay with the mystery genre? Is there something unique that a mystery offers the writer – things I can do within the genre that I couldn’t do in mainstream fiction? For that matter, why have award-winning mainstream novelists like Kate Atkinson or Michael Chabon or John Banville turned to crime?
I’m also a lifelong reader, one of the many who gravitate toward the shelves marked Mystery – and it’s definitely not because I’m looking for a book that I’ve read dozens of times before.
I head to the Mystery section because it’s where I’ll find the very opposite of formulaic. It’s where I’ll discover stories that are playful, or tough, or odd, or sparkling with insight. Stories that are unexpected, or troubling, or goofy, or offer a window into the past (and thus, the present.) Stories that are, from their opening scene to their closing sentence, human.
I am perpetually fascinated by what my fellow writers manage do with the mystery genre – and endlessly curious about where I might go next with my own mysteries. But one thing for sure: I plan to stay with the genre, because the Mystery –
…has structure. Wherever a story may be on the mystery spectrum, from the coziest of amateur sleuths to the most pulse-raising thriller, there are rules and conventions. I see these as the bones of a skeleton, with all kinds of bodies built around them.
…is subversive. A paperback entertainment can deliver weighty social comment. A frivolous distraction in a bright cover may leave its reader with a dose of introspection. Crime can be sneaky.
…has vivid characters. Characters only come alive when they grapple with challenges. A compelling character is one whose struggles the reader has followed—and what challenge could be more powerful than a murder?
…is where a reader and writer meet up. A mystery writer is always conscious of the reader. I deliberately shape my stories to baffle, mislead, and startle the person at the far end of the process. And when writing a series novel, I am very aware I am not the only family my characters have. My relationship with my reader is playful, serious, and (one hopes) long-term.
…has an end. A mystery must have a solution, be it perky/neat or grimy/noir. The way the story wraps up needs to be intellectually and emotionally satisfying.
This two-hour Five Things I’ve Learned classis built around points of craft, but it centers around the larger question, What is the purpose of a mystery—why do we do the modern equivalent of huddling around the campfire listening to them?
For the reader, our time together will give a chance to listen to the creator of a string of enormously popular characters reflect on why she’s spent so much of her life telling these kinds of stories.
For the writer, it’s a chance to look over the shoulder of a bestselling MWA Grand Master and hear her talk about how she’s done it: what five key tenets of the genre are, why certain rules came into being, and how you should—and maybe shouldn’t—break them.
I love what I do, and I hope you join me for Five Things I’ve Learned about What Makes the Mystery Great.
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