The final set of writing advice I received at the Berries, Bridges and Books conference in Hammond, LA came from June Shaw during the afternoon Mystery/Intrigue session. June lives in Thibodaux, LA and has represented Louisiana on the board of Mystery Writers of America’s Southwest Chapter for the past two years. She has written for several periodicals, including The Writer magazine, and she writes what she likes to call humorous mysteries. Deadly Ink nominated her first book, Relative Danger, for their David Award for Best Mystery of the Year.
The following are June’s rules/guidelines for writing mysteries:
- Readers want to solve a crime/puzzle before the detective.
- Keep the action moving. Don’t get bogged down in backstory.
- Create a plot outline, including the beginning, the crime, uncovering clues, the climax, and the ending.
- Create a lot of trouble for the protagonist.
- Create scenes.
- Introduce the detective, culprit, and crime early.
- Hook readers right away. We live in a society of instant gratification.
- The crime must be violent (usually a murder) and believable.
- The culprit must be physically able to commit the crime.
- Don’t try to trick your readers.
- Don’t make the detective the killer.
- Plant red herrings generously. Plant real clues subtly.
- You must have different suspects with motives.
- Wait as long as you can to reveal who did it.
- Do your research.
- You want to create suspense in your books, no matter what genre you write.
- You get more charge out of a disaster if it takes place at the end of a scene.
- Give the readers only enough information for them to figure it out – they will fill in the blanks.
- A reader can’t be in suspense if he/she doesn’t know what’s coming.