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October 29, 2013 / Melissa Yuan-Innes

So You Want to Write a Mystery…

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Will shoot for milk

I did a WritersFest workshop on writing mysteries. That was the idea, anyway. Actually, most people wanted to talk indie publishing and making money. It wasn’t until I checked my notepad later that I found some mystery craft questions, which I will answer here.

I also randomly picked a winner for the book draw. But because it was a mystery workshop, and I’m a pain the bum, I’ll announce the winner at the end of the post.

Question 1. How do you keep the protagonist hidden until mid-point?

I don’t. I like to have the protagonist, the main character, front and centre. In general, I don’t recommend hiding anything in a mystery.

Mystery readers are smart. They like to piece clues together. If you just hide information, they’ll throw your book across the room. So give them the information they need, but distract them while you’re doing this. It’s like the author’s a magician, saying, “Look at the hand, look at the hand,” and the audience is hypnotized by the bunny he pulled out of the hat and completely misses the knife he’s carrying in his left hand. Kris Rusch said that Ellery Queen is the best at this.

Or, to put it another way, check out this Daniel Simons’s awareness test video (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vJG698U2Mvo). The clues are always there. But the reader has to piece them together.

I’ve got to work on this myself.

Question 2 & 3. How do you plot your mysteries? How do you effectively incorporate plot twists into your book?

I like to write by the seat of my pants, surprising myself, and then I go backwards and try to braid it all together. Fun but inefficient.

If you’re more organized, I highly recommend Camille Laguire’s blog. This is my favourite post, about how to turn a missed phone call into a plot device. Brilliant: http://daringnovelist.blogspot.ca/2012/12/writing-cozy-mystery-twisting-your.html. She outlines plot here (http://daringnovelist.blogspot.ca/2013/06/plotting-game-movie-of-week-plot.html), comparing it to a movie of the week.

And now, moving on, since people may be tired of hearing about me (another secret of writing–don’t bore the reader):

Thanks to Jodi White for trekking all the way from Toronto to join in WritersFest, after I asked Kobo to participate. (How many corporations would do this, and donate five Kobos to give away? And did you know that for every e-book you buy on that Kobo, a portion of the sale will go to the local Coles bookstore in Cornwall, because they support indie booksellers?)

I also learned from Jodi that the best way to link to your book is through the ISBN, and that Kobo now has a separate children’s section, which just might help spike children’s book sales. They’ll also start a reader loyalty program next year.

Thanks to everyone who came to WritersFest. Time is valuable when you’re pursuing the writing dream. I especially thank those of you who spent your hard-earned money on my books (and in Linda’s case, at least three times). I really appreciate it. Thank you.

Finally, I just have to give a shout out to Joseline Beaulieu, a multi-talented tour de force who not only expertly teaches me yoga at Sunset Yoga, but also belly dances with sabres, has a degree in marine biology, and raises money for the Madagascar School Project. She came to the workshop and brought me a card, an armload of flowers, and a squash. A squash! How could you not love this woman? You’d be hard-pressed to create a character this unique!

Joseline Beaulieu, sabre dancing to raise money for Child Haven

Joseline Beaulieu, sabre dancing to raise money for Child Haven. That’s right, she puts us all to shame.

So now that I’ve kept you in suspense long enough, who won the book draw, based on a randomly selected number?

Congratulations, Judy S!

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2 Comments

Leave a Comment
  1. Natalie / Nov 3 2013 11:54 am

    Joseline is amazing! You’re not so bad yourself. 😉 I’ll have to keep an eye out for Writers Fest next year.

    • Melissa Yuan-Innes / Nov 3 2013 12:03 pm

      I know! I haven’t even posted her belly dancing yet, because YouTube won’t accept iPhone video. Grr. I can e-mail you about WritersFest next year, if you like. Thanks for commenting.

      And…could I get some honey from you?

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