Wednesday, January 30, 2019

Why are mystery books different to write?

Do you like a good mystery story? 

Do you know why?

Mysteries have their own rules that set them apart for other general novels. It's important to recognize their unique structure. All good fiction should be about change. Even if the change is only that the main character realizes and admits that he will not change.

 In general novels, the epiphany that leads to self-discovery or change is usually the climax of the novel. Everything that has gone before in the book leads to change at the end of the book.

In a Mystery Novel, the change comes first, with the murder, and everything flows out of it. Murder changes the orderly flow of civilized events. The sleuth sets out to mend the tear in society's fabric by uncovering, gathering and piecing together information exposing the killer.

At the end of the book, the killer is caught, removed from society and the disruptive change at the beginning is corrected, patched or paid for. Order is restored. Both the characters and the reader can heave a satisfied sigh of relief.

Agatha Christie maintained that murder was not the beginning for the story, it was the end. The history of the people and events that occurred over the years before the murder all came together until 'Zero Hour' when the murder was committed. This concept is well displayed in her novel "Toward Zero."

If you'd like more information about Christie and her books, check out the tab for the workshop, Agatha Christie's Notebooks.

How to find a plot hole in your mystery.


8 basic steps in a murder mystery

The Problem:

I've been writing book 4 in the Caleb Cove Mystery Series. Doing well--I thought - until I reached about 18,000 words and realized. I had solid characters, lots of action, BUT no danger, no suspense, no tension and now where to go that was interesting in terms of a mystery story.
Major missing pieces.  **BIG SIGH**  

For the last two nights I watched old mystery series and crocheted, my go-to for keeping front mind busy so underneath can brainstorm. No real progress on the story ( did make 2 hats.)

Return to the drawing board:

This morning I decided to forget my location, action and characters and go back to the basics of a murder plot. In other words, backing up and looking at the big picture which needs to include these for starters.

Killing, killer, victim, discovery, reporting, sleuth and solution.

My brainstorming tool of choice:

 -- a mind map. (See Tony Buzan & Mind Mapping)

I started with the bodies, asked questions and fanned out around the central point. And bingo, I found my missing link and wrote down a BASIC plot line. (On left of diagram.) The long curvy arrow is the missing link.

What I found is not visible (x marks the spot) because that would be a spoiler for the book. (Came Home From the Grave -available on most digital sites & paper on Amazon)

 The Result: The Plot

1) finds bodies, 

2) investigates, 

3) learn secrets, 

4) gets found out by killer before telling secret, 

5) ends up in mortal danger , 

6) escapes OR is rescued or a bit of both

7) reveals and catches killer

8) gets reward

  Steps 3 and 4 were the missing pieces.

Now I know where to put all that action and character development and what to add to make things worse, to increase tension, and to enhance the mystery.

  What is your go-to tool for solving writing problems - plot, character or other?



How to dig up bones for a mystery in Canada

...over the top forensic information for Canadian writers

Coroner  or Medical Examiner?

 Four Canadian Provinces have Medical Examiners.

  • Alberta, Manitoba, Nova Scotia and Newfoundland. 

The other six provinces have Coroners.

  • Prince Edward Island, New Brunswick, Ontario, Quebec, Saskatchewan and British Columbia


- are responsible for overseeing investigations into unexplained natural deaths or unnatural deaths.
-  do not have to be physicians
- can call and oversee an in2uest into a death they have investigated

Medical Examiners

 - are also responsible for overseeing investigations into unexplained natural deaths or unnatural deaths.
- must be a physician
- cannot preside over an inquest; can only appear as a witness
- might also be a Forensic Pathologist by training. This always applies to a Chief Medical Examiner.

 For more information on their duties and other aspects of forensics in Canada, look up this publication on the net.

Forensics - Real Life Not TV

 Most of realize that the CSI and other shows with forensics as a basis for the story are fake. They are Hollywood versions of what makes the stories play out in 44 minutes and 32 seconds.

The real forensics are much more basic.

 - The techs most time where a uniform of some type so they are distinguishable at the crime scene as a member of the police team
- The labs are much less flashy - as i not at all.
- Fingerprints to not flash up and merge to prove they are a match.
- When processing the scene, the techs wear white paper suite, booties, head covers and often face masks. Cross contamination is easy to do, and that is a huge no-no. If you screw up one case, you are out of the forensics unit for good.

For further information on the steps to processing a crime scene and the investigation of materials and bodies, check out the thorough article written by Graham Pilsword on the CSI: Halifax with the input of Detective Constable Robert Furlong, Forensic Identification Technician - Nova Scotia's answer to Gil Grissom.


How to dig up skeletal bodies the right way.

There are articles on exhumation, on archeology and on digging up bodies from dirt. For those who are writing fiction, enough realistic information is needed to pull the reader into the scene. A few well placed comments or observations by one of you characters might well suffice. But what should they be?

  • Dirt in orifices is kept in place during the dig and removal from the ground.
Parker watched as the forensics tech cut into the dirt around the fully intact skull and removed it from its forgotten grave with all the internal dirt intact. 
  • The skeleton or body is unearthed from the top of the head downward in sequential areas.  Skull, Neck, Torso, Arms and legs and finally, hands and feet.
  • As much, if not more, work in forms of planning and gathering information is done prior to starting the dig.
  • The use of proper tools (e.g. ) plasterer's leaf trowel.
Many other useful tips are available in:

How do we find CREATIVE gold?

 Finding Gold Between Our Ears
Ted panning his gold, 1994

 Brains --Wonderful inventions. Our thinkers live somewhere in our brains. And our memory is plugged into the thinker. However our brains work in a non-linear fashion, and our thinkers spit out what the brain sends them.

 Reading about swimming cows on Diana Cranstoun’s blog I ended up thinking about gold in the Yukon Territory here in Canada. How the heck did that happen? Here’s where my thinker went.
  • Those cowboys came from Scotland. (See the last sentence in her blog.)
  • Robert Service came from Scotland.
  • He worked as a cowboy on Vancouver Island.
  • He later worked for a bank.
  • The bank sent him to Dawson City in the Yukon.
  • Working on a ledger in the bank there he glanced down and saw the name, Sam McGee.
  • He stopped working and wrote the now famous poem, The Cremation of Sam McGee.
  • My father used to recite that poem.
  • The actor playing him in Dawson in 1993 and ’94 gave a marvelous recitation.
  • The real Sam McGee is buried in Beiseker, Alberta.
  • We went back in 1994 and worked in Dawson for “the season.” (May to September)
  • Where is that gold bracelet made of the nuggets I got while I was there? 

My Gold. Panned, found or given to me.
But real gold nuggets are a story for another day.

We are not always aware of our thinker leaping along the path of our thoughts. It happens quickly.  As a writer, I find that my story does not evolve in a linear fashion either. I’ve learned to work with it.

When you let your thinker run wild in a good way, you find gold. It happens often when you are showering, washing up walking, running, driving--all those ongoing activities. Notice what's around you and let it ferment and bubble up for your writing.

Morning pages (as recommended by Julia Cameron in The Artist's Way) AND IN It's Never too Late to Begin Again help capture the steps and idea links. Doing "pages" clarifies my life thoughts and also helps me find the gold I need to enrich my stories.

Ted's Gold, Upper Bonanza Claim, 1994

The world is full of wonderful triggers to stimulate our memories or creative processes. Watch your thinker for a few days. Where does it take your mind and how does it get there? The awareness may surprise you and give you gold.