O'Reilly logo

Stay ahead with the world's most comprehensive technology and business learning platform.

With Safari, you learn the way you learn best. Get unlimited access to videos, live online training, learning paths, books, tutorials, and more.

Start Free Trial

No credit card required

Writing and Selling Your Mystery Novel Revised and Expanded Edition, 2nd Edition

Book Description

A Mystery Writers of America Edgar Award Finalist for Best Critical/Biographical Work

Discover the secrets to crafting an unforgettable mystery!

To piece together the puzzle of your mystery novel, you need patience, resilience, a solid understanding of the craft, and a clear blueprint for combining the plot, characters, setting, and more. And while patience and resilience must come from you, the essentials of craft and the plan to execute them are right at your fingertips with Writing and Selling Your Mystery Novel. This completely revised and updated edition features solid strategies for drafting, revising, and selling an intriguing novel that grips your readers and refuses to let them go.

New York Times best-selling author Hallie Ephron shows you how to:
  • Create a compelling sleuth and a worthy villain
  • Construct a plot rich in twists, red herrings, and misdirection
  • Bring the story to a satisfying conclusion
  • Sharpen characters and optimize pace during revision
  • Seek publication through both traditional and indie paths
Filled with helpful worksheets and exercises for every step of the process, Writing and Selling Your Mystery Novel Revised and Expanded reveals the keys to writing a memorable story that will have fans of mystery, suspense, and crime clamoring for more.

Table of Contents

  1. Title Page
  2. Copyright Page
  3. Acknowledgments
  4. About the Author
  5. Contents
  6. Foreword
  7. Introduction
    1. WHAT IS A MYSTERY NOVEL?
    2. WHAT MAKES A MYSTERY NOVEL POPULAR?
    3. TUNING YOUR EAR: A READING LIST
    4. NESTING INSTRUCTIONS
  8. How This Book Works
  9. Part I: Planning
    1. Chapter 1: The Premise
      1. WHERE TO FIND IDEAS
      2. MAKING THE LEAP FROM IDEA TO PREMISE
      3. USING REAL EVENTS AND PEOPLE
      4. MARKET-DRIVEN IDEAS
    2. Chapter 2: The Mystery Sleuth
      1. DEVELOPING YOUR PROTAGONIST’S DARK PAST
      2. DETERMINING YOUR SLEUTH’S EXPERIENCE LEVEL
      3. RESEARCHING YOUR CHARACTER
      4. CRAFTING A REALISTIC PROTAGONIST
    3. Chapter 3: The Crime and the Victim’s Secrets
      1. THE CRIME
      2. THE VICTIM
    4. Chapter 4: The Villain
      1. PLANNING AHEAD
      2. CREATING A VILLAIN WORTH PURSUING
      3. MAKING THE CRIME FIT THE VILLAIN
    5. Chapter 5: Innocent Suspects
      1. DETERMINING THE SUSPECTS’ SECRETS
      2. MAKING INNOCENT SUSPECTS LOOK GUILTY
      3. PLANNING A SUSPECT
    6. Chapter 6: The Supporting Cast
      1. THE SIDEKICK
      2. THE ADVERSARY
      3. THE SUPPORTING CAST
      4. NAMING SUPPORTING CHARACTERS
    7. Chapter 7: The Web of Characters with Competing Goals
    8. Chapter 8: Setting
      1. WHEN: THE YEAR
      2. WHEN: THE SEASON
      3. WHERE: GEOGRAPHIC LOCALE
      4. WHERE: EXTERIORS
      5. WHERE: INTERIORS
      6. CONTEXT: ACTIVITIES AND INSTITUTIONS
      7. PERSONAL SPACES THAT REVEAL CHARACTER
      8. MAKING A SETTING FEEL CREDIBLE
      9. GETTING THE INFORMATION YOU NEED
    9. Chapter 9: Staking Out the Plot
      1. THE SHAPE OF A MYSTERY PLOT
      2. WELDING CHARACTER TO PLOT: PLAGUING THE PROTAGONIST
      3. A DRAMATIC OPENING: THE SETUP
      4. PLOT TWISTS
      5. THE FINAL CLIMAX AND CODA
      6. PAGES, SCENES, CHAPTERS, AND ACTS
      7. SUBPLOTS
      8. TO OUTLINE OR NOT TO OUTLINE
      9. WRITING A BEFORE-THE-FACT SYNOPSIS
      10. MAPPING CHARACTER TIME LINES
    10. Chapter 10: Picking a Title
      1. WHAT’S IN A TITLE?
    11. A Blueprint for Planning a Mystery Novel
  10. Part II: Writing
    1. GETTING IT DOWN
    2. MANUSCRIPT LENGTH
      1. Chapter 11: Writing a Dramatic Opening
        1. ANALYZING A DRAMATIC OPENING
        2. SKETCHING OUT A DRAMATIC OPENING
        3. WRITING THE DRAMATIC OPENING LINE
        4. WRITING THE DRAMATIC OPENING SCENE
        5. ENDING THE DRAMATIC OPENING WITH FORWARD MOMENTUM
      2. Chapter 12: Introducing the Protagonist
        1. BRINGING THE CHARACTER ONSTAGE
        2. GIVING THE READER THE BASICS
      3. Chapter 13: Introducing Major and Minor Characters
        1. MAKING INTRODUCTIONS: CONJURING THE DETAILS
        2. INTRODUCING MAJOR CHARACTERS
        3. INTRODUCING MINOR CHARACTERS
        4. INTRODUCING WALK-ONS
        5. HELPING THE READER KEEP YOUR CHARACTERS STRAIGHT
      4. Chapter 14: Dramatizing Scenes and Writing Chapters
        1. SCENE: A DEFINITION
        2. DRAMATIZING A SCENE
        3. THE PAYOFF
        4. SUBTLE ORIENTEERING
        5. GROUPING SCENES INTO CHAPTERS
        6. A WORD ABOUT PACING
      5. Chapter 15: Narrative Voice and Viewpoint
        1. PICKING NARRATORS
        2. MAKING EACH NARRATOR’S VOICE MEMORABLE
        3. DETERMINING POINT OF VIEW (POV)
      6. Chapter 16: Writing Dialogue
        1. WRITING CONVINCING DIALOGUE
        2. MAKING DIALOGUE FEEL AUTHENTIC
        3. INJECTING DIALOGUE WITH CONFLICT
        4. SHOWING EMOTIONS
        5. SUMMARIZING INSTEAD
      7. Chapter 17: Creating a Sense of Place
        1. SETTING SCENES
        2. USING SETTING IN A MYSTERY NOVEL
        3. INCORPORATING SETTING DETAILS
      8. Chapter 18: Writing Investigation
        1. INVESTIGATING: OBSERVING AND INTERROGATING
        2. PLAYING FAIR
        3. CONFUSION: AN INTEREST KILLER
        4. COINCIDENCE: A CREDIBILITY KILLER
      9. Chapter 19: Writing Suspense
        1. TURNING UP SENSORY DETAIL
        2. TURNING DOWN THE VELOCITY
        3. MODULATING SUSPENSE
        4. FORESHADOWING VERSUS TELEGRAPHING
        5. ENDING SUSPENSE WITH A PAYOFF
      10. Chapter 20: Writing Action
        1. VISUALIZING IN ADVANCE
        2. SPEEDING UP ACTION AND SLOWING IT DOWN
        3. MAKING ACTION BELIEVABLE
        4. KILLING ACTION WITH CLINICAL DETAIL
        5. AVOIDING DETOURS DURING ACTION: ESTABLISHING IN ADVANCE
      11. Chapter 21: Puzzling It Out
        1. REFLECTING IN DIALOGUE
        2. REFLECTING IN INTERNAL DIALOGUE
        3. USING CONFLICT TO ADD SPICE TO REFLECTION
      12. Chapter 22: Layering in Backstory
        1. BACKSTORY STRATEGY: NARRATOR TELLS ALL
        2. BACKSTORY STRATEGY: SLIPPING IT INTO DIALOGUE
        3. BACKSTORY STRATEGY: FICTIONAL DOCUMENTS
        4. BACKSTORY STRATEGY: MEMORIES
        5. BACKSTORY STRATEGY: EXTENDED FLASHBACK
      13. Chapter 23: Writing the Final Climax
        1. THE PROTAGONIST HITS BOTTOM
        2. THE PROTAGONIST REBOUNDS
        3. THE VILLAIN REVEALS OR THE PROTAGONIST PUTS IT TOGETHER
        4. THE VILLAIN IS VANQUISHED
        5. ENDINGS TO AVOID
      14. Chapter 24: Writing the Coda
        1. THE FINAL CODA: AN EXCERPT
        2. PURPOSE OF THE CODA
        3. FINAL WORDS
  11. Part III: Revising
    1. Chapter 25: Flying High
      1. REREADING FROM START TO FINISH: EXAMINING THE MAIN PLOT AND MAIN CHARACTER
      2. CREATING A SCENE OUTLINE
      3. DOING SELECTIVE READ-THROUGHS
    2. Chapter 26: Flying Low
      1. TURNING TELLS INTO SHOWS
      2. PUMPING UP THE VERBS
      3. FERRETING OUT –ING VERBS
      4. WEEDING OUT –LY ADVERBS
      5. PUMPING UP THE DIALOGUE
      6. PLAYING WITH ATTRIBUTION AND ACTION THAT ACCOMPANY DIALOGUE
      7. WEEDING OUT CLICHÉS
      8. STARTING AND FINISHING STRONG
      9. LOOKING FOR TICS
      10. STRIVING FOR CONSISTENCY
      11. ELIMINATING HEAD HOPPING
      12. FIXING GRAMMAR, SPELLING, AND PUNCTUATION
    3. Chapter 27: Seeking Criticism and Finding Your Own Fix
      1. TAKING CRITICISM
      2. ASKING FOR THE FEEDBACK
      3. TRANSLATING COMMENTS INTO REVISIONS
      4. THINKING PAST THE OFFERED FIX
    4. Chapter 28: Preparing the Final Manuscript
  12. Part IV: Publishing Your Mystery Novel
    1. Chapter 29: Placing Your Novel with a Traditional Publisher
      1. NAVIGATING THE PATH TO TRADITIONAL PUBLICATION
      2. UNDERSTANDING WHAT TRADITIONAL PUBLISHERS DO
      3. GETTING A LITERARY AGENT
      4. WRITING THE QUERY
      5. WRITING THE SYNOPSIS
      6. SENDING OUT QUERIES
      7. QUERYING A SMALL PRESS
      8. HANDLING REJECTION
      9. A FINAL WORD
    2. Chapter 30: Self-Publishing Your Novel
      1. SELF-PUBLISHING: CONTROLLING IT ALL
      2. DISTRIBUTING YOUR BOOK
    3. Appendix of Resources for Mystery Writers
      1. MYSTERY WRITER GROUPS
      2. MYSTERY CONFERENCES
      3. SOURCES FOR RESEARCHING LITERARY AGENTS AND PUBLISHERS