Today I’m hosting a fellow mystery writer. Stacie Verdick Case recently released An Intimate Murder.
She is sharing some of her thoughts about mystery writing with us.
When you write mysteries, the biggest challenge an author faces is leaving the reader wanting more. I don’t just mean at the end of a book but at the end of scenes, and chapters too. The best compliment you can receive is, ‘I couldn’t put your book down,’ because it means you’ve done your job as a writer.
You have to hold back a little and at the same time, you have to reveal all. That sounds cryptic but if you read the genre you’ll know what I’m talking about. You have to hold enough information back to keep the reader intrigued, but give them all the same clues that your protagonist has in order to solve the crime. That’s a tough balance to maintain.
So how do you keep the reader reading? Think of holding back as an interruption, or a pause. Let me elaborate.
If your character opens a trunk to look inside, just as they’re about to discover something of significance buried there, you need to interrupt that moment. Gunshots will ring out to send the protagonist scurrying away. Of course it doesn’t have to be as dramatic as gunfire, it could be something as benign as someone calling from another room. Something delays discovery and makes your reader want to push forward and read on to find out what’s in the darn trunk!
I’ve read recommendations that you should end in the middle of action, in scenes and chapters. I sort of agree. I prefer to end where something begins, not really in the middle. My reason is if at the end of a chapter you’re thinking, ‘I’ll go to bed when I finish this chapter’, but you get to the end and something has just begun, chance are you’ll want to keep reading to find out where this is going. Stopping in the middle of the action can be awkward and hard to accomplish effectively.
Where should the break go? Well for me, because I’m not a plotter, it’s instinctive. I can feel while I’m writing that this is the spot. If you need a better guideline than instinct (all you plotters out there), it’s where if your favorite show went to commercial break you’d leap out of your seat and yell at the TV. That’s the perfect spot to add a break. To put it another way it’s just after a major revelation.
I’ve read books where authors break in the middle of dialog. For me this is taking things a little too far. It’s annoying but not in the stay up all night reading sort of a way, more like the I’m going to drop this book in the nearest trash sort of a way. That’s not what we’re going for here. To me dialogue is one thing that should remain unbroken. Of course, now that I’ve said that someone will come along who breaks dialogue really well, and I will want to see how they did it, but so far it hasn’t happened.
Blurb for Stacie’s new release, An Intimate Murder
A Catherine O’Brien Mystery.
When Jonathan and Susan Luther are murdered in their home, St. Paul homicide detective Catherine O’Brien and her partner Louise discover this isn’t the first time the Luther family has been visited by tragedy. Is it a case of bad family luck or is there something more?
“Way to go, O’Brien.” Bob Shackelford leaned over my shoulder and tapped the newspaper. “Front page. I think that’s a first for you. Usually your tirades are limited to interoffice email. You’re really stepping up in the world.”
“Thanks, Shackelford. Say, you oughta have that growth looked at.”
I pointed to his head. “Oh, never mind, it’s your face.”
“Haw, haw, O’Brien. Very childish”
He was right but it was the best I could manage on limited coffee.
He lifted the paper from my desk and unfolded it in mid-air. “At least the story appears on the bottom half of the front page. Hardly anyone looks at the bottom half.”
The headline read, Saint Paul Police Defensive Over Botched Investigation. Under the headline was a photo of me in front of Pam Hind’s house. The photographer had snapped the photo while I was speaking. My lips curled back from my teeth and I was pointing into the crowd. I looked like KC when he sees the neighbor’s cat on our porch.
Shackelford tweaked the edge of the paper. “It took me a whole ten seconds to skim down far enough to see this article.”
I snatched the paper from his hands and began to read.
Officer Catherine O’Brien, a seven-year veteran of the Saint Paul Police Department, gave an impromptu press conference outside the house of Mr. and Mrs. Jonathan Luther who were murdered inside their Saint Paul area home Tuesday morning.
Officer O’Brien, stumbled drunkenly down the sidewalk, scolded the media, and referred to the press as “vultures” after attempts to question the officer about the path of the homicide investigation. This outburst is just the latest in what has become a pattern of denial and hostility by the Saint Paul Police Department and crime lab when questions regarding investigative procedures arise.
Be sure to comment today and visit Stacie’s other stops to enter to win a $50 Barnes and Noble GC to one winner, and a signed ARC of An Intimate Murder (US only) to two randomly drawn winners via rafflecopter during this tour and her review tour.