Saturday, November 15, 2008

Tips on Your Business Writing

Think creative writers don't have to work on business writing?  Think again.  It's as important (or maybe more so) to have a well-crafted query or cover letter as it is to have a manuscript that's as flawless as possible.  Do you have a blog or website?  If not, you need to rethink....a web presence is a great tool to help you get your foot in the door.  After your foot is there, your blog or website can help you with your promotion efforts.

Here is a great blog entry on the Urban Muse website on crafting a query letter (it was written with freelance writers in mind, but apply the tips to your manuscript query.)  Had your query rejected?  Don't take it personally: here is a blog covering the context of rejection on an old post  on the Slushkiller website (thanks to Et  in Arcaedia, ego's post for pointing it out.)

Tips for making your blog reader-worthy can be found here at the Write to Done blog. 

Polish up your business writing and you'll soon start seeing results. Just make sure that your manuscript is completely proofread and in as perfect a condition as you can make it--don't waste the manuscript requests you receive from agents and editors.

Monday, November 10, 2008


One of the most important elements in your mystery novel is your detective.  Depending on the type of book you're writing (police procedural, thriller, cozy), your detective might be a member of the police department or a gifted amateur who unwittingly becomes involved in your case. 

If you plan on writing a series, your detective's personality needs to be one that you can explore over the course of several books.  There are many wonderful mystery series featuring the same detectives that you can read.  It's nice to have a sense of how other authors create interesting characters for their readers to enjoy book after book.  Interesting sleuths include: Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's Sherlock, Colin Dexter's Inspector Morse, Agatha Christie's Hercule Poirot and Jane Marple, P.D. James' Adam Dalgleish, Raymond Chandler's Philip Marlowe, Anne George's Southern Sisters, and Nancy Atherton's Aunt Dimity. 

M.C. Beaton's series feature two intriguing detectives: Hamish McBeth (a police constable in a Scottish village) and Agatha Raisin (formerly a busybody, currently a private investigator.)  Hamish is a lovable officer--a gangling man who loves his village and desperately tries to prevent his own promotion (which would mean he'd have to leave the place he loves.)  The readers tune in each book to check in with the recurring characters, see what's happening with Hamish's disastrous love life, and see how he plays down the fact that he has solved another case.  Agatha Raisin, on the other hand, sometimes causes as many problems for the police department as she solves.  It's fun to pick up a new Agatha Raisin book and see what trouble Agatha is in this time. 

If you do choose to have an amateur detective, make sure that he or she is involved in the case in a natural and believable way.  It's a stretch to believe that the sleuth just decides to play detective one day, for example.  It makes a lot more sense that they would become involved if they or someone close to them is a suspect (and they want to clear their name) or if the victim was someone important to them.

It's nice for the detectives, amateur or professional, to have their own foibles to deal with.  I loved it when even Christie's brilliant Hercule Poirot had faulty reasoning or made an error.  Of course, he always figured it out in the end, but when he took us along on a red herring it was always fun.

Some publishers and agents are looking for books with specific hooks for the readers (this is especially true in the cozy mystery genre.)  Does your sleuth also do crosswords?  Quilt? Scrapbook?  Hobbies can be tools to reel in readers. 

In Christie's books, Poirot usually explained his reasoning and unveiled the murderer in a room full of suspects.  That's less common today in mysteries.  The reader is more likely to find the detective locked into a dangerous confrontation with the killer at the book's denouement.  In a police procedural, you might find a similar situation--perhaps the police are desperately trying to locate the murderer (once they discover his identity) before he kills someone else.  Or maybe the police have realized who the killer is at the same time they're recognized that a particular person close to him will be in danger. 

Whatever personality and foibles you create for your detective, remember that they can help to make or break your mystery novel. 

Saturday, November 8, 2008

Who is Your Victim?

Several of the mystery writers I know really have a lot of fun with their victim.  Sometimes an author purposefully makes the victim similar to someone he's had a  run-in with or someone they didn't like in high school.  There are plenty of unpleasant people out there and it's easy to make an amalgam of them to form your perfect murder victim.

The victim needs to be someone murderable (I know, it's a made-up word).  In other words, someone who has a few enemies.  Actually, this is a rule that I'm playing with a little for the book I'm writing now.  I start the book with everyone having warm fuzzy feelings for the future victim, but then we start finding out a little bit more about her.  Then we know why several people would like to bump her off.  Otherwise, why on earth would your victim legitimately be murdered?  Unless you're writing a thriller with a serial killer who just kills random people.

I've read books before where the victim is dead on page one.  Later on, we find out more about the victim through flashbacks (not my favorite device) or through interviewing people who knew him.  This can be really interesting, if done right.  I found that I was very curious to find out more about the victim and having the information doled out in tantalizing bits and pieces held my interest. 

I've also read books where the reader was fully introduced and vested in the victim before the murder.  This works, too.  The reader has gotten to know the victim and has more of a personal interest in who killed him. 

How gruesome is the murder of your victim?  This depends on the type of book you're writing.  If you're writing a cozy mystery, the murder will probably take place off-stage and you won't provide your reader with many gory details.  If you're writing a police procedural or a thriller, you can usually get away with a lot more.  But keep in mind that if a book gets too graphic, you could lose some readers.