Plotting and Writing a Mystery with Elaine Viets

Elaine Viets has written more than 30 mysteries in four bestselling series and she generously shared writing tips with a bunch of mystery writers.

Her tips included:

  1. Writing is an art, and it’s also a business. Know your competition! This could be a challenge given there are 1,400 mysteries published traditionally each year.
  2. Know your genre. Are you writing a cozy (no violence or sex), psychological suspense (the character is tested to the limit), hard-boiled (tough view of the world) or soft-boiled, which is also called a traditional mystery (think Sue Grafton)?
  3. The first chapter needs plot movement. Something has to happen – and quickly. If you want to learn to plot, she recommends creating a chapter by chapter plot summary.
  4. What is your point of view? She said writing with a third-person narrator is the most popular view in mysteries.
  5. Are you writing a stand-alone mystery or a series? She noted that thrillers tend to be stand-alone books. Whatever you write, Elaine recommends not killing off popular characters. She said, “Murder with restraint.”
  6. The middle is the most dangerous part of the book. “You need to have surprises,” Viets said. “You have to keep the plot moving with plot twists and red herrings.”
  7. Each chapter should end with an unanswered question or with a cliffhanger so the reader will want to go to the next chapter.
  8. The main character has to have a private life and a flaw. “Wounded people look for answers,” Viets said.