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:
- 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.
- 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)?
- 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.
- What is your point of view? She said writing with a third-person narrator is the most popular view in mysteries.
- 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.”
- 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.”
- Each chapter should end with an unanswered question or with a cliffhanger so the reader will want to go to the next chapter.
- The main character has to have a private life and a flaw. “Wounded people look for answers,” Viets said.