Zara Altair
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What Is An Inciting Incident?

An inciting incident is a story event that pushes your protagonist out of their everyday world, eventually forcing them to make a choice. It turns their world upside down. That choice is the main thread of your storyline. The inciting incident changes the life of the character and sets them on the story journey.

In a mystery, after you introduce your protagonist sleuth, the inciting incident connects your detective to the crime that drives your mystery puzzle.

Not the First, but the Second

The inciting incident is not the hook. The hook at the beginning draws your reader into the story and gets them to care…


We need to want to try hard. There's the key to counter complacency. Complacency is a signal that we're not wanting to try hard. Oops! Goal recheck.


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Things That Go Wrong in A Mystery Novel

Writing a mystery is challenging. You have a puzzle to create, a detective to solve the puzzle, a victim, villain, and conflict for your protagonist as they solve the puzzle. It’s easy to fall in love with your story creating exciting challenges for your protagonist, creating red herrings, and leading your reader on a path to discovery and revelation.

With so many components in your novel, it’s easy to get lost along the way. The character in your head may not come to life on the page. The series of conflicts may be just that without raising the stakes to…


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Show The Way

Immerse your reader in the story with actions, thoughts, and sensory details. You will pull your readers into the narrative, allowing them to feel as though they experience what happens instead of reading about what happens.

This approach is the basis of the fiction writing adage: show, don’t tell. Telling is exposition, keeping the reader at an intellectual distance while immersing them in the story allows them to feel what your character feel.

Sensory Detail

Sensory detail is your entry into showing. From sweat trickling down your hero’s side to the sounds, smells, and sensations of a jostling crowd, focus on details…


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You Are Not Alone

Every writer goes through fear at some point. That pit-in-the-stomach, I’m-not-good-enough, my-story-sucks, no-one-will-ever-read-this fear blast strikes all writers. Creativity rides an emotional rollercoaster. Creativity is risk-taking. Yes, successful, multi-book authors have the same fears.

Self-Doubt Is The Number One Writer Fear

Blame it on your amygdala in your brain, part of your body’s alarm system. Located at the root of your brain, the amygdala does everything it can — automatically — to keep you safe. If there is risk, the amygdala sends out signals to keep your body safe. Creativity is risk. Fear will happen.

You’ll get fear signals of every kind.

  • My writing sucks.
  • That just-out-of-college-and-read-10-books…

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Tension Creates Anticipation

You know that toward the end, your story will have a big scene between the hero and the villain. It will be tense. And you can’t wait to write the big battle. Whether it’s with weapons or wits, your hero must face down and defeat the villain.

Before your reader gets to that scene, you need to lead them through pages and pages of your mystery novel. Every scene needs tension to build anticipation for what comes next. That’s how you get your readers to keep reading until they reach that big scene.

Beginning writers have so much to tell…


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Words That Make Your Reader Feel

Your author voice connects your reader to your story through vocabulary, syntax, tone, and point of view that make your phrases, sentences, and paragraphs flow. Your author voice comes through to the reader through either third person narration or the character point of view in the novel.

When you put all that together, your author voice is instrumental in how your reader feels as they experience your novel. Voice is the icing on the cake of your characters and plot. …


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What is Narrative Pacing?

Narrative pacing is a term to describe how the book feels to a reader-fast or slow. It’s the momentum the reader feels to pull them forward in the story. Your reader wants to feel immersed in the actions and thoughts of the characters.

Writer David Mamet said:

Clunky language, bad dialogue, and poorly-conceived scenes will all draw your reader out of the story. Pace will help keep them there.


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What Is Narrative Point of View?

When you choose the point of view (POV) for your mystery novel, you create the perspective of how the story is told. Point of view determines the narrator’s relationship to the story.

The way the narrator tells the story drives the reader’s connection to your novel. To make a decision on point of view, you need to understand the choices. Each point of view method has limitations and positive storytelling approaches.

First Person POV

The first person uses the pronouns I, me, and my. A single character describes his or her experiences. …


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Surprise and Satisfy Your Readers

“The ending was a surprise.” “I never would have guessed.”

Mystery authors love feedback like this from readers. Today’s readers are savvy and well-read in the genre, so they are not easily fooled. Keeping readers in suspense is a challenge for mystery writers.

You want to keep the villain hidden until the end but plant enough clues in the story to create a satisfying reveal at the end. And along the way, your story sets your sleuth in opposition, making wrong choices and following leads that go to a dead end.

Creating a surprising twist comes from controlling the flow…

Zara Altair

Mystery author Zara Altair writes clues for writers who want to write a great mystery. http://bit.ly/KillerMystery

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