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Zara Altair

Lay Out the Puzzle Pieces

A mystery is a search for the truth. It’s a puzzle the reader wants to solve, along with the sleuth. When you write a mystery, you create the puzzle that leads toward the revelation of the villain. Along the way, mystery fans have expectations of what they want, and they want you to meet those expectations.

Readers expect not just a good puzzle but an engaging sleuth to lead them through solving the mystery. But that’s just one of the expectations.

Mystery Elements

A trope is a literary device relating to a plot element or character commonly used in a genre. Mystery…


Dialogue Moves Your Story

Dialogue is a verbal action. When a character speaks, they are actively moving the story forward. When the language, rhythm, and voice is clear for each character, your dialogue not only flows in your story you’ll minimize the need for repetitive dialogue tags.

Dialogue may not feel as dramatic as a fight scene, but what character’s say have the power to move the story forward, create immediate conflict, and stir the reader’s curiosity to find out what happens next.

How your characters speak reveals their personality. Especially in mysteries, characters reveal their character, even when they try to hide it…


Plunge Your Reader Into The Story…and Keep Them There

Authors hear a lot about cover design and blurbs to inspire readers to buy their book. But one element of reader engagement that is often overlooked is how easy the book is to read. Book formatters are well aware that the design on the page influences a reader’s response to a book.

Advice about Amazon’s Look Inside feature focuses on how the first pages of your story hook the reader. All that is information is great at the point of sale.

Then, your reader will read your book. Genre readers, like mystery lovers, like a great puzzle in an easy…


A New Hook In the Middle

The midpoint is the connection between the first and second halves of your mystery. In the first half of your mystery, the sleuth uncovers the victim’s world. In the Send half, the sleuth narrows down the suspects to the villain.

It sounds simple. But you need a bridge between the two journeys. The midpoint, is the fulcrum that tilts your sleuth from discovery to constricting the search.

Create A Dark Road Ahead

The middle can be the most challenging part of the story. It can stall or feel as though it’s not going anywhere, or at least not going well. A reversal in the middle…


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.


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…


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…


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…

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…

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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