Wednesday, October 10, 2012

So You Want To Write Mysteries . . .

By Mark W. Danielson

It’s been a while since I’ve addressed writing so here is a frank discussion on the subject.  Those of us who write murder mysteries have at some point all been asked the same question – where do we get our [warped] ideas?  The question seems reasonable enough, but the answer is far from simple.  Rather than speak for anyone else or say “I don’t know”, I must first state for the record that I had a wonderful childhood, my parents are still married after sixty four years, I have never done drugs or committed any acts of violence, nor do I have any plans to do either.  I have a graduate degree, have painted all my life, and had written non-fiction for many years before discovering fiction in the late eighties.  And so began my endless drafts of mystery and suspense novels that killed off people with traits I didn’t much care for.  Yup, that’s the beauty in novels – the ability to plug ’em and plant ’em at will.  Oh, what a stress reliever it is.

One of the more notable author/artistic traits is the power of observation.  We tend to hear and see things that others may not, and then transfer these details into a scene from a book.  Background noises, indistinct whispers, a clunking shoe, television, even a sneeze can all play important roles in a story.  Intentional or not, many storylines are stolen from one’s memory.

The power of perception is an essential sleuth requirement.  One must be able to understand multiple points of view in order to create believable characters.  This means we must get inside the criminal mind as much as those defenders of good.  Personally, I like to people watch, read, or watch news accounts that border on fiction with their sensationalism.  I happened to have been in LA when another car chase came on the TV.  LA car chases are so routine they are hardly worth my time, but this one was entertaining as Robin Hood tossed money from the car as he drove through neighborhoods with six police cars behind him.  Yes, sometimes the truth is stranger than fiction.  I hear the culprit was the bank manager’s boyfriend.  Go figure.

There are plenty of whacked out people in this world, and while the percentage of nut cases may remain the same, their numbers climb proportionally with population growth.  Newspaper and magazines can stir volumes of sinister characters and complex plots.  Just don’t get too carried away.  Every plots must be plausible.

Any author will tell you that you can’t write if you don’t read.  You don’t read other authors to emulate them, though.  Instead, you do it to get a sense of their pacing and character development.  Reading within your genre also gives a sense of what is topical and publishable.  In a society of requiring instant gratification, news, and texting, it is unlikely that Hemingway or Michener could get published.  Today’s audience simply doesn’t have the patience for their writing style. 

Scripting requires perseverance.  Unless you are a celebrity or some quirk of fate happens your way, the odds of publishing anything in a timely manner is remote.  I know far too many excellent authors who will remain unknown because most readers buy with name recognition.  Because of this, book stores tend to limit their books to known authors and publishers.  Of course, this stacks the deck against new authors, but if your novel is good enough, it may still hit the chart one day.    

If you write to get rich, you’re probably better off investing in lottery tickets.  Computers, internet, paper, ink, queries, editors, proof readers, promoters, all cost money.  Unless you are an established author, publishers won’t be sending money your way because they simply don’t have it.  Expect to spend whatever advance you receive promoting your work.  Sadly, you won’t see another dime until your sales have worked off your advancement.  I don’t recommend giving up your day job until you have stashed away a couple million.      

For those who are married or live with significant others, know that creative writing is a solitary task.  It’s probably easy to tell when I’m writing because I am thinking more about the plot than what’s going on around me.  When I finally sit down to write, I find myself in a different zone.  Stephen King likes to write with rock music blaring.  For me, silence is golden as I download my subconscious thoughts into a Word document.  If the dog barks or phone rings, I flinch.  Because of this and my preference to stay married, I tend to write more while on the road so I’m not ignoring the person most important to me. 

Writing is my passion.  It is something I need to do.  I strongly encourage others to put their thoughts down as well, and if you happen to make a few bucks along the way, consider it gravy.


Bill Kirton said...

Spot-on analysis of how it works as far as I'm concerned, Mark. I also do people-watching, need silence when I write, offload my dislikes into characters who either get the chop or are found guilty of giving it to someone else, and always that bizarre need to write. Seems as if you've described at least one of the mystery-writer archetypes.

John said...

This is really worth reading, it has too much details in it and yet it is so simple to understand
Online GED Diploma

Mark W. Danielson said...

Thanks, Bill, John. I often hear people say, "I'd love to write, but I don't have anything to say." I find enough mystery in that statement to write an entire series. All it takes is a little observation and a lot of perseverance.

Jaden Terrell said...

So true, Mark. Mysteries give us the chance to explore life, death, justice, injustice, the capriciousness of fate, the nature of good and evil...I don't think we could ever run out of things to write about.