Melissa Yuan-Innes is an amzingly talented writer, mother of an active preschooler, and an emergency-room physician. Don't ask me how she does it all, I'm in awe of her energy and ability to keep a balance in her life. She's our guest blogger, and I'm pleased to present her thoughts on the things she's learned from trying her hand at mysteries.
"The cat sat on the mat" is not a story. "The cat sat on the dog's mat" is a story. --John Le Carré
Dean Smith and Kris Rusch define a mystery story like this: a crime occurs and must be solved in a satisfying way.
It doesn't have to be a murder, although that's classic. But you need to have that crime. You probably already knew that, but it's cool to think of that cat sneaking over to the dog's mat.
Also, I like when people think outside the box for crime or conflict. My friend and talented writer Steve Mohan wrote a thriller novel, Paper Eagle, that opens with a man trying to get a trainload of food into North Korea. I love this. So many thriller novels make up some overdramatic "world hanging in the balance" Hollywood garbage, but this is a real crisis in real time. So have fun with your conflict, whether it's a stolen ribbon or nuclear Armageddon.
2. You should have an idea of two stories: the story of the crime and the story you are unfolding for the reader
A police officer friend pointed this out to me. I'd had so much fun with my detective's love life, I hadn't properly plotted out the crime and sprinkled red herrings or thought out the timeline.
In my defense, I write 1000 words a day and I don't have much time. And I get bored easily. So just plunge in and write, write, write, even if it's awful. When I go back, I find a lot of it is pretty good, but the plot might not hang together. If you prefer to plot it out first, more power to you.
Either way, you've got two stories to work out.
3. The antagonist should be three-dimensional
It's nice to blame things on the Big Bad. Very convenient to have some sociopath mincing people for fun. And in truth, I'm sure there are some people like that. But it's cool if you can add some sort of twist to it. In From the Corner of His Eye, Dean Koontz wrote about a murderer who thoroughly enjoyed his work, but vomited violently after each killing.
You can take it a step further. In my latest novel, High School Hit List, I spent a great deal of time and words trying to figure out why my antagonist, Sickle, made up a hit list of five people at his school.
I wrote my way out of it. I let Sickle talk (lots of macho bragging), I let his girlfriend talk (more interesting, but it didn't end up in the book), I let people talk about him. Finally, someone mentioned that his sister had Down's Syndrome. I ran with that until I finally figured out how Sickle went rogue.
In the end, two of my first readers said that was what pulled them through High School Hit List: trying to figure out how Sickle went from normal to psycho.
To sum up, you need a conflict, preferably using a 3D antagonist, and you need to figure out how to tell that story.Thanks, mystery genre, for teaching me.
Melissa Yi's story, "Indian Time," will debut in Indian Country Noir this year. She tackles real-life mysteries as an emergency doctor and creates imaginary insanity as a writer outside of Montreal, Canada. Her short fiction has appeared in everything from Nature to Weird Tales. Say hi on Facebook, Twitter, or www.melissayuaninnes.net.
Critical praise for Christy!
For "Murder Hooks a Mermaid:"
"Author Christy Fifield creates the kind of characters that stay with you for a long time. Fifield’s new Haunted Souvenir Shop mystery, Murder Hooks a Mermaid has it all: a sunny, relaxed setting, captivating locals, delicious food, and—of course—murder! Delightful amateur sleuth Glory Martine is back with her wisecracking parrot and charming group of friends in this thoroughly entertaining adventure. Don’t miss it."—Julie Hyzy, National Bestselling author of the Manor House Mysteries and the White House Chef Mystery series
"A whodunit with a dose of the supernatural, "Murder Hooks a Mermaid" is a worthy successor to the series opener and showcases Fifield's talents for plotting, characterization and humor." - Richmond Times-Dispatch
"Quirky and unique, a heroine for whom you can't help but root. The story sucks you in." - The Maine Suspect
"With a lovable cast of characters, good conversations and a great setting, this well-written book is a terrific read." -- Dru's Book Musings
For "Murder Buys a T-Shirt:"
A refreshing new sleuth! - Lynne Maxwell, Mystery Scene Magazine
"A fun book that will make the dreariest of days a little brighter! Socrates' great Book Alert" - Socrates' Cozy Cafe
"An entertaining and clever Florida whodunit" - Harriet Klausner
"Hilarious! A great murder mystery with well-written characters" - Paranormal & Romantic Suspense Reviews
For the Georgiana Neverall Series:"Christy Evans will find legions of fans with this new series" - Sheldon McArthur, Lincoln City News Guard
"Funny and entertaining -- a solid mystery filled with likable characters." - RT Book Reviews"
Cute cozy mystery debute -- wry humor -- adorable dogs" -Publisher's Weekly
"Will have you giggling out loud! Four Stars." - Kathy Fisher, The Romance Readers Connection"The Book is good! Keep them coming, Ms. Evans!" - Mystery Scene
"Evans delivers a fast-paced mystery with admirable finesse!" - Sharon Galligar Chance, FreshFiction.com"Christy Evans has a hit on her hands" - Harriet Klausner, Bookreview.com
"Christy Evans is aces. I'll be very suprised if Sink Trap isn't an instant hit with cozy readers!" - CozyLibrary.com