Monday, April 17, 2006

Mystery Writing Tips Over Time . . . The Good Ones Still Work

Recently, I ran across a book on Mystery Fiction: Theory & Techniques by Marie F. Rodell. The "how-to" book was published 63 years ago. Some things don't change over time. In this case, it's the tips on what works when writing mysteries. The author was editor of The Bloodhound, a magazine of crime fiction, and she also was the author of three mystery novels.

Some of Rodell's advice includes "play fair with the reader." Plant clues and have a reasonable logic as to how the crime . . . make that murder . . . is solved. She stresses that the reader should close the book at the end and say, "Oh, of course, he/she did it!" All the clues were there and fair game for the reader to find. Rodell also stresses that setting and characters are more than accessories to color the story. She points out that the two are vital in driving the narrative and providing logical underpinnings to the story. In fact, Rodell likens crafting mystery novels to that of constructing a house. That was an interesting analogy for me because one of my novel writing instructors, Frank Lambirth, also described the process for building a good mystery in just the same way.

One of the closing chapters was on "The Economics of Mystery Fiction." Please keep in mind that we're talking circa 1943 here.

Rodell states, "The average mystery writer makes from the sale of his book in book form no more than five hundred dollars." She goes on to add, "The most successful mystery authors, at the very top of the heap, sell between fifteen and twenty thousand copies of each book." Rodell also points out that a good writer should be able to churn out two mystery novels a year.

How to do that? Complete a first draft in two months, the author says. Write without pausing to finesse words or parse paragraphs, and then do the cleanup, fine-tuning and checking for flow and logic. Sounds so simple, doesn't it?

But it's easier written about here than done. I know in my own case, I've been fooling around forever with my work-in-progress, Murder Visits Antigua!

Two months . . . Do you suppose? Hmmm . . . Maybe . . .

I'll give it a shot!

Yours in mystery,