How to Write a Detective Story

August 17, 2008 at 4:58 am | Posted in Writers Write | 1 Comment
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If you want to write a detective story, you’ll have to begin with a little investigation of your own. There are several different sub genres in this category of mysteries; from hard boiled detectives to amateur sleuths.   Your detective could be anyone, a little old lady, a cynical ex marine, a teen girl with a knack for mischief, a chef, even a couple of cats.

The first detectives of popular fiction were amateurs who solved murders like a parlor game outwitting the incompetent police.  Dashiell Hammett, a former Pinkerton detective, took a more realistic approach to crime solving, with classic detective novels like “The Maltese Falcon” and “The Thin Man.”  Raymond Chandler once said “He (Hammett) put these people down on paper as they were, and he made them talk and think in the language they customarily used for these purposes. He wrote scenes that seemed never to have been written before.”

Chandler’s Philip Marlowe epitomizes the hard boiled private investigator, a incorruptible, hard drinking, tough guy.  Chandler created a feeling of believability with his characters and stories.

Amateur sleuths are usually not held to the same standards. It can be tricky justifying the presence of your  protagonist especially if you intend to serialize the character.  Remember the Angela Lansbury character from Murder She Wrote?  Every where she went a murder was committed.  I would seriousily reconsider a friendship with this type of sleuth.  Your detective has to have a legitimate reason to be involved and something personal at stake.  They may have been accused of a crime or the victim of a crime, they may be protecting someone else or they may have a professional interest in the truth, such as: journalists, lawyers or writers.

Once you’ve decided the type of detective story you wish to write, focus on the crime and facts of the case.   More than any other type of story, I believe the detective story will benefit from a detailed outline before you start writing.  There are certain rules you must follow to meet your readers’ expectations

1.  Introduce the crime early on, preferably within the first three chapters. It is the crime and subsequent clues that hook your reader.  The crime should be significant enough that your reader feels invested in the outcome.  Most detective stories involve a murder or kidnapping.

2. Introduce the detective and culprit early on.  You’re not playing fair if you don’t include the antagonist in the line up of suspects.

3.  Provide clues along the way so it is possible, though highly unlikely, that your reader could solve the case themselves.

4.  Don’t provide enough clues along the way so your reader solves the case before your detective.  A detective story is a race between your protagonist and your reader.  If the reader wins, the victory will be bitter sweet.  Your readers want to be challenged, but in the end, they want to be outsmarted.

5.  Wrap up all the loose ends.  Readers will remember every red herring you threw in their direction.  If a clue wasn’t relevant, make sure you provide a reason why it was included.    Each plot point must be plausible, and  the action even paced, without getting bogged down in back stories or subplots.

6.  Your detective must solve the case using logic or scientific means.  CK Chesterton wrote the following oath for all writers of detective stories: “Do you promise that your detectives shall well and truly detect the crimes presented to them using those wits which it may please you to bestow on them and not placing reliance on nor making use of Divine Revelation, Feminine Intuition, Mumbo Jumbo, Jiggery-Pokery, Coincidence, or Act of God?”

Of course, the best way to learn how to write a detective story is to read detective stories.  Pay attention to how clues are revealed, when key characters are introduced and when revelations are made.  Detective stories are fun to read and fun to write, but if you don’t play by the rules, you won’t stay in the game.


Writers Bloggers – Create a Blog

March 5, 2008 at 7:57 pm | Posted in Writers Write | Leave a comment
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I started writing because I loved to read.  It was with equal parts admiration (How do they do it?) and disdain (I could do it better) that I crossed the threshold from reader to writer.  What did I find on the other side?  To my dismay, not a mob of eager agents or publishers clamoring to sell my book.  Instead I found a crowd of cynics:  aspiring authors who had been burned by con artists.  I was burned too, (moderately singed), and so I can certainly understand the need to guard your most precious treasure.

Not your book.

Your HOPE.

You can sell your book, whether self published, e-published or traditionally published, but the key is to SELL your book. Even before it is published, you want to generate buzz about yourself and your work.  You can do this if you create a blog and drive traffic to your site.    

Your blog should be relevant and meaningful to you and to your prospective audience.  Believe it or not even writers lose interested in writing if the topic is boring to them.  I couldn’t write a blog about car maintenance, even if my main character is a super hero welding a wrench.  It may tie into my book, but it has no long term appeal to me as a writer.  Subjects that interest me are Writing, True Crime, Reading, Self Help (motivation, setting goals, positive thinking) and Reality TV.  If it’s relevant to my work as a writer, I’ll post it on Fictionway.  I never run out of things to write about because this interests me.  My target audiences for my books are mystery, suspense and crime readers.   And if they’re like me, they’re also curious about the process of writing. 

Once you know the theme of your blog, you will need to drive traffic to your site.  A good way to do this is to post articles that provide good information and directs your readers to your blog.  Simple right?  The only trick is knowing where to place your articles so you get the most exposure.  There are lots of sites that allow you to post articles with links back to your site, including: Squidoo, HubPages and PeopleFuel.  Some allow revenue sharing, which is icing on the cake.  Explore these different sites and find a few (yes a few) that are easy to use and build links to your site. Without spreading yourself too thin you want to have links back to your web site from multiple sources.    How thin is too thin?   

You should probably try to write 3-4 articles a week for placement outside of your own blog.  You don’t need to add fresh content every week, but it will help you build a readership.  That is in addition to your own blog, which should have a minimum of 1-2 articles a week. This is where you want the bulk of your information.  I started with a couple of WordPress Blogs and then PeopleFuel.  This is enough for me.  There is a lot of information available for creating a blog, optimizing search engines (SEO), targeting key words and creating links. This is just a way to start and I’m sure you’ll get more proficient with time. 

Don’t give up hope.  You dreamed of writing a book, and you achieved it.  You dream of selling your book and you will achieve that too. It just takes belief, perseverance and plenty of patience.

Dean Koontz

February 7, 2008 at 7:23 pm | Posted in Writers Write | Leave a comment
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Dean Koontz has long been one of my favorite authors.  I have accompanied him on his journey from shocking horror master to supernatural guru.  At times the path was messy with blood and gore and at other times, inspiring. Over time,  his work has become increasingly formulaic: 2 parts ordinary hero thrust into a hopeless situation fighting omnipotent villains, 1 part supernatural activity, 1 part faithful companion and a dash of spirituality.   While the recipe has created plenty of tasty treats: Odd Thomas, The Good Guy and The Husband, are all somewhat bland in their predictability.   Whispers Dean Koontz



Koontz is a wonderful writer. He is a master of language, commanding words to create breathtaking images or heart thumping scenes.  Similar to Stephen King, Koontz creates flesh and bone characters, so well developed they feel like friends, family or lovers.  His protagonists are flawed yet brave, loners yet likeable, reluctant yet forced to take action.


“Anyway, only a fool or a madman goes looking for adventure in picturesque Moonlight Bay, which is simultaneously one of the quietest and most dangerous communities on the planet. Here, if you stand in one place long enough, a lifetime’s worth of adventure will find you.” Seize the Night



Koontz’s break through novel was Whispers published in 1980. The main character, Hilary Thomas, is repeatedly attacked by Bruno Frye, even after he is killed.  Hilary represents the classic Koontz heroine: brave, alone and victorious.

The Servants of Twilight, published in 1988, is a fan favorite. The story is about a mother, Christine Scavello, who must protect her son from crazed cult members who believe her child is the Anti Christ.


His work became noticeably darker, beginning in 1991, with Hideaway.  Hatch Harrison was clinically dead for eighty minutes and was brought back to life by a pioneering doctor.  He begins to have violent visions of a serial killer, called Vassago. Other works published in the 90’s feature sadistic killers: Intensity, Dragon Tears and Tick Tock. By the late 1997, Koontz began to explore characters with diabilities. Chris Snow is featured in a trilogy of books beginning with Fear Nothing. Snow suffers from the rare disease called XP (xeroderma pigmentosum); he is allergic to sunlight. Supporting characters may have Down’s syndrome, they may be agoraphobic or blind.


“The girl stamped her left foot on the ground, causing the leg brace to rattle softly. She raised her left hand, which proved to be deformed: The little finger and the ring finger were fused into a single misshapen digit that was connected by a thick web of tissue to a gnarled and stubby middle finger.” One Door Away From Heaven


While the human characters are important to the story, there is often a canine character who steals the spot light.  Koontz is an animal lover.  His friend Trixie, a golden retriever, graced several book jackets, co authored a few books and even provided a pseudonym to which Koontz published.

Dogs played a prominent role in many of his works, including: Fear Nothing, Seize the Night, The Taking, Watchers, Dark Rivers of the Heart, Dragon Tears and One Door Away from Heaven.

“The dog also knew what the ringing meant. He padded out of the shadows into the candle glow, and stared sorrowfully at me. Unlike the others of his kind, he will hold any man’s or woman’s gaze as long as he is interested. Animals usually stare directly at us only briefly – then look away as though unnerved by something they see in the human eyes. Perhaps Orson sees what other dogs see, and perhaps he, too, is disturbed by it, but he is not intimidated.He is a strange dog. But he is my dog, my steadfast friend, and I love him.”   Fear Nothing

None was more prominently featured then Nikki, a rescued golden in The Darkest Evening of the Year.  I was disappointed by the book, finding the plot and character development lacking. The book is also burdened by Koontz’s own political and social agendas. Of all his works, I still love Lightning the most.  Published in 1988, the story was inventive, surprising and romantic.  The most important moments in Laura Shane’s life have been punctuated with lightening, which happens to coincide with the appearance of a stranger.

Hearing Your Voice

January 27, 2008 at 7:31 pm | Posted in Writers Write | Leave a comment
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Having your own voice in your writing is critical to your future success. Writers who are able to express their unique view of the world carve a niche for themselves in a crowded marketplace. To find your voice, begin by asking yourself what it is you wish to say.

Writing is about communication.  You are delivering a message regardless of the manner in which you choose to present it.  You may want to write an article on National Health Care; a personal essay about a special relationship; or a short story about cloning in the future.   After you have identified the message you want to communicate, you need to know the audience for whom the message is intended. The best way to understand your audience is to be a member of it.  In other words, if you read horror novels, you should write in the same genre, since you already know your audience. 

Genre is a category of book, whether mystery & crime, suspense & horror, romance, or Sci Fi & Fantasy, the lines may blur, but there are unique characteristics of each.   

Mystery & Crime includes stories of police, private detective or forensic investigations. The stories may be fictional or true crime. As defined by Genrelist “Fictional stories, usually realistic, about a mysterious event which is not explained or a crime that is not solved until the end of the story to keep the reader in suspense.” 

Suspense & horror includes supernatural thrillers, paranormal and the occult.  According to Wikipedia, “Historically, the cause of the “horror” experience has often been the intrusion of an evil —- or, occasionally, misunderstood —- supernatural element into everyday human experience. Since the 1960s, any work of fiction with a morbid, gruesome, surreal, or exceptionally suspenseful or frightening theme has come to be called “horror”. Horror fiction often overlaps science fiction or fantasy, all three of which categories are sometimes placed under the umbrella classification speculative fiction. See also supernatural fiction.” (2) 

Romance can cross any genre, it may be historical, present day or futuristic, but at its core it is a love story. Sci Fi contains “futuristic technology; a blend of scientific fact and fictional elements” whereas Fantasy “contains elements that are NOT realistic, such as talking animals, magical powers, etc. Make-believe is what this genre is all about.” (1)  

There is another voice to consider before you begin; to voice telling the story or Point of View.  Point of View may be first person, second person or third person. First person is the most intimate and limiting POV.Second person is the least common POV usually reserved for non fiction works.Third person may be less intimate, but it allows more flexibility to the author. The person telling the story is a character of the story. Their perspective will influence the reader’s perception of the story, so you should choose wisely. The character’s voice, traits and opinions are not your own, so resist inserting too much of your own      

1. Genrelist: What in the world is Realistic Fiction?

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