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.

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How to Write Articles

July 25, 2008 at 7:17 pm | Posted in Writers Write | Leave a comment
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If you want to earn money online, you’ll need to generate traffic to your site.  It’s just that simple.  How do you generate traffic?  Well, that’s where it gets a little more complicated.  When a customer is searching for a specific item, they’ll type in certain key words or a phrase to find that item.  Search engines such as: Yahoo, MSN and Google, use complex algorithms to rank pages according to their relevance.

 

The key to being relevant is to research various terms and then write content targeting these terms.

 

Begin with an article on your site and use the key word or phrase in your title.  You will then build links pointing back to that article from other sites. You build links with supplemental articles and link with the key word or phrase.

 

For example, don’t include a link that says yoursite.com.  Instead, link to your site from the key words, ie: How to Write. 

 

Publish these articles at sites like Peoplefuel, Expurt or WordPress. All of these sites will host your articles or blog for free.  Peoplefuel and Expurt also offer revenue sharing.

 

Here are a few tips on how to write articles

 

1. The more articles you write the better.  Keep them brief and to the point.  You want to provide good information but there’s no need to cause eye strain.  500-600 word count is ideal. 

 

2. Each article should contain relevant, original content.  It is a bit of challenge to write 3 or 4 articles on the same topic and maintain originality but it’s absolutely necessary. Google filters out duplicate content from their search results so it’s a waste of energy to post it.  This is another reason to keep your posts brief – to have something left to say.

 

3. Lists work well.  People who like to get to the bottom line quickly know exactly where to go when they see a numbered list.  The internet is crammed full of information and most of it isn’t worth reading, which is why people skim content. If they can’t find value at a glance, they’ll move on with little time wasted. 

 

4.  Write to your mother.   Keep your language simple and conversational.  You don’t need to be perfectly polished  to post.  Only my 8th grade English teacher cares about perfect punctuation and dangling participles.   Keep your content rated G to PG when you’re writing articles to market your site.  There are obvious exceptions, but for most business ventures slang or foul language just seems unprofessional.

 

5. Always leave them wanting more.  I will follow my own advice and keep this post brief.  Sure, I can think of more tips, but I have 3 or 4 more articles to write on the same subject.  If you want to learn more on how to write articles you’ll have to follow me down the rabbit hole.

Get Paid to Write

July 24, 2008 at 10:04 pm | Posted in Writers Write | Leave a comment
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When you decided to be a writer, did you think you were going to write a novel or screenplay?  Did you imagine yourself as the next Stephen King or Hollywood “It” Kid schmoozing with celebrities and getting comfy on Oprah’s couch?  I imagined writing terrific mysteries, releasing a new best seller every year and living comfortably doing something I love. 

 

I do get paid to write, but it’s not quite the vision I had years ago. While you wait for that publishing contract and big advance, you might find yourself hustling for freelance jobs.  I’ve written articles for others to post on a wide variety of topics.  I might not be passionate about solar energy or knitting, but I am passionate about writing. While the topics don’t nourish my writer’s soul, it does put food on the table.

 

I’ve heard my fellow writers complain about the dismally low pay scale for writing articles.  It does not pay as well as print because site owners need to update content daily, not weekly or monthly.  They need quality content but they also need quantity content.  The budget only stretches so far and many of my customers are small business owners.  If you can’t stomach the idea of earning only $20-$30 an hour, there are other options

 

1.  Write for your own site.  This is appealing because you can write about the topic of your choice (such as writing) and you will reap all the rewards. Just be prepared for the three W’s…

 

Hard Work

Lots of Writing and

A long Wait

 

As you build content on your site, you also want to build links. You can do this by writing supplemental articles, NOT duplicate articles, and placing them on sites like WordPress or Peoplefuel.  These sites will host your articles or blog for free and Peoplefuel also allows revenue sharing. This makes the article doubly beneficial because it provides a link to your site plus displays ads to collect extra income.

 

If you decide to write for your own site you should consider how you will make money once you’ve generated traffic and established yourself as an authority.  This brings me to…

 

2. Write an e-book.  The hottest products for online entrepenuers are e-books.  Consumers are ravenous for information and e-books are ideal for satisfying their appetite.  E-books are inexpensive to publish and distribute and they will keep generating revenue long after they’re written.  Non fiction or How To e-books have been accepted by the online audience but fiction e-books still struggle to find a readership.  I don’t know why one genre is more successful than another, but it’s something to consider when planning your e-book. 

 

3.  Ghost write – similar to writing articles for others there is demand for ghost writers to write e-books for others.  There are sites that connect writers and clients with jobs ranging from resumes, essays to e-books and novels.  I haven’t done any business with these companies, so I’m not endorsing them, just letting you know they’re services are available.  The best endorsement for a potential client is an example of your work. Most of my contacts have come from the articles I have posted.  Did I mention that when I write an article for others I ask to include a link to one of my sites?  The best way to get work writing is to write. 

 

4. Pay per post – You can also earn money if you write a review or article about a specific product and post it on your site.  You can pay $10.00 a year for a domain name and find hosting for free.

 

You can get paid to write. It might not be quite what you envisioned, but it is possible. The opportunity is there, you just have to take it.

 

 

Get Paid To Write

Get Paid To Write

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.

Anne Rice

February 5, 2008 at 5:05 am | Posted in Writers Write | 5 Comments
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Anne Rice is an author who has become a cult figure in the vampire subculture.  She transformed the image of vampires for a generation of readers, from mysteriously foreign to conflicted, seductive characters.  Born in New Orleans, a city rich with diverse religions and superstitious beliefs, Anne grew up Catholic.  She was fascinated with the symbolism of the church.  Anne’s mother struggled with alcoholism which created a sense of dread for the children, never knowing if she would be “sick”.  Her mother died when Anne was fourteen and a year later her father remarried and moved the family to Dallas.    

 

 Anne wrote stories from a young age.  She explored ideas that conflicted with her strict religious upbringing, so she left the church.  At 19 she went to San Francisco, lured by the promise of an artistic, hip community.   She married Stan Rice in 1961 and moved to Texas, but they were back in San Francisco a year later. They had their first child, Michele in 1966.   Michele at 4 years old was diagnosed with leukemia and she died two years later.  During Michele’s illness the couple turned to alcohol to cope. 

After Michele’s death, Anne’s alcoholism took over her life and drove the couple further and further apart. Anne went to Texas to stay with Stan’s family and six weeks later she returned for a fresh start with her husband.  In late 1973, she returned to her work. She began with a short story, Interview with The Vampire.  At the end of five weeks she transformed Interview into a novel.  The manuscript was rejected repeatedly, but finally in 1975 it was bought for $12,000.  The film rights sold months later and then paperback rights soon after.    

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The intense sexuality, homosexual undertones and philosophical questions were different than anything on the market at the time.  It was met with critical distain and luke warm success.  She gave birth to her second child, Christopher,  in 1978.    The money she received from the sell of Interview allowed Anne to write full time.  She and Stan quit drinking and Anne published three erotic novels under a pseudonym.   She also wrote a sequel to Interview, “The Vampire Lastat” which reached the best sellers list within two weeks.  The San Fransisco writing community shunned her and disregarded her success.  

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In 1988 “The Queen of the Damned” was published. It was the third installment of the vampire chronicles.  The family moved to New Orleans.  Rice was inspired and wrote “The Witching Hour”.  Rice’s fans are diverse, from disenfranchised teens to suburban mothers. Anne played a role of gothic queen, wearing costumes and arriving in a coffin to book signing events. By 1993, Rice had written 15 books.

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Her first book, Interview with The Vampire was being made into a movie, with Tom Cruise in the lead role.  Rice didn’t approve of the casting choice, but when the movie was released, she recanted her doubts.  She continued to write prolifically, releasing nearly a book a year.   

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In 1998, Anne fell into a mysterious coma. She was diagnosed with diabetes and had to slow down her frenetic pace.      

Look Back to Plan Ahead

January 30, 2008 at 7:47 pm | Posted in Writers Write | Leave a comment
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Have you ever heard the saying about the definition of insanity?  Insanity is doing the same over and expecting different results.  I have many times, usually from well meaning motivational gurus who encourage change. We can become so focused on what doesn’t work we may overlook what does.

Just for the sake of this dialogue, let’s assume that everyone has succeeded at some time in their life, at least once. There may be a thousand failures, but there is at least one success.  If the past is the best predicator of the future, rather than looking back on a thousand failures (that’s depressing!) look back on that one success   

What worked?    

I was successful in landing a job.  How did I do that?             

 – I prepared for the interview.  The interviewer told me the interview would be a conducted as an informational interview. These are especially stressful because you’re put on the spot to answer questions that exhibit your skills, like “Tell me about a time you successfully dealt with an irate customer.”  Knowing I’d be faced with these types of questions I wrote a list of accomplishments that I could use for my real world examples.  I then prepared several questions which I thought might be asked, such as “Give me an example of when you were able to lead a difficult individual.” I wrote the questions on index cards and had my husband and kids “interview” me.               

 – I imagined a positive outcome.  I added my new job title and start date to my resume. They didn’t know it yet, but the job was already mine! I visualized the interview; my relaxed demeanor, professional appearance, ready answers and witty banter.  My hands may not have been as steady or my wit as witty as I imagined; but I was much more relaxed having a positive expectation of the interview.             

  – I presented myself to make a good impression, but I was also authentic.  I didn’t try to hide my nerves, but acknowledged them.  I paused to give myself time to think of my answers.  I thanked them for their time and maybe even gushed in my enthusiasm to make a good impression.  No matter how much I want to appear cool, collected and in complete control; my façade would crumble after a few days on the new job.  It’s better they know I’m human right from the start.  In this one example of success in my life, I can see what works for me:  

            Preparation

            Practice

            Positive Visualization

            Presentation

Once you define what works for you, think of how you’ll apply the same strategies in areas where you may have failed in the past.   For example, I was unsuccessful at selling a manuscript.             

 – I wasn’t fully prepared.  When an agent asked what made my book different, I couldn’t think of an answer.  If I couldn’t sell my book, how could I expect someone else to?  I vowed to be prepared in the future.  I read dozens of books on the subject of finding an agent or publisher. I researched the market, identified my audience and my competition.  Why would someone choose my book over Sue Grafton, Patricia Cornwell or Jonathon Kellerman? I had to know the answer to this question and believe it!           

   – Next, I practiced the fine art of convincing others.  You guessed it, my hubby and kids again. While they’re not the toughest judges in the world, I found that the more times I said “My book features a strong heroine unlike any other in the mystery genre. She is a working mother, conflicted with the demands of work and family, yet dedicated to both.” the stronger I felt about it.              

 – It was easy for me to imagine a big fat advance for my manuscript. I imagined what it would be like to be a best selling writer.   I posted a list of the NY Times Bestsellers and replaced the #1 selection with my book’s title.  I wrote a million dollar check to myself so I could get used to seeing that many zeros in my bank account.              

 – Presentation was absolutely critical to my success. I hired an outside editing firm to ensure my manuscript was in tip top shape before I sent one query letter.  I had my query letter, story synopsis, chapter synopsis, sample chapters and resume ready to mail at a moment’s notice.  

There’s no “one size fits all” formula of success. Take the time to look back in order to succeed in the future.

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