THE TRICK OF WRITING $$ LUCRATIVE $$ Mysteries
Want to make a million fast? Write a mystery thriller and but in order be able to do that, first, study the work of the best writers. Take you a week or two. NOTE: Women don't need to read this article unless you have an IQ of 180 like Sue Grafton. Don't get me wrong, I love Agatha Christie movies. Her best book "AND THEN THERE WERE NONE," made her a fortune, first a film made in '45, again '65, check IMDB.....Read the book (found at Abe books used for a buck.)
Unless they have an IQ, women should write Bodice Rippers or Historical novels from a woman's P.O.V. There, they excel. Read "THE RED TENT" by Anita Diamant. Fab book based on a few sentences in the Old Testament about a Jewish girl who married an Egyptian Arab.. Now for people who want to write and succeed fast, Study the work of:
THE BEST and MOST ACKNOWLEDGED MYSTERY WRITERS
You women still reading? Ok. Some really smart movies were made of Agatha Christie mysteries like DEATH ON THE NILE. Murder on the Orient Express, And I loved "AGATHA" the film made about her first really bad marriage to a hunk* (That black haired evil man who later became one of the James Bonds, Timothy Dalton) with Vanessa Redgrave playing Agatha. Dustin Hoffman plays the man who solves the mystery of Agatha's plan to murder her husband's mistress. Vanessa is the best actress on the planet, she blows Streep away. And Agatha is good to study. Carol O Connell, a fine mystery writer, may have done so :http://www.dancingbadger.com/carol_oconnell.htm
Another great chick mystery writer was JOSEPHINE TEY who wrote "DAUGHTER OF TIME" a mystery that is truly MIND BLOWING! THe PREMISE is so amazing, you wonder why it has never been done before or since. (This cop, Alan Grant, (her hero in many books,) is hospitalized and out of boredom, researches the famous murder by Richard III of his young nephews. Though it's 400 years after the fact, Grant solves the case. King Richard III didn't do it! Amazing book WOW! Written before WORLD WAR I and it more than holds up ---it's the BOMB. I imagine that the writer had done immense research on RICHARD III and had her own theories. So the inventive leap was figuring out a plot that could capture what she knew about the so called EVIL KING and vindicate him. GOOD SLEUTHING to straighten out the facts. Other Top Brit Mystery writers:
AMERICANS: Patricia Cornwell's "JACK THE RIPPER, CASE SOLVED" did the same thing as TEY did, straightening out RIPPER facts which everybody THOUGHT they knew but digging up NEW stuff that nobody knew and it is FASCINATING! Everyone had made guesses, the most infamous murderer in English history... they had made guesses. Kings, DUkes, Doctors. But Cornwell outshines all her books with her sleuthing. It impressed me immensely. Her M.E. KAY SCARPETTA mysteries are well thought of as she (like many male mystery writers) knows forensic, cop and morgue procedures but this JACK THE RIPPER went further. She used modern Forensic methods on old evidence and nailed the real PERP I'm sure. The horoscope of the famed dark artist was so evil and the details of how he was maimed for priapism at age 3 is just what starts a sex pervert on his road to merriment.
P.I. procedural thriller writer, Robert Crais is very good. Lee Child writes about an ex Marine who's an ad hoc SHANE interventionist/crime-solver. His books you cannot put down, as good though they're thrillers more than mysteries. Michael Connelly's many books are cop procedural mysteries.from the viewpoint of an L.A. homicide detective.
Except for Agatha, Women don't do well with the mystery genre. You can say all you want about the lead-footed Helen McInnes. She's a yawn. J.D. Robb is writing slush romance with a mystery pinned to it. One Frederic Forsyth with the Odessa File can take a hundred HELENS and Robbs with one hand tied. HOWEVER, lately I'm reading SUE GRAFTON mysteries, and they are consistently good. A is for Alibi, B is for Burglar. I went through the whole alphabet up to S is for Silence and T for Trespasser is being signed in Bookstores this week, so I'm waiting for it to show up used for a buck, well, 2$ after shipping. (I have in fact a nightmare where my kids dump all my 2$ books in a garage sale for a quarter when I'm gone.) LIST OF BEST MYSTERIES ever written has maybe one or two women But they missed JOSEPHINE TEY. Daughter of TIME by her is amazing Get a copy!
I just rec'd a few RUTH RENDELLS from ABEBOOKS.com but I closed them yawning. It is Male Mystery writers who have the chops. They have what it takes at the starting line. They know male thinking, (where crime & violence statistically reside,) and thusly have it all over us chicks who cannot fathom that depth of violence, paranoia and territoriality that men have. LEE CHILD and ROBERT PARKER are experts at this. They write action so that even a woman can understand it. Read PARKER's fifty titles, and read LAWRENCE BLOCK. You will be very entertained. Start with "When the Sacred Ginmill closes"
As mysteries are addictive and those who read them must have three a week, a MALE with half a brain can make millions what with an advance from publisher being 10 to 40 grand, royalties from nat'l & internat'l book sales, translations, then sale to Hollywood, a cool mil, then video DVD rights. I don't think women can do what males with fists, aggression, science aptitudes do ---as well. (Although I love the meticulous sleuthing and firm, neat, savvy persona of the heroine of Sue Grafton books.) In the CRIME biz, it pays to act like a man, take risks, penetrate ugly worlds and kick butt like her heroine does.
The Mystery writer doesn't necessarily incorporate violence, suspense predicated on danger of death that the writer of a THRILLER does but it helps to get some of that going for your mystery plot. Lee Child is an author who knows how to blend mystery with danger.. "DIE TRYING, "THE ENEMY both have violence, mystery and thrills. Danger. Readers, especially males, understand these elements. Lee Child also understands another subtle requisite, "unctuous, officious chaff." That's the character who stands in the way of the hero's investigation. This person may crave the credit or he may be part of the evil plot and want to bury the true facts. As Lee Child has Jack Reacher as a military MP, he has a bounty of unctuous chaff characters on the army base. The reader hates this type, the 'official' who gives no reason for his edicts, the authority figure with a nasty, officious attitude. We can't wait for Reacher to struggle toward some horrible truth and make these bozos, who suppressed or ignored clues, lose their entire career. This hatred building in the reader adds richness, power to the story.
It's necessary that the good Mystery storyline portrays a central male hero who knows the art of cool, fistless macho AGGRESSION and verbal repartee as fist fights don't always play in a paragraph. LEE CHILD can make a fist fight interesting when it's on paper. We believe Jack Reacher as a Military MP when he breaks a knee backward with one kick, stopping a fight in a flat second. Private Dick, SPENSER (by Robert Parker,) very engaging. We relish his battles and his narrative wit as well as smart wisecracks. Another man who makes humor a weapon is LAWRENCE BLOCK, and his work holds up though it's two decades old. He is so very bright, His Bernie Rhodenbarr 'burglar' mysteries are a rat's eye view of crime. Ditto his Matt Scudder who's AA, divorced and he quit the cops after his own ricochet killed a baby. These are strictly mysteries. But most American mysteries border on being THRILLERS.
ROBERT CRAIS wrote Hostage, which Bruce Willis starred in. It's definitely a thriller. Read it first, then rent the DVD. That double study would be a lesson not only in the THRILLER/MYSTERY combined form but a free seminar on "adapting a book", preparing you for script writing. The book's author always gets first swack at the screenwriting job and those huge fees. "Hostage" is a book that you can't put down.
FOLLETT AND FORSYTH - Pre-eminences in the field of Thrillers -- these guys wrote a spate of books that became flicks. Ken Follette's third book was a best seller, "EYE OF THE NEEDLE" and Frederic Forsyth's ODESSA FILE & DAY OF THE JACKAL rock. Wow! In EYE AND JACKAL, the villain was so deadly and intriguing and unique that you couldn't bear it. These are not mysteries but political, historical thrillers.
MY NEW FAVORITE IS DANIEL SILVA "Kill Artist" Unlikely Spy, "Marching Season" He writes political, historical thrillers that are also mysteries, like the above two authors do. Read Silva's "MARK OF THE ASSASSIN" and "THE UNLIKELY SPY" (which has me riveted right now,) The English Assassin, The Kill Artist and the "Marching Season". Confessor. Wait I'm not over....Death in Vienna! WHEW!You will be very happy that you checked this guy out. Of the library, I mean. Like the pre-eminence in his field, Forsyth, the new Pope of Thrillers, Daniel Silva, started as a foreign correspondent. Both of them have an IQ off the charts as their plots are like the insides of Swiss clocks. In Silva's case, OH BOY does he hate the SWISS. He tells you the true scuttlebutt on them in The English Assassin. He always tells you who the real villains are. The Marching Season is very candid about IRELAND/ IRA vs. Protestants where he favors the former. He adores the MOSSAD and the Israelis but one of the titles is extremely sensitive to the sorrows of the Palestinians.
Robert Parker isn't a drop political. He's into food. (Check his portrait on book, tubby lardo.) But we enjoy his ramblings on food. Hehas that unique talent, making his readers, both women and men, realllllllly enjoy watching SPENSER exercise the most arcane, difficult, worthy traits of manhood. He talks cute to his gal, he scares villains. He has incredible insouciance and lays me out with funny one liners but his main trait is fearlessness. Guy Mojo. Second is his monogamy with Susan who is a can't cook fashionplate. Purity must be his secret weapon as he's so saintly, he can walk on water. SPENSER, a P.I. for hire, can walk into any Mafia Capo's office, trade jibes, not get shot and convince the guy to give him what he wants, whatever it is....even with two hood-eyed toads standing by with 38's over their flies. PARKER is a very readable guy. That's why there are a dozen Spense novels! ALL made into films or TV. And he has some other detectives, a series for Tom Selleck.
Trading jibes, and showing fearless pluck Spense goes after the perp even if into the nest of the head toad. He gives those secrets of manhood to his male readers -- the "how to be a real man" lesson. The Parker SPENSE mysteries made him millions and got made into a tv series. You gotta read them his detective was played by that handsome actor Bob Somebody who died early of cancer. Remember, chunky, handsome, babyface sweet looking? What was that name? Hear he was real rude in real life, a co-player actress told me. The tv series had Spense and Hawk the black bald man and Susan Silverman, his Jewish girlfriend who is so classy and smart? Ever see that show?
I never watched the tv show myself...but momentarily having food poisoning, I go to sleep each night reading Parker/ Block / Crais/ Grafton/ Forsyth/ Silva so glad these people are so phenomenally prolific, and I can title search and buy them used at ABEBOOKS.COM. (the Trick to getting them for bottom dollar is to EMAIL the dealer a 'pave the way ' LETTER . (Shhhh, my secret is there at that URL!) There is ONE CHEAPER way to get novels. Friends, relatives, chums. My mom gets books given her by pals at her AA meetings. My daughter gets Robert Parker, Connelly, Crais, James Ellroy and Lee Child from her laundry room in a Bronx bldg with a hundred tenants and she mails them to me. Another fairly inexpensive way is Salvation Army. 49c paper, 1$ hard.
THE ELEMENTS OF A MYSTERY -
A SMART GUY at the CENTER- It helps to give him stripes, like Michael Connelly who makes Hironymous Bosch, his veteran Cop, familiar with the Hollywood beat as author Connelly really knows procedure at Parker Center. Why? He is an ex L.A. Times crime reporter. He has been my Mom's fave for a decade. CONNELLY's hero is the quirky hero of most all Connelly's novels. Clint once played him in a flick. His character Hironymous Bosch, Harry for short, --drank himself off the force but then he came back on. Authors do too much of that falling hero thing these days. Cops gotta reach for new quirks lately. Got any ideas? Cop with AIDS? On Methadone? Raising his four kids alone at home? Cross Dressing? Who cooks gourmet like Parker P.I. Spense? Who is a TV SHOW something or other (cooking show? ) and that only hides his real ability to get backstory on pompous personages? You know, SUPERMAN and Clark Kent both?
THE QUIRKY HERO and his 'thing' should be part of the FORMULA for a mystery. Hero must be strong, muscular, fast, concerned about something on intense levels, SERIOUS and let me stress moving fast. Again. He can be a burglar like Bernie Rhodenbarr of Lawrence Block's many Burglar mysteries. Or a spy like his Evan Tanner thrillers. Or an Inspecteur like Jules Maigret of the Georges Simenon mysteries.
First chapters, he must zip after the criminal, as soon as he's fired up, start zipping. Motion. No languor in your prose. It must move like a freight train, or as the crime was so horrific, like a FRIGHT TRAIN! He meets with involved persons, Persons of INTEREST, concerned parties, bereaved relatives. Each visit, each new 'witness' gives us not only a new viewpoint of the victim and his life but a DOOR TO A NEW WORLD.
For an example of how to handle a susepct, read Maigret. He goes straight to the heart of a suspect, finds the passion, blood, tragedy. Frequently someone has had the crime hung on him already. Then, Maigret uncovers his innocense. We have a poignant honest person who is headed toward being an innocent victim, Simenon has MAIGRET do the rescue. Maigret does that by finding another 'better' suspect.
With each interview of a suspect a new door opens with a new world behind it. NEVER let dialogue go on and on. That was great in the 1800's, not now. Exposition is req'd in dialogue, some indication of character of Detective and subject, but not reams Not time for mouths to be flapping, Just unpeel the onion. Keep detective moving, unpeeling back story, layers buried in time, even. Can be actual, historical mysteries. Daniel Silva takes on the Nazi theft of Fine Jewish Art collections in WWII, with 30 billion $ worth of canvases still missing and the clearly deliniated collusion of the SWISS BANKERS who were accessories to theft. Forsyth's first novel was the French radicals' attempt on De Gaulle's life (Day of the Jackal,) Real life, even if we know how the matter turned out, (as in Follett's EYE OF THE NEEDLE, the Calais Vs. Normandie landing and Nazis not knowing WHICH being the McGuffin, not only makes the pulse hammer more; it gives a novel a MUSEUM sensibility as this is real history we're looking at.
WHICH BRINGS US to the SECOND thing a MYSTERY NEEDS. The spark contributed by THE ISSUE or the 'thing' which must be captured to make the world Safe. It is called a MacGUFFIN."NOTE: The term ‘MacGuffin’ was coined by Hitchcock’s Scottish friend, screenwriter Angus MacPhail, for something that sets the film’s plot revolving around it. It’s really just an excuse and a diversion. In a whimsical anecdote told by Hitchcock, he compared the MacGuffin to a mythical ‘apparatus for trapping lions in the Scottish Highlands’. In other words, it could be anything - or nothing - at all. In Notorious, it’s just a lot of fizz: uranium-ore hidden in [wine] bottles. In North by Northwest, it’s ‘government secrets’, whatever they may be. (Hitchcock considered that this was his ‘best’ MacGuffin, because virtually non-existent.) Actually North by Northwest turns out to be one vast MacGuffin, as it doesn't exist on the compass, being full of ‘nothings’ like the ‘O’ in Roger O. Thornhill’s name, or the empty prairie, or the non-existent agent named Kaplan. In effect, the function of a MacGuffin is like the ‘meaning’ of a poem - which T.S. Eliot compared to the bone thrown by a burglar to distract the watchdog of the mind while the poem goes about its own, deeper business. Hitchcock’s most prescient MacGuffin is in Torn Curtain, whose ‘Gamma Five’ project, concerning an anti-missile missile, anticipated by more than a decade President Reagan’s ‘Star Wars’ project. MacGuffin is huge in the MAN WHO KNEW TOO MUCH. View flick to find it.MOST MYSTERIES have a MCGUFFIN. In the MANCHURIAN CANDIDATE The hero eventually stumbles on it, it's secret programming in the brain of his best pal which has been tinkered with so it's like a bomb going to go off under the liberal candidate. Same in Parallex View, fab flick! RENT THESE TWO flicks! Read Manchurian novel by Richard Condon.
HUGER in his "39 STEPS. View flick! MacGuffins are often invisible, but huge in size and they are the ANIMATING FACTOR, the BREATH....of the plot!
A REALLY MASHED UP VICTIM! The GOOD MYSTERY always starts with a horrific event, always a bombing or a corpse. The victim has to be a nice person, even a child, or a woman, or a kindly man, or a cripple but now he/she's dead. The death was horrific, weird and ugly. That's the formula. More deaths will certainly come --if the hero doesn't find the Perp. Next, it must have a doorway to a weird, new world. We want a tour of a new world. Robert Parker gives us Boston and its cafes, as he's a gourmet. Forsyth gave us London or Paris. Connelly L.A. Daniel Silva every European city.
POINT OF VIEW OF THE HERO. A writer can start the novel from the POV of the villains. But only for a minute, but if he does, then he has to use omniscient viewpoint third person rest of book.
WHILE Ken Follett's "EYE OF THE NEEDLE" is a THRILLER, not a mystery, it has omniscient viewpoint. Der NAEDEL kills in first scene. The reader is right there in the room, sees the guy kill his landlady for no reason other than she saw the radio. Third person gets us "up into his mind," like Dostoevsky's CRIME AND PUNISHMENT where every thought of the cornered rat murderer is shared with us until we are breaking into the same sweat. While Follette doesn't take us that close we get to know the Nazi spy in Wartime London who kills with a stiletto, the title's 'needle'. We need the OMNISICIENT VP as other chapters will shift to other characters, the Scotland Yard cop/ pursuer and later the beautiful girl who will love him for all the wrong reasons and become his target for love then murder. The killer's POV reappeared briefly thruout the novel but it switched to the girl even before the two met and fell in love. Fabulous breathtaking book! But not a mystery. A mystery is when we have a body and we do not KNOW who did it.
Next, A HALLWAY for the COP to go down is required. The journey of a MYSTERY NOVEL takes us down an eerie hallway of doors. A world, a millieu. Each door opens to reveal someone whom the cop suspects of the evil deed. That labrynthine trip hopefully has false scares, false stops. Many times we come to believe that one of these sub characters is capable of murder. Or they all are. The author plays with us. But what we have is many motives for this murder. Rage, jealousy, greed. And many character types who all have flaws. So it is a psychological study at times.
IN A THRILLER you may meet the criminal in the first scene. Robert Crais often does ELVIS COSTELLO, HOLLYWOOD P.I. mysteries but in "HOSTAGE" he starts with this methed up bunch of pondscum and he gives them plenty of pages so we're really up inside their heads. You can think like a dog and smell like one by the time he's finished. Crais picked the L.A. Bomb squad in DEMOLITION ANGEL. Those are worlds that you never dreamed of. But in A MYSTERY, we do not meet the killer. Or if we see the murder, we are not shown enough of that killer to know who it is. If we do know, it becomes a thriller. The cop is after a bad egg, and we watch, and are thrilled, but technically it's not a mystery.
A MILLIEU- Many detectives belong to a specific world, an interesting one. SPENCER works the BOSTON BEAT. . MICHAEL CONNELLY writes about THE LOS ANGELES COP WORLD. John Dunning gives us the world of rare book dealers, his dealer being in DENVER. I adore that bookworld and love his stuff, called the "BOOKMAN" mysteries. DANIEL SILVA writes about a Mossad spy who pretends to be a Venetian Art repair technician, called to galleries all over the world while he's really doing hits on enemies of Israel. It's a big world when Dan covers it.
LOCATION LOCATION LOCATION - The next thing you need in the MYSTERY WRITING FORMULA would be a 'world.' A setting, a mise en place, the French call it. The big crime shows did that. CSI took one group of actors to MIAMI, another to LAS VEGAS and a third to NEW YORK. Each city gave you a world. Agatha Christie gives you the posh southern villages of England or London and the romping grounds of the rich Brits, which then were Egypt or Provence or the Orient Express.
DA VINCI CODE's DAN BROWN writes about an academic who travels EUROPE. He's done some very fine thriller/mysteries where he visits Europe, Museums, Historical sites and his academic does research that brings tastes of history.. Then he creates a male character who knows that world! He dresses out his novels with fascinating research on ancient sculptors, architects, Duke and Kings. Makes his hero a PH.D expert on European art history to do this but basically he writes thrillers combined with mysteries decked in marble and velvet! Read his ANGELS AND DEMONS! It's just as good as Da Vinci CODE. He loads so much Bernini statuary and San Pietro Capellos into his works that they pass for high falootin', Kulture but they aren't. Those two works are formulaic mysteries that neatly fill the requisites of victim/ villain, horrific event, millieu, world in danger and mystery galore. A real nice guy dies, leaves a terribly mutilated corpse, unknown villains, etc. and a kind hearted male expert happens to be on hand to see the grieving daughter. He also perceives the further dangers that will come to the planet if the villain continues & he solves the problem with an added feature, A DEADLINE! The ticking bomb in the background is a major requisite of a good thriller. ODESSA FILE has one so terrifying you're screaming as you turn pages. Dan Brown's novels ARE GOOD and scary. They also make you want to tour Europe! His hero is always a civilian who is inadvertently drawn into the horror scenario.
LA CONFIDENTIAL by James Ellroy is in his later books, unreadable, a thicket of words, unintelligible. There's a game prize for Authors who most fucked up their brains with coke in later works and Kosinski and Ellroy are tied. (Kosinski's first is really his only.)
I have no idea how the adapter saw the superb script that was inside the Ellroy L.A. Confidential novel. The film was fab but the novel looks like a billion puzzle pieces sprayed randomly onto the floor. It's the Doctor Zhivago of mysteries. Each piece has a new name to memorize and they introduce you then the guy doesn't show up for pages so you forget the name, his I.D., his physical details. Everything about that character is gone as he's replaced by another then another. It's just a blotch of guck. You learn the name Bud (the character Russell Crowe played) and then nobody else makes sense. Just knowing who Bud is doesn't help when you get this carousel spinning set of new horses that flash by and very little description of action. A flawed book But the screenwriter /adapter deserved the oscar there for the script fix of that mess of a book. He must have sat down with Ellroy and asked for a map!
THE LANGUAGE in LA CONFIDENTIAL's source ...the novel, is so messy, you get no sense of what is going on in the scene, in the room, cuz his writing is so elliptical. a shard here a shard there. PROSE really takes a mastery of English and you gotta put the coke in the freezer while you write. Drugs scramble brains and make you work too fast. WORK SLOW. Next, SOMEONE has to edit for clarity and hope the writer's not some DIVA who won't let you do a check mark next to a booboo. Ellroy coasted by with just little pieces of the view, action. not enuf to makeout what's going on. An adapter must be a profesh psychic. Me, I'd have gone to Ellroy and asked, 'what book is inside there, you wanna tell it to me? I'll take notes." Cuz you need an insider map to get through it!
SO, do you write prose? Wanna make a few million in a few months? If you can lay down pidgeon tracks in English so that we can follow, understand what you're seeing, what's in the scene, get the gist of the dialogue, the badinage you have a way better chance making a million than buying lotto tickets. Have you got the sound of the human voice down? Can you dream up a private dick who's different? Dick doesn't have to be a detective. That's ok for the Mystery formula. Yes, there are formulas for mysteries. You want my take on what they are?
1.) Character of Hero is everything. He/She has to be very interesting and has to have a reason to be a solver of mysteries. Is he a dick? Insurance Investigator? Cop? Forensic like Kay Scarpetta? Punctilious wage slave like SUE GRAFTON's gal dick Kinsey Milhorne. She eats Big Macs with zest, jogs an hour a day, lives in a garage & does snooping for a fee. That job ethic can be the reason for snoop's presence. Or perhaps, as I mentioned, he or she was impugned. The wrong man plot of Hitchcock fame.
She/He's got to be heroic, curious and notice details. In fact, if he's CSI he has to know latest scientific lab tech.
But give us a distinct personality. Is he angry about how the person got killed and wants to know why. Or is he accused of the crime, ergo not a solver, and is doing a running man, whilst solving the crime.
ANOTHER VARIETY OF MYSTERY: A MAIN CHARACTER with a big mouth on him and HUMOR as bullets. Gregory Macdonald's FLETCH novels are hilarious. Guffaws litter each page. Sure they're dated and you can see CHEVY CHASE playing him as you read but it's great writing! DITTO ELMORE LEONARD, Lawrence Block and Robert Parker. Fletch is more comedy than thriller or mystery but the other two deliver mysteries. Your hero can be an alien he can be GREEN but he has to be unusual. HIGH CONCEPT!
You need a Detective with a quirk. He can be a thief like in the Lawrence Block "Burglar mysteries." He can be an ex drunk like Block's Matt Scudder. He can be a very cultured, inadvertent bystander, which Dan Brown did in DaVinci Code, making the hero an expert in his field, accidentally near by or called to site of murder.. Or make your DICK a dear grieving friend of the corpse, or a cop, P.I., or a journalist, someone who was either standing too near or who came in or was called or hired to be on the case. It can be the cop who's researching the case, or the Morgue Examiner. The BONES mysteries by Kathy Reich are from a pro-in-the-field POV. Often your hero can be the very person accused of the crime who really has to solve this thing or he's taking the fall. Often he's in flight --as authorities are looking for him. Sue Grafton and Parker have hero working out all the time on fitness but pigging out on junk food with relish.
2.) A SENSE OF PLACE. The GROUND ZERO must be HOT! ) A unique and pungent Millieu. A weird new world. New York in 2050 (J.D.Robb). LA in 1930. NYC Wall Street in 80's at time of the big Street Traders. For Elmore Leonard it's Florida. For James Ellroy & Michael CONNELL, Hollywood is Mecca, his cop's beat. A lot of Robert Crais' mysteries are set in L.A. with ELVIS COLE his P.I. hero. Robert Block writes of the West Side of Manhattan. All of these are places people want to be in for a while.
Places I'd like to go? The Cuban exile community in Miami. Wine Country where all the Gourmets are, where Julia Child spent her latter years. Her murder would make a great book. Ala 'Who's killing the Great Chefs of Europe," a film with Jackie Bisset. I'd like to visit the Florida Keys, Mexico. London during WORLD WAR II.. PARIS during the collections. The Ateliers of the Left Bank. For superb LOCAL COLOR read John Berendt's "MIDNIGHT in the Garden OF GOOD AND EVIL". Savannah really has it. "THE BIG EASY", New Orleans has it.
After the city, the most important thing is the WORLD or milieu. JOHN DUNNING is my favorite in this regard; It's not Denver, his city, that counts; his books depict the world of rare book vendors in America. Those people who find a book for a dollar that's worth a hundred. Or fifty thousand. I even wrote that book collecting easter egg hunt up. SO it's not a city, it's a milieu where people make fortunes with their wits, with gourmet cooking or book collecting, or insurance fraud. A world we didn't know about.
3.) A SUPERB SCUMBAG VILLAIN who arouses HATRED. If you were tough enough to give us a corpse who went in bizarre manner, a person we grieve over, who was a nice guy, or at least an innocent, we have to be real mad about this murder, and we have to know that the villain is really nasty and can do it again to any of the nice people we like in the book. Even the hero or his family. Then we hate him. He is truly a despicable and DANGEROUS villain. Readers root for him to be caught and you can't stop turning pages when you're rooting. Create "UGLY squared to the tenth power". We want a BOND-sized VILLAIN. Captain EVIL. DOCTOR NO. And his name has to resound with ugliness. Otto Kessler is the Swiss banker art collector in THE ENGLISH ASSASSIN by Daniel Silva. A gnome, blind, cannot enjoy the art worth 30 billion. But the villain tells the hero (just before his men beat him to paste,), 'if you were impotent, would you let other men have at your wife?" SO make him ugly. Gird your loins for the job.
Now, You have a choice, do you let him be an enigma like the wizard of Oz behind a curtain? Or when you finally get us to him, is he beyond ugly and will we share your view and start to hate? THe hormone of hatred is useful early in the game as it keeps us rooting and it gives a wonderful shower of joy when you in next to last scene, 'off the creature.' SO give us ENOUGH detail early, make him pitiless, and give him a group of co conspirators to hate, too. People who were conscripted, blinded, allured, chosen, Faustian-bargained into being part of the evil team. Thrillers are helped by author having no trace of a flip attitude related to the seriousness of the villains' crime. In movies especially, you want the audience to cheer when the villain is murdered. Bringing an audience to Cheering for murder seems to be part of 20th century entertainment. Don't fight it, join.
VILLAINS are the salsa and hot chile pepper of Mysteries. You gotta have a real colossal weirdo, someone despicable, nefarious, pitiless, horrific Der Nadle in EYE OF THE NEEDLE, a German spy/assasin. Dan Brown made his badguy a devoted, weird, albino priest working for the Church. Sometimes the author plays with you. You're sure it's him, then the HERO kills him and oops. Last minute, WRONG GUY. That's not part of the mystery formula but oscar winning Mystic River was a mystery about a father seeking daughter's murderer until that point that the grieving father takes justice into his hands and pops his childhood friend (who was abused as a kid,) but Guess what? Dead guy is also the wrong guy. Then the book becomes a Critical success, a Book award winner and an Eastwood/Robbins Sean Penn film and Oscar candidate. No more Mr. Mystery writer, he crossed over into an issue novel, -- vigilante parents.
4.) SUSPECTS AND CLUES! A lot of potential killers whom we meet one by one, all of them suspicious people. RedHerrings is what they're called. You want little subtle red neon arrows to point to them so when the READER gets to each, he goes 'ooops, that could be the killer.'. While the detective runs down the main boulevard where the first clues led him, he must see dark avenues running off to the side. It helps if the hero recognizes further dangers to come. The reader must see them, too. It helps to have multiple possible villains. That Police Chief? A little too cruel, autocratic and strident. That AUNT? She has all this jewelry on including a man's Patek Philippe and she seemed a little too gleeful that her Nephew got popped. That fraternity fellow? He's GAY so he must have a motive involving romance.
5.) LOCATION LOCATION LOCATION - In Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil, SAVANNAH was the milieu. Publisher's weekly described its very good elements: "After discovering in the early 1980s that a super-saver fare to Savannah, Ga., cost the same as an entree in a nouvelle Manhattan restaurant, Esquire columnist Berendt spent the next eight years flitting between Savannah and New York City. The result is this collection of smart, sympathetic observations about his colorful Southern neighbors, including a jazz-playing real estate shark; a sexually adventurous art student; the Lady Chablis (' "What was your name before that?" I asked. "Frank," she said.' "); the gossipy Married Woman's Card Club; and an assortment of aging Southern belles. (all of them were part of the unique,Savannah local color.) The book is also about the wealthy international antiques dealer Jim Williams, who played an active role in the historic city's restoration--and would also be tried four times for the 1981 shooting death of 21-year-old Danny Handsford, his high-energy, self-destructive 'house helper'. The Williams trials--he died in 1990 of a heart attack at age 59--are lively matches between dueling attorneys fought with shifting evidence, and they serve as both theme and anchor to Berendt's illuminating and captivating travelogue.
DANIEL WOODRELL who is an Ex Marine born in the Ozarks, writes about the OZARKS. His mysteries are saturated with hillbilly language and types that will be entirely new to you, extremely enjoyable. Abe'em. John Burdett writes about a Thai cop with an unprounouceable name, solving Thai crimes. Get Bangkok 8.
6.) Real danger, genuine endangerment as the killer goes after people, maybe the hero....or some vulnerable person who we like could be the next victim. In ENGLISH ASSASSIN, the hired gun kills every kindly rare painting dealer that our hero knows, right after we 'visit' them, because he's bugged their stores. So there are double apprehensions here. We experience scary and concerned moments while our P.I looks in windows as the THIRD PERSON NARRATIVE VOICE lets us watch the ASSASSIN in some chapters. And deeply partake of his mind. He's a human too, being just an accomplished killer and/or hired gun. So we switch betwen hero and killer during the odyssey where hero goes after killer, or the cops pursue the hero, we go into their minds, too etc.
THE SECRET OF SUSPENSE is revealed by one reading of Forsyth's ODESSA FILE, but the secret comes near the end where the suspense builds to the point that you're turning pages really fast and screaming! Ken Folette's DER NAEDLE villain, in EYE OF THE NEEDLE evokes the same scream response. (BTW, EYE is not a mystery. We know whodunnit in first chapter, but we don't know if he's going to kill the girl, so the voyage is one that is nervous-making; it's a superb thriller!) The ultra evil killer with a girl who doesn't know what he is .. is a kind of unique suspense situation too.
A novel that shows you the villains first can not be a mystery but it can still be a great thriller. Read SECRET AGENT by Joseph Conrad. (Costs a buck at ABEBOOKS. ) Published 1907, Hitchcock made it into SABOTAGE in 1936. Oscar Homoka, Sylvia Sydney, Peter Lorre. In the first chapter, you are introduced to an average English family. RIGHT? NOT AVERAGE at all. Each one is a monster. Conrad imbues them with hated traits, one after the other. You're ready for that family to get into trouble. I have never seen more expertise at creating scum profiles. Just amazing. Try to create A GENUINELY HORRIFIC VILLAIN. KNOWING how to make a character despicable is an artform. DICKENS had that gift. The hero would peregrinate through the middle road of the novel meeting both angels and demons. Dickens had his click list of peeves, hates and loves. He dresses his secondaries to fit the list. When he creates the sanctimonious, charitable Mrs Jelleby in BLEAK HOUSE who runs a "charity" for poor darkies in AFRICA, and we hear about her coffee sales, and imagine the starving blacks picking beans, just as her own children are all enslaved and ignored in London...you hate the woman on sight. No way she's an angel. Dickens knows what to tell you so you'll know she's enslaving Africans at the coffee plantation she runs from London. The sign? HER OWN KIDS hate her. LOATHE and detest her. Dickens gives us lots of time to see her posturing and when we really hate her, he introduces her every few chapters just to keep our vitriol going! His side characters are half down the middle, saints, or creepy vin ordinaire villains. The VILLAIN does not need to be Dr. No. The orphanage that enslaves OLIVER TWIST is full of ordinary Londoner working class creeps. In "GOD SAVE THE CHILD" by PARKER, it was upper middle class morally defunct parents with trailer trash habits, they weren't the killers but you see why their son ran off with a weightlifter.
7.) CREATE many kind and knowledgeable secondary characters who are comedic relief assets (often with info for your hero). Every single secondary character is a chance to amuse us, so create odd, offbeat, interesting characters. BILLY WILDER was the KING of secondaries and said that he learned to do it from Ernst Lubitsch. The secondary can go wild which primary characters cannot. They can be farce-ical as Lubitsch Wilder made them. It's the compadre. It's Lone Ranger and Tonto. The dialogue also allows exposition. Spenser has a black, street hood, 'HAWK' Matt Scudder has TJ, same deal. Street black. They may work their way into a story, enriching it. They are what they seem to be, brave, helpful and with good memories. Make them loveable. Your secondaries tell us what issues you're liberal on. That is a gift that only kind authors have.
8) Be on the LOOKOUT for timely new crimes --which can be your INSPIRATION. This week, in L.A. it's street racers and tonight on TV, NUMBERS did them to a turn. LAW AND ORDER did ENRON many times. The THRILLER requires headlines in politics and science. Crais' HOSTAGE is about HOME INVASION.
9) An odyssey or Chase. The man who makes it right, the crime solver, must travel! Law of the Samurai! He moves through either the city or thru cities plural. Or countries. The classic in this odyssey regard is Hitchcock's film "39 Steps. The ODYSSEY defines the man. What he comes up with in the face of attack makes you love him just as much as sleeping in the grain bin makes you love Oliver Twist or David Copperfield. You must rent 39 Steps but it is equalled by Lawrence Block's zany spy hero, Evan Tanner in "THE THIEF WHO COULDN'T SLEEP." Tanner has an unusual M.O. He has signed up for every revolutionary group on the planet and is a paying member in good standing, a great start as far as I'm concerned." I adored his suspenseful breakneck parabola thru Turkey, Ireland and Spain. It was a chase as much as an odyssey. He's arrested by Turks at the airport in the first sentence, as he's gone in for all the Gold in Armenia, and an Armenian family has told him what cellar it's hidden in. He's thrown into Turkish prison, 9 days later, they ship him to Dublin to get him out. He overcomes his stinky Turkish guard, uses the IRA for help. The scenes in IRELAND are loving, mellow, and totally capture the place and people. With IRA help, he sneaks out of Ireland, flies to Spain, goes back into TURKEY where TURKS have said they'd kill him on sight, to find the gold. I bought all that. What I didn't buy was that 3 tons of gold were only worth 3 million dollars.
10) A wrap-up. The classic Agatha wrap-up involves Poirot or Miss Marple explaining to the group who dunnit, why and how she knew.
For more on all this, read HOW TO WRITE A THRILLER.. In the 90's, mysteries have taken on all the kiddie porn murders and serial pedophile data and done villains like that and they do it almost as fast as CSI writers read the newspaper and beat them to it. So if you see something that intrigues you, put the PC on high speed and get going. For instance the crime de jour now is crazy women who cut babies out of pregnant housewives who are home alone. BUT LOOK BACKWARDS too, as Criminologists write tons of books on crimes. Ann Rule comes to mind. Read COLIN WILSON on crime as he carefully documented the first serial killers who showed up in Britain. Satan came to Britain first. I feel murder has a lot to do with being colonized by your own government, though Africa may prove it's about being colonized by ANY government.
YOU CAN GO backwards in time when you select a milieu or setting. The CIA began 'tumbling the monkey' back in the mid fifties with Jacobo ARBENZ in Guatemala. He was a Liberal prexy who like the president ALLENDE in CHILE was into nationalizing the copper to build a better nation. Profits for Latinos, not for US OLIGARCHS. Both countries erupted with secret para military groups deathsquads and a rogue military that was in the CIA fist thenceforward. Read "MISSING" "(the Education of Charles Horman,) which Costa Gavras made into a flick after it was a book. THIS Latin setting would or could make a great mystery. You could make a million bucks if your novel on an AMERICAN CIA guy asked to do thse horrors, suddenly secretly turned around and started to go to priests, nuns for help GRAHAM GREEN did a great novel, Brendan Behan starred in that film, THE QUIET AMERICAN, set in Vietnam. Which brings us to Graham GREENE. HONORARY CONSUL, THE QUIET AMERICAN You gotta read him! THE TAILOR OF PANAMA by LE CARRE, another superb third world story which Le Carre doesn't do often. He did ISRAEL in "LITTLE DRUMMER GIRL."
LINK your story to a past horror or an emerging horror, a new trend, political or scientific or ecological and you have a definite leg up at getting an agent and publisher and a movie deal. And a million bucks. If your hero is interesting, and heart touching too, like poor, victimized little HARRY POTTER, maybe even a string of books out of it. Then you, too, can be richer than the Queen. Then do a charity!
9) Learn from geniuses. BOOKS TO READ: SMILLA's SENSE OF SNOW by HOEG had a woman who knew the victim ( a tiny little orphaned Inuit boy child living in her bldg). A case of the inadvertent detective -- she is appointed by sorrow. Not only a great title, but always a great way to cast your detective! Book was set in Denmark and moved to the Arctic circle in final chapters. Great book, great movie. About murder, until at the end you realize it's about exploitation of the Inuit in Greenland by Danish oligarchs and her father is the evil guy. Richard Harris plays the villain.
10) Watch the great mysteries on the tube. Not just Law&Order (though its ORIGINAL FORMULA, with Vince D'onofrio is the acme drime show,) but watch The Brit mysteries, Miss Marple, Rosemary and Thyme, Helen Mirren's Cop show, and the other BBC Mystery shows (Branagh as Curt Wallender,) on BBC and in USA on PBS. Nobody weaves a rope of more soap opera color and precision, with the dark colors of passion and greed woven with strands of family dysfunction -- better than the BRITS! And no dick has clearer eyes than a Brit dick. A "Richard" they might be called, there, on the pinkie lifted isle.
Brit Directors, starting with Hitch all rev up the comedy when there's a spot of the ridiculous. Frenzy's detective has a wife who's in cooking school, who makes horrors for him to eat, all of them resembling the bodies he finds. Brit classic types are redolent with Cliffs of Dover nutsiness. You will have to find quirks American to fill out the 'local color' and 'recognizeability factor. Miss Marple however is strangely without quirks. But she will stumble upon many quirky sorts. Marple will always have one friend who has called her to the scene, that person is always innocent. There is always another character who cooperates with them always innocent as well. The 'several people' linked meaning two characters running around together allows 'expository' dialogue that advances our understanding, helps us get all the details. Shakespeare needed those two servants at the front of Hamlet, to give the audience the mise en place and family histories: Rosancrantz and Guilderstein and Tom Stoppard made a play just about them!
11.) ZIG AND ZAG, SURPRISE US. SALT AND PEPPER YOUR WORK WITH new clues, REVELATIONS. Every so often, have your detective stumble on something odd that doesn't fit, which turns the investigation on its head, something new, grisly or weird. This character is secretly a tax cheat. This other pair was having an affair. New evidence shows up, maybe esculpatory of some suspicious possible killer. A new avenue to turn onto.
12.) PERVASIVE MOOD of Place, people, action comes straight from the Author's real life experience. Lawrence Block's Matt Scudder series has him as a dedicated drunk especially in "When the SACRED GINMILL CLOSES". He and his pals sit around in fumey after-hour joints in a boys club dedicated to heavy drinking and late hours. Three horrific crimes hit three of his favorite bars, and you realize not everyone who loves the brew is jovial or mentally in one piece. In later Scudder novels, Hero cleans up and AA/ sobriety almost become characters.
A TICKING CLOCK FINALE - A COUNT DOWN. The hero has honed in on the guilty person yet there's still one last terrible danger or quandry, something at stake, some race some final battle to prevent some horrific event. The hero is racing. IN ODESSA FILE at the end, the race makes your hair stand on end. In Kurt Wallenberger mystery, Branagh as the cop is racing from the body of his girlfriend, she's given him the last clue, the ATM card, and he races to the ATM to stop the mad billionaire hacker from putting in the card which will topple all banks in Europe.
The author supposes that by now you're really into the story and the perilous race will be affecting.
Please contribute your favorite mysteries, with your precis, what's unique about it. Thank you. firstname.lastname@example.org
*RENT the film AGATHA with Dustin and Vanessa, an imaginative and well-made speculation as to what may have happened to Agatha Christie during the 10 days in which she disappeared in December 1926. Vanessa Redgrave is my favourite actress of all next to Streep and she is superb here, playing the aristocratic yet very diffident first lady of crime, ill-at-ease with her own success. This was written by Kenneth Tynan's WIFE, Tynan best pal of Larry Olivier. Timothy Dalton also shows what a diverse actor he is with his role of the starchy Colonel Christie, wanting to divorce Agatha so that he can marry his secretary Nancy Neele. Dustin Hoffman puts in a fun and exuberant turn as the American journalist who tails Agatha to Harrogate. The solution to the mystery is a bit over-the-top, but the actors pull it off with style." Note: Dustin is a fan of Agatha who figures out that she's GOING to kill the mistress of her cute hubby and stops her in time.
AGATHA Christie has two novels which can be read online at Gutenberg Project.
One is the AFFAIR AT STYLES, her first novel. Second is SECRET ADVERSARY. Gutenberg Project has other free books.
YOU NEED A HOT START. Sometimes a provocative statement will do it. Imagine this sentence as you open the book. "Predators are optimists." That would make a great first line for a mystery. You could sell a mystery or even a script with that first line. Then you segue to a prowling murderer and you're up in his head. Of course, then it's not a whodunnit as you met the villain in first frame.
MY LATEST RESEARCHES ON MYSTERIES:
SUE GRAFTON - A is for Alibi, B is for Burglar. Q is for Quarry. She's up to S is for Silence and I'm waiting for T is for Trespass is just coming out now. She lives in fabulous Calif beach city Sta Barbara, sets her novels there, (Sta Teresa Ross McDonald called it, she has admiration for him) There's a strong sense of location, of place. She writes in first person, Her heroine, Kinsey Millhone is a meticulous, sifting, grinding mill, alright. And a psychologist like the other Kinsey. And has a controlled sexuality, but is wild for guys in fine duds. A neat, almost academic woman, who makes 3x5 cards of her notes and hangs them on the wall but she's also a regular fellow. SHE JOGS. An ex cop, she has a hefty appetite for Quarter Pounders with fries and diet cokes and she jogs three miles every single morning before breakfast to work 'em off and drinks skimmed milk. She is fairly fearless and is drawn into solving crimes partly because she's a P.I. and gets hired but sometimes someone close to her is the victim. Her novels are like clocks, with many intricate, turning carousel dials. Each wheel spins around to show you different possible suspects, different views, different lives. She watches them spin and makes notes. You, as the reader, get to suspect many people. Near the end she finds the info that locates the killer. She frequently tickles your funny bone. Readability 10
ELMORE LEONARD seems to have been born in Detroit. He doesn't talk English. He talks AMERICAN though and is verrry vernacular even in his authorial, expository prose. That's unusual. Not since James Joyce. And if you've never come across that quirk before, at first, it's prose that's hard to read. Then he double-doses the reader with the street vernacular of the bad guys and the worst shorthand vernacular of all is that of the cops. He has OMNISCIENT VIEWPOINT meaning you slip from the thieves to the cops. There's a braided parallel action that will ultimately vector in MR. PARADISO where you see the cops grappling with clues and being very psychic and observant and always relying on the fact that bad guys are dopey as hell. Then you get to separately watch the killers and their bosses and what they're up to. This writer has obviously lab-tested the grime on the mean streets, knows it like the back of his hand. If you can stop grimacing in horror, you'll see the smartness, accuracy, admire his 'ear' and there's subtle humor. Elmore knows his subject is ugly and gives up on outright laffs but he does rely on the absurdity of dumb and dumber criminals. Readability 10. And I like reading his Chili Palmer titles as I can envision Travolta playing him.
THE OLDIES BUT THE GOODIES: Donald Westlake, Raymond Chandler. Dashiell Hammett. Elmore Leonard. Run them through the Abes search engine but first study my brief lesson on how to use that search engine to get books for bottom dollar. And how to MAKE dollars with used books.
Visit a WEBSITE DEDICATED TO MYSTERY WRITERS http://www.bastulli.com/
There are books on "How to write Mysteries" Lawrence Block wrote one, it's a buck everywhere. Google that phrase, you'll find tons of others, used.
LIST OF BEST MYSTERIES:
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Our POSTER is ANITA SANDS HERNANDEZ, Los Angeles Writer, Futurist and Astrologer. Catch up with her websites TRUTHS GOV WILL HIDE & NEVER TELL YOU, also The FUTURE, WHAT'S COMIN' AT YA! FRUGAL LIFE STYLE TIPS, HOW TO SURVIVE the COMING GREAT DEPRESSION, and Secrets of Nature, HOLISTIC, AFFORDABLE HEALING. Also ARTISANRY FOR EXPORT, EARN EUROS....* Anita is at email@example.com ). Get a 15$ natal horoscope "my money/future life" reading now + copy horoscope as a Gif file graphic! No smarter, more accurate career reading out there!
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