Monday, November 22, 2010

ARTICLE: Writing Murder Mystery Books - Never Let the Words Get in the Way of Your Story #MMM

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Plotting and Writing Suspense FictionHow to Write Killer Fiction: The Funhouse of Mystery & the Roller Coaster of Suspense

Don't Try to Impress the Reader with Fancy Words
Have you ever searched your Thesaurus for twenty minutes trying to find the perfect word? And when you found it, was it a word you've never used before? Throw it away.

Fancy words are fine for literary fiction. But in the mystery genre you don't need or even want them. They're just going to gum up the works. You'll make the reader slow down and think about the words, and maybe even consult a dictionary. Or, she might skip over words and miss what you're trying to say. Congratulations. You've just killed your story.

Your prose should be transparent. The reader should not be thinking about the words at all. She should be seeing the story.

Cut the Excess Words
Can you get your point across with less words? Then do it! Cut every unnecessary word. For example, the word "that" is often unneeded:

"She told him that he was not the man that she was looking for."

Now, without the that's: "She told him he was not the man she was looking for."

Cut the Excess Sentences
Sometimes you can cut out an entire sentence and lose none of the meaning. Do it. An unneeded sentence just slows down your story. "But it adds to the meaning of the paragraph," you say. Then keep it. But check it again. Does that sentence truly add something? Or have you simply fallen in love with how it rolls off your tongue?

Similes, Metaphors, Allusions
Should you eliminate all similes, metaphors, and allusions from your mystery novel? No. They can beautiful and powerful. But use them sparingly. Sometimes a face is poetry. Sometimes a voice is like a Nightingale's. Sometimes you must make a reference to something else. But use these figures of speech sparingly---like salt. Just a sprinkle can make your prose more tasty. But pouring it on will render your story inedible.

Make Every Word Count
Do you like it when a reader skips over parts of your writing? Neither do I. But how can you train him to read every word? By letting him know from the very first paragraph that your writing contains absolutely no fat. When he realizes he can't skip over words without missing something important, he will begin to read every one of them.

It's Not About the Words

A murder mystery is not about the words. It's about telling the story in the most effective way. Words are the tools. They're not the story. So, use your them wisely to capture your reader's imagination. And entice him into the murder mystery world you've created.

Robert Burton Robinson has written several mystery novels : Bicycle Shop Murder, Hideaway Hospital Murders, Illusion of Luck, Fly the Rain, and Sweet Ginger Poison. His books are available from and other retailers.
Robert B Robinson - EzineArticles Expert Author


MontiLee Stormer said...

Of course you know what the new word means - you just found it in a thesaurus.

Words are poetry and the perfect word, even if unfamiliar to a reader at first can make a piece lyrical.

Personally there's nothing wrong with using a great word you happen to stumble across in a thesaurus - that's why it's a great tool. Many genre writers mix up the 2-dollar words with the every day. Kathy Reichs uses a fantastic range of language and I appreciate it. I'll find myself testing the words in my mouth as I read them, thrilled that I learned a new word! If your reader can't discern the meaning of the word from the context, that's not necessarily the writer's fault. A reader can accept a new world with new characters in fantastic situations, but not accept a new word? I don't buy it.

I appreciate writers that don't just talk *at* a reader, but engage their audiences with words and ideas previously unconsidered.

It won't matter how great you think your story is if your writing is bland. Become familiar with new words - it's why so many writers love crossword puzzles - and use them so they look familiar in your writing.

Dumbing down your writing for your reader is about as insulting as it gets. It says you don't think they're smart enough to come away with something new. Give the readers some credit. They have to be a smart bunch if they found your writing, eh?

There are millions of words out there – the English language is a rich buffet of flavors and textures. Let's experiment.

Hart Johnson said...

Wise advice. I find there is a balance between plot complication and language complication that is 'just right' but a mystery, really by definition, needs to have a somewhat complicated plot, so the language has to be sparser or you lose the reader.

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