Tucking the Thrill into a Thriller

Hey—yay—it’s Rey again.  Linda accepted an invitation to go surfing on Maui for a few days, so I’m taking over the last genre/sub-genre review post: the thriller.

Thrillers are popular page-turners—and, like mysteries, provide a lot of curving trails, and curveballs.  The POV can come from different characters, like the protagonist or even the villain.  They can be written in different styles and be dark or droll.  Types of thrillers: mystery, psychological, crime, romantic, action, political, military, legal, and even supernatural, paranormal and sci-fi, to name a few.

Okay, so we know there are various types, but what is a thriller?  In a nutshell, it’s a story that’s full of action, moves quickly, has friction and conflict and tension, contains suspense and sudden, surprising turns and kinks.  Scenes push the plot forward and place readers on that proverbial exciting but tense roller-coaster ride.  You know something else?  It may not necessarily revolve around the protagonist solving a crime but him or her preventing one from happening.  Or readers learn the nasty, ugly secret (crime, mystery, event, action) right off.  Sweet twists, huh?

It goes without saying that you need a strong protagonist, as well as robust characters, and a believably bad villain . . . or, maybe not (depends on your storyline and what the villain is all about).  Bring those characters to life.  Make certain you include some [important] history, likes and dislikes and idiosyncrasies; what makes these folks tick?  Consider what’s at stake—for all characters.  What motivates them?  Why would they pursue one specific action/response over another?  What’s in it for them?

Throw in a few monkey wrenches.  Don’t make anything overly easy for your main character(s).  Let them vigorously track solutions and ways out.  Conflict, tension and friction are vital—you want those unsettling twists and turns, but not so many (or so minor) that you muddy the storyline or have readers scratching their heads and going “huh?”.

Settings and backgrounds, missions/quests, must be detailed enough that readers can visualize them.  In fact, every component should be crisp and clear; again, you want to avoid any head-scratching (but, then, this holds for any book/genre you decide to write).  And part of this is pacing—keep it swift and uncluttered with unnecessary information.

Research, too.  Get a feel for events that would work in a thriller (espionage comes to mind) and use them, fictionalize them.  With thrillers, there’s that extra layer of excitement (events and actions) that goes beyond simply following clues to corner that crafty culprit.

WP111thrillerClipartdotEmailGrab readers from the get-go.  Start with a sinister or shocking—riveting—act.  Add action regularly, but don’t just shove it in there for the sake of it.  Make sure it makes sense, that it moves the plot along, and that it isn’t so fantastic or abundant that it becomes a bit of a bore.  And don’t forget to insert some suspense; hint at upcoming threats and risks.  Create anxiety.  This builds on that layer of excitement, which urges readers to keep—you got it—reading!

Add questions along the way—through narration or dialogue—so readers are as curious as the main character(s) and yearn to learn the answers.

Lastly, make that ending dynamic and convincing; it’s a crucial moment in your book.  It shouldn’t be limp or expected (and, if it were, your readers likely gave up reading long before they reached this pivotal point).  This is where can tie all your loose ends together or, if you’re planning a sequel, leave some things open to the imagination . . . and the sale of your follow-up book.

Putting Suspense in Suspense

It’s JJ providing the next-to-last post re reviewing mystery sub-genres and related genres.  Suspense seemed a primo one to add to the list.  You can’t really have a good, riveting mystery novel if you don’t have suspense.  And, of course, you can’t have a spellbinding suspense novel if you don’t have thrills and chills either.  Suspense creates anticipation, tension, excitement—components that keep your readers roused and reading.

Suspense, as a genre, is related to the mystery and thriller, but the main difference: how much suspense you create for your readers.  Are you playing with their emotions [enough]?  Making them feel anxious, thrilled, enthused, eager to learn what’s going to transpire?

Generally speaking, a suspense novel makes readers aware of things that your protagonist isn’t.  Additionally, the crime and/or challenge occur almost immediately.  And points-of-view aren’t necessarily limited to just the protagonist; the perpetrator’s may be provided as well.

The unknown elements, the sought-after answers help create suspense—who committed the despicable crime, why was it perpetrated, what will go down when the perp or an associate reveals the truth, when will the protagonist know he’s about to plunge over the cliff.  But you’ll also want to infuse some edginess in the characters, dialogue/narration, scenes and action to draw readers into the conundrum.

Try something like:

  • A shrill, ear-stinging sound emanated from the top of the dilapidated dwelling.
  • Apprehensive, Henrietta hastily scanned the shadowy laneway, hoping to catch sight of the long-limbed, one-eyed robber.
  • “It couldn’t have been Tom—he was with Libby in the Seaside Bar last night,” Larry explained nervously, scratching his heavily scarred cheek with calloused fingers.  “I’m sure I saw them laughing over martinis around eight.”
  • Detective Mauer glanced up from the mangled body just as the heavy metal door clanged shut and thrust him into darkness.
  • The killer peered around the decaying fence and scanned the vacant shack; had that irritating jackass of a lieutenant discovered the gym bag with the evidence?

In mysteries—as with suspense—the protagonist is usually searching for a killer or culprit . . . that mysterious entity who won’t be revealed until the right, exciting moment.  By not disclosing a vital identity too readily in the story, you’re keeping readers guessing.  This can hold true of the protagonist, too.  You don’t have to, all at once, give up a lot of information about his or her personal and professional background, what makes him/her tick, or what might make him/her react and respond (and not necessarily in a positive way).  Think of it like building a LEGO® house—add one interlocking brick at a time.

Also remember: every character—no matter if major or minor—has a quest, purpose, and/or motive.  How big a part he/she plays in the storyline determines how much information you [need to] provide.

Do make sure readers care about main character(s) or feel some empathy.  This way they’ll get caught up in the suspense as hazards and threats present themselves; they’ll want your character(s) to overcome the dangers, resolve the issues, trump the challenges.

Instead of:

  • Theo turned from the crime scene upon hearing something and saw a tall man slip into the darkness.  Was he the murderer?

Try something like:

  • Hearing a harsh scraping sound, Theo whirled from the bloody crime scene and saw a heavyset tall man, sporting an old-world fedora, slip into the darkness of an alleyway.  Where had he recently seen that same hat?  And what about the man?  Was he responsible for this vile deed?  Theo drew a deep breath, quashing outrage as he considered how Jackson Marlboro must have suffered at the hands of his maniacal killer.

Dialogue/narration can also help keep readers guessing.  If it’s first-person, you’re restricted to expressing what the protagonist sees, senses, and undergoes; if it’s third-person, you have a wider range, but you may want to limit what is revealed by describing only what the character of the moment—or page/scene—is undergoing.  Give a little, but not a lot.  Dangle clues, tuck in a red herring or two, and offer tidbits like the proverbial carrot: think of them like the pieces of a puzzle.  And offer questions within the dialogue to give readers “food for thought”.

Instead of:

  • Jerry looked at the dog.  “Yeah, he seems like a nice fella,” Jerry said, looking at the dog that Roger was petting.

Try something like:

  • Jerry eyed the ash-gray poodle curiously.  “Yeah, he’s well-behaved.  I wonder who he belongs to and why he’s out here in the middle of nowhere?”
  • With a pensive brow, Roger peered thoughtfully at the pooch he was petting, as if hoping he might offer an answer.

Instead of:

  • Maria entered the dim bar, her gun tucked inside her coat.  She looked around and noticed five people at the bar and six seated at various tables around the bar.  They all looked like they wanted to be elsewhere.

Try something like:

  • Maria concealed the Luger and strolled into the dim waterfront bar.  A middle-aged bartender was keeping a watchful eye on the five glassy-eyed people seated at the curved, scratched bar.  Six others were seated at various tables near the dingy windows.  All appeared as if they wished to be elsewhere—lounging in lottery-won mansions maybe.

Scenes and actions should advance the storyline, so don’t add “filler” for the sake of padding the story.  And always bear in mind: show, don’t tell.  If you add description and details, make them interesting, not instructive; otherwise, all we’re reading is “she blah, blah, blah, blah”.

Instead of:

  • John walked into the forest to see what he could find regarding the killer.

Try something like:

  • Determinedly, John plunged into the dense, shadowed forest to ascertain if the conniving killer had wended his way through in an effort to throw off any followers.

WP11clipartDOTemailIn a suspense story, you want the same components as a mystery: a grim event or crime (that motivates your protagonist to take action), conflict, friction and tension (prompting readers to want to discover what happens and how the character deals with the situation), pacing (smooth and swift action and narration so as not to provoke yawns), misleading clues (those twists and turns that keep readers—and the protagonist—guessing), and ambiance (setting and feeling/mood).

Give thought to what readers may want (or not want) in terms of the plot and characters.  Give them a sample.  Yank it back.  Give another.  Jerk it around.  Just for the record: you don’t need a lot of violence to make it “suspenseful”.  Hint at it.  Build on it.  Allow readers to anticipate and visualize it.

There’s much say about suspense novels and what makes them work/successful but, hopefully, I’ve provided enough to get you started.

Longing for a Literary Mystery?

Hey, it’s Rey today.  To be honest, literary mysteries aren’t quite my, as Lindy-Loo would say, cup of tea.  They can be a bit too cerebral (thanks for that word goes to Cousin Jilly).  But you know?  I enjoy a challenge, so posting about them seemed like a sweet task to take on.

Let’s take a quick look at literary fiction first.  It tends to be more character-driven and doesn’t generally have the fast-moving plots of genre fiction.  Literary books move at a different pace, a slower one maybe, but can be equally exciting.  Events and exploits take place, just maybe not in the form of a hatchet slamming into someone’s head . . . uh . . . a sleuth sprinting after an assassin.  Good literary fiction not only has a plot and theme but tends to be deep(er) because it explores ideas, thoughts, and actions.  Literary authors are likely to be word whizzes and will paint intricate pictures through powerful prose. Some people might say this makes for a slow(er) book, but I think it’s all part of that perspective thing.

One other thing about literary fiction: it really doesn’t have rules.  You don’t have to stick to formulas, like that of mystery and its sub-genres.  The sky’s the limit; feel free to write what you wish.  Just keep the reader riveted.

So maybe you’re longing to write a literary mystery?  Did you know the first literary mysteries date back to the 1840s, courtesy of Edgar Allan Poe and his amateur detective, Le Chevalier C. Auguste Dupin?  By getting into the minds of his villains, Poe offered readers something new and fresh.  So did Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, who featured the ever-skillful Sherlock Holmes and his sidekick, er, friend, Dr. Watson in novels and short stories between 1887 and 1927.  The innovative “science of psychology” made its successful debut.

Generally, all mysteries: revolve around a crime and the efforts to solve it, investigate how said crime occurred, and attempt to solve it and find out who did it.

The literary mystery is no different, but what distinguishes it from the conventional one?

As in literary fiction, readers will find more character development and complexities; characterization tends to be more thorough and comprehensive.  Readers may get into the characters’ heads, which could be dark, scary places.  Relationships, dialogue and narration can be intense.

Narration is solid if not sophisticated (food-for-thought-and-not-naught).  The plot is more detailed and can incorporate social, philosophical, or abstract concepts, among others.  You’re getting more bang for your buck—there’s more than the mystery that’s afoot (OMG, I do believe I’m on a post roll, he-he).

The thrill of a whodunit is important, of course, but so is what happening around that search for truth and resolution.

From my research and what I learned from my P.I. associates, it’s also been suggested that literary mysteries may refer to books and/or that they use elements of literature to add a turn of the screw or three to the viewpoint(s), voice/tone, and setting(s).  I won’t argue; I’m just putting this out there.  Do with it what you will, my friends.

Nothing Hysterical about Historical Mysteries

It’s JJ today, reviewing historical mysteries.  I don’t have the opportunity to read them anymore, but there was a time I truly enjoyed them.  Besides old masters Arthur Conan Doyle and Agatha Christie, a couple of much-loved favorites from long ago (almost historical in itself) are Anne Perry and Ellis Peters.

If you’re considering writing one, pick a period you’d like your mystery to be set in and get to know it well, because you’ll need to include descriptions and details related to that era.  Research should become your new best friend.

Don’t simply plunk history—events, equipment, tools, fashion, politics, concepts—here and there.  Consider which elements are central to the tale and use them accordingly.  The historical information should be accurate and make sense for the storyline and setting.  Then ensure there is a balance between plot/story and those historical components (too much history might prompt a yawn).

If you choose a real city to set your story in, learn all you can about it.  What was popular at that time?  Who was popular at that time?  What did people eat and do for entertainment?  How were the roads?  What were the modes of transportation?  Who ran the city?  Enable readers to see the story; create a clear, convincing picture of a bygone period.  While true events may not play an integral part in your mystery, they might have caught the interest of, or affected, a character or two.  No one, regardless of the century, is oblivious to what is happening around him or her.  If a member of royalty is assassinated, surely that would have had lips flapping?  As such, maybe it’s worth mentioning in some respect, if only in passing.

Don’t forget language.  In the days of yore, people spoke differently.  Now, you may not want to plug in a score of “thou art” and “prithee” but do stir in some past-century flavor to boost mood and feeling.  And give thought to who’s speaking; an officer of the court or law would speak differently than a lord or lady of the times.  Remember: education, like equality, was not granted to all.

Men and women played distinct roles within society and had certain traditions and morals to follow.  Women wore rather constricting clothing and men with money sported the fashion of the time.  Having a swashbuckling heroine would work for a historic romance, but maybe not so much for a historical mystery.  Still, it is fiction—artistic license and all that—so if you think you can pull it off, given the crime(s) and storyline, give it a go.  Do remember, though, readers know their stuff.  Don’t be surprised if you’re called out on something.

And while on the topic of men and women, just who is your main character, your protagonist and “sleuth”?  Develop him (or her) thoroughly, based upon the period you’ve chosen for your mystery.

Last but not least, don’t forget crucial components for mysteries: police/detective work and forensics.  They’d not have used DNA or fingerprints in the 17th century to solve a murder or abduction or robbery.  Learn how crimes were processed.  You don’t have to provide a history lesson—too many details can prove as detrimental as incorrect facts—but do allow “glimpses” how legal folks went about collecting evidence . . . if they even did.

There’s a lot to share about historical mysteries, but I believe—hope—I’ve provided enough to get you started.  The rest will fall into place (trial and error, and all that).  Enjoy the time-travel trip.

May ye fare well.

Nothing Negligible about the Noir

It’s Linda today, reviewing a unique mystery sub-genre: the noir.

The noir isn’t for everyone—it can be, as the name suggests, dark.  It can be gritty and bleak, with tough characters that may not be likable.  The mood and atmosphere?  Also dark.  Generally, the criminal is the central focus and the reader follows him/her into a world that can prove as jarring as it is unpleasant.  If you love happy endings, the noir is not for you.

The protagonist is a dropout from society, someone who doesn’t fit the norm (it was usually a he, but times have changed, so she is quite doable).  Other characters won’t care much for this individual, who will probably appear more a loser than anything else.  He/she would likely have an issue or two, not be very trusting or sociable—a loner, in essence.

Moreover, the protagonist isn’t a hero, but what they call an anti-hero.  What drives him/her?  Retribution.  Selfishness.  Avarice.  A grudge.  Often, he/she will try to find resolution via an alcohol-filled glass or at the end of a revolver.  To keep readers interested—and hoping that something good might transpire—add scenes/dialogue that will maintain that hope . . . until the end . . . when the ultimate [and tragic] downfall takes place.

There’s usually a sexual component—where another character may serve as the reason/motivation the protagonist goes so wrong.  It’s not typically love, but lust.  And lust can equal ruin.

The protagonist doesn’t have to be a P.I. or cop, but given the noir is a mystery, there should be a one!  Traditional noirs tend to open with a murder, but times change and so can the beginning.  But murder does make for a good mystery, regardless of the sub-genre, doesn’t it?

Dialogue tends to be abrupt/curt, quick and brisk.  It’s simple and straightforward and moves the storyline along.  Think about those 40s’ noir films, like one of our boss’ favorite, The Maltese Falcon.  Bogart’s character, Sam Spade, tells Cairo, Peter Lorre: when you’re slapped, you’ll take it and like it.  Short and sweet … and rather testy if not threatening, n’est-ce pas?

Dialogue should help paint a picture of what’s happening—let us “see” and “feel” that stale, musty dive, burned-out garage, bullet-riddled room.  Similes (comparing two things) and metaphors (words or phrases compared to objects or concepts) tend to abound.

Noir, film or book, often tells the story with first-person narrative.  As the writer, however, you don’t have to; go with your gut.  However, the one component of writing in first person is that you pull the reader into the protagonist’s head.  Then you can play around—have the reader wonder if what is being narrated is indeed factual.  Maybe the protagonist is leaning toward the demented or confused, and is sharing facts strictly as he/she views them . . .  or wishes to view them.

Setting is often the big bad city, but dark and dismal things happen in the country and oceanside, too.  Pick a place for your location . . . the paint it with thick, twisted and ethereal strokes.

Violence is important to the noir—a left hook results in a black eye, a Luger knocks out a character (or a tooth or two), a serrated knife ends a life.  The protagonist gets beaten up.  Badly.  You don’t have to get gory or overly detailed, but you do have to convey it in a way that it disturbs readers, makes us wince . . . and maybe sparks that aforementioned hope that something decent will happen as a result.

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Definitely, there’s nothing negligible about the noir.  And if you haven’t yet stepped into the world of noir, try these three: Raymond Chandler, James Ellroy, and Dashiell Hammett.  They’re not the masters of noir for nothing.

Cozying Up to a Cozy

Hey-ho, it’s Rey today.  We’re still reviewing mysteries and I won, er, got the cozy!  For those not in the know, yet, a cozy is like a traditional mystery, with a few differences.

It’s a popular sub-genre (my new word) where, basically, an amateur sleuth solves a murder or puzzler in a pleasant setting while learning a whack of interesting stuff.  These mysteries often comprise a series and there’s usually a theme or profession—such as the world of gardening, publishing/writing (think Jessica Fletcher), cooking or baking, catering, and even, yeah, possibly, a detective agency.  Our sleuth is an everyday kind of person, like you or me, who possesses good judgment (common sense) that [eventually] enables him or her to figure out who the perp is.

Besides having said sleuth and a bona-fide mystery to solve, a cozy will generally contain the following:

♦ a “family” oriented approach, where swear words and sexual exploits are at a minimum, if at all

♦ a degree of wit and fun or eccentricity, be it through the characters, dialogue, or events

♦ a main character—the amateur sleuth—the reader can relate to or root for . . . an “everyday” someone (again like you and me) who, when faced with the challenges of the crime, accepts them and valiantly does his/her best to ensure the crime is solved

♦ clues, which are revealed to the reader, as well as a few red herrings to provide those fun twists and turns while we’re guessing who did it

♦ an unlikable victim, so we can’t really feel that remorseful that he or she gets axed, er, leaves this mortal coil

♦ a smart cookie of a villain/killer, so our amateur sleuth is challenged, but not outwitted

♦ murder committed behind the theater curtains, so to speak, so the reader doesn’t have to hear the nasty or gory details (or know who the murderer is)

♦ a small-town or rustic setting (back to Jessica and quaint Cabot Cove) that makes for a picturesque, tranquil location.

WP1murdershewroteDOTfandomDOTcomLastly, what makes a cozy a cozy?  The title.  They’re “cute”.  Given Jessica is so well-known, still, here are some titles, Murder She Wrote . . .

 Gin and Daggers

A Palette for Murder

Martinis and Mayhem (love it)

Highland Fling Murders

Murder in a Minor Key

 You get the idea.  Cozy titles are fun, whimsical, playful . . . like me.  <he-he>

The Capricious Caper

It’s JJ today, reviewing the caper mystery, a sub-genre which can fall in the same category as a cozy.  There are differences, however.  Unlike a cozy, capers incorporate humor and cheek.  A caper can lean toward the whimsical or capricious, as well as the comedic/comical.  Main characters aren’t generally sophisticated or analytical and can lean toward blundering bunglers.

Capers also frequently incorporate more crimes than the typical murder found in the other categories—such as robberies and thefts, scams and hoaxes, and abductions.  Main characters, our lovely lawbreakers, generally commit the offences up front, so the reader’s aware from the get-go.  Moreover, these folks are often oddballs, yet manage to successfully pull off the, uh, caper.  As such, the emphasis isn’t so much on solving the mystery or mysteries, but on the crime or crimes.

The offenders are usually likable and get into hot water and crimes/deeds way over their heads.  They’ll argue and clash, but this will normally add to the comedy and capriciousness.  And given you’ll have a few folks engaged in the caper(s), you’ll likely want to have one of them serve as “the brains”, a team leader as it were.  Maybe the POV will come from this character?  It’s up to you as to how you wish to present your capering caper.

So, what should you consider when writing one?  The plot, of course.  Are the lawbreakers-to-be out to steal money or jewels?  If so, for selfish reasons or benevolent ones?  Are they out to commit more than one crime?  How many?  What is the purpose behind each one?  Committing a crime on a lark may not cut it with readers, but there might be justification for it being a lark . . . to prove something perhaps?  And, if there is more than one crime, how does each one tie into the other?

Give thought as to how each caper will be developed and carried out.  How will our “caperers” pull them off?  Who exactly are these people?  Give backgrounds.  Do some have questionable pasts?  Are they all shifty, or just a couple?  Do they have goals, dreams?  Are they in relationships?  What qualities might you provide so they are likable, witty or humorous, maybe even sympathetic?

Think about how to best build tension and conflict and humor in your story.  What could transpire during the course of the caper(s) that would make readers laugh?  Don’t forget your dialogue; in addition to it moving the story, it should contain both friction and wittiness now and again.

Besides humor, tone and mood are important to capers; as such, they can be more tricky to write.  But who doesn’t enjoy or relish a challenge?  Have fun!

An Amateur, but Never Amateurish

You’ve got me, Linda, posting today.  The Boss asked us to pick a couple of preferred mystery categories to review, so the first one I opted for: amateur sleuth.

Rey, JJ and I got the notion to become professional P.I.s—okay, my best friend, Rey did—after we’d done some amateur sleuthing at a haunted (yes, by a real ghost named Fred) Connecticut mansion.  We figured out who was responsible for many—many!—murders.  It proved dangerous, frightening, and exciting.

Perhaps you’re interested in writing an amateur sleuth mystery.  If so, allow me to share some key points.

Firstly, you may think an amateur sleuth mystery is the same as a cozy—and you’re right, sort of.  A cozy is almost always an amateur sleuth mystery, but an amateur sleuth mystery isn’t always a cozy.  Amateur sleuth stories can be comical/funny or lean toward the dark.  Cozies generally don’t, but both are commonly lighter; i.e. not overly gory when describing violence and murders and the like.

Amateur sleuth mysteries have the main character(s) digging for clues and answers; they’re curious, determined, and tenacious.  And we love following them as they endeavor to solve the crime; in fact, we love solving the crime with them as we attempt to ascertain who dun it.

The main character should be likable—smart and personable, too.  Yes, he/she may be an amateur sleuth, but he/she is far from amateurish.  A certain level of skill exists.  He/she doesn’t have to be a rocket scientist or a trophy-winning pro, just good at what he/she does.  Sure, he/she can make a mistake or two—we all do in real life—but don’t have the character bumbling and stumbling unless, perhaps, you’re incorporating a comic scene.  Stupidity doesn’t wear well on an amateur sleuth.

Incorporate a detailed background—town, city, monastery, island, mainland.  Make it come alive by offering well-crafted details about location (fictional or not).  Think of smells and sounds.  Let readers fully visualize the place(s).  And what sort of work environment does this mystery take place in?  A telecom company?  Radio station?  Publishing firm?  The [mystery] world is your oyster.

Ensure there’s a valid reason for your amateur sleuth(s) to become involved in the mystery; it could be personal and/or professional.  For example, maybe Mr. Smith wants to discover who killed the janitor, a kind friendly fellow, in his building.  Or maybe Ms. Browne wants to find out who bumped off her beloved aunt’s beau.  Make it valid; make it believable.

Action is a must.  You don’t need tons of it—dialogue and details/descriptions, when well presented, can carry the story—but regular or well-placed action will help move the plot along and keep readers interested.  Think: conflicts, tension, adventures, exploits, deeds.  Don’t forget danger; have your main character face a few perils!

Have enough clues.  Throw in red herrings.  Add twists and turns.  Keep your readers guessing.  Make certain there are enough suspects—that they all have possible motives, could have been in the vicinity at the time the crime was committed, or had the means (were able) to commit the crime.  You want to keep your readers guessing as to . . . yes . . . who dun it.

First person or third?  It’s your choice.  Write in the voice that you feel most comfortable with.

What about romance?  I believe some people enjoy a bit of l’amour in their books.  I do.  But if it doesn’t fit your main character—at least not in this current story—that’s okay.  Maybe he/she finds a sweetheart in the next one.

You may wish to consider having a partner or buddy assisting the main character.  They can bounce ideas off each other, discover clues, and help in dire moments.  A colleague can also prove comic relief; maybe the two interact like Laurel and Hardy?  There’s a distinct relationship and one you can develop/change throughout the series (if it’s your intention to write a few mysteries featuring the same folks).

When the culprit has been unveiled/captured, end the story in a timely manner.  Tie up loose ends . . . and exit effortlessly and easily . . . like I’m about to do.

That, my friends, is the amateur sleuth mystery in a proverbial nutshell.

Picking the Police Procedural …

… as your mystery of choice.

Hey-ho, it’s Rey.  I’ve got the first post of “must dos” re specific categories of mysteries: police procedurals.  My mother used to read them—Ed McBain, P.D. James, James Patterson, to name a few.  That woman never threw any books away.  We had stacks (!) in the basement.  I was never much of a reader but, once in a while, I’d grab a paperback on a rainy afternoon.  I have to admit, I kinda liked McBain’s books.

You’ll be happy to know that, although our boss gave me some insight/input, I did my own research as to what you need to incorporate in your story (pat on back to me).  So, basically, the police procedural is police crime drama, which looks at how a member of the police or legal force handles an investigation.  Evidence, warrants, forensics and legal procedures are must dos and are interwoven throughout the storyline.

Decide who your protagonist (main character) is and which agency/department he or she works for.  The FBI, DEA, or a local police station maybe?  Make sure to learn the rules/regulations specific to it.  They all have their own, so have the right facts for the right place (i.e. setting).  For example, what are gun regulations, laws, sentencing and penalties in your given location(s)?  Research should become be your best friend . . . and that research can extend to chatting with those in the legal profession.  Call the Media Relations department; they’ll point you in the right direction.  Inquire . . . inquire . . . inquire.  And if you’re in it for the long run, take some courses and/or attend a conference or two.

Incorporate the day-to-day duties of the office or agency.  This is paramount to a good police procedural.  You’ll be providing realistic details re ops and processes, and the like; keep them authentic and relative to the setting/location (crimes that occur in a cosmopolitan city may not occur in a rural farm-rich community).  The procedural isn’t a cozy where poetic license is permissible if not desired (where having Neddy Hickenbottom, the antique dealer, suspended from a cherub statue in a eighteenth-century hedge maze is better [more thrilling] than having Nat Browne, the pizza guy, found at the end of a cul-de-sac in suburbia).

Give your protagonist depth.  Don’t make him/her flat or one-dimensional.  There should be a past (history), likes and dislikes, personal and professional quests, habits, and training/education among other things.  The storyline is important, for sure, but readers do want to relate to your main character.  Make him or her likable or have redeemable traits (nothing wrong with someone being mean-spirited or pessimistic, as long as he/she develops and changes, my personal opinion).  There are rules to be followed and some can be broken, but for the most part, think “authenticity”.  The Boss may have used this before, but I think it’s perfect . . . character development is like painting a portrait.  Add layers and a variety of colors.

Something you might find in a procedural: different points of views.  This will enable readers to become acquainted with facts the protagonist might not know.  That’s fine.  Word of advice, though: don’t have too many POVs or you’re going to confound readers.

Given this is a police procedural, you’ll be more limited in what the crime/storyline entails.  Nevertheless, you can certainly still write a stellar and exciting story.  As with all mysteries, provide clues as your protagonist investigates the crime (readers love solving the mystery with the hero/heroine), but don’t be obvious.  Throw in a couple of red herrings, too.

WPflashing-light-animated-clipart-7Think about uniforms and routines, outlooks and processes.  Remember, in the real police world, reports and record-keeping is rampant; it’s not just about following a suspect or solving a crime.  Consider all the elements.

Sounds challenging?  I say it sounds more like fun.  Have at it, my friends.