Two books on my bedside table are there to help me complete a mystery novel that I once thought would be finished months ago.
What happened was I discovered that writing a mystery is a lot harder (for me) than writing suspence, which is what my first novel in essence can be labeled.
Hence, The World of Mystery Fiction, edited by Eliot F. Gilbert (University of California, 1978) and How to Write Killer Fiction by Carolyn Wheat (Perseverance Press, 2003).
Gilbert’s introduction which provides a historical overview to the stories he chose for his volume. Couple that essay with Wheat’s more topographical introduction and you have a wonderful foundation upon which both reader and writer can build.
The World of Mystery Fiction contains many of the standards from Poe, Dickens, Conan Doyle, Sayers, Hammett, etc. If you haven’t read every one of them, then you may not be able to hold up your end of the conversation at your local mystery writers confab.
Wheat’s book, which I tried unsuccesfully to read in Kindle format and had to give up and buy the damn thing in print, boils mystery writing down to its core while providing many insights and tips that beginning mystery writers like me can use. (I don’t know who transferred this book into Kindle format, but they made a mess of it. Perhaps someone ought to try again.)
So where do things stand?
I’ve completed the introductory chapters to the mystery, a title for which has yet to surface, and I am in the middle of the first major investigatory section. My belief is that the intro has to capture the reader’s interest quickly, but the next section is crucial. It has to propell the reader along while providing sufficient detail to create that sense of mystery. No easy task.