There are thousands of wonderful books available to help us hone our craft (and I probably own most of them), but … and I speak from experience … if you’re not careful, you’ll get caught up reading about writing rather than actually writing. That said, I want to share with you six books that have helped me to become a better mystery writer.
I have always viewed Crystal Cropper as the woman Stephanie Plum hopes to become in 30 years. So, what could be better than learning about writing from Stephanie’s creator, Janet Evanovich?
In her writing book, Evanovich details the nuts and bolts of creating great characters, finding story ideas, conducting research, and writing action. Most helpful to me is her chapter on plotting. Here’s an excerpt: “Plotting isn’t my favorite thing, but here’s how I do it. I listen to some cheesy disco music to get my energy up. Then I sit down with a yellow pad and big bag of chips. I think about a crime and why it would occur. … Then I write out my little time line of action.” Thanks, Janet … Now everybody Hustle!
2. HOW TO WRITE A DAMN GOOD MYSTERY by James N. Frey
I read this book cover-to-cover years ago and highlighted numerous passages with a yellow marker. It’s funny to me that the first passage I highlighted is: “A mystery writer, alas, thinks of murdering somebody most of the time.” (I don’t. Honest, I don’t!)
Frey is the author of four “Damn Good” writing books and asserts that the key to writing … ah-hum … a “damn good” mystery is creating clever, resourceful, believable characters who provide what he calls “the author of the plot behind the plot.” The murderer’s motive, he says, is the driving force, the engine of any “damned good” mystery.
3. PLOT & STRUCTURE by James Scott Bell
I had a memorable class with James Scott Bell at the 2009 Bouchercon in Indianapolis. I already had read this book and was thrilled to see him in person.
Bell, an award-winning author of suspense, spent years studying plot structures and what draws readers in. What I find admirable about him is his deference to famed mythologist Joseph Campbell, whose book, A Hero’s Journey, inspired the structure for Star Wars. Bell is supportive of the hero’s journey because, he says, “it perfectly corresponds to the three-act structure.” That’s why Bell spends the better part of Plot & Structure discussing effective beginnings, middles and ends.
4. MURDER AND MAYHEM, FORENSICS AND FICTION by D.P. Lyle, M.D.
Ever wonder how long someone can survive in a freezer … or whether Botox can double as a murder weapon … or if death by sewer gas is plausible … or what kind of forensic evidence zombie killers leave behind?
Dr. D.P. Lyle is the answer man for all of these questions and many more. I was thrilled to meet Dr. Lyle in 2007 at the Missouri Writers’ Guild-sponsored “Forensics University,” where he enthralled his audience with numerous delicious, malicious scenarios. Lyle, a suspense author in his own right, is a popular resource for writers seeking innovative and scientifically accurate ways to move their plots along.
5. BUILDING BELIEVABLE CHARACTERS by Marc McCutcheon
When I get stuck trying to describe a character’s gesture, facial expression, accent, emotion, phobia, body language, and so much more … this is one book I can’t work without.
6. DICTIONARY OF FOLKSY, REGIONAL AND RURAL SAYINGS (A Practical Guide
to Down-Home Expressions and the Ways They Are Used) by Anne Bertram
I am an Indiana native and probably don’t really need this, but I still find lots of charming, regional expressions … like “Cute as a bug’s ear,” “Busier than a one-eye cat watching two mouse holes,” and “Botheration!” I’d been looking for a resource like this from here till next Tuesday, hell to breakfast, and pillar to post. You might find it on Amazon.com.
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What books have you found most beneficial for your writing? I’d love to know and invite you to leave a comment below to keep the conversation going.
Thanks for stopping by. Please come back often. — Janis