by Paula Gail Benson
Lately, I’ve been coming across a number of online articles that express succinctly how certain forms of genre fiction should be written. Here are a few I’ve discovered:
Dennis Palumbo wrote “Taking the Mystery Out of How to Write a Mystery” (https://www.writersstore.com/taking-the-mystery-out-of-writing-mysteries/). He lists three important elements: : “1) establishing the unique character of the protagonist, 2) making narrative use of the world in which the story takes place, and 3) planting clues (remember, only a few) that derive from the particular aspects of that world.” Palumbo recommends that writers consider what makes them unique and their own backgrounds in developing their protagonists and settings.
Chuck Wendig provides “25 Things Writers Should Know About Creating Mystery” (http://terribleminds.com/ramble/2012/05/08/25-things-writers-should-know-about-creating-mystery/). He describes a mystery as an incomplete equation. Even though readers know the answer will be revealed by the end, “[a] good story traps us in the moment and compels us by its incompleteness.” Readers want to be part of the process. “[S]ometimes creating mystery is not an act of asking a question but the deed of providing a clearly incorrect answer. Let the audience seek the truth by showing them a lie.” And, it’s important for plot and character to be intricately intertwined. “Plot, after all, is like Soylent Green — it’s made of people.”
Ginny Wiehardt gives us the ten “Top Rules for Mystery Writing” (https://www.thebalancecareers.com/top-rules-for-mystery-writing-1277089). Her article is written about mystery novels, but the suggestions are easily adapted to short stories. She points out that people read mysteries for a “particular experience.” They want the opportunity to solve the crime and they expect all to turn out well in the end. Reading many mysteries to see how “the rules” have been applied in those stories will be helpful to a writer, and understanding “the rules” in order to better meet reader expectations will help a writer craft a better mystery story. Among her recommendations are to introduce the detective, culprit, and crime early and wait until the last possible moment to reveal the culprit.
Peter Derk explains the “The 8 Keys to a Good Heist Story” (https://litreactor.com/columns/the-8-keys-to-a-good-heist-story). “A good heist has a planning stage, execution stage, and an escape. They can be in different proportions, but if your story is missing one of the three, it won’t pass muster.” Derk says there must be complications and a reason to root for success. Also, he suggests taking care in putting the team together and having a reason behind the operation that is greater than monetary gain.
Dr. David Lewis Anderson gives a good description of “Time Travel in Science Fiction” (http://andersoninstitute.com/time-travel-in-science-fiction.html). He offers a historical analysis of science fiction stories that have used time travel, but he also explores the elements writers have developed through those stories.
In his “6 Secrets to Creating and Sustaining Suspense,” (http://www.writersdigest.com/online-editor/6-secrets-to-creating-and-sustaining-suspense) Steven James evaluates how to add suspense in mystery, thriller, and literary stories. He suggests the key is to give readers something to worry about, then explains how to do that.
Finally, Jan Ellison offers “9 Practical Tricks for Writing Your First Novel” (http://www.writersdigest.com/online-editor/9-practical-tricks-for-writing-your-first-novel). Two of her recommendations that I found interesting were to set writing goals that are completely within your control and keep working on a poem while writing your novel. The poem allows you freedom of expression and provides a way to get started with your writing.