Writing Mysteries, 2nd Ed. A Handbook by the Mystery Writers of America

Cover of Writing Mysteries

Review by Ellen Zuckerman

Writing Mysteries 2nd Ed.
Sue Grafton, Ed. with Jan Burke and Barry Zeman
Writer’s Digest Books
April, 2002

“Writing a novel is a long distance run of the imagination…Writers need all the help they can get, wherever they can get it . . . ” (George C. Chesbro, p. 91)

So you want to write a mystery? There are a few things you’ll need for your journey; among them a healthy dose of curiosity and imagination, but nothing so important and helpful as a well-worn copy of Writing Mysteries (2nd Ed.), written by the Mystery Writers of America. Everything you’ll need is here, organized into just under 300 pages of collective wisdom, from well-known and not-so-well-known mystery authors.

The handbook is divided into three parts: Preparation, The Process, and Specialties. Part I includes chapters on “The Rules and How to Bend Them,” how and where writers get their ideas, the pros and cons of writing with a partner, and several chapters on research and background, all exploring different facets of these subjects.

Part II, The Process, dives right in to beginnings, middles, and endings, with specific sections focusing in-depth on characterization, creating a series character, using point of view, and developing one’s personal writing style. Discussions on dialogue, pacing, and “clues, red herrings, and other plot devices” lead into the beginning of the end–thoughts and recommendations on plot, revision, agents, and markets.

Part III, Specialties, contains separate and thorough chapters each detailing a particular type of mystery writing — writing short stories, for younger audiences, true crime, e-book mysteries, and even a list of additional recommended reading and references.

So there you have it — everything you’ll need to know to write a mystery — from the inkling of your first clue to the portrayal of the hero/sleuth your audiences will clamor to read about again and again. The best of the best are here — Jonathan and Faye Kellerman, Tony Hillerman, Michael Connelly, Stuart Kaminsky, Sara Paretsky, Joan Lowery Nixon, Lawrence Block, and a host of other unique voices to guide the beginning mystery writer on the journey from idea to publication. With humor and honesty, a varied assortment of very different writers share their thoughts and even some of their “trade secrets” in this excellent writer’s resource. Every aspiring mystery writer should have a copy of Writing Mysteries within arm’s reach.

Ellen Zuckerman is a writer and former special education teacher. Her recent writing credits include book reviews for FictionAddiction.NET and AbsoluteWrite.com. She enjoys writing about literature, education, disability advocacy and health issues and is available for various writing projects. You can find her on Twitter as @Runnergrrlie