View Full Version : Books on Writing Mysteries

03-17-2009, 01:54 AM
Does anyone have favorite books you've read on writing mysteries to suggest?

While I've read tons of cozies and that's what I want to write, I still seem to have trouble getting my thoughts organized and planning it all out. I am farther along than before as a result of reading You Can Write a Mystery but wouldn't mind taking a look at a few others.


03-17-2009, 02:37 AM

The whole 808 section.

Gooood reading about writing.

Read the whole section, not just stuff on mysteries.

Telling Lies for Fun and Profit (http://www.amazon.com/Telling-Lies-Fun-Profit-Fiction/dp/0688132286/ref=sr_1_2?ie=UTF8&s=books&qid=1237242914&sr=8-2)

Save the Cat! (http://www.amazon.com/Save-Last-Book-Screenwriting-Youll/dp/1932907009/ref=pd_sim_b_77)

03-17-2009, 06:05 AM
I like Writing and Selling Your Mystery Novel by Hallie Ephron. She offers some great methods for developing your plot and organizing your thoughts.

03-17-2009, 06:16 AM
Another good how-to is Writing Mysteries. It's edited by Sue Grafton, and each chapter offers a subject by a prominent mystery writer.

Clair Dickson
03-17-2009, 07:12 AM
I read mysteries. By studying other mystery writers, I can learn both what works and what doesn't. It also exposes me to different flavors and different types of mystery. Not all mysteries are created equal.

03-17-2009, 05:47 PM
I'm going to second some of the suggestions you've already received, and then add some of my own.

One of the best starting points for me was The Elements of Mystery Fiction by William G. Tapply. In addition to quite a bit of advice for writing mysteries, it also gives you a lot of general writing instruction. It is a good place to start.

I also loved Writing and Selling Your Mystery Novel by Hallie Ephron. It is just packed to the brim with helps to get you started and make you think about things that as a reader, you might never think about. It is more of a step-by-step guide to the whole process. Very helpful--but you might want to balance this book with others to avoid the cookie-cutter mystery.

I also picked up Don't Murder Your Mystery by Chris Roerdon. I haven't read this completely yet. I plan on doing that after my rough draft, since it seemed like many of the suggestions could best be applied to the editing process.

I've also read portions of Sue Grafton's Writing Mysteries. That's really a collection of stand-alone articles by various writers. It's nice because you can pick an area you might be having trouble with (or just want to know more about) and read only that chapter.

But I really have to echo what Clair said, and tell you to read in the genre--and study what you read. The mystery-writing books will make you even more aware of what to study, since you will then read books and examine everything from POV to how viable the red herrings were, to how well hidden the clues.

I do have to warn you though, it takes half the fun out of reading mysteries after a while. After you know how it is done, you start figuring out whodunnit and why a lot earlier than when you just read casually.

Good luck with your cozy. That's what I'm working on too. I love the genre.

03-17-2009, 05:55 PM
The 'Howdunnit' series which you can still get a hold of on Amazon.

03-17-2009, 09:48 PM
I read Don't Murder Your Mystery by Chris Roerdon, about a year ago. It is well written, easy to read and seems to have some good advice. I plan to read it again within the next couple of months.

Dick Stodghill
03-18-2009, 01:45 AM
I'm new here but I've been writing and selling mystery short stories and novellas to major markets for 30 years. Claire gave excellent advice. There is no better way to learn than by reading mysteries. If you don't read them, it's unlikely you'll be able to write them. "How to" books are fine for picking up tips. Lawrence Block, one of the top five best-selling mystery writers in the country, has a couple on the market.
Here's one he offers: Start your story when the first brick is thrown.
He's saying don't begin with what should be a back story or perhaps omitted completely. With one of the books he has written he went back over it and omitted the first chapter.
Here's a tip from Raymond Chandler (who had many of them): The story must move forward on every page.
Here's one from me: Don't make the mistake of thinking you can tip-toe into the water by first writing short stories. Writing them is fine and I encourage anyone to do it, but don't think it is easier than writing or selling a book. It isn't.
I suggest that anyone in the beginning stage read Chandler, Dashiell Hammett and Block. From those three you will learn to write crisp sentences and dialogue.

03-31-2009, 08:47 PM
Here's another vote for Ms. Ephron's book. Great advice on characterization and plotting, handy worksheets to fill out and checklists to check off, and even an endorsement from Lee Child on the back cover. You can't go wrong.

I liked Novelist's Boot Camp, too. It's by Todd A. Stone and, while it isn't geared strictly towards mystery fiction, it does have a strong commercial slant to it. Written with a no-nonsense, almost brusque, tone, it's a great motivator.