MARCH 2012 WESTERN PROMPT FOR SYW – A MYSTERY
The idea of the March prompt is to help anyone interested in learning more about writing mysteries and to point everyone in the direction of one of the better annual contests with a decent prize and definitely okay for putting in writing credentials – The Hillerman Short Fiction Contest. Even better, the location for the story should be primarily in New Mexico – so western – but it doesn’t have to be historical western. The entry deadline for the Hillerman contest is in August and there is a $20 entry fee.
ABOUT THE HILLERMAN SHORT FICTION CONTEST
“What we are looking for: Your best mystery short story, set primarily in New Mexico. We’re seeking compelling, original, well-written stories that have not been previously published.
Submission details - Submit mystery short stories that are 2,500 words or less, written in English, set primarily in New Mexico. The story must be previously unpublished. Submissions must be typed, single-sided, double-spaced. Please use page numbers and your title ONLY on each page. Submissions must include a separate cover sheet with title, word count, writer’s name, address, phone number and email address.
Fee – Each entry must be accompanied by a check or money order for $20 payable to WORDHARVEST. Multiple entries by the same writer are allowed. Want a critique from the contest judge? Please add $100 per story.
Deadline - All entries must be postmarked no later than August 15.
The Prize - The winning story will be published in an issue of New Mexico Magazine, probably the February issue which is devoted to books and reading.The winner will receive two tickets to the awards ceremony at the Tony Hillerman Writers Conference and other prizes to be announced shortly.”
They are also offering a novel length (no less than 60,000 words) mystery contest for a mystery set in the southwest - $10,000 prize and publication – deadline June 1. Details are available on their webpage http://www.wordharvest.com/contest.php (link is also in the Western Markets thread that’s stickied)
MYSTERY WRITING GUIDELINES
Gotten somewhere in 2008 - possibly from Squido
Definition: Mystery is a genre of fiction in which a detective, either an amateur or a professional, solves a crime or a series of crimes. Because detective stories rely on logic, supernatural elements rarely come into play. The detective may be a private investigator, a policeman, an elderly widow, or a young girl, but he or she generally has nothing material to gain from solving the crime.
Mystery writing, more than writing in other genres, tends to follow standard rules because readers of mysteries seek a particular experience: they want the intellectual challenge of solving the crime before the detective does, and the pleasure of knowing that everything will come together in the end.
1. In mystery writing, plot is everything.
Because readers are playing a kind of game when they read a detective novel, plot has to come first, above everything else. Make sure each plot point is plausible, and keep the action moving. Don't get bogged down in back story or go off on tangents.
2. Introduce both the detective and the culprit early on.
As the main character, your detective must obviously appear early in the book. As for the culprit, your reader will feel cheated if the antagonist, or villain, enters too late in the book to be a viable suspect in their minds.
3. Introduce the crime within the first three chapters of your mystery novel.
The crime and the ensuing questions are what hook your reader. As with any fiction, you want to do that as soon as possible.
4. The crime should be sufficiently violent -- preferably a murder.
For many readers, only murder really justifies the effort of reading a 300-page book while suitably testing your detective's powers. However, also note that some types of violence are still taboo including rape, child molestation, and cruelty to animals.
5. The crime should be believable.
While the details of the murder -- how, where, and why it's done, as well as how the crime is discovered -- are your main opportunities to introduce variety, make sure the crime is plausible. Your reader will feel cheated if the crime is not something that could really happen.
6. The detective should solve the case using only rational and scientific methods.
Consider this part of the oath written by G.K. Chesterton for the British Detection Club: "Do you promise that your detectives shall well and truly detect the crimes presented to them using those wits which it may please you to bestow on them and not placing reliance on nor making use of Divine Revelation, Feminine Intuition, Mumbo Jumbo, Jiggery-Pokery, Coincidence, or Act of God?"
7. The culprit must be capable of committing the crime.
Your reader must believe your villain's motivation and the villain must be capable of the crime, both physically and emotionally.
8. In mystery writing, don't try to fool your reader.
Again, it takes the fun out. Don't use improbable disguises, twins, accidental solutions, or supernatural solutions. The detective should not commit the crime. All clues should be revealed to the reader as the detective finds them.
9. Do your research.
"Readers have to feel you know what you're talking about," says author Margaret Murphy. She has a good relationship with the police in her area, and has spent time with the police forensic team. Get all essential details right. Mystery readers will have read a lot of books like yours; regard them as a pretty savvy bunch.
10. Wait as long as possible to reveal the culprit.
They're reading to find out, or figure out, whodunit. If you answer this too early in the book, the reader will have no reason to continue reading.
Other Websites to look at:
http://www.squidoo.com/writing_whodunit_mystery - My 12 Golden Rules in Writing a Mystery Novel
http://www.masterjules.net/mysteries.htm – Interesting perspectives
I entered the contest in 2008 (didn’t win) and am posting my submission “Red on Black” in Western SYW so you can see what a non-winning entry was like. And, everyone is welcome to pick it apart and tell what’s wrong with it as far as mysteries go so we all have a chance to learn. ETA: in 2008 one of the requirements was that the story had to contain Native Americans.