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emeraldcite
12-30-2005, 06:31 AM
I'm working on a mystery/thriller and I have two characters who work together. One is a detective (male) for the city police department, the other an expert (female) in her field which relates to the detective's line of work.

Can I / Should I focus on both of these characters as my main characters, or should I focus more on one than the other? They are both important to the story and how it unfolds.

Also, they are both well-developed and could hold the story on their own if the focus is shifted.

With the market being what it is, should I focus more on the female character and make it more her story with the detective being her sidekick, or should I focus on making the male the strong character with the female as his sidekick?

I can see the story working all three ways, but what would be more beneficial for sales?

I'd really like to nail this down before getting too far since the plot gets fairly thick.

Thanks!

Cathy C
12-30-2005, 06:38 AM
I guess it sort of depends on how you want to focus the book. Who will be SOLVING the mystery? Is it the detective's case, and he needs her help? Or is SHE an amateur sleuth (who's somehow involved/required/motivated to solve the crime personally and it doesn't qualify as something the police would handle?) I think this will give you the push you need.


The market has plenty of room for both police procedurals (if he solves it) or amateur detective (if she does.) If they BOTH solve the mystery, then the partnership can work well if you focus on each of them about the same. Give each person their own POV chapter so they're both looking at the same clues and getting different things from them. Then the reader knows that they're equals and neither could have solved the case without the other. (Think about those old b/w Nick & Nora detective movies. They banter, they spat, sometimes they get together romantically, but it's always a sparring match.)
Any help, or just more confusing?

emeraldcite
12-30-2005, 06:50 AM
Give each person their own POV chapter so they're both looking at the same clues and getting different things from them. Then the reader knows that they're equals and neither could have solved the case without the other.

This is what I was leaning more toward originally and actually have quite a bit of text going in this direction.

I just didn't want to split the time, then find that the market would prefer more focus on a single character rather than a team.

Thanks!

katiemac
12-30-2005, 09:40 AM
I'm not working on a thriller, but I've got the dual characters going as well. I've chosen to work with three parts to the novel, one part in his voice and the second part in hers. The final part will be a combination of both.

I decided it was necessary this way because there are important scenes which both characters can't be present for. Ultimately, I think it does focus more on him because the ending can't be satisfying for both characters -- sort of, in a sense, as if only one of them solves the case.

I have no idea if that helps, just thought I'd throw it out there.

Linda Adams
12-30-2005, 03:35 PM
Can I / Should I focus on both of these characters as my main characters, or should I focus more on one than the other? They are both important to the story and how it unfolds.


From experience (painful experience, I'll add), make both main characters, but choose one and make them a primary main character. If you have to have a major subplot, a major upheaval in a character's life, major backstory issues, give it to that character. Have them be the source of any major complications and put them in danger in the story. It'll make it lot easier to get the story to settle in, write a synopsis, and write a query letter.



With the market being what it is, should I focus more on the female character and make it more her story with the detective being her sidekick, or should I focus on making the male the strong character with the female as his sidekick?



I agree that there's a lot of focus on women readers in the market. Go for it. I'd suggest making the main character the woman and have a romance going on between them rather than him being her sidekick.

emeraldcite
12-31-2005, 12:43 AM
I agree that there's a lot of focus on women readers in the market. Go for it. I'd suggest making the main character the woman and have a romance going on between them rather than him being her sidekick.

Both characters have issues and there's a bit of a spark between them. I've toyed with some hooks to see what sounded better in a query. I found that the hook with the female character was stronger and more likable than with both characters or the male in the lead...

Better to figure this out now than halfway through or later...


I'm not working on a thriller, but I've got the dual characters going as well. I've chosen to work with three parts to the novel, one part in his voice and the second part in hers. The final part will be a combination of both.

I decided it was necessary this way because there are important scenes which both characters can't be present for. Ultimately, I think it does focus more on him because the ending can't be satisfying for both characters -- sort of, in a sense, as if only one of them solves the case.


this sounds like an interesting structure, but i've been working with some shorter scenes involving character POV to ramp up the action. I want some aspects to slowly unfold, but I want others to drive action. This is one of those situations where I have aspects of both a thriller and a mystery, but I'm not really sure how it's classified. I guess it's more thriller, but there's so much bleed-over anymore, I'm not really sure.

Thanks for your help everyone! This is really aiding me in figuring things out.

katiemac
12-31-2005, 03:24 AM
This is one of those situations where I have aspects of both a thriller and a mystery, but I'm not really sure how it's classified. I guess it's more thriller, but there's so much bleed-over anymore, I'm not really sure.

Tell me about it. I really haven't a clue as to what I'm writing, to be honest. I'm thinking along the lines of thriller lately, but the story unravels a little slowly from what I normally think of thriller, and I'm finding it very character-driven. Overall theme is fairly dark and a little melodramatic.

Just for kicks I played around with a synopsis today. I had no problem opening the synopsis with my male character, as he naturally opens the story. But when it came time to talk about the female lead -- well, let's just not go there.

emeraldcite
12-31-2005, 06:14 AM
I was never a fan of labels anyway.

Nevertheless, it seems the industry thrives on them. Not that I blame the industry.

I have to admit, when I go to a bookstore, I browse books by sections. I look for labels. I have expectations.

I really enjoy scifi with a xenoarcheological twist, but it's hard to find it. McDevitt's my favorite. Allen Steele does some as well.

As a consumer, I want subcategorizations that help me find what I crave; but, as a writer, I hate labels because they limit. Why not have a Nazi Vampire Space Romantic Multicultural Comedy?

Alas, I am never satiated!

katiemac
12-31-2005, 06:55 AM
I think the majority of my trouble is that the story used to be more heavily sci-fi focused than it is now. In fact, there's no trace of it left at all, except the story isn't set in a real time period or place, as the government system plays a heavy part in the story. The "sci-fi" which exists in the story isn't news to us -- heart transplants, steam engines, advanced steel-working.

Still, I wonder if a story with a quirky setting has a place in thriller/mystery? The MCs are trying to uncover a plot within said government, but it's not politically-based.

I'm sure I'm being far too vague, but... I still can't figure out!

Cathy C
12-31-2005, 08:24 PM
Well, unfortunately, katiemac -- once you set the setting/place in another timestream/reality, etc., you've dropped it right off of the thriller or mystery shelf. Either it's going to wind up on the fantasy/SF shelves, or mainstream novels. But the genre of mystery sort of requires it to be contemporary or historical (using existing Earth history). If you change the past or move to the future, you switched genres. I wrote an article about "Master/Servant Genres (http://www.absolutewrite.com/forums/showthread.php?t=19337)" over on the Romance board, if you want to take a look.While the focus of the article is on subgenres of romance, the guidelines apply to pretty much every other genre.

katiemac
12-31-2005, 11:21 PM
Thanks, Cathy, that helps. I'm probably looking at mainstream, then, which is just fine with me. My heart wasn't set on mystery/thriller, as I'm not sure that was a good fit, anyway. There's definitely not enough sci-fi to carry it as such, either. Basically I've got characters in a city undergoing an industrial revolution, like any London or American city at the time. The city and its government, however, don't exist.

Mystery solved, it seems. I should have brought this up ages ago on this subforum. It's only natural the sleuths would figure it out!

JA Konrath
01-01-2006, 07:57 AM
POV belongs to the character who has the most to lose in any given chapter or paragraph.

I'd make the woman the principle (no duh), but don't be afraid to pop into the man's POV when needed. But I don't think it should be equal weight. Pick one or the other.

NeuroFizz
01-02-2006, 09:53 PM
I just didn't want to split the time, then find that the market would prefer more focus on a single character rather than a team.
Hi, E.

Here are my suggestions. First, don't worry about what the "market would prefer," find out what your "story would prefer." What is the best way to move the story along, make it interesting, make it tense. Second, I don't like a lot of POV jumping, and the idea of having two equal protagonists, with splitting of the POV scenes, gives me a bit of a twist in the gut. I'm sure these two people are not together in every scene, and both characters can be developed in scenes in which they are apart. But, in scenes where they are together, I'd stick to one as the POV character in all of those scenes. Alternating these scenes might jolt the reader. Here's an idea on how to decide. Think of the story minus the mystery/main plot. Sounds weird, I know, but if you take out the major plot, you presumably have subplots left. Just think about them as if they are the whole story. Doing that may make one character jump out as the one who has the most to lose, the one who has the most to gain, and the one who will be changed the most by the story outside of the primary plot arc. This won't work with every story. The main arc is way too important in some stories to think about the actions in its absence. But, it may be worth a try.

JA Konrath
01-03-2006, 02:05 AM
First, don't worry about what the "market would prefer," find out what your "story would prefer."

I respectfully disagree.

You should ALWAYS worry about what the market would prefer. You're creating a product to be sold. Not taking customers into consideration isn't wise.

Would you create a key without knowing what kind of lock it opened? Of course not. So why would you write whatever you want and hope you'll find a buyer?

emeraldcite
01-03-2006, 05:51 AM
I really consider three things when I write:

1) Talent: this is whatever inborn ability I have to write. I can't change this.
2) Craft: this I can change. I can learn more about writing and improve.
3) Business: this is also something I can affect. I want to be able to sell my work at some point.

I think paying attention to all three will help me make my story better.

Salvador Dali, the surrealist painter, thought of all three with his work. If you look at the details in his paintings, look at them closely, you cannot deny that he was a very talented painter. He studied his craft and made his paintings better and better. He also knew how to make himself an icon and sell himself and his work. Sure, he seemed crazy, but it all fit into his oeuvre.

Now, I'm not comparing myself to Dali because I do not have the well of talent with words that he did with oil paint. But, his greatness did not come from one of those three things, but a combination.

So, as I plan out my novel, I want to take all three things into consideration. I originally started with a team of three characters working together, but one of them fell away (although not out of the story). The two remaining, a man and a woman, can both hold the novel alone or together. They need each other to solve the case, and as interesting as it would be to write the story with the two together switching off POVs equally, I feel that the female charcacter would garner more audience sympathy than the male.

I may have to sacrifice a few scenes, but considering the tight market conditions, I feel that I can be more experimental if I ever have a career.

Right now, I think that concentrating on making my characters strong, the story snappy, and the saleability high, the better my chance of making an all-around good novel.

I'm really glad that I've been able to have this dialogue. Thanks everyone for your feedback. I think this debate is really useful for plotting considerations.

NeuroFizz
01-03-2006, 05:31 PM
I respectfully disagree.

You should ALWAYS worry about what the market would prefer. You're creating a product to be sold. Not taking customers into consideration isn't wise.

Would you create a key without knowing what kind of lock it opened? Of course not. So why would you write whatever you want and hope you'll find a buyer?
Hi, JA

What you have said is true, but that consideration should be done long before the writer is considering the details of how to handle POV. In my mind, the market considerations should come in when deciding what kind of story to write, and how to present it in a general way. Once the author gets to detailed decisions about things like POV, the main focus should be on how to produce the best story possible, not the most saleable story. In reality, the best story should be the most saleable if proper market decisions are made up front as mentioned above. Again, in my mind, paying too much attention to marketabilty in the "craft-type" decisions of story construction may lead to a formula-like story construction (i.e. doing it this way because it's what's selling now). This risks losing originality, a major selling point in my mind.

Now, when the story is finshed, it's again time to turn to the second level of market considerations...

TheGaffer
01-05-2006, 06:34 PM
Neurofizz has it right. Much of what we see in popular culture seems to have been "crafted" with the eye towards marketing in the midst of the writing/filming, without really paying attention to the art that's being created.

emeraldcite
01-05-2006, 10:13 PM
But, when you buy a book in a certain genre, you have expectations. In a mystery, you don't expect aliens from the planet Zuulu to show up to solve the mystery. If you included aliens, you would suddenly find yourself in a different genre.

One of the reasons good novels get turned down for representation, or getting published, is that no one knows how to market it. It is an important part of novel writing, especially if you want to have a career.

I don't think I'm sacrificing story, craft, or art by considering options. I'm helping to strengthen my work in all those areas I mentioned ealier.

If you check out Miss Snark's synopsis exercise, you'll see her mention out of place factors in some of the novels. The key is to do fun and interesting things within the rules of the genre, bending them, but not breaking them.

If I want to get experimental and arty, I'll do that when I have a solid audience who will experiment with me. Imagine if the Beatles released Sgt. Peppers as their first album? Or maybe Abbey Road?

I don't think people would have gotten those albums when the Beatles first came out. Their first couple of albums played by the rules. Then, when they had a strong following, they branched out and took their fans with them.

I'm not saying to let the art go; on the contrary, I'm saying to use art to stretch the boundaries of genre. Make it fresh and new.

dantem42
01-07-2006, 07:00 AM
To deal with this conundrum, I came up with the maxim (maybe before anyone else), "I write for love, I edit for money."

When she was reviewing the first draft of my novel -- a thriller that started as a mystery -- my chief mentor (a former Editor in Chief of The Mystery Guild) told me although my writing style was strong, I broke so many rules of the genre that as an editor selling to her market, she would have had to pitch it in the trash because you have to be careful to adhere to basic reader expectations unless you're Steven King and can torture your publisher and public however the hell you want (remembering of course that he started as a dishwasher selling short stories to T&A magazines and couldn't do that thirty years ago).

Among these rules, for example, was that it took me about forty double-spaced pages to get to the initial "blockbuster" crime. Nothing wrong with this of itself if you're willing to vanity publish, but a reader who is basically looking for nine bucks worth of airplane reading wants to be in the thick of things before the dinner service. I cut it down to about twenty pages, but my mentor and some critique readers (avid thriller readers all) said it still took too long. Because the intro to the crime couldn't be done in much less than that because of its complexity, I actually ended up doing a whole 'nother murder in the first five pages of the book and then moving right on to the second murder, so there were TWO dead bodies in the first twenty-five pages or so, which would satisfy just about anyone.

Good Word
01-07-2006, 05:49 PM
Sounds like an interesting fix, Dante. Where are you at in your novel creation/marketing?

emeraldcite
01-07-2006, 11:22 PM
To deal with this conundrum, I came up with the maxim (maybe before anyone else), "I write for love, I edit for money."

I agree, but to beat us over the head with maxims:

I like to begin with the end in mind.

Which I might have swipped from Seven Habits of Highly Effective People, which I've never read, but was supposed to be trained because my students were trained in it and we have to have Synergy (Ack! Another Buzz Word!)

Maybe I retained more than I thought....

I've been grappling with the same problem you are, dante. Although I have a murder in the first two or three pages, I've been trying to get the ball rolling faster and struggling with how much to reveal.

I think one of the most difficult aspects for me is that I know how it's all going to end. I see the connections when I reveal things, but will the connections be tough enough that the audiences doesn't get them right away?

Then I think about reading mysteries and thrillers and when I try to predict what will happen, the difficulty is in the fact that there are multiple outcomes...

Such a challenging genre.

dantem42
01-08-2006, 11:23 AM
Sounds like an interesting fix, Dante. Where are you at in your novel creation/marketing?

Hi Good Word,

The novel is completed (although I still edit compulsively from time to time) and I'm in the stage of trying to land a good agent. Right now the manuscript is being reviewed by Scott Miller of Trident, then it goes to another agent at the end of January if Scott turns it down.

The beginning of the novel can be found on the Share Your Work thread under "Mystery." I will email the ms to well-spoken fans of the thriller genre if they want to read it -- at this point the paper trail on it is solid enough to where I'm not worried about it circulating.

dantem42
01-08-2006, 11:36 AM
I agree, but to beat us over the head with maxims:

I like to begin with the end in mind.

Nothing wrong with that -- something similar ended up happening to me. My two main mentors pounded into me that whatever I did, I should develop a sustained, powerful ending and then rework towards it as needed. So in my first draft I put an enormous amount of energy into the last forty pages or so. When I spent the next year or so editing and improving, I pretty much didn't have to touch the conclusion. The headaches came in the first third or so of the book, because I had written them before I'd come to see the book as a thriller with the requisite amounts of action, so I spent months rebuilding it.

My mentors said that endings are the weakest point of many mysteries and thrillers, often because if the writer doesn't have a solid ending in place early on, he/she will probably have to write it under fearsome deadline pressure from the publisher. My most recent experience of this was from no less than John Sandford, the book Easy Prey. The killer was introduced basically at the last moment, with no basis from any clues given in the novel.

As to the issue of how obvious or inobvious your clues are, this is something that can probably only be addressed by a critique reader well-versed in the genre. After you've written the book and probably read the whole thing a couple of hundred times, it's impossible for you to stand back from it and make that determination yourself.

NeuroFizz
01-09-2006, 08:58 PM
But, when you buy a book in a certain genre, you have expectations. In a mystery, you don't expect aliens from the planet Zuulu to show up to solve the mystery. If you included aliens, you would suddenly find yourself in a different genre.

One of the reasons good novels get turned down for representation, or getting published, is that no one knows how to market it. It is an important part of novel writing, especially if you want to have a career.

I don't think I'm sacrificing story, craft, or art by considering options. I'm helping to strengthen my work in all those areas I mentioned ealier.

If you check out Miss Snark's synopsis exercise, you'll see her mention out of place factors in some of the novels. The key is to do fun and interesting things within the rules of the genre, bending them, but not breaking them.

If I want to get experimental and arty, I'll do that when I have a solid audience who will experiment with me. Imagine if the Beatles released Sgt. Peppers as their first album? Or maybe Abbey Road?

I don't think people would have gotten those albums when the Beatles first came out. Their first couple of albums played by the rules. Then, when they had a strong following, they branched out and took their fans with them.

I'm not saying to let the art go; on the contrary, I'm saying to use art to stretch the boundaries of genre. Make it fresh and new.

Hi, E.

It's kind of funny here. We agree (at least I agree with you and I find what you say fits within the confines of my comments, as intended), but it looks like we are arguing.

emeraldcite
01-10-2006, 09:00 AM
It's kind of funny here. We agree (at least I agree with you and I find what you say fits within the confines of my comments, as intended), but it looks like we are arguing.

Reading over it, it does look that way, although I didn't intend, necessarily, to argue with you. I always saw it more as a discussion. I've certainly found this thread useful in my dilemma and I have a clearer view now of how I'd like my story to unfold...

Good Word
01-10-2006, 06:11 PM
I read your stuff in SYW. I swear, you have a winner. I hope you are sending it to top agents. I am no expert, but, if the rest of the novel is this level, and there are subplots, etc., I would be very surprised if it didn't get auctioned. I'd love to see the rest.

Lisa, who is no expert, but wicked smaaht


Also, how are you selecting agents to query? And how are you querying them? In producing your manuscript, did you work from an outline, or a braindump? I'm finding myself a little stumped, and think it would be helpful for me to do a chapter by chapter outline using notecards.

Lisa, who is always interested in learning how folks get their manuscripts to completion

dantem42
01-11-2006, 09:35 AM
I'd love to see the rest.

Lisa, who is no expert, but wicked smaaht

Also, how are you selecting agents to query?

Hi Lisa,

Wicked smaaht is actually exactly what I'm looking for. Send me a an email at dantem42 @ yahoo.com (dantem42@yahoo.com), or a pm with an email address, and I'll be glad to email you the complete ms. It's about 108,500 words. And thanks ever so much for the encouraging words.

The way this got started was as much more of a mystery than a thriller, and was originally done without any outline, more like Steven King, who generally has no idea how one of his books will end until he's well into writing the book. Over time, the book shifted from mystery to thriller (that is, the emphasis shifted a lot from the detective sleuthing stuff to a lot of very gory doings). This meant I had to pretty well rewrite the entire first half of the book, which took an additional six months or so (I have spent about two and a half years on the novel).

A lot of my time has been consumed with research -- probably a year full time -- and actually a lot of the plot ideas only developed with research into about fifty different topics, ranging from the toxic effects of mercury poisoning to psychopathy to the inner workings of the San Francisco Police Department Homicide Division. Jeffrey Deaver (author of the Lincoln Rhyme series of forensic thrillers) has said that a lot of his plot line only develops after he's done the research that gives him his "ammunition" for how the plot should proceed.

For the sequel, I've decided to try to do a certain amount of outlining, though knowing that the plot will probably change radically as I do more research and come up with freakier ideas for stuff. The sequel is based upon the series of gruesome murders featured in the 19th-Century German children's book, Struwwelpeter (they just don't write kids' stuff like they used to).

As to your other comments on agents, well, the guy reviewing right now, Scott Miller of Trident, is sort of an agent god in the thriller genre (he launched Tom Clancy and Dean Koontz), so I'm biting my cuticles off hoping he says yes. I should know by the end of this month. I also now have two other very good agents as backup, who will review the ms if Scott says no.

In selecting agents, I started with some of the AAR lists available on thread, and then did research on the agents from their websites, authors they've published, and so on. I did some other searching to come up with non-AAR agents who are nonetheless reputable. Above all, I have tried to target agents who have a stated interest or a publishing history in the suspense/thriller genre. There's not much point to sending to a top agent in the romance field. At this point, I have some pretty good lists of target agents if you are looking for some in the mystery/thriller field.