by Peggy Webb (guest blogger)
When writers gather, we always end up talking about writing. The liveliest discussion I’ve had on the topic occurred at Malice Domestic (2009) when I shared a banquet table with Sandy Parshall. Both of us are published novelists. The difference is that Sandy’s background is mystery, and I came to mystery from a background of romance (more than sixty romance novels).
I think I surprised the unflappable Sandy when I said, “Writing mystery is easier for me than writing romance.” She wanted to know more, and so this guest blog was born.
For me, the foundation of any good story, no matter what the genre, is believable, well-developed characters. I fell in love with all my heroes and heroines in romance, and I fell in love with the zany Valentine gang in my Southern Cousins Mystery Series. It was easy to switch from romance to mystery with the same lovable characters who could be your next door neighbors.
The same was true of pacing, voice, conflict, story arc, and resolution. All those elements I had used with such ease in romance followed me like obedient children into mystery.
So what’s the major difference between writing mystery and romance, and why is mystery easier for me? Romance novels are character driven and mysteries are plot driven.
In a strict category romance (this does not include romantic suspense, romantic thrillers, block-buster women’s fiction, etc.) the focus must be kept tightly on the developing relationship between the two major protagonists. Secondary characters and secondary plot lines must be kept to a minimum. It’s up to the author to write a page-turning story built on the slender premise of two people meeting, falling in love, getting ripped apart because of internal and external conflicts, and eventually finding their way back together again. Creating a story that won’t veer away from the central theme while holding readers’ attention as the romance plays out is a very tricky business.
On the other hand, a good mystery requires a dense, complex plot. After I had plotted my first mystery – Elvis and the Dearly Departed – I was astonished to discover that instead of working from a three-page synopsis as I had in romance, I would be working from an eighteen-page, carefully plotted story line. Before I wrote the first word, I knew the victim(s), the major suspects, the identity of the killer, motives and back-story of everybody involved, and how the murder tied into the lives of the Valentine gang (my series characters). All I had to do was hang the meat of my story on my lovely skeleton, who didn’t have a single bone missing. What fun! At all times during the mystery writing process, I knew what was going to happen next. In romance, I didn’t always know. Because I wrote from such brief synopses, I trusted my characters to inspire and surprise me along the way.
And they did!
Does the Valentine gang, plus Elvis, do the same thing? You bet! I’m having so much fun writing about them I can’t possibly call it work.
Writing in any genre requires talent, commitment and discipline. My experience in two genres is simply one writer’s journey.
How about you? What are your writing experiences? Your reading habits? Are you strictly a mystery buff or do you like to read other genres such as romance, romantic suspense, paranormal? I’d love to know!
The second book in Peggy's Southern Cousins mystery series, Elvis and the Grateful Dead, will be published in September. Visit her web site at www.peggywebb.com.