Thursday, February 14, 2013
S.M. Harding (Guest Blogger)
S. M. Harding is the author of twenty-four published short stories, a photographer, and editor of Writing Murder, a collection of essays by Midwest crime and mystery authors. The handy primer on the art of crime fiction is based on a successful lecture program held at Jim Huang’s The Mystery Company and was compiled to benefit the Writers’ Center of Indiana.
Imagine, if you will, a 135-year-old cabin nestled at 8400 feet in the foothills of the San Juan Mountains of northern New Mexico.
I’ve read every mystery novel I own at least twice. Though I have an Internet connection, Amazon doesn’t yet exist. What to do to fill the hours between chores, cross-country skiing, and feeding piňón to the wood stove? The only logical choice: write my own mystery.
The first is agency. This is a reminder that my writing should be active, not passive. It applies from using active voice in verb choice to a protagonist who keeps moving toward her goal regardless of obstacles.
Tension is crucial to plot, but also to characters’ internal and/or external choices, or in the way the setting represents the progression of the plot.
While a plot must be believable, so must the culture, place, and character motivations. Why would a character do that? Understand why, don’t explain it, but show why.
Superflux, a word which comes from superfluous, and means too much: too much back story, too much meaningless dialogue, too much technical explanation. I believe mystery readers are some of the smartest readers around – honor their intelligence by leaving out explanations. They’ll get it. Honest.
Writing is weaving a web: each filament – setting, character, plot, dialogue, voice – is separate, yet they combine and interact to make the whole strong.
If you’ve ever said, “I have this idea for a mystery novel . . .,” then I’d encourage you to begin writing. And I hope you enjoy it as much as I did that blessed winter in New Mexico.