Dec 15, 2009

Editing the Mystery Novel.

I'm editing Dog Show Detective, a novel aimed at kids between 8-10yrs about 11yr old Kitty who takes her Miniature Schnauzer to dog shows and solves mysteries. This week I started the editing process. Okay, I skimmed the manuscript and made a coupla' notes. It's the festive season, time has been short.

Last week I told you Kitty's dog would go from being called Shakespeare to Spade because it had more significance to the story. This week I've found a few more necessary changes.

Sometimes ideas come to us after we've already written a scene, so I make notes in my notepad. For each manuscript I dedicate a MS Word document for chapters, another for notes and ideas, a Plot Builder file to see how the manuscript is shaping together and a handy-dandy notepad (tip I learned from Steve in Blue's Clues), to jot down ideas when out and about. I find ideas and corrections come when I don't plan them, so the notepad gets filled and the doc file stays empty.

I was halfway through the Dog Show Detective mystery before I realised I only had one suspect. Not much of a mystery then. Instead of going back, I ploughed on and wrote in more characters as if they had been there from the start. Now in edit time I need to find ways to believably introduce them and start to drop hints about motives.

Motives act as clues, they tell us who we can suspect and who to dismiss. A character's motive must be realistically weighted for the crime, for example, most people won't commit murder these days just because they've fallen out of love with their spouse. Divorce seems a much easier solution. BUT, if the person stood to loose a lot financially, they were dedicated to a religion that forbids divorce, they are scared their spouse will beat or kill them if they try to leave, or if they're having an affair with their under-aged student and their wife has discovered it, then you have a strong enough motive.

Writing-World has a great post about dropping clues into your mystery narrative and explains the different types of clues you can use. Another great site is Perpetual Prose on Crafting Twists and Dropping Clues.

You will need to have several characters with strong motives for the crime, which is where I originally went wrong with my manuscript. Once I placed in a few more characters with various motives, I discovered two chapters from the end that my original suspect would not be the perpetrator at all! I love it when our narratives surprise us.  :-)

For newbies to mystery I strongly recommend reading and dissecting Agatha Christie novels, she had several formulas that worked well. The Christie Mystery is a site that has some very helpful tips for mystery writing, including a post on 'The Least Likely Suspect', one of my favourite Christie novels had ALL the suspects commit the crime.

Point of view is important for a crime novel, the most popular being limited third person (that's what I have chosen) or first person. The reason for this is because in most mysteries you don't want the reader to know the answers before the detective. You can experiment with different styles if you are little bit clever ;-). Check out Sylvia Dickey Smith Books if you need the different point of view possibilities explained.

This may sound repetitive, but reading mysteries is a great way to work out how to craft a mystery. I've been reading a couple of kids' mysteries such as Trixie Beldon, Nancy Drew and The 39 Clues (1st book by Rick Riordan). This has shown me another flaw in my narrative. I've focused on setting the story up to mislead and eventually lead to the solution, I've tried to have fun and exciting chapters, but I haven't had enough DANGER

Kids want action, they want their mystery fast paced and exciting, they want to worry about the characters. Don't underestimate your young reader, they learn quickly how to spot patterns. I'm often informed by kids that they know the main character will survive, so they don't worry so much about them, but when secondary characters are in danger, that can be scary because you just don't know how necessary they might be. I'm going to write in a few more near misses for Kitty's friends, family and even Kitty's dog.

Kids also love stereotype characters, Scooby-Doo almost always included a scary, old grounds-keeper that would seem really mean, but not end up being the villain.

Okay, so lots of work to do for me this week - I have to actually get onto making changes to my manuscript and I'll be reading How to Write Killer Fiction by Carolyn Wheat and Youdunit Whodunit by Nicola Furlong.

Time to edit - let's turn that good idea into a great narrative.


  1. Great post, Charmaine! I hope all of our mystery writing blogger friends find their way over here - as always, lots of great and relevant info! I always learn something from your posts! ;-)

  2. Charmaine, I jumped over here from Shannon's blog. Your profile pic is intriguing, reminded me of classic Hollywood shots. Then, I read that you write mysteries for YA. I write YA and love mysteries. Perhaps, we have a connection.

  3. Happy Holidays Charmaine,

    Thanks for a very informative post. Lots of great suggestions and link tips.

    I hope my little ebook, Youdunit Whodunit!, adds some new insights. Cheers.


  4. What an interesting blog. I'm so glad I've discovered it. Writing for children is different to writing for adults, but perhaps not as different as I thought.
    LEIGH RUSSELL (post on the Curzon group blog 15th December)

  5. Your understanding of the craft of writing far exceeds mine and I've learned quite a bit coming here.
    Thanks for sharing.
    Warmest regards,

  6. Thanks guys, hope you all had a wonderful holiday period and some quality family time!
    Shannon, you're definately in the right career, you always know the right things to say to motivate and encourage!
    Mary, thanks for coming over, I do love YA, forced to read Phillip Pullman for uni several years back and have been gratefully hooked ever since.
    Nicola, enjoyed reading your ebook - will blog on that one soon!
    Leigh, I agree, kids keep suprising me all the time.
    Simone, thanks for the compliment - you'd be suprised how much I don't know :-)
    Thanks for reading guys, I enjoy wandering over to your blogs too!