How to Get Away With Murder: Basics of Writing the Mystery Novel

 

Are you being stalked by an idea for a mystery or thriller? This class will help you plan your book or series and avoid some of the booboos that make the work more difficult. We will read excerpts from published work and discuss elements of craft that they illustrate, and you will have the opportunity to practice what you learn and get feedback in a safe environment. The class will encourage you to move beyond the idea to words on the page (or screen!), and give you tools to keep you going. 

The entire class is taught online. Each Monday a new lesson will be posted, including:

  • a written lecture on the topic of the week

  • a selection of readings and occasional other materials

  • one or more exercises and short (300-1200 words or so) writing assignments

You will also have the opportunity to discuss topics and ask questions, and to give and receive feedback. In the interest of literary citizenship and fairness, I ask that you respond to at least two submissions from your classmates each week to receive feedback from the instructor. 

Week 1: You're Going to Write What?

We’ll begin by exploring the world of mystery novels. You will consider where your fits in—is it cozy, traditional, amateur sleuth, suspense, thriller....? Do you imagine your book as a stand alone, or as part of a series? And finally--or perhaps first--what is the premise of your story? This week you will write a short synopsis of your book idea, and have the opportunity to submit it for feedback.

Week 2: What a Character

In the second week you will begin to get acquainted with your major characters and explore their strengths and flaws. If you see this book as part of a series, you will have a chance to consider some of the character issues linked to the passage of time in a series.

Week 3: Where in the World?

Setting is often integral to a mystery story. In week 3 you will have a chance to consider the world your characters inhabit. You will use a variety of tools and writing exercises aimed at making your setting vivid for readers.

Even in character-driven mysteries, plot is critical. During week 4 you will explore techniques for plotting your book, whether you love to outline or prefer to write by the seat of your pants. You will also consider the narrative arc of this book and, if you are planning a series, of the series books together. You will also have a chance to get feedback on possible titles.

Week 4: Plot and Title

Even in character-driven mysteries, plot is critical. This week you will explore techniques for plotting your book, whether you love to outline or prefer to write by the seat of your pants. You will also have a chance to get feedback on possible titles.

Week 5: Detective Work

The devil is, as they say, in the details, and you need to get them right. That almost always means doing some research, even if your story unfolds on familiar ground. In the fifth week we'll explore some research tools and look at how writers weave their findings into story. Your writing this week will be chance to practice folding research into the story without making it sound like a report.

Week 6: Right From the Start

As we end the class, we’ll open your book. Openings that grab readers and pull them in are crucial. In this final week we'll explore effective openings, and you will have the opportunity for feedback on a draft opening of your own.

All text and images © Sheila Boneham.