Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Eight Tips for Writing A Mystery from Marcia Preston

It's another glorious day in St. Peters, Missouri: Sunny, high 80 degrees. It was a beautiful evening at the ballpark last night. The Bulldogs, the team Michael plays for, won 18-10.

Yesterday's post about the Hillerman Mystery Novel Contest got me thinking about writing myteries. Specifically, how I need to get more disciplined about the mystery novel I'm plugging away trying to finish--a middle-grade mystery set in St. Charles.

Thinking about mystery writing also reminded me about a presentation Marcia Preston gave at the MWG conference last month. Marcia is a classy lady from Oklahoma with a kind and generous heart for writers trying to succeed. She is a former English teacher and editor who has published several books and is winner of the
Mary Higgins Clark Award for her novel "Song of the Bones." She also served on the Edgar judging panel, where she read parts of 250 mysteries. So, I think it's safe to say Marcia has insight into what makes a compelling (and selling) mystery.

During her "Writing the Mystery" presentation, here are the notes I took from:
8 Tips for Writing Mysteries from Marcia Preston:
1. Think series - Be thinking about your next book while writing your current one.
2. Look for a hook - The hook is a way for the sales and marketing team to promote your book.
3. Dig into your characters - Characters should be well developed and interesting.
4. Devise a fresh, stunningly clever plot device - and the be the first to do it!
5. Watch your pacing - Don't ever let the pace slack. As an example of what not to do, she warned "Don't let your protagonist think too much in the first chapter."
6. Pay attention to technicalities - "The devil is in the details." Make sure your facts are correct; research is important.
7. Plug into the mystery world - Follow the protocol for submitting to agents. Know the word count for your genre.
8. PERSIST! - If you're not successful landing a big publisher, try independent, small publishers. Try all other ways and avoid subsidy publishing. Keep revising your manuscript!

There you have it. Advice from someone who is definitely "plugged into the mystery world." To recap, I think it's time for me to: dig into my characters, watch my pacing, and PERSIST with my novel.


  1. Great tips, Donna, thanks for sharing!

  2. Hi Pat,
    Thanks. I'm glad they were helpful. Marcia is a wise and wonderful lady--always willing to share with other writers.

  3. It's that fresh, stunningly clever plot device that's bogging me down...but if I ever come up with one, watch out! :-)

    (Good tips, as always, Donna. And thanks to Marcia, too!)

  4. Hi Cathy,
    I hear ya.
    One thing I didn't include in my original post was Marcia's comment that there's a strong market right now for kids' mystery books. So, I plan to keep plugging away.

  5. Everything she said is good advice, but the most important part is what she said about persistence. You simply won't make it if you don't keep at it.

  6. Hey Sean,
    Thanks for your comment and reinforcement of Marcia's advice. It is so true when writers says that "persistence pays." After reading the list of publications on your blog, I know you are speaking from experience.


Mysteries of the Ozarks, Volume V - Interviews with Lonnie Whitaker and Dr. Barri Bumgarner

Here is the second installment of interviews with contributors who have stories in Mysteries of the Ozarks, Volume V , from Ozark Writers, I...