Questions and Answers

The Challenge of Writing A Mystery VS Historical Romance

Many people have asked me why I write in two different genres. I think it's because I love a challenge. Each genre has different rules and new challenges. The plot has to be carefully thought out before writing a story. The writing process between romance and mystery has a completely different mind set. With romance, you plan out the plot around the meeting of a couple. As you develop your story, an attraction begins to grow between the characters, making the reader feel excited that one day they're going to fall in love. You, as the reader, know the outcome. But with a mystery, the reader is in the dark.

The author has to come up with a plot that no one knows about until towards the end of the story and hope they haven't figured it out. In a mystery, you may or may not allow your reader to know who the bad guys are, according to whether it's a cozy mystery or mystery/suspense. In a cozy mystery, the reader doesn't know who the bad guys are until the end of the book. With mystery/suspense, the reader knows who they are and it makes for a more suspenseful outcome.

For example, in a cozy mystery, the heroine hears someone knocking at the door. The person behind the door is a mystery to both the reader and the heroine. Who is behind that door? In a suspense novel, the reader knows who is behind the door and is yelling to the heroine, "No! Don't answer it!"

What are the secrets of writing a mystery or mystery/suspense? First: your hero and heroine must stand out from the others. Choose a name, personality, and build, which will distinguish them from anyone else. Develop their personalities. Put yourself in their shoes. During this journey, the main characters will change for the better. This is important when developing your characters. At the end of the story, you want the reader to throw his hands in the air and cheer for the good guys.

There are many types of mysteries to choose from such as a cozy mystery, hard-boiled, soft-boiled, or a thriller. What is the difference between a cozy and other mysteries? A cozy is a slow paced story with a bit of humor but not boring by any means. It always focuses on the main characters. As they investigate the mystery at hand, you become part of their lives and get to know them personally. It is easy to get attached to the main character in a cozy. This genre is supposed to be G-rated.

With One Last Dance, I had so much fun writing it because I had to be sneaky enough so my readers wouldn't figure out what the treasure is or who the bad guy was. Also, the romance had to be intriguing enough that they wouldn't put down the book. When Felicity meets their new neighbor, a fine-looking bachelor, she soon discovers that he is hiding his true identity. But that is not all. When she finds out that someone is after a valuable heirloom...a precious treasure that her father discovered in his attic, her life takes a new turn. In this story, I have two themes. What is the treasure and who is after it?

When I wrote the Amelia Moore Detective Series, a Romantic Cozy Mystery, I tried to be as elusive as possible so the ending would surprise my reader. So far, I've been successful. My sister-in-law told me that I was the first author who was able to surprise her. (Whew!) In this series, there are seven books.

When I wrote the Intrigue Series (The Adventures of John and Julia Evans), I chose to write a Mystery/Suspense. In these stories, my reader knows who the villains are. This makes for a more suspenseful story. At the same time, I added a mystery that the reader has to figure out. Julia is a newspaper reporter and her husband John is a professional knife maker. Because of her curiosity, Julia gets herself into a bunch of trouble. In this mystery series, you learn about artifact theft, the Mayan ruins, Montezuma's treasure, and Superstition Mountain.

With The Rebel Series, a Period Mystery/Adventure Romance set in the 1700s, I tried to remember these rules as I added a bit of mystery to each story. Since this was a Mystery/Adventure, I had to add some adventurous scenes to each story. At the same time, I couldn't allow the reader to figure out what the mystery was. I needed to surprise my readers, and hope they would say: "I didn't see that one coming!"

I have some rules for writing this genre, whether it's a romantic mystery or a mystery/suspense.

1. If you are writing a Mystery/Suspense and are allowing your reader to know who the villain is, you must have villains that make us shiver from their unscrupulous actions.

2. Sometime in the story, the hero is thrown into chaos. His life may be threatened. At first, he doesn't know why but eventually finds out.

3. Strange things happen. For example: the heroine or hero receives a mysterious letter, people are following them, or they are startled from strange sounds in the night, etc.

4. Secrets are gradually being answered as the story develops. As they search for answers, they begin to find clues that bring them closer to their unanswered questions.

5. Emotions are up front. This makes the reader become part of the story and sit on the edge of his seat.

6. The hero is pursued or captured, or in terrible danger. Now you have to figure out how he or she will get away.

7. The reader can easily be ahead of the hero and almost see the outcome as he begs, "No! Don't go in there!" Remember: The reader knows who is behind the door in a Mystery/Suspense. The reader won't know who is behind the door in a cozy mystery.

8. The hero or heroine must have a certain skill so he or she can defeat the villain. If not a skill, an idea can come to his or her mind that will help them get out of the situation.

9. The Climax: The hero rides to the rescue. The bad guy gets what's coming to him. The victims need to see the villain get his just rewards.

10. Resolution: All loose ends are tied up here. You must answer any questions the reader might have missed during the story or may not understand.

At the end of the book, you cheer when the good guy wins. You applaud as you watch the bad guy get his just rewards. You sigh when the hero takes the heroine in his arms and gives her a delectable kiss, sending her the message of enduring love. Then you close the book and hope to read another story that is just as entertaining as the one you read.

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©Copyright 2005, Linda Weaver Clarke