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Kristen Lamb

Author, Blogger, Social Media Jedi

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Posts Tagged: mystery

mystery, why people love mysteries, Kristen Lamb, Author Larry Enmon, Special Agent Larry Enmon, Larry Enmon The Burial Place, mystery The Burial Place, how to write mysteries, what mystery readers want, trends in fiction, trends in mysteries

Last time, we talked about how important research is for creating stories readers love. Some genres require more research than others, and mystery happens to be one of those genres. The more we read, watch, and learn, the better we can execute twists and turns and surprises readers can’t get enough of.

A great way to add authenticity is to connect with people who are in the profession of solving crimes. Mystery masters, so to speak. Today, we have a real treat.

I’ve been friends with Larry Enmon for over ten years. Larry is a retired special agent from the United States Secret Service. He started out as a police officer in Houston, Texas, so if anyone can appreciate the lure of mystery? Trust me, it’s Larry.

Thanks for being here! Take it away!

Why We Love a Good Mystery

mystery, why people love mysteries, Kristen Lamb, Author Larry Enmon, Special Agent Larry Enmon, Larry Enmon The Burial Place, mystery The Burial Place, how to write mysteries, what mystery readers want, trends in fiction, trends in mysteries

Just so we start off on the right foot here, I’ve read everything Sir Author Conan Doyle ever wrote about Sherlock Holmes. As a young man, mysteries and mystery writing fascinated me. I read everything I could get. But then I did something foolish. Something that caused me to fall out of love with the genre.

I became a police officer.

For thirty-seven years I lived the dream—more often the nightmare—of solving mysteries. I started as a municipal police officer in Houston working uniform patrol and undercover vice. Eventually, I accepted an appointment as a special agent with the U.S. Secret Service, where I continued investigating crimes and solving mysteries.

But I stopped reading them. In hindsight? That was probably a mistake.

The Seed of a Great Story

mystery, why people love mysteries, Kristen Lamb, Author Larry Enmon, Special Agent Larry Enmon, Larry Enmon The Burial Place, mystery The Burial Place, how to write mysteries, what mystery readers want, trends in fiction, trends in mysteries

First of all, every good story contains an element of mystery. It’s in our human DNA to ask why—to solve the puzzle, to discover the secret. It’s what pushes humanity forward. Everyone wants to be the first to figure it out.

Reading a good mystery allows the reader to experience the thrill of the hunt without the inherent dangers involved in hunting. Staying at a safe distance from danger is always better than experiencing it first hand.

Trust me—I’ve been shot at more than once.

What else do we love about mysteries? The crime gets solved, the bad guy is captured, and justice is swiftly meted out. Sadly, this is not always so in the real world. We know this, and it bothers us that good people are hurt or killed and some crimes are never solved. Most humans possess an innate desire for wrongs to be righted. While life rarely offers what we crave, good mysteries do.

Mystery novels feed that psychic longing for closure.

The Evolution of Mystery

Secondly, mystery fulfills intrinsic human needs. This explains why mystery has changed over the decades. The old-style detective and mystery writers weren’t as concerned about characters as the new writers of today. What started out as a plot-driven genre has evolved into a character-driven genre.

In the digital age, we want to know everything about everyone. We’re just as interested in the people as the problem. Perhaps more so. This cultural shift has elevated the characters in mysteries to being as important, if not more important, than the mystery to be solved.

Let me share an example: True Detective – Season One (HBO). Sure we care about the detectives discovering the identity of the serial killer, but what keeps us coming back, desperate for the next episode and the next has much more to do with the relationship between the two detectives, Rust and Marty.

A Funny Thing About Murder…

mystery, why people love mysteries, Kristen Lamb, Author Larry Enmon, Special Agent Larry Enmon, Larry Enmon The Burial Place, mystery The Burial Place, how to write mysteries, what mystery readers want, trends in fiction, trends in mysteries

Lastly, mystery is all around us every day. It’s in the headlines, on the news, murmured in the scuttle around the office. A fellow writer once asked me how many homicides I saw as a uniform police officer. This started me to thinking about all the different types of death I investigated.

Each had a mystery associated with it that needed solving. I saw death by shooting, stabbing, drowning, electrocution, crushing (yes, that happened), poisoning, blunt force trauma, falling, hanging, and burning.

I was the first unit on the scene, and it was my job to determine what happened, how it happened, why it happened, and round up the witnesses before the homicide detectives arrived.

Old Cop Trick #1: Always ask the witnesses for some identification. Once they present it, drop it in your pocket. If you don’t, in all the confusion, they might just wander away.

I suspect that few police officers read mysteries, probably for the same reasons I stopped. It’s hard enough living with the horrible real images we see as police. Also living with the fictional ones is like taking your work home with you.

But having the experience as an officer gave me the background necessary to write a good mystery. I still love to solve crimes, but only fictional ones, please.

A Real-Life Mystery

mystery, why people love mysteries, Kristen Lamb, Author Larry Enmon, Special Agent Larry Enmon, Larry Enmon The Burial Place, mystery The Burial Place, how to write mysteries, what mystery readers want, trends in fiction, trends in mysteries

So let me leave you with a real police mystery I witnessed first-hand. My partner and I made the scene of a shooting involving two men. The victim was in his mid-twenties, six foot five, and unarmed. The suspect was in his late teens and five feet tall.

According to a half dozen witnesses, the older man began harassing and threatening the younger one over the affections of a woman. The younger man drew a small caliber pistol and pointed it at the older one. The victim screamed, “Nooooooooooooo!” just as the single shot rang out.

The victim fell to the pavement, dead as a door nail. But there was one problem. The body didn’t have a mark on it. No entry wound of any kind.

Everyone assumed the guy either cracked his skull when he fell or suffered a heart attack out of fear. The only blood was a few drops on the guy’s lower lip, which could be attributed to biting his tongue or lip as he hit the pavement. The homicide detectives were on their way, so I had only a few minutes to figure it out.

As far as everyone was concerned, the suspect had missed the victim when he shot at him. But it was a homicide.

Want to know how?

The short suspect fired the small caliber pistol at the taller victim as he screamed, “Nooooooooooo!” The bullet entered the victim’s mouth and, because of the angle of the shot (five-foot-tall guy shooting at six-foot-five guy), went into his brain, killing him instantly. The small amount of blood on the victim’s lower lip was the only sign of violence. But the bullet in the brain was the cause of death.

Yes, everyone loves a good mystery 😉 .

***

Thanks so much for being here! Larry has been an incredible friend and a priceless resource for me in my own writing. He’s been kind enough for me to pepper him—ok, shotgun blast him—with questions to make sure I get my facts correct while writing my own mysteries.

I encourage y’all to connect with Larry not only because he’s a fantastic resource but he’s also one of the best people I know. You can find him these places:

Twitter: @ LarryEnmon

Instagram: @ Larry Enmon

Facebook: larryenmonbooks

In your shrubs… KIDDING!

Larry Enmon’s debut crime/mystery novel The Burial Place was released by Crooked Lane Books, New York on April 10th. He is represented by the Andrew Lownie Literary Agency, Ltd, London.

Speaking of Mysteries

MAY 3rd, I have a class to unravel the mystery of how to write a query and a SYNOPSIS *writers scream*. It doesn’t have to be as hard as we make it 😉 .

Have to write a query letter or synopsis? Conference season is coming! TONIGHT!

Pitch Perfect: Crafting a Query & Synopsis Agents Will Love. Class is April 19th 7-9 EST and $45 for over two hours training y’all how to do the toughest parts of this job. Recording is included with purchase.

I LOVE Hearing from You!

What are your thoughts? Do you love mysteries? Why? What are some of your favorites? Want to ask Larry any questions? Here is your chance!

Remember comments on guest posts get DOUBLE CREDIT for the contest.

What do you WIN?

For the month of April, for everyone who leaves a comment, I will put your name in a hat. If you comment and link back to my blog on your blog, you get your name in the hat twice. What do you win? The unvarnished truth from yours truly. I will pick a winner once a month and it will be a critique of the first 20 pages of your novel, or your query letter, or your synopsis (5 pages or less).

Ready for Book Beast Mode? I Live to Serve…Up Some TRAINING!

For anyone who longs to accelerate their plot skills, I recommend:

ON DEMAND Plot Boss: Writing Novels Readers Want to BUY. 

Two hours of intensive plot training from MOI…delivered right to your computer to watch as much as you like 😀 .

The Art of Character is also now available for ON DEMAND.

And if you’re ready for BOOK BEAST MODE and like saving some cash, you can get BOTH Plot Boss and Art of Character in the…

Story Boss Bundle (ON DEMAND).

Almost FIVE HOURS with me, in your home…lecturing you. It’ll be FUN! 

I also hope you’ll pick up a copy of my debut novel The Devil’s Dance.

The Devil's Dance, The Devil's Dance Kristen Lamb, Author Kristen Lamb, Kristen Lamb novel, Kristen Lamb mystery-thriller, Romi Lachlan

 

For the past several weeks we have been exploring structure and why it is important. If you haven’t yet read the prior posts, I advise you do because each post builds on the previous lesson. All lessons are geared to making you guys master plotters. Write cleaner and faster. I know a lot of you are chomping at the bit right now to get writing. All in due time. Today we are going to talk genre and why it is important to pick one.

Understanding what genre you are writing will help guide you when it comes to plotting your novel. How? Each genre has its own set of general rules and expectations. Think of this like stocking your cabinet with spices. If you like to cook Mexican food, then you will want to have a lot of cumin, chili powder and paprika on hand. Like cooking Italian food? Then basil and oregano are staple spices. In cooking we can break rules … but only to a certain point. We can add flavors of other cultures into our dish, but must be wary that if we deviate too far from expectations, or add too many competing flavors, we will have a culinary disaster. Writing is much the same. We must choose a genre, but then can feel free to add flavors of other genres into our work.

Ten years ago, when I first got this brilliant idea to start writing fiction, I didn’t do any planning. I knew zip nada about the craft, and, frankly, was too stupid to know I was that dumb. To make matters worse, I tried to write a novel that everyone would love. It was a romantic-thriller-mystery-comedic-memoir that would appeal to all ages, both men and women and even their pets and houseplants. I am here to help you learn from my mistakes.

I believe there are three kinds of writers. One type of writer is the Born Genre Author. This type of writer knows the genre he wants to write from day one. He is a born horror author or fantasy author, or whatever. This type does not start on a horror novel and then suddenly start thinking that YA is more his stride…or maybe sci-fi…or literary fiction. This author’s laser-focus is a tremendous asset, but tunnel-vision can get him in trouble. The greatest weakness I see with this type of writer is that they often don’t read outside their genre and so their work can lack that je ne sais quoi that makes their writing stand apart from others in their genre. Of course, this is easily remedied if this type of author can make a conscious effort to diversify.

Another type of author is like I used to be (and still have to fight). Meet The Dabbler. We love everything and have a hard time making up our minds. We love all kinds of writing, but this lack of focus can hurt our platform and spread us too thinly to be effective. Dabblers also are bad about making the mistake of trying to write a book that is all genres and what they end up with is an unpalatable mess. On the flip-side, though. Dabblers who can finally choose a genre usually are very innovative creatures because they have the knack and ability to draw flavors of other genres into their writing. The trick is getting them to pay attention and focus long enough.

Then there is the third kind of writer, The Profiteer. These writers are in the business for all the wrong reasons, and, because of that, usually never end up finishing, let alone publishing. They are writing for the money and fame and often are genre-hos. They keep a finger in the wind searching for what is currently hot. Vampires? Chick-lit? Whatever is flying off shelves, that is The Profiteer’s  new love. Of course what this writer doesn’t understand is that by the time they finish the novel, land an agent and that book makes it to print, the trends will have changed. But most Profiteers fall by the wayside, so that’s all I will say about them.

Just as nailing the log-line is vital for plotting, we also must be able to classify what genre our novel will be in. Now, understand that some genres are fairly close. Think Mexican Food and Tex Mex. An agent at a later date might, for business reasons, decide to slot a Women’s Fiction into Romance.  Yet, you likely will NEVER see an agent slot a literary fiction as a thriller. They are too different. That is like trying to put enchiladas on the menu at a French restaurant.

Part of why I stress picking a genre is that genres have rules and standards. For example, I had a student drop out of my Warrior Writer Boot Camp because I told her that her hero could not be the Big Boss Troublemaker (main antagonist) in her romance novel. I advised her that the hero could be an antagonistic force, but that she had to choose another person to be the BBT. Why? Because the genre of romance has rules, and guy and gal MUST come together at the end and live happily ever after. This cannot happen if the heroine defeats the hero.  Great love stories generally do not involve the hero being beaten up by a girl. I didn’t make the rules, but I can help a writer understand those rules and thereby increase his/her chances of publication success.

Understanding your genre will help immensely when it comes to plotting. It will also help you get an idea of the word count specific to that genre. I am going to attempt to give a very basic overview of the most popular genres. Please understand that all of these break down into subcategories, but I have provided links to help you learn more so this blog wasn’t 10,000 words long.

Mystery—often begins with the crime as the inciting incident (murder, theft, etc.), and the plot involves the protagonist uncovering the party responsible by the end. The crime has already happened and thus your goal in plotting is to drive toward the Big Boss Battle—the unveiling of the real culprit. Mysteries have a lot more leeway to develop characters simply because, if you choose, they can be slower in pacing because the crime has already happened. Mysteries run roughly  75-100,000 words. Mysteries on the cozy side that are often in a series commonly are shorter. 60,000-ish. I’d recommend that you consult the Mystery Writers of America of more information.

Thriller/Suspense—generally involve trying to stop some bad thing from happening at the end. Thrillers have broad consequences if the protagonist fails—I.e. the terrorists will launch a nuclear weapon and destroy Washington D.C. Suspense novels have smaller/more intimate consequences. I.e. The serial killer will keep butchering young blonde co-eds. It is easy to see how thriller, suspense and mystery are kissing cousins and keep company. The key here is that there is a ticking clock and some disastrous event will happen if the protagonist fails.

So when plotting, all actions are geared to prevention of the horrible thing at the end. Thrillers can run 90-100,000 words (loosely) and sometimes a little longer. Why? Because some thrillers need to do world-building. Most of us have never been on a nuclear sub, so Tom Clancy had to recreate it for us in The Hunt for Red October (Clancy invented a sub-class of thriller known as the techno-thriller).

Pick up the pacing and you can have a Mystery-Suspense. Think Silence of the Lambs. A murder happens at the beginning, and the goal is to uncover the identity of the serial killer Buffalo Bill (mystery), but what makes this mystery-suspense is the presence of a ticking clock. Not only is the body count rising the longer Buffalo Bill remains free, but a senator’s daughter is next on Bill’s butcher block.

When plotting, there will often be a crime (murder) at the beginning, but the plot involves a rising “body count” and a perpetrator who must be stopped before an even bigger crime can occur (Big Boss Battle). These stories are plot-driven. Characters often do not have enough down-time to make sweeping inner arc changes like in a literary piece.

Pick up the pacing and raise the stakes and you have a Mystery-Thriller. Think Killing Floor by Lee Childs. The book begins with a murder of two unidentified people at a warehouse, but if the killers are not found, what the killers are trying to cover up will have global consequences. And I am not telling you what those consequences are b/c it would ruin the book :D.

When plotting, again, there is often a crime at the beginning with rising stakes, and the protagonist must stop a world-changing event from happening (Big Boss Battle). The focus of your plot will be solving the mystery and stopping the bad guy.

For more information on this genre, consult the International Thriller Writers site.

Romance—Guy and girl have to end up together in the end is the only point I will make on this. Romance is all about making the reader believe that love is good and grand and still exists in this crazy world. The hero cannot be your main antagonist.  Romance, however, is very complex and I cannot do it justice in this short blurb. If you desire to write romance, I highly recommend you go to the Romance Writers of America site for more information and that you join a chapter near you immediately. This is one of the most amazing writing organizations around and a great investment in a successful romance-writing career.

Word count will depend on the type of romance you desire to write. Again, look to RWA for guidance.

Literary Fiction-is character driven. The importance is placed on the inner change, and the plot is the mechanism for driving that change. Literary fiction has more emphasis on prose, symbol and motif. The events that happen must drive an inner transformation.

Pulitzer Prize-winning book, The Road is a good example. The world has been destroyed and only a few humans have survived. The question isn’t as much whether the man and the boy will survive as much as it is about how they will survive. Will they endure with their humanity in tact? Or will they resort to being animals? Thus, the goal in The Road is less about boy and man completing their journey to the ocean, and more about how they make it. Can they carry the torch of humanity?

When plotting for the literary fiction, one needs to consider plot-points for the inner changes occurring. There need to be cross-roads of choice. One choice ends the story. The character failed to change. The other path leads closer to the end. The darkest moment is when that character faces that inner weakness at its strongest, yet triumphs.

For instance, in The Road, there are multiple times the man and boy face literally starving to death. Will they resort to cannibalism as many other have? Or will they press on and hope? Word count can vary, but you should be safe with 60-85,000 words (The Road was technically a novella).

Fantasy and Science Fiction will involve some degree of world-building and extraordinary events, creatures, locations. In plotting, world-building is an essential additional step. How much world-building is necessary will depend on what sub-class of fantasy or sci-fi you’re writing. Word count will also be affected. The more world-building, the longer your book will be. Some books, especially in high-fantasy can run as long as 150,000 words and are often serialized.

Consult the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America for more information.

Horror—This is another genre that breaks down into many sub-classifications and runs the gambit. It can be as simple as a basic Monster in the House story where the protagonist’s main goal is SERE-Survive Evade, Rescue, and Escape. The protag has only one goal…survive. These books tend to be on the shorter side, roughly 60,000 words.

Horror, however can blend with fantasy and require all kinds of complex world-building. Clive Barker’s Hellraiser is a good example. Stephen King’s horror often relies heavily on the psychological and there is weighty focus on an inner change/arc. For instance, The Shining chronicles Jack’s descent into madness and how his family deals with his change and ultimately tries to escape the very literal Monster in the House.

Horror will most always involve a Monster in the House scenario. It is just that the definitions of “monster” and “house” are mutable. Word count is contingent upon what type of horror you are writing. Again, I recommend you consult the experts, so here is a link to the Horror Writers Association. The Dark Fiction Guild seemed to have a lot of helpful/fascinating links, so you might want to check them out too.

Picking a genre is actually quite liberating. Each genre has unique guideposts and expectations, and, once you gain a clear view of these, then plotting becomes far easier and much faster. You will understand the critical elements that must be in place—ticking clock, inner arc, world-building—before you begin. This will save loads of time not only in writing, but in revision. Think of the romance author who makes her hero the main antagonist (BBT). She will try to query, and, since she didn’t know the rules of her genre, will end up having to totally rewrite/trash her story.

Eventually, once you grow in your craft, you will be able to break rules and conventions. But, to break the rules we have to understand them first.

I have done my best to give you guys a general overview of the most popular genres and links to know more. If you have some resources or links that you’d like to add, please put them in the comments section. Also, for the sake of brevity, I didn’t address other genres, like YA or Western. If you have questions or advice, fire away! Any corrections? Additions? Questions? Concerns? Comments? I love hearing from you. What is the biggest hurdle you have to choosing a genre? Do you love your genre? Why? Any advice?

Make sure you tune in for Wednesday’s blog where I continue walking you through blogging for platform :D. What do we blog about to gain a fan base?

Happy writing!

Until next time….

Give yourself the gift of success for the coming year. My best-selling book We Are Not Alone–The Writers Guide to Social Media is recommended by literary agents and endorsed by NY Times best-selling authors. My method is free, fast, simple and leaves time to write more books! Enter to win a FREE copy. Check out Author Susan Bischoff’s blog.