Monday, May 16, 2016

Review: Don't Murder Your Mystery

I like to read books on writing craft, so it was an instinct of mine to find some books on writing mysteries since I am new to writing the genre. One of them I just read was excellent but, I think, misnamed. The Agatha award-winning Don't Murder Your Mystery by Chris Roerden could have been titled Don't Murder Your Prose. (Roerden went on to publish Don't Sabotage Your Submission, which has much the same content but is written for fiction writers of any genre. Roerden advises people to not bother buying both books.)

Roerden's stated goal is to help you, the writer of a mystery novel, reduce the odds of a literary agent or advance-paying publisher throwing your manuscript onto the rejection pile after reading only the first few pages. She draws upon her forty-plus-years experience as an editor to identify twenty-four areas of writing where she has seen most writers she has edited demonstrate "average" writing. She advises that average means amateur.

I think she exceeds her goal. This book is also for the indie writer who doesn't necessarily care about agents and publishers because it is about how to make your writing decidedly better than that of the hordes of other indie writers you are competing with. People are going to read only so much of your book when they see it in a bookstore or on Amazon, often only the first page. Wouldn't you like them to want more rather than see reasons to put your work down?

In each of the twenty-four areas of writing she discusses, she offers plenty of specific examples from award-winning and bestselling mystery novels to demonstrate what she means by "good" in that area. She also offers bad examples, some contrived and some real but unattributed, to explain by contrast.

She also explains why common mistakes in these areas matter. Bad mechanics in your writing are distracting and pull readers out of your story. Why let something under your control--your writing--undermine your storytelling?

What this book is not is a book on storytelling. It is not about how to plot a mystery or how to develop the character of your sleuth. It's about writing prose that it is heads above the crowd and more on par with successful authors.

Roerden mentions a few things specific to mystery but far and away her clearly explained and backed up advice applies broadly to genre fiction. One of my takeaways from this book about writing mysteries is that details matter. She does a marvelous job explaining how to embed details in your prose without it sounding stilted or stopping action. She also makes clear you should be prudent about the details you add, avoiding detail that means nothing to the rest of the story.

I am glad I read this book. I know that applying its lessons will improve my craft both at writing and at editing. If you are a fiction writer, I recommend you read this book.

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