Much of below can apply to pure romance. Why? Ask Aristotle.
Writing & Selling Your Mystery Novel
“In order to become sort of good at it you have to be willing to be bad at it for a long time.” David Owen
At the heart of a mystery novel is at least one puzzle, if not several.
I should have seen that coming. (Reader)
Often the mystery examines serious themes and social issues.
Suppose, what if, and why anchor a well articulated premise.
Readers need to care about what happens to the compelling protagonist before the book opens and what’s going to happen to the protagonist after the book ends (if there’s a follow on).
Develop your protagonist’s dark past. (The dark past can be used to motivate in the present and it raises the stakes.)
Authenticity is key. Therefore research (passive and participatory).
Background, strengths and weaknesses, talents and skills.
Demeanor while under stress.
Names that fit. Sam Spade (hard nosed). Nick and Nora Charles (highbrow).
The crime and the victim’s secrets. The revelation of such twists the plot & propels the story forward.
Make the crime matter to the protagonist.
The villain. “...making my readers feel sorry for my psychopaths...” Ruth Rendell
Making the crime fit the villain.
Innocent suspects. “Everybody has something to conceal.” Sam Spade in The Maltese Falcon.
Making innocent suspects look guilty. (Overly eager to answer questions, motive, etc.)
The supporting cast: sidekick, opposites attract.
The adversary: is not the villain. He drives the protagonist nuts.
The web of characters with competing goals.
Start with the setting (grounding): It’s been said that a vivid setting is like another main character and sometimes it is. WHEN WHERE CONTEXT. RESEARCH, RESEARCH, RESEARCH.
Plot is developed using the three act play.
Dramatic opening: Out-of-whack event (element of mystery to it) (cute meet in rom com), causes unanswered question,
The Plot twist is the most basic ingredient in a mystery.
In the end, climactic scene, fraught with mortal danger, hero and villain duke it out. This scene contains the payoff for the novel. Afterwards is the coda, a contemplative session in which lose ends are explained. The ending needs to be plausible, surprising and satisfying.
Two weeks ago I wrote about humor in romance and thought of how most of us not being natural comedic geniuses, would have difficulty writing comedy into the scene. Here's a concrete example of how to improve: Recall a funny remark by a friend and see if it applies or can apply to something in the scene. Another trick is to spot an illogical way of doing something (we all do dumb things, maybe just following the unquestioning crowd) in which the other character calls it out in some way.