Category: Writing Advice

Crime and Punishment in the 19th Century

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Warning: The following is for mature audiences only Murder, burglary, theft. You think they’re all a product of recent history. Think again. Violent altercations occurred often in the hurly, burly world of early American life. Soon laws were enacted, courts established, and a justice system (of sorts) grew up to right the wrongs and mete […]

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The Accuracy of Historical Novels: Fact or Fiction?

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If you want to research this subject further I have to recommend Kathy Lynn Emerson book How to Write Killer Historical Mysteries: The Art and Adventure of Sleuthing Through the Past The core of the book is Emerson’s personal take on writing and selling historical mysteries, but it also includes contributions from over forty other historical […]

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The Writing Life

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If you had been with me at the Kansas City library in April, 1994, you would have heard award-winning author, Nancy Pickard, say, “The writing life has little to do with being published.” What? I thought that was the purpose of writing. First, she said, you must decide that you want the writing life and, if […]

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Step 9: Create Final Scenes

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You learned last week that your sleuth has failed. A suspect has been arrested for the murder, and she knows he didn’t do it. She is crushed. Just when all seems hopeless, your sleuth picks herself up again. This time it will be all or nothing. She will push herself to the limit to solve […]

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Step 8: Write Act II Scenes

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Now it’s time to enrich and complicate your story. Your sleuth, you may recall from last week’s post, faces insurmountable odds. How can she find the killer? Here’s where you can show her intelligence, resourcefulness, and determination. She rises to the occasion. Here’s the questions to ask: Who wanted the victim dead? You should have already created […]

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Step 7: Craft Scenes in Act I

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Crafting scenes is much like making a patchwork quilt. Each scene must be different–reveal some detail about the plot or characters or both–but it must also fit into the larger whole of the story. But don’t get too anxious–this is the fun part! To begin, review last week’s post on the 3 act structure. Take […]

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Step 6: Build a Story Structure

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Just like a building, a story needs a structure to frame your story. Wanting to make my work as easy as possible (remember I told you that you’d learn 10 easy steps to mystery writing), I use a simple 3-act structure. Act I In Act I you set up your story. Act I: Introduces major characters, […]

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Step 5: Create a Killer and Suspects

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As promised, this week we’ll create a killer and suspects to keep your sleuth confused. Confusion and complications–the hallmarks of good mysteries! The Killer The killer must have the means to kill, the motive to kill, and the opportunity to do the dastardly deed. MOM in mystery writer parlance. I start with the motive, which […]

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Step 4: Create More Characters

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Last week we created our sleuth. This week we’ll create characters to surround the sleuth. These include sidekicks, mentors, antagonists other than the villain, the victim, the killer, and suspects. You can use some of the same characteristics you learned in creating your sleuth but to a lesser degree depending on the needs of the story. Sidekicks and […]

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Step 3: Create Characters

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Now that we’ve discovered a murder and built a story world, it’s time to create our characters. Where to start? You might think we should start with the victim…but you’d be wrong. Think of it this way: who is in every story, especially if you’re writing a series? The sleuth! She might discover any number of […]

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Step 2: Build a Story World

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Building a story world is great fun. I get to explore places and people I might never have met either in history or in person. I start with the big picture environment. Is the setting a real place? Is it contemporary or historical? Can I travel there? Or create it from my desk? How much can I actually see? For my […]

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Step 1: Start with Murder

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In beginning a new mystery, I start with the murder. Who’s the victim? Who’s the murderer? What’s his motive? How is she killed? Where is he killed? The victim might be not so nice, regardless of appearances. He may have a dark or devious side to his personality. Maybe he cheated the killer out of money or […]

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How to Write a Mystery in 10 (easy?) Steps

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I promised my blog readers that I’d only post about 19th century lore but…recurring questions at book events about how I craft a mystery have spurred me to deviate from my plan. So, to please anyone who wants to know how I craft my stories, the next 10 weeks-one step each week-will tell you. And, the time is […]

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Novel Reading in America: 1800 to 1850

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Plentiful today (some mightsay “too plentiful” as the proliferation of indie publications and ebooks attests), novels are an integral part of life. Kindles, Nooks, and books on tablets and phones, as well as print, offer myriad opportunities for entertainment, relaxation, and enlightenment. But it was not always thus. In this post and a future one, I’ll trace the […]

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Hiding in the Branches

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This week I invited inveterate ancestry devotee Mary Dolan to share her experience digging out her ancestor’s secrets. Genealogy is mainstream. The British series Who Do You Think You Are and its American counterpart and Henry Louis  Gates’ African American Lives and Faces of America entertain us with celebrities discovering their often humble and always surprising roots. I’ve […]

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101 Ways to Poison Your Enemies

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Ever wish you could kill someone? I think we all have but few of us act on the desire. Now, put yourself in the 19th century. If you wanted to kill someone then, you could of course use a knife, hachet, shotgun, or rope, among other violent ways. But all of these methods would tell […]

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5 Favorite Historical Mystery Writers

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Whenever I speak at author events inevitably the same question emerges: Who are my favorite mystery writers? Now that I’m fully immersed in writing a historical mystery series, I find I’m reading more and more historical mysteries. I try to glean what it is I love about them and hope to improve my own work. […]

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How to Write an Historical Mystery

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Writing an historical mystery is easy. Just start with a time and place, add a few interesting characters and culprits, inject a murder, toss in a few clues, and add a twist at the end. Voila, you have an historical mystery! How hard could it be? Answer: Very. Not only must you create a compelling, […]

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