Top 5 Fiction Elements For A Mystery #AuthorToolboxBlogHop

Nano Blog and Social Media Hop2Thank you, Raimey Gallant for organizing the #AuthorToolboxBlogHop.

This is a monthly blog hop on the theme of resources/learning for authors: posts related to the craft of writing, editing, querying, marketing, publishing, blogging tips for authors, reviews of author-related products, anything that an author would find helpful.

To continue hopping through other great blogs in the monthly #AuthorToolboxBlogHop or to join, just hop on over to Ramey Gallant!

This week, I thought I’d focus on my favorite genre – Mysteries (my fav ’cause that’s the genre I write in).

Top 5 Fiction Elements For A Mystery

Self-editing a mystery is one of the joys of the writing process. You get to use your imagination to lead the reader through your story.


If you’re a mystery writer, it’s important to keep track of your story, and not only in the context of what you share with your readers but also what your characters know.

You don’t need to keep track while you write your first draft, but once you’ve written a draft, go back through your manuscript and rewrite it with the following 5 key elements of fiction in mind.


A clue tells the readers something that will help them solve the mystery. You don’t want to give clues too early and have the reader guess who the villain is. You also want to give enough clues, so when you reveal the villain, the reader is surprised, but also feels the choice is logical. You can also call this a revelation. Any you let the reader know that’s important to the story.


Think of a clue as a piece of a puzzle. You need all the pieces to solve the puzzle. Foreshadowing is hinting at some future event. It’s not solving the puzzle. Foreshadowing will keep the tension rising throughout your story. It’s the anticipation of something bad happening that will draw your reader in.

Usually, I’ll put foreshadowing as the purpose of a scene if it includes foreshadowing. Then I can quickly check where I’ve done this.


You need to decide early if your antagonist will have the point of view (POV) for any scenes. If your antagonist has a POV scene, you cannot let the reader know everything the character is thinking.

In a thriller, the reader often knows right away who the villain is, but in a mystery, the villain is kept secret until the very end.


Keep track of everything the protagonist learns. You need control what she/he knows versus what the reader knows. Your protagonist can only act on information she/he has.


This is very important if you write from multiple points of view. Keep track what the protagonist knows and if the reader knows something from another POV character that the protagonist doesn’t know.

Happy editing!

Check out Fictionary’s  free 14-day trial  and tell better stories.

Fictionary is online software that simplifies story editing.


Mystery Mondays: Elena Hartwell on Research and the Fiction Writer

Today on Mystery Mondays we host Elena Hartwell, three time mystery author. I met Elena through the ITW (International Thriller Writers), an organization run by Lee Child. Her latest book Three Strikes, You’re Dead came out yesterday. Congratulations, Elena!

Writing Advice: Research and the Fiction Writer

by Elena Hartwell

Discussing research with other mystery writers fascinates me. Responses to it range from “it’s my favorite part of the writing process” to “I hate research.”

The good news is there’s no one-size-fits-all formula for how much to research. It’s very much a personal choice.

For those of us who love to research, here are some common pitfalls for us to avoid.

First: it’s easy to get consumed in research and forget to actually write.

One thing about being a fiction writer is nothing you write is “true” in the sense of factual accuracy. No one gets hurt when fiction writers get it wrong (other than our pride when it gets pointed out publicly). At some point, your imagination and the best way to tell the story takes precedence. You can always check facts or talk to an expert as you polish your draft. And if you are writing about a topic where experts disagree, make the best decision based on your characters and storyline.

Second: it’s easy to love our material so much we want to share everything we learn with our readers.

Often termed “info dumps,” too much information bogs down the forward momentum. It can also shift the tone of a story from your character’s point of view to a preachy pulpit where the author shouts at the reader. Either one of these situations will likely stop your reader from turning the page, or buying your next book.

One way to deal with this issue is write all the facts you want into your early drafts. Then, as you begin the rewriting/editing process, locate the places where you have long paragraphs of “facts” or where the description shifts out of your characters’ voices and into your own. Beta readers are great at finding these moments.

Keep in mind, readers want to know what your characters are doing and thinking far more than they want to know facts about Victorian architecture or the history of cameras or the best way to chink a log cabin. Sprinkle in details through single lines and short moments. Details like this are fascinating in small doses and when they are motivated by the storytelling, through an observation or action of a character, a line of dialogue, or a short description.

Lastly, it’s easy to write a scene so accurate it loses dramatic tension. The storytelling is what matters most in fiction. In most instances, an author can write around something that wouldn’t happen in the real world by: finding an alternate solution, creating a unique situation that explains the unlikely outcome, or using a different scenario altogether. But, in those places where you need to shorten up a timespan, have a person do something they wouldn’t or couldn’t in the real world, or defy the laws of physics, if it’s the only way to keep the story tight – just do it. You are, after all, writing fiction.

For those of you who hate research, don’t despair. There are a couple ways to deal with that too.

First, create primary characters and situations that exist in your own realm of experience. Write a cozy about an amateur sleuth who has the same day job you do. There is no rule that says all mystery writers must write police procedurals or legal thrillers. For those writers who don’t love to do research, perhaps stay away from writing historical fiction or creating multiple scenarios that require characters with a lot of specific expertise. While most manuscripts require some research, there are ways to minimize it.

Second, foster experts. People love to talk about their areas of interest. I’ve never had anyone turn me down for an interview when I’m researching my novels. Talking to experts can be a lot of fun. Experts are often even willing to read a section of your draft to check your work.

Lastly, readers love characters and stories. If you fully understand your craft as a writer, imbue your characters with complex interior lives, strong intentions, dramatic conflict, and high stake situations, readers are going to respond positively.

My final advice, do as much research as you can, only include as many facts as you need, and above all, story first.

Three Strikes, You’re Dead

ThreeStrikesCoverPrivate investigator Eddie Shoes heads to a resort outside Leavenworth, Washington, for a mother-daughter getaway weekend. Eddie’s mother, Chava, wants to celebrate her new job at a casino by footing the bill for the two of them, and who is Eddie to say no?

On the first morning, Eddie goes on an easy solo hike, and a few hours later, stumbles over a makeshift campsite and a gravely injured man. A forest fire breaks out and she struggles to save him before the flames overcome them both. Before succumbing to his injuries, the man hands her a valuable rosary. He tells her his daughter is missing and begs for help. Is Eddie now working for a dead man?

Barely escaping the fire, Eddie wakes in the hospital to find both her parents have arrived on the scene. Will Eddie’s card-counting mother and mob-connected father help or hinder the investigation? The police search in vain for a body. How will Eddie find the missing girl with only her memory of the man’s face and a photo of his daughter to go on?

Who Is Elena Hartwell?

CREDIT MARK PERLSTEINElena Hartwell started out her storytelling career in the theater. She worked for several years as a playwright, director, designer, technician, and educator before becoming a novelist.

She lives in North Bend, Washington, with her husband, their two cats, and the greatest dog in the world. When she’s not writing, teaching writing or talking about writing, she can be found at a farm down the road where she and her husband keep their horses.

Elena also works as a writing coach and does one-on-one manuscript critiques.

For more information please visit You can also follow her on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and Pinterest.

Mystery Mondays: Debra Purdy Kong on Starting and Sustaining a Series

This week on Mystery Mondays we welcome Debra Purdy Kong. I first came across Debra’s writing when I read Opposite of Dark. I loved the book and reached out to Debra on LinkedIn and was very excited to hear back from her. She’s an author who is generous with her time and her advice, which you’ll get some of below.

As you can imagine, I’m happy to host Debra on Mystery Mondays again.

Starting and Sustaining a Mystery Series by Debra Purdy Kong

Have you started to write a mystery series? With six published books in two series and more in the works, I’ve faced a number of challenges. Hopefully, these five tips will help you start and keep your series on track.

  • Create your protagonist carefully. If you intend to write a lengthy series, do you want to start with a younger character and have her (or him) age a little more with every book, or do you want her to stay static like Agatha Christie’s Miss Marpole? Will your protagonist be complex enough to explore hidden and complex personality traits with each installment? The books in my Casey Holland series cover Casey’s life from ages thirty to forty, which becomes a unique and tumultuous time for her. Based on the feedback I’ve received, readers enjoy following the ups and downs in a protagonist’s personal life.
  • Settings change. I write about Metro Vancouver, where the landscape changes every year. Sure, landmarks like Vancouver’s Stanley Park will always be there, but with infrastructure development (in my case, a new light rapid transit line close to my home in Port Moody), things can look quite different over time. The Port Moody I wrote about in Fatal Encryption eight years ago wasn’t as busy and complex as it is today. If real settings are a crucial part of your story, changes could have an impact on future plots.
  • Pace yourself, and I mean this in two ways. From the get-go, decide how much time will pass between stories. If some of the key characters in your series are children, they’ll grow and change a fair bit from the first to the last book in your series, unless you intend to keep everything static. If you intend to show a passage of time, do you want your main characters to age a few weeks or months between books, or longer?

Secondly, consider pacing yourself as a writer. It’s a good strategy to focus on the first three novels in your series. Once you’re ready to submit your work to publishers, they’ll be happy if you have a long-term plan. Start thinking about the end game early in the process. How would you like to see the series end? How many books might it take to get there? Do you have the discipline and tenacity required to commit to a project that could take years to complete? Now that I’ve started the seventh book and have been working on this series for well over a decade, it’s something I struggle with.

  • To avoid confusion, forgetfulness, and contradictions, keep detailed and accurate records about your series. I use an Excel spread sheet to provide an overview of the entire series. Column one lists the first installment, The Opposite of Dark. Beneath the title, I type the date and time of year the book takes place, Casey’s age, and that of her young ward, Summer. I briefly state the book’s plot and theme. I also note details about the murder. Trust me, it’s far too easy to forget these things over time.

Because my plots blend Casey’s workplace (Mainland Public Transit) with her personal life, I keep a record of every MPT employee mentioned in each book on a second Excel sheet. I like to bring back secondary characters now and then, so it’s important to track when employees appear in the series.

For each book, I maintain a Word document that contains detailed profiles of all main characters, plus those who are only featured in a specific book. The document is copied into every folder I create for each book. New characters are added, along with fresh aspects about ongoing characters. Experiment with recordkeeping ways that work for you.

  • If you’re growing weary of the series, let it go, at least for a while. An author’s best work comes from caring about their characters and plots, and staying solely with the same characters year after year can be tiring. Unless you have deadlines to meet, it’s okay to take a break. I’ve found that launching new writing projects helps stimulate ideas for my Casey series. So, go ahead and stretch your creative wings when you need to. You’ll be surprised at all the good things that can happen.


Promo Photos 009Author of six full-length mysteries, a novella, and over fifty short stories, Debra has won numerous awards for her short fiction. Drawing on her work experiences in security, she’s created transit security cop, Casey Holland in The Opposite of Dark, and campus security cop, Evan Dunstan in her first novella Dead Man Floating When she’s not writing, she’s employed part time at Simon Fraser University and is a facilitator for the Creative Writing program with Port Moody Parks & Recreation. More information about Debra can be found at



Just in case you’re as excited to read Debra’s books as I was, here are the links:











screen-shot-2016-10-15-at-3-07-25-pmDEAD MAN FLOATING: