Reading about writing, part 1

This is a reworked repost from my travel blog.

My process into writing my own book started with research about how to write a book. What can I say, I have a background in academia, and my tried and tested method was doing a lot of research before writing a single line of my theses. So what kind of research have I done for my book? Oh, lots! This research is what kept me happily occupied during the long nights on my travels, while I was cowering under a mosquito net somewhere, or onboard container ships on long sea voyages. I have also been writing down notes and scenes that have come to me, but mostly my time has been spent in research.

General writing tips

writing photo

All of my writing so far has been non-fiction. At first it was academic writing and lately it has been writing my travel blog. I majored in English Literature, but analyzing someone else’s writing is quite different to writing something new and compelling yourself. Google to the rescue! As it turns out there are enormously helpful resources available online, with a vast selection of writing tips from getting started, writing compelling characters, pitfalls to avoid in plotting a story, all the way to finding an agent and a publisher.

There is an equal amount written specifically about writing murder mysteries which has been fun to dive into. The three main ingredients are a sleuth, a killer and a victim. And, every suspect needs a motive, means and opportunity. Agatha Christie did this so well. I can still read her books and forget who actually did the dastardly deed, as they are all so plausible. There are clues and red herrings, suspects who lie about something, back stories that are revealed a little by little, an early solution that turns out to be all wrong and a side kick for airing out the sleuth’s progress through the mystery.

Writing a book series

harry potter books photo
Photo by Colin ZHU 

Most cozy mysteries are part of a series that feature the same protagonist and a recurring cast of characters. It makes sense for a lot of reasons. Thinking about unique, well fledged characters takes work and so writing about the same characters saves time. The book series format works particularly well for cozy mysteries as the reader finds it comfortable to return to the same set of characters and locale in each subsequent book. And comfort is what cozy mysteries are all about.

The main point experts agree on is to plot your series in advance. There needs to be book specific plots of course, but also story elements that carry the story over several books. This is of course crucial for a series like the Harry Potter series which is really one story told in seven books, but it is also important for stand alone books that feature the same characters. The overall story line is what makes the reader return to the series over and over again. It’s not the victims’ corpses that pile up, but the main and recurring characters and their unique journeys.

I have actually plotted about a dozen books in the first series already. On a very high level, of course. But it does help when I wake up with a great idea at 2 am. I can just go, oh, “that’s for book 7, better write it down so I don’t forget”, and then leave it be until the time comes to write that book. Or so I imagine. I’m still writing book one.

Identifying my genre

When I decided to write a murder mystery novel, I also decided that I would not want to include a lot of violence in it. I had avoided reading thrillers and detective stories for years after a bad string of books which all hinged on

agatha christie photo
Photo by jhcrawshaw

unnecessarily violent descriptions of brutalized, terrorized and butchered women. This kind of “gritty” crime fiction seems to have become dominant, but I can’t see the appeal. The world is violent enough, so when I read, I want a measure of escapism and above all, something enjoyable and often amusing.

I was sure I could not be the only one. So I started searching for similar books, something like Agatha Christie’s two famous sleuths, Miss Marple and Hercule Poirot, with more a international and sexy flair like the Miss Fisher book series, but set in modern times. Before long I had a name for these kinds of stories: cozy murder mysteries.

Cozies are usually set in modern times, feature female writers and female sleuths, but little violence, foul language or sex. I have no problems with cuss words or sexual scenes, but I am fully onboard with a ban on gore. Each writer can of course interpret these parameters differently, with some, like the Miss Fisher series, featuring perhaps more sex than is typical. But generally speaking, when writing in a specific genre, the basic rules must be obeyed, else you will alienate your intended audience.

So, I’m going to write a cozy mystery. What’s that, exactly? See part 2!



Writing a series: