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Friday, July 14, 2006

Where the Story Begins

Okay, last time I talked about the murderer's story as being the story behind the story. The reader-hooking question is: So where do I start?

With Heartsong Presents: Mysteries, or any mystery for that matter, you need to start the action soon. From page one, preferably. In the first chapter, definitely. You've gotta have that dead body, and that makes for a great end-of-the-chapter hook.

But what to do until then? It's very tempting for a writer to launch into her heroine's journey, and let the reader know as much as possible about the heroine right away before revealing the aforementioned dead body. After all, you want your reader to like your heroine, hopefully enough to cheer for her. (I'm saying heroine for simplicity's sake here, since I'm sure there's writers out there who have a male protagonist.) Give her an immediate problem that gains the reader's sympathy in some way.

My heroine's troubles? Her coffee pot broke. She's running late. She forgot her watch. She's on her way to her homemade soap shop, where a high-maintenance bride and bridesmaids will soon arrive. Then when my heroine gets to the store, she discovers a break-in. This all takes place by the end of page two. I've also given readers a sketch of the town through my heroine's eyes.

However, the break-in isn't the real crime. There's a dead body by the end of chapter one. And off we go...

The thing to remember is to keep the mystery in the forefront. If there is a subplot, bring it into the mystery somehow. Keep the crime on the heroine's mind. At one point during the story, my heroine says, "Most sleuths have to earn a living. I knew I did. I couldn't run around chasing leads with a business to run." So there's room for some backstory and subplots--especially in a cozy, subplots give flavor to your mystery--but don't get heavy-handed with those flavorings.

I don't claim to be an expert, but I'm happy to share from what I've learned. You might not begin your story like I did, but the important thing is to hit the ground running and don't look back...too much.


Blogger Pam Meyers said...

Hi Lynette!
Thank you for your blog this morning. It was the very thing I needed. My proposal was sent back by HP Mystery for just the reasons you mention--giving too much info first about my heroine leading up to the crime which doesn't happen until the end of chapter two. I'm back at the drawing board and just beginning the story again, but after reading your post this morning I see where I need to start it even further into the story than I was going to.


6:10 AM  
Blogger Lynette Sowell said...

You're welcome, Pam! :) The thing to remember with HP Mysteries is that you have a lower word count limit than some publishers. I hope your revisions come together well. :)

8:31 AM  
Blogger Gina said...

I heard you don't always have to have a dead body. What other crimes are fitting for a cozy? The one I'm brainstorming calls for something like a missing artifact or forged relic. Would that work?

10:51 PM  
Blogger L. Harris said...

Great questions, Gina! I'm make sure someone addresses this question soon on a post.


2:22 AM  

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