How to Write a Damn Good Mystery: A Practical Step-by-Step Guide from Inspiration to Finished Manuscript

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St. Martin's Press, Apr 1, 2007 - Language Arts & Disciplines - 288 pages
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Edgar award nominee James N. Frey, author of the internationally best-selling books on the craft of writing, How to Write a Damn Good Novel, How to Write a Damn Good Novel II: Advanced Techniques, and The Key: How to Write Damn Good Fiction Using the Power of Myth, has now written what is certain to become the standard "how to" book for mystery writing, How to Write a Damn Good Mystery.

Frey urges writers to aim high-not to try to write a good-enough-to-get-published mystery, but a damn good mystery. A damn good mystery is first a dramatic novel, Frey insists-a dramatic novel with living, breathing characters-and he shows his readers how to create a living, breathing, believable character who will be clever and resourceful, willful and resolute, and will be what Frey calls "the author of the plot behind the plot."

Frey then shows, in his well-known, entertaining, and accessible (and often humorous) style , how the characters-the entire ensemble, including the murderer, the detective, the authorities, the victims, the suspects, the witnesses and the bystanders-create a complete and coherent world.

Exploring both the on-stage action and the behind-the-scenes intrigue, Frey shows prospective writers how to build a fleshed-out, believable, and logical world. He shows them exactly which parts of that world show up in the pages of a damn good mystery-and which parts are held back just long enough to keep the reader guessing.

This is an indispensable step-by-step guide for anyone who's ever dreamed of writing a damn good mystery.


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How to write a damn good mystery: a practical step-by-step guide from inspiration to finished manuscript

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Teacher, speaker, and author of several best-selling "damn good" books on fiction writing, Frey (The Long Way To Die) delivers a witty and entertaining writer's-conference-in-a-book, complete with ... Read full review

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Premise is that reason conquers evil. Transformation of hero is often simply from bafflement to certainty. The setting will also have dramatic events in the background. Characters have biographies including physiology, sociology, psychology and a ruling passion. The murderer’s motive pushes the action. They are selfish, clever, wounded, afraid and do not appear to be evil. Write journals from character’s pov. Readers identify with a heroic protagonist who has courage, skill, talent, cleverness, wound, and is an outlaw and self-sacrificing. There are several common mythic types for other characters, e.g. sidekick, lover, wise one, trickster, armorer and others or combinations. There is usually a death and rebirth for the hero, a rescue, and a showdown with the murderer. Describe motive, means, opportunity and alibi. Write the stepsheet. This includes what the reader sees and the plot behind the plot, offstage actions and backstory. Characters may exhibit mysterious deflection. The four pillars of the plot are mystery, suspense, conflict and surprise. Use a simple five-act design: hero accepts mission, is tested/changed/dead/reborn, is tested again successfully, traps murderer, and how events impact characters. The climax has murderer’s identity, surprises, intense menace, conflict, action and how reason does justice. The fictive dream includes story questions, sympathy, empathy, identification, and inner conflict. Scenes include clues and good endlines. Sequels to scenes are dramatic narratives. 


1 Why People Read Mysteries and Other Useful Stuff for Mystery Writers to Know
2 Ideas to Get You StartedThe Good The Bad and The Ugly
3 The Plot Behind the Plot
4 Creating a Murderer
5 How to Become Intimate with a Murderer
6 The HeroDetective
7 Creating a Damn Good Hero
Some Mythic Some Not and Mythic Motifs of Interest to Mystery Writers
12 The HeroDetective Gets to Work
13 How Our HeroDetective Figures It All Out
14 All About Bringing Off a Gripping Climax and Other Good Stuff
15 Gotcha Putting the Murderer in the Bag
16 Writing Damn Good Prose
17 The Fine Art of Writing the Mystery Scene
18 All About Viewpoints and Voices or Whos Telling This Damn Story AnywayMe or Him? Him or Me?
19 Drafting Rewriting and Polishing Your Damn Good Mystery

9 All About Plotting Stepsheets Flowcharts and That Kind of Stuff or How to Get the Hell Out of the Way and Let Your Characters Tell the Story
10 Designing the Plot for Fun and Profit
11 Plotting Theory
20 The Killer Attitude or Getting an Agent Dealing with Editors Promotion Book Signings and Living the Writers Life

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About the author (2007)

James N. Frey is the author of internationally bestselling books on the craft of fiction writing, including How to Write a Damn Good Novel, How to Write a Damn Good Novel II: Advanced Techniques, and The Key: How to Write Damn Good Fiction Using the Power of Myth. He is also the author of nine novels, including the Edgar Award-nominated The Long Way to Die. He has taught at the University of California, Berkeley, Extension, the Squaw Valley Community of Writers, and the Oregon Writers' Colony, and he is a featured speaker at writers' conferences throughout the United States and Europe. Former students include recent Anthony award-nominees Betty Winkleman and Cara Black, and many best-selling authors including Marjorie Reynolds, Melba Beals, and April Sinclair.

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