Sunday, April 18, 2021

How to Write a Mystery: A Handbook from Mystery Writers of America


How to Write a Mystery is an interesting and information rich style/technique guide by the MWA and full of takeaways from some of the biggest names in mystery (who, generally speaking, know their stuff). Due out 27th April 2021 from Simon & Schuster on their Scribner imprint, it's 336 pages and will be available in hardcover, audio, and ebook formats.

Although this is a collection of workshop type instructional writing shorts, I found it lots of good background information here which will inform and enrich my mystery *reading* going forward. Some examples: why are so many mystery protagonists so flawed? What does that bring to the writing of a mystery, for example a police procedural or a PI novel. Why are some loners and some definitely team players? What special considerations are there in writing graphic novels? Children's or YA mysteries? Supernatural elements/talking animals/etc? How do supporting characters help (or hinder) the main character(s)?

The editors did a really stellar job of choosing collaborators to answer particularly relevant questions for them. If the question is on writing with characters who aren't original to your work, finding a writer particularly (probably uniquely) qualified to answer the question is a master-stroke. Max Allan Collins is a very fine writer in his own right, of course (and in collaboration with his wife), but his channeling of Mickey Spillane on the Mike Hammer books both from Spillane's extant notes and on his own are nothing short of amazing. Getting Caroline & Charles Todd to talk about collaborative writing, Charlaine Harris on mixing genres, Tess Gerritsen on medical mysteries, every single one of these short essays is from a top shelf writer talking about the stuff they really know.

Summing up, this is not strictly speaking a "how to write a book" tutorial guide. It is a very well curated selection of digestible essays on particular considerations when tackling mystery writing. I would recommend it to readers of the genre, to writers of any genre, to teachers, and other book related professionals. Five stars. 

Disclosure: I received an ARC at no cost from the author/publisher for review purposes.

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