Many years ago, when I began to seriously tinker with the idea of writing a mystery, I ran into a problem. A big problem. While I had plenty of experience reading mysteries, I had no idea how to actually write one. I mean, sure, I knew a body or two had to show up. Someone had to look for clues and solve the crime. Someone else had to kill the victim while others lurked nearby and appeared guilty, harboring their own secrets. But how to combine all those aspects in a cohesive and gripping manner?
I browsed a vast selection of writing books on Amazon until I noticed "How to Write and Market your Mystery Novel" by Jean Hager. Let's see: I wanted to write a mystery and once I finished, I'd presumably want to market it. Perfect. So I added the book to my virtual cart, waited for the package to arrive on my doorstep, and tore open the box. I frowned at the thin red book that sat in the bottom and pulled it out, flipping through to the end.
132 pages. That was it? And the last 20 pages were lists of various book award winners and the bibliography. They didn't even count. I was supposed to learn how to write a full-length novel in 112 pages?
Turns out Hager accomplished a lot in so few pages. I recently pulled the book off my shelf to read the chapter on revisions and was once more struck by how useful the entire book is. Hager simply didn't add fluff, something I definitely appreciate as I struggle to find time to both write and read about the craft. Each chapter is concise and selective in its details. The chapter on character description reminded me of improvements I need to make in my own cast, the dialogue chapter reinforced the idea that I need to tighten up my conversations, and that revision chapter will prove invaluable as I move closer to completing the first draft.
The fact that Hager provides all this info in 132 pages (really, 112) shows that carefully chosen words are an important part of any writing project. Another reminder to edit, edit, edit. And when you're done, edit once more for good measure.