Laura Ellen’s Top Ten Blog Posts

#9: Writing In the Dark: A Few Technical Tips

Our theme on the Sleuths, Spies, Alibis blog for October was Writing in the Dark.

I decided for my post to get a little technical on how to make your mystery, well, dark. Here it is:

While you need a good plot and great characters with believable motives and events to get your mystery rolling, there are also ways you can rev it up. Here are a few tips:

1) Be Aware of Tone: Tone is the overall emotional feel that your reader gets as they read your story. It can be serious, sad, dramatic, funny . . . any emotion really . . . and readers pick it up through the language the author uses. As you write, be aware of the tone you wish to convey and choose your words accordingly. A mystery can be told in any tone, humor even, but if you are trying to set a mysterious, eerie tone, choose words that when you hear them or see them, dark, uneasy feelings are conjured up. Words with the letter ‘s’ for example, often make us think of creepy, slithery snakes, while words with the hard ‘c’ or ‘k’ can sound sharp and jagged. So take the time to look at the words you are using in key scenes as you revise – a simple verb change – like  ‘walked’ to ‘crept’ – can darken your story quickly!

2) Use Sentence Structure to Build Suspense – Ever notice in a movie, right before the main character heads into danger, how the music speeds up, and, like clockwork, so does your heart rate? Well authors can do the same thing, despite no music, through sentence structure. When the scene is meant to be slow – your MC is collecting information for example – your sentences should be longer, more descriptive, in larger paragraphs. However, as a situation arises putting your character in danger or something else that would warrant the music in a movie, shorten your sentences. Why? Because when we read longer sentences, our eyes go nice and slow across the page, but short, quick sentences, and very short paragraphs, make our eyes go fast down the page. It makes our heart rate speed up and tells us something is about to happen – without actually TELLING us 🙂

3) End-of-chapter Hooks – My last bit of Writing In the Dark technical advice is about chapter endings. I know it seems natural to start and end a chapter like a complete thought, in a nice tidy bundle. But don’t. Try ending your chapter at the height of suspense – like when the MC is about to get caught breaking into a room, or when the MC has just discovered a clue and is about to look at it. Stopping it in the middle of the heart-pounding action adds to the suspense and thrill of your novel. It also keeps the reader from putting your book down. Sure, they need to turn the light off and go to sleep, but let them do it while reading someone else’s story!

That’s my two cents Good luck Writing In the Dark

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