Mark de Castrique’s Mystery Writing Workshop – Part 1

Mark de Castrique conducted a mystery writing workshop at Lanier Library in Tryon, North Carolina on Saturday afternoon. Having heard this author speak twice in the last several years, I knew I would benefit from attending his workshop.

Tryon, NC

Nestled in the foothills of the Appalachian Mountains, Tryon is an inviting place to visit on a beautiful early fall day. There were lots of people out and about in the quaint downtown business district. Tryon is dog friendly. Some of the shops provide water bowls on the sidewalks to quench the thirst of local dogs on their daily walks.

The Book Shelf Bookstore

An added highlight on Saturday was visiting the new location of Penny Padgett’s The Book Shelf Bookstore in Tryon. The shop recently moved just a few feet down South Trade Street from its former location. I was delighted to reconnect with Penny. She graciously had a book signing for me (see “Book Signing at The Book Shelf in Tryon, NC” on my blog on April 14, 2015) to publicize my vintage postcard book, The Blue Ridge Mountains of North Carolina. The new shop gives Penny more space for books and book signings. Visiting her shop also gave me a chance to purchase Mark de Castrique’s latest and sixteenth novel, The Singularity Race.


In the three-hour workshop, Mr. de Castrique covered Aristotle’s six components of a story:

  1. Plot
  2. Character
  3. Thought
  4. Language
  5. Melody and
  6. Spectacle.

He talked about sequence in plotting — how it has cummulative power. “A” must come before “B” which must come before “C.” He said the worst plotting for a novel is episodic, meaning the sequence of events can be in random order. (Think episodes of the old TV show, “Gilligan’s Island.” One episode did not build on the previous one.) That works for a TV program but not in a mystery novel.

What if?

Mr. de Castrique talked about the value of a writer asking, “What if?” to get his or her creative juices going. Other topics included write what you know and write from a sense of place.

Illusion of Authenticity

Mr. de Castrique talked about the different methods of research:

  1. Memory
  2. Imagination, and
  3. Fact

and how a novel needs the illusion of authenticity. If you’re writing something that cannot happen, you need to set it up so that it can possibly happen. It has to be believable.

Reader Response Theory

Mr. de Castrique talked about reader response theory, which was a new concept for me. It addresses the following:

  1. Real author
  2. Implied author
  3. Narrator
  4. Characters
  5. Narratee
  6. Authorial audience, and
  7. The reader

In my next blog post on Friday, I will write about the rest of the workshop, including descriptions of the two writing exercises we did. Until then, I hope you have a good book to read and, if you’re a writer, I hope you have productive writing time.


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