Today’s blog post is a continuation of my blog post on October 19, 2016, about Mark de Castrique’s Mystery Writing Workshop I attended last Saturday at Lanier Library in Tryon, North Carolina.
Picking up where I left off on October 19, today I will start by talking about the first of two writing exercises we did during the workshop.
A Writing Exercise
The most challenging part of the three-hour workshop was the first writing exercise. Participants were instructed to do the following in 20 minutes:
- Create a character who was a police officer or detective
- Think of (or write, if we wished) a bio for that character
- Place that character in a single setting
- Write a narrative scene in first person
- End the scene just before a body is discovered.
Each of us read our work aloud. Mr. de Castrique gave everyone positive feedback. I was amazed at the talent in the room. Mr. de Castrique did a good job making us feel like we were in a safe, non-judgmental place. He put all of us at ease.
Carolyn Wheat’s Four Arcs of a Book
Mr. de Castrique recommended How to Write Killer Fiction, by Carolyn Wheat. Ms. Wheat says a book has the following four arcs:
- The beginning
- The middle
- The place where the detective in a murder mystery faces something that seem impossible to overcome
- The ending.
Mr. de Castrique described each arc. He talked about novel endings that work and endings that fail.
The next thing Mr. de Castrique addressed was putting an amateur sleuth in your book. He talked about the advantages and disadvantages of doing that.
Mr. de Castrique said the theme is “the thing in a book that will haunt you.” He cautioned us that a book can turn into a sermon if the author tries too hard to drive a point home. (He gave Stephen King credit for having said that, but I paraphrased it.)
Group Writing Exercise
The workshop ended with a group writing exercise. It was a great idea and should help me to think of future story ideas. We had to be in agreement on our choices throughout the exercise, but it would certainly work for a writer working alone. Here’s what we got to work through together:
- Select a closed setting, such as a shopping mall
- Select six individuals whose occupations would place them at that closed setting without other people being there
- Assign an age to each of the six characters
- Decide on a secret that each character has
- Which one gets murdered and which one is the killer?
Five points that I took away from the workshop are as follows:
- A good book is one where at the end you liked the world the writer created so much that you would read the book again.
- If you can take a scene out without hurting the story, it never should have been there to begin with.
- The reader should forget she or he is reading.
- Every reader brings his or her own life experiences to the reading of a book, so it’s no wonder that you might hate a book but someone else might say it is the best book they’ve ever read.
- When stumped on what to write about, I should refer to last Saturday’s group writing exercise.
After the workshop, Mr. de Castrique autographed my copy of his new book, The Singularity Race. It was an enjoyable afternoon and well worth the cost and time invested in attending the workshop.
Until my next blog post in a few days, I hope you have a good book to read and, if you’re a writer, I hope you have productive writing time.