Facets of a Muse

Examining the guiding genius of writers everywhere

It’s all about the craft #amreading #mystery


Left Coast Crime is a week and a half away, and I’m halfway through the last book I need to read for the panel I’m moderating. Sure, I technically didn’t have to read the panelists’ books, but I think it’s a good way to prep, and it makes it easier to come up with discussion questions.

Learning about the craft of writing is vital, I think, to improving as an author. Mysteries–well, all stories I suppose–follow a general pattern: crime, finding clues, discovering villian, catching villian. Of course, there are finer points than that, but in general a mystery is solving a puzzle.

One thing I find myself doing, especially when I read books from not-as-well-known-authors (meaning not John Sandford or William Kent Kreuger or J.A. Jance, etc), is noticing the different plot points in the story. You know, inciting incident, pinch point 1, midpoint, pinch point 2, climax, resolution. There are a lot of different ways to slice it, but in general, that’s the path stories follow.

Some stories are deeply engaging, so much so that I don’t pay attention to the structure or how the author did it. I recently read Glen Erik Hamiliton’s Past Crimes, and I stopped paying attention to structure early on. Other books I’ve read don’t draw me in as much, so I think to notice structure.

The curse of learning more about the craft 🙂

When I pay attention to the mechanics of the story, I stop and think “why?” Why am I noticing the midpoint is too early or too late, or the inciting incident could have been two scenes earlier? Why don’t I think about structure when I read other stories?

I think it comes down to engagement. Granted, writing is a craft, and by nature is subjective, meaning books I really like other people might consider “meh”, or books other people absolutely love I might not finish (Where the Crawdads Sing anyone?). What engages me in a story? The plot, sure, but I keep coming back to the characters. When I’ve done workshops, that seems to be the general consensus: people read stories for the characters.

And that’s what I’ve discovered is one difference between lesser-known authors and more widely-recognized authors. I find myself drawn in to Cork O’Connor (Kreuger), or Virgil Flowers (Sandford), or Joanna Brady (Jance), or Ava Oosterling (Christine DeSmet) or Sean McPherson (Laurie Buchanan). I don’t always feel as engaged with other characters, some in books by lesser-known authors.

So what is it about those characters? Not just protagonists. Authors have created anti-heroes and even villains that readers become invested in. Are they relatable? In some respects they are, like anyone is relatable, but why are some characters so engaging?

I suppose the answer to that question is in the same vein as the answer to the question of why do I get along with some people when I just meet them, and I try to avoid other people I just meet for reasons I can’t pinpoint. Some characters I love, some characters I tolerate, other characters I loathe. An author can create a character that comes to life on their own just by virtue of who they are, but that same author can create a character that toes that border between “flat” and “three-dimensional.” Or, as in life, the character seems real enough, but is someone you would try to avoid.

It all comes down, I think, to craft. There are plenty of books on creating characters, and practicing the craft helps hone those skills. Observing people in real life is part of that, so we can bring those qualities and quirks to our characters. Throw these characters a curve ball of a crime, and draw readers into their lives as they try to solve the puzzle and catch the villian. We, as authors, want the reader to become invested in the story, and that means caring about what happens to our characters.

Stay safe, everyone, with the storms marching across the country. We’re due for more snow at the beginning of the week. The spring equinox cannot come soon enough!

Keep on writing!


Author: Julie Holmes, author

A fiction writer since elementary school (many years ago), and NaNoWriMo annual participant for over a decade, I have been published in small press magazines such as "Fighting Chance" and "The Galactic Citizen". I write adult mystery with a touch of romance, mystery with extrasensory elements, contemporary fantasy, and epic fantasy, and I'm represented by the fabulous Cynthia Zigmund of Second City Publishing Services. My debut novel, "Murder in Plane Sight", has been released by Camel Press (an imprint of Coffeetown Press/Epicenter Press). In real life, I am a technical writer and empty-nester with a wonderful hubby, one cat (what writer doesn't have cats??), one dog, five chickens, and more chipmunks, squirrels, and rabbits than any garden should have to deal with. My garden, our hobby farm, and Nature's annual seasons are some of my muses.

6 thoughts on “It’s all about the craft #amreading #mystery

  1. There’s so much to writing a novel it can drive us all nuts, right? Writing a story is both magical and distressing for an author. It’s both fun and work. You’re doing a great job of hanging in there because you’re talented. I’ve read your first book and your heroine rocks. When I read your novel I imagined myself at airports and being a mechanic and piloting small planes over beautiful vistas. I love living vicariously through your heroine. Keep writing! Looking forward to Book 2!

    Liked by 2 people

    • Thank you so much, Chris! You are so right about all that goes into writing a novel. So, so much to remember, to plan for, to figure out. And that’s just the drafting part. Then the revision, and the revision, and the revision … I’m looking forward to Book 2 as well ;D Rather, looking forward to sending it off to find a home so I can work on another project 🙂 🙂

      Have a wonderful weekend!


  2. I completely agree with you, Julie, about the value of reading – a lot – to improve the way one writes. As you say, it can be as simple as something like, ‘I really like the plot twist! How did she do that?’ It’s one way in which writers learn from each other. And get-togethers like LCC are also helpful. I hope you have a fabulous time there!

    Liked by 2 people

    • Absolutely! I’ve done that recently, stopped to notice a plot twist or an unexpected suspect and figure out how the author did that. I know I’ve learned a lot from fellow writers, and I’m always trying to learn more. Conventions and seminars and workshops are so valuable, not only for learning more about the craft, but networking, and getting ideas and tips.

      Have a wonderful writing weekend, Margot!

      Liked by 1 person

  3. I’ve got to save this for future reference. And, oooh, I love that sweet pic of adorable Zoey!

    Liked by 1 person

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