Everything I ever needed to know about writing I learned at an SCBWI conference.
Okay. That’s a bit of an exaggeration. I’ve read some very good books on writing like Natalie Goldberg’s WRITING DOWN THE BONES and Christopher Vogler’s THE WRITER’S JOURNEY. But I tended to get these recommendations from people that I met at writer’s conferences.
I learned two very important things about writing mysteries at conferences in Missouri before our move to Italy. The first piece of advice came from Mark Sumner. His alternate history, DEVIL’S TOWER, had just been nominated for a fantasy/science fiction award. I’m going to have to paraphrase, but I’m close.
Suspense doesn’t come from something jumping out from behind a closed door. It comes from knowing that something truly terrifying is behind the door and having to open it anyway.
The second important theory of writing mysteries came from Constance Hiser. She’d written a number of very popular lower middle grade mysteries. During her talk, she discussed the importance of laying down “the clues that whisper” in a manuscript. These need to be seamlessly woven into the dialogue, action, description, and observations of the main character. It’s important for the revelation of the villain to be a surprise and to make complete sense at the same time as the main character.
So this was something that I studied as I read and reread my favorite mysteries by authors like Elizabeth Peters, Barbara Michaels, Lindsey Davis, Agatha Christie, Georgette Heyer, Dorothy Sayers, Charlotte MacLeod and Sharyn McCrumb.