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thThe basic job of a murder mystery writer is to create a puzzle that will challenge and hold the interest of readers. Part of creating that puzzle is constructing both conscious and unconscious reasons for character actions. Unconscious motivations that drive character behavior are important parts of character development.

Unconscious motivation refers to unknown desires or needs that are the real reasons for things people do. Sigmund Freud believed that the mind is like an iceberg. Only a small part is revealed to conscious awareness, while the bigger reasons for actions lie beneath the surface. Abraham Maslow said that unconscious motives take a central role in determining how people behave. Often it is unconscious rather than conscious motives that direct human behavior. Understanding the unconscious motivations of your characters will ensure that their actions make sense. What better way to create a mystery puzzle than delving into these deeply hidden motivations. How is it done?

To understand your character’s unconscious motivations you must create a background of experiences that will fit his/her behavior patterns. In creating this background, consider:
• Things that happened in early and late childhood.
• Traumatic or hurtful life experiences foist upon your character by another person or event.
• Unkind or hurtful things your character may have caused to someone else.

Show the impact of these motivations on your character’s behavior:
• Make your character unaware of unconscious motives driving his actions.
She might be terrified of dogs without remembering that she’d once been bitten by one.
She might continually straighten or organize her environment without remembering her demanding father’s insistence on perfect order.
• Create a process by which your character begins to discover the unconscious desires that drive his/her behavior.
• Pepper your story with scenes in which your character is in denial, rationalizing, projecting his/her motives on another story person, acting out for some unknown reason, idealizing an unworthy character or repressing a terrible experience in order to do what needs to be done.
• Another effective tension-producing writing strategy is reaction formation. Your character converts unconscious impulses to something completely opposite: A woman who fears her frequent fantasies about having sex with strange men becomes frigid.

Examination of unconscious motivations will produce tension-filled mystery story scenes that will keep readers turning pages.

More Tips:

How to Increase Tension Through Character Inner Conflict
How to Use Character Inner Feelings to Drive Story Action

Posted by: nancycurteman | November 12, 2015

10 Ways Authors Can Convey Character Emotions in Mystery Novels

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People read mystery fiction because they want to go on an emotional journey with the characters. Emotions are abstract and can be difficult to depict in a story. Readers can understand emotions better if they read how the character expresses them. Readers get emotional when they can step into a character’s shoes and experience his feelings. Here are 10 ways authors can enable their readers to experience at a visceral level the emotions of  mystery story people:

  1. At the lowest level, authors can write the word for the emotion such as happy, sad, fearful, joyous, but don’t overuse these words and don’t expect them to adequately describe the emotions you wish to convey.
  2. To produce a vivid experience in your readers, describe exactly how your character feels. Be as specific as possible. He gritted his teeth and expelled hard breaths through his nose. His heart raced as his fists clenched.
  3. Avoid clichés. She fainted in agony.
  4. Incorporate what your character sees, tastes, smells, hears while experiencing the emotion.
  5. Describe your characters physical sensations: increased heart beat, muscles tightening. churning stomach.
  6. Show a characters emotions through his body language: posture, facial expression, voice.
  7. Find emotion in a physical object: Have a woman focus on her dead husband’s favorite chair.
  8. Describe the emotion but don’t follow it with an explanation. She furrowed her brow and bit her lip, worrying. The explainer, worrying, is not necessary.
  9. Flashback to a moment in time. The boy pictured how his dead dog used to love chasing anything the boy tossed.
  10. Have the character flash forward: Now the dog would never chase again.

The bottom line is this: Convey a character’s emotions by showing the characters experience them, not telling about them.

More tips:

Why Novels Need Love and Sex Scenes
How to Avoid Melodrama in Sad Mystery Novel Scenes
6 Ways to Make Your Characters Tap into the Emotions of Your Readers

Posted by: nancycurteman | October 28, 2015

6 Most Misused Punctuation Marks In Fiction Writing

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As an author I often run into punctuation questions that slow down my creative juices. I finally tired of reviewing rules in reference books and on the Internet. I solved my problem by creating a brief reminder list that I keep in the file with my novel in progress. These basic rules relate primarily to their use in writing fiction but most can be applied to any type of writing. Here is my quick reference list of the punctuation signs I use most often when writing my novels.

Italics are used to identify foreign words or phrases not yet absorbed into English.
Italicize: Il fait beau. Do not italicize: café

Ellipses are used to signal in dialogue or thought the act of trailing off, hesitation, halting speech, searching for the right word or a switch in subject matter.
“I…couldn’t do it,” he whispered.
Use ellipses when a character is supposed to be listening to a speaker, but keeps fading in and out and only catches snippets of what the person is saying.
“…were built by the Romans.”

Hyphens are used to join two or more words serving as an adjective before a noun (never after the noun): Well-known singer.
Use them with compound numbers: fifty-six
Use them with prefixes and suffixes such as ex-, self-, all-: ex-wife, all-included, anti-Catholic,
Use them to divide words at the end of lines: look-

Em Dashes are used in dialogue to show interruptions or breaks in thought.
“I’ve told you a hundred times not—oh forget it.”
“Please let me explain. I—” “It’s too late!”
Use the em dash to separate a series within a sentence.
She looked at the trees—pines, maples, oaks, elms—all mixed together.

Colons are used after a complete sentence to introduce a list or quotation:
He has three favorite ice creams: chocolate, strawberry and vanilla.

Quotation Marks are used to set off quoted or spoken text. Do not use quotation marks for internal dialogue:
“I’ll go,” she said.
I’ll go, she thought.

There are many more punctuation marks and rules related to them to be considered. If you have some you might add to this list I would appreciate expanding it.

More Tips:

Writing Craft Rules: Never Say Never
5 Elements of Writing Craft
7 Ways to Make Your Writing Clear and Concise

Posted by: nancycurteman | October 14, 2015

The Lysi Weston Mystery Series

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The Lysi Weston Mystery Series is a set of books that have their own title and free-standing storyline. They can be read in or out of sequence. The series consists of five novels set in different parts of the world I’ve visited in recent years. So I often call them travel mysteries. The stories and settings are different in each book but the main characters are the same.

At book events I’m often asked about the order in which the Lysi Weston Mystery novels could be read in sequence. Here is the order I would suggest although they are stand-alone novels:

  1. Murder in a Teacup,” set in Eastern Montana.

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2. “Lethal Lesson,” set in California.

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3. “Murder Down Under,”set in Sydney, Australia and Alice Springs, Northern Territory (The Outback).

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4. “Murder Casts a Spell,” set in Cape Town, South Africa and a nearby township.
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5. “Murder on the Seine,” set in Paris and the Pyrenees region.

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Posted by: nancycurteman | October 4, 2015

7 Ways to Make Your Writing Clear and Concise

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akillerideaGood writing is clear and concise and gets to the point. It uses the fewest possible words without sacrificing meaning. Here are seven strategies to help improve your writing:

Remove clichés. These overused expressions are unnecessary and only take up space. If you can remove clichés and still make your point, do it. Phrases like the following add nothing to your novel:  innocent as a lamb, following the footsteps of, sacred cow, save for a rainy day, no skin off my nose.

Practice brevity. If you can say it in fewer words, do it.
Wordy: Based on my many past experiences as a recipient of her invitation I have been aware of his presence.
Better: Every time she invites me, he’s there.

Eliminate redundancies. A redundancy is an unnecessary repetition. It’s saying the same thing more than once, sometimes in a different way but still boringly repetitious.
Redundant: You have to get rid of that dog. That dog has to go. No more dog.
Better:         Get rid of the dog.

Choose concise nouns:
Not:                                           But:

youth                                       juvenile, child, teenager
woman                                    mistress, matron, femme fatale
house                                      mansion, castle, cabin, cottage

Use vivid verbs to create clear images:

Not:                            But:

Leave behind              abandon
Light up                      ignite
Said                            screamed
Walked                        trudged

Choose simple words:
Not:                                        But:

has the capacity to                  can
on the occasion of                   when
in reference to                         about

Eliminate modifiers that do not enhance meaning such as:
very, actually, quite, really, much, totally, already

With careful editing and an eye for simplicity and brevity you can write a clear and concise novel that will enable your readers to enjoy your story rather than stumble through a mountain of unnecessary verbiage.

Revising and Rewriting a Novel is no Mystery
Writing Craft Rules: Never Say Never
5 Elements of Writing Craft

Posted by: nancycurteman | September 25, 2015

How to Use Social Media Marketing Sites to Promote Your Novel

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thAs authors, you know that these days you need to market your novel yourself. Social Media is a great marketing vehicle. There are a number of ways you can promote your novel on the top social media sites, such as Pinterest, Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, and Google+.

To begin, you need to set up pages on all your media sites and post links to them from your blog and website. In addition, post links from your social media sites to your blog and website. Lets take a look at how to use these media sites.


Facebook is one of the most popular sites. The purpose of Facebook is to create relationships with people. Your goal is to create relationships with readers.

  • Interact with your users, engage them in conversations.
  • You may offer rewards to your Facebook fans—special sale on your books.
  • Upload images. They can attract interest and traffic.
  • Write content often.

Pinterest is a website that permits users to share images by “pinning” photos or videos to pinboards.

  • Register using your author name.
  • Like your website and Amazon sale page to each “pin,” to encourage traffic to these sites.
  • Upload images of your book covers and ask viewers to comment on them.
  • Upload images of you and your activities.
  • Follow other people’s boards that interest you and “re-pin” their images.

Twitter is a popular site for quick exposure. Tweet comments about topics that interest you and that are treated in your novels.

  • Create an account using your author name. Include a visually striking profile.
  • Follow other tweeters with whom you share similar interests.
  • Retweet other users posts, comment on their tweets and answer their questions.
  • Become an expert in your area of interest, especially as those interests relate to the subjects of your novels.
  • Offer helpful links, resources and general information on your special topic.
  • Ask questions.

LinkedIn is your first line of introduction to people who may have an interest in your writing genre.

  • Create a complete profile emphasizing your writing genre to attract interest.
  • Make your profile visible to others.
  • Upload a clear photo of yourself. Readers love to see what their authors look like.
  • Join relevant LinkedIn Groups. Post and answer questions within the group.
  • Check out LinkedIn Answers located under the “More” section on the top toolbar. Browse the questions and answer the ones that relate to your expertise.

Google+ is similar to Facebook and provides another vehicle for visibility.

  • Share images of your book covers.
  • Post status regarding book sales and book events.
  • use the unique video chat feature offered by Google+ to foster relationships.

Include your social media site addresses on your emails, bookmarks, business cards and other marketing materials.

Make it a habit to market your novels. It took time and effort to write them. Now you need to put time and effort into marketing them.

More Tips
4 Ways to Use Blogging to Promote Your Mystery Novel
Market Your Novel For Free
How I Use Social Media to Market My Mystery Novels

Posted by: nancycurteman | September 13, 2015

12 Elements Needed to Write Strong Character Relationships

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th-1Story people like people in real life do not exist in their world alone. They relate to and interact with both principal and secondary characters. These relationships influence character behavior and development. Here are 12 elements needed to write strong character relationships:

1. Relationships begin with roles such as family—mother, father, daughter, son; and Community or work-related roles—boss, employee, small business owner, professional. Define these roles.

2. Have your characters act differently around different characters. A successful college professor may lose all control in a classroom of kindergartners. A strong executive may turn to a gelatinous mass when he encounters a character with whom he’s infatuated.

3 Provide a reason characters come together and stay together. Shared interests or goals or opposing interests or goals.

4. Give your characters a common bond that brings them together such as a job. Their approach to the job can be completely different causing conflict between them, but they stay together to complete that job.

5. Just as there is a bond that keeps characters together there should be conflict which threatens to pull the characters apart. This could be anything from a minor difference of opinion to enemies in a war. The conflict in relationships provides the drama.

6. Give your characters contrasting personality traits. They can be total opposites but complement each other in a way that enables them to accomplish a goal.

7. The relationship could transform both characters – for better or worse. Make both characters in the relationship tend to blend, and become more like each other. The conservative character loosens up while the risk-taker becomes a bit more cautious.

8. Give your characters conflicting emotions. People can both love and hate at the same time–a character can love a child/spouse/relative, while at the same time they irritate him.

9.Characters should need each other but one should not be too dependent on the other.

10. Look at how characters benefit each other as they struggle with inner fears and grapple with problems.

11. Create a complex network of relationships. An author wants her readers to love her, but also wants her son to be impressed with his mom’s dynamic writing; she wants her husband to understand her passion for writing.

12. Use relationships to reveal character traits. You can tell a lot about characters based on what other story people have to say about them.

Important: These rules must apply to the relationships of the non-main characters as well.

Relationships between characters should be as interesting and dynamic as the characters themselves.

More Tips:

5 Ways Negative Traits Make Mystery Novel Characters More Interesting

Perfect Characters are Paper Characters


Posted by: nancycurteman | September 5, 2015

How Safe is Your Child at School?

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41XWv6GB6EL._SX379_BO1,204,203,200_-1In my novel, “Lethal Lesson,” I deal with two important school-related topics. The first one describes how schools handle danger on campus. The second with how they deal with death. In my book I present both the procedural and emotional impact of the two types of occurrences. Having been an elementary school principal, I’ve had to deal with both kinds of incidents. Here is how I handled these events at my school.

Danger on campus refers to any kind of threat proposed by an individual or group. Since these threats are unpredictable and could happen at any time including in class or at recess, all students are provided with a code word for impending danger. This simple word is announced over an all-school loudspeaker. Upon hearing the word, every student knows to enter the nearest shelter including classrooms, office, cafeteria and staff rooms. Police are called and district administrators are informed. Within minutes all staff moves into “lockdown” mode. “Lockdown” is maintained until the principal announces the danger has passed. Parents are informed of the incident as soon as possible. “Lockdown” drills like earthquake drills, are practiced during the school year so children know exactly what to do.

The off campus death of a teacher, parent or student is one of the most painful events that can occur. In this case, the district office is alerted immediately. Counselors are sent to the school to comfort staff and students in need. The principal visits the classrooms that are most seriously affected and provides information, support and assurance that students are safe. Teachers provide opportunities for students to share their feelings about the deceased and write sympathy notes if they wish. Parents are informed of the death as soon as possible so they can help their children deal with anxieties.

In my novel, “Lethal Lesson,” the school has to deal with an angry, baseball-wielding parent and the murder of a teacher. The story provides realistic insight into how schools manage these kinds of incidents.

More Lysi Weston Mystery Novels:

Murder in a Teacup

Murder Casts a Spell

Murder Down Under

Murder on the Seine


Posted by: nancycurteman | September 1, 2015

Lethal Lesson


Posted by: nancycurteman | August 31, 2015

Lethal Lesson

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Solstice Publishing has released “Lethal Lesson,” the second novel in the Lysi Weston Mystery series. The novel is now live on Amazon in both print and ebook formats. The story tells about Lysi’s earlier period when she returns to her former profession as a school principal.


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