Posted by: nancycurteman | June 19, 2016

5 Ways to Prop up the Droopy Middle of a Mystery Novel

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Contrary to common belief, the most difficult mystery novel chapters to write are not the beginning and ending ones. They are the middle chapters. The middle is the section in which the story often starts to droop. If the middle chapters droop then readers will either skip those sections or stop reading all together. Don’t allow your middle chapters to put your readers to sleep. Here are 5 ways you can prop up the droopy middle of a mystery novel:

  • Start by reviewing the chapters and cutting any sections that are boring.
  • Add a new challenge for your main character—another murder, increase the obstacles he must conquer or introduce a moral dilemma.
  • Add a new antagonist. Someone who creates problems for the protagonist. You might turn a trusted friend into an unexpected antagonist. Betrayal is always painful.
  • Have your protagonist discover that a truth he believed is false or a person he suspected was guilty was actually innocent or someone he thought was innocent is in fact the culprit.
  • Add some humorous or romantic scenes or subplots.

Remember, throughout the middle of your novel it’s essential to continue to increase the obstacles—emotional, physical, moral—that your protagonist must face and master.

More tips:

Make your Middles Sizzle Instead of Fizzle

Posted by: nancycurteman | June 6, 2016

5 Elements of a Well-Written Mystery Novel

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thThere are five core elements for a well-written mystery story: character, theme, structure, scene and author voice.  In this post I will provide a basic definition of each with links to posts that examine each competency more in-depth.

This involves the process an author uses to reveal the personality of a character either directly (author description) or indirectly (the reader must infer what the character is like).

Themes may be major or minor. A major theme is an idea the author returns to frequently in the novel. Minor themes are ideas that may appear a couple of times in the story. For mystery writers a major theme is “crime does not pay.” A minor theme might be “overcoming adversity”—despite failed relationships a character finds a new romance.

At its most basic level, story structure relates to the beginning, middle, and end of your novel. These three elements are the base of the pyramid on which an engaging novel is built. Story structure is the skeleton of a novel. It’s important to ensure the bones are strong enough to support an interesting fleshy story.

Think of each scene as a mini story with a beginning, middle and ending. Effective scenes must provide change that moves the plot forward. Think conflict, tension, suspense, emotional stress.

Authorial voice and character voice are closely connected. A writer’s voice is usually embedded in the way a point-of-view character speaks, thinks and most important in his attitude.

To explore these concepts in greater depth, click on the above links.

Posted by: nancycurteman | May 26, 2016

How to Write Compelling Dialogue

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th-1In order to use dialogue effectively you need to understand its purpose. Dialogue must reveal character, advance plot, make characters real and suggest or provide action. Your job is to imagine ways you can use dialogue to meet these goals and still hold reader interest. Here are some strategies to ensure that your dialogue does its job:
  • Vary the length of dialogue lines. Don’t have characters speak in long, complicated sentences unless you want to create a boring story person.
  • Intersperse dialogue with action: Mary threw open the bedroom door. “She’s gone!”
  • Interject interior thoughts: Mary knew John would be angry if Sam appeared at the door. She tried to act nonchalant but she had to figure a way to get him to leave as soon a possible. “I had a great time. Call me.”
  • Insert some setting description: Mary realized she had overdressed for the dinner date. High heels and a silk dress didn’t work for a roadside restaurant with old wooden tables, hard-backed chairs, greasy menus and truck drivers in jeans and sweatshirts. She searched for something to say. “Is this one of your favorite restaurants?”
  • Replace some dialogue with short summaries: John and Mary chatted for awhile about the movie they’d just seen. Mary checked her watch. John caught the hint and stood.
  • Pair action with dialogue: “I’m sick of your nagging,” Mary said and slammed the door as she left the house.
  • Use action to identify a speaker: “I’m sick of your nagging.” Mary slammed the door as she left the house.
  • Add simple actions to dialogue: “Yes,” she said, taking of sip of water or noticing the mailman or stirring the pasta or picking threads off her pants.
  • Interrupt dialogue with sounds unrelated to the conversation: She paused at the sound of screeching car brakes or a yowling cat or the baby crying.
  • Replace words with gestures: He shrugged or nodded.
  • Eliminate unnecessary chit-chat and social niceties. We use them in real life but they are boring in print.
  • Use informal language with incomplete sentences and some incorrect grammar. Real people don’t always speak in complete sentences with perfect grammar.

Do you have other ideas for ensuring that dialogue is readable and advances plot, reveals character and add action? We’d love to hear them.

More Tips:

How to Solve the Interior Monologue Mystery
Dialogue: Body Language Communicates More Than Words
4 Ways to Keep Dialogue Interesting

Posted by: nancycurteman | May 14, 2016

Old Québec City: A Jewel in Canada’s Crown

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th-2Québec City, the capital of the Province of Québec, is the oldest city in Canada. It has its roots in Stadacona, a St. Lawrence Iroquoian Indian village explored by Jacques Cartier in 1534. These First Nations people settled the region in the 14th century. The 400 year-old city was founded by Samuel de Champlain in 1608 as a trading post. The center of all this history is Old Québec, a UNESCO world heritage treasure.

Old Québec is the only walled city north of Mexico. It is made for walking. The ancient streets are narrow and winding. As you stroll it’s cobblestone streets you will find it’s a living history lesson which includes heritage, art and culture.

Basse-Ville or lower town situated on the banks of the St Lawrence River harbor was the original neighborhood of the city and is filled with quaint stone buildings and historic treasures.

Place Royale is a square on the site of the garden of Champlain’s Habitation constructed in 1608.

Parc des Champs-de-Bataille preserves the grassy, cliff-top Plains of Abraham where the French lost the battle that ended their hopes for an empire in America.

Citadel is the largest British-built fortress in North America. Today it houses the Royal 22nd Regiment, the only Francophone infantry contingent of the Canadian Armed Forces.

Quartier Petit-Champlain is the oldest shopping district in North America filled with little boutiques and cozy cafes housed in restored cottages. One of the houses belonged to Louis Jolliet who discovered the Mississippi River.

Notre-Dame Basilica with its neo-Baroque interior, has stood on the same spot since 1647. It is gilded in shimmering gold leaf and contains historic religious paintings and treasures that date back to the French colonial period.

Old Québec is the historic heart of Québec City and the soul of French culture in Canada.

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Posted by: nancycurteman | April 30, 2016

How to Perfect Pacing

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Pacing is the manipulation of time and controlling the rhythm and speed of events in a story. However, when we look in depth at pacing we see that it isn’t so much about the occurrence of specific events but more the way those events are presented. An event consists of a build up, an action and an aftermath of the action. These elements will vary with each genre.

The build up is about decision-making, planning, and preparation. In a police procedural or suspense story it may be quite long. This is the section where we would create moral conflict in the mind of the main character and where we create fear and worry in a reader. However, in an adventure story this section would take up far less story space.

The action is what a character does or experiences that advances the plot. This element may be fast-paced or slow paced. For example in a mystery novel, thriller or adventure story the pace is usually fast while the pace of a suspense novel will be slower in order to build fear of what will happen.

The aftermath is the reaction or change in characters or plot due to the action. This section might thrust your character into an immediate new obstacle or it might take a bit of time to analyze the emotional impact on that character. In a romance novel this section will be longer in order to show the depth of sorrow, misunderstanding or love resulting from the action.

Attention to the role of these three elements will help perfect your pacing.

Here are a few additional suggestions to keep your pacing at a level that will hold reader interest:

  • Start a scene where the action starts.
  • Add backstory in small pieces within the context of the current story event.
  • Keep characters in motion when they are talking or thinking—twisting shirt buttons, scratching, chewing gum, pacing.
  • Write some scenes that are not wild and wooly action. Give your reader a rest.


Pacing can be tricky, but it’s as essential as character development and setting. Give it the same level of attention.

More Tips:
Pacing: A Critical Element in the Mystery Novel
Secrets of a Well-Paced Nove

Posted by: nancycurteman | April 16, 2016

Plants as murder Weapons in Mystery Novels

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Plants make excellent murder weapons in mystery novels because they are perceived to be innocent, innocuous and mild-mannered. In general we don’t think of plants as being dangerous and capable of violence. This view of plants is what makes them such good murder weapons. Here are some examples of pretty plants with evil capabilities.

Nightshade is a plant with lovely green leaves and delicate lavender bell-shaped flowers. Its nickname is belladonna meaning beautiful woman. Nightshade has another more sinister attribute, tropane alkaloid, a deadly poison. Legend has it that when Agrippina the Younger hired the serial killer Locusta to kill the Roman emperor Claudius, she used nightshade

Hemlock resembles Queen Ann’s Lace with its feathery carrot-like leaves and umbrella-shaped white flowers. It is acutely toxic even when absorbed through the skin. The most famous case of hemlock poisoning was that of Greek philosopher Socrates in 399 BC. The 70-year-old was forced to take the hemlock for the crime of heresy.

St. Ignatius Bean is a tree that bares berries that contain strychnine, a toxic, colorless alkaloid. The infamous Dr. Thomas Cream killed at least seven women and one man, possibly many more, between 1878 and 1892 by giving them strychnine as medicine, both in the US and England. Rat poison comes from this plant family.

The prunus family of plants includes peaches, plums, apricots, almonds and cherries. Cyanide resides in the pits of these plants. Agatha Christie used cyanide as a murder weapon in her novel, The Mirror Crack’d From Side to Side.

Curare is a large-leafed vine that grows in the South American rainforest. Indigenous tribes of the Amazon basin used curare-laden arrows to kill their enemies during tribal war.

Foxglove contains digitalis, a treatment for heart problems. In larger doses, it is also a poison that can lead to death.

Oleander is a common outdoor woody shrub found in warmer climates. It is so toxic that ingestion of a single leaf could cause the death of a small person.

So when you’re ready to commit a literary murder, go out in nature and pick your poison.

More Tips:

Murder weapons That Will Challenge The Cleverest Sleuth

Posted by: nancycurteman | April 4, 2016

How to Use the Classics to Inspire Your Writing

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The classics have long provided inspiration for authors. In fact, almost all story plots have been done before. If you think about it, there are only so many basic story themes. Universal human themes like love, tragedy, hope, joy, betrayal, and good overcoming evil are always relevant. These universal themes are basic to the classics. Look for them in the Bible, ancient myths (Greek, Roman), Shakespeare and even fairy tales. The classics can provide a foundation for modern authors. Their themes and plots can be moved across time and place. What makes a novel unique is not the story but how it is told. Modern authors can make a variation on a classic plot unique by introducing a fresh perspective. Here’s how:

  • Change the point of view. The story of Cyrano de Bergerac would be quite a different piece if it was told from the point of view of Roxane instead of Cyrano.
  • Change the setting. Think how different the plot of Romeo and Juliet would be if the story was set in San Francisco in the sixties. Would Juliet be a hippie?
  • Change the genre. Would Aristophane’s Lysistrada work as a mystery or science fiction piece.
  • Change race or nationality. How would the plot work if Romeo was African-American and Juliet was Caucasian?
  • Give the main character a handicap or mental issue. Suppose Achilles came home from the Trojan War with PTSD.
  • Change the sex or age of a character. How would the story change if Agatha Christie’s Miss Marple was a college student or her Hercule Poirot was a woman?

Ask yourself how your idea differentiates itself from a classic story, and then go for it.

More Tips:

Write Excellent Mystery Novels by Reading Excellent Mystery Novels
Great Settings Make Great Mysteries

Posted by: nancycurteman | March 21, 2016

Turkey’s Ephesus: From the Neolithic Period to The Turkish Era

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7411749-Celsus_Library-EphesusEphesus was an ancient Greek city located on the coast of Ionia near present-day Selcuk in Izmar Province. The area on which the city was inhabited as far back as the Neolithic period (6000 BC). Ephesus is the best-preserved ancient city in the Eastern Mediterranean area. It has been destroyed and rebuilt over the centuries. It weathered the Bronze Age, a Hellenistic period, Roman and Byzantine eras and finally the Turkish era. A visit to the Ephesus archaeological site is a walk through history.

Curetes Street is the main street of Ephesus. Hadrian Temple is one of the most beautiful structures on the street. Built before 138 AD, it was dedicated to Emperor Hadrian who visited Ephesus in 128 AD. Four Corinthian columns support the curved arch entrance. A well-preserved relief of Tyche, goddess of victory can be seen on the arch. Inside7044598-Hadrian_Temple-Ephesus the temple are friezes depicting ancient characters and stories—Medusa, Androklos shooting a boar, Dionysus, Athena and others. Of special interest are the friezes that depict the tale of the origin of Ephesus.

The house of Virgin Mary is purported to be the last home of Mother Mary. Outside the house are 3 fountains that Christians believed to provide health, love and wealth. There is a wall of wishes. If you write your wish on a piece of paper and a5908159-House_of_the_Virgin_Mary_Ephesusttach it to the wall it is sure to come true.

The beautiful Celsus Library was built between 117 and 135 AD as a tomb for the governor of the province. He was buried in a crypt beneath the library floor. The library was large enough to hold 12,000 scrolls. Sadly, it crumbled under an earthquake during the late tenth century and the books were lost.

Toward the end of Curetes Street is the Hercules Gate that dates back to the second century AD. Only two sides of the columns remain but it’s an interesting site.

Ephesus is a must-see site for a peek back in ancient times.

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Posted by: nancycurteman | March 12, 2016

7 Dubrovnik Gourmet Delights

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th-2Dubrovnik, Croatia is one of the loveliest cities in the world. Must-see sites include the 13th century city walls built as a defense against the Turkish invaders. The walls enclose all of the Old Town, another must-see site with its beautiful Onofrios Fountain, Sponza Palace and the regal Cathedral of the Assumption. For a wonderful view of the city from above, take the Cable Car ride to the top of Mount Srd. For a view at sea level, relax with a glass of wine in a small restaurant on the serene City Harbor.

Touring makes you hungry and that’s what this post is really about, Dubrovnik cuisine. Dubrovnik is a seacoast city and its seafood is delicious pared with fresh vegetables. The common ingredients of Dubrovnik gourmet delights are parsley, lemon, paprika peppers, garlic, and olive oil. Here are some specialties you’ll want to try as you visit the extraordinary Dubrovnik sites.

Burek is a pastry dish made with flakey thin pastry. It is often embellished with cheese or meat. A quick pick-me-up for the busy tourist.

Ajvar is a red pepper paste mixed with eggplant and garlic. It’s delicious as a garnish for meat, chicken and pasta salads. Spread some on sandwiches and pack them along in a bag lunch.

Paski Sir is a hard, salty cheese made from sheep’s milk. It is served as an appetizer or a dessert. It’s Croatia’s most popular cheese. Pick some up and nibble it as you walk along the city’s famous walls.

Brodet is a stew made with a variety of fish flavored with lots of onions and garlic. A heavier fare for lunch or dinner.

th-1Ispod is a Croatian specialty and should be part of your Dubrovnik experience. This local delicacy consists of dishes baked under a metal dome called a Peka. It is a traditional method of cooking meats and vegetables. If you plan to try this treat, you’ll need to give restaurants up to 3 hours advance notice to prepare it.

Dubrovacki Rozata is Dubrovnik’s most famous dessert. It is a crème caramel pudding often immersed in a sweet brandy or liqueur. A lovely way to end your day.

Malvasija Marin Drzic is a dry white wine created from grapes grown in the Republic of Dubrovnik. A perfect accompaniment for Dubrovnik seafood specialties.

Don’t leave Dubrovnik without sampling these celebrated dishes.

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Posted by: nancycurteman | March 3, 2016

Corfu: Island of Music and Myth

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th-4The beautiful island of Corfu in the northwestern corner of Greece is a land of music and myth. Nana Mouskouri, the great Greek singer, praised the island of Corfu in her melodic rendition of “Roses Blanches de Corfu,” “White Roses of Corfu.” Perhaps she was singing about the lovely inns like the White Rose House outside Corfu Town.

Homer immortalized Corfu in his epic poem, the Odyssey. Legend has it that his hero, Odysseus, made the island his last stop before returning to Ithaca

Corfu has a long history. Artifacts from the Paleolithic period (40,000 to 30,000 BC) have been found in a cave at Gardiki. From 395 AD to 1267, Corfu was part of the Byzantine Empire. Over the years the Venetians, French and British each occupied the island. It became a part of Greece in 1864.

The old quarter of Kérkyra, the capitol city, is a treasure trove of ancient buildings constructed by the various nations that ruled Corfu. The old quarter is a UNESCO World Heritage Preserve. It nestles between two Venetian fortresses with its arcades facing the Spianáda or Esplanade.
Tourists delight in strolling through its little streets lined with pastel-hued, multi-storied buildings slatted Venetian-style shutters. Here you will find ancient cellars surrounded by stone staircases, old Venetian walls and hidden gardens. The Liston, modeled after the Parisian Rue de Rivoli, with its Napoleonic-French style arcaded terraces and fashionable cafes runs along one side of the Spianáda. This is a great quarter to relax in a café, sip a local drink, people watch and ponder Corfu’s colorful past and present.


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