Posted by: nancycurteman | January 28, 2016

5 Ways to Present Setting Through Point of View Characters

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In mysteries, setting can be presented through the point of view character. Of course there is a place for narrative summary in describing scenery and as a way of managing transitions that take place over an extended period of time. But the story moves better when you keep narrative summary to a minimum and emphasize the impact of setting on your scene’s point of view character. Let’s look at 5 ways that can be done. Let’s use a forest as our setting:

Character senses: What he sees, hears, smells, touches, tastes
Mary had never seen so many shades of green. The melodic chirping of birds drew her to a pine tree. She crushed some of its stiff needles between her fingers and held them to her nose. Christmas! After a sweet treat of wild strawberries she fell asleep on a patch of grass.

Character actions: What he does
Mary grabbed John’s hand and pulled him down the path that led into the tall pines. She picked a red wildflower and stuck it in John’s lapel then led him to the patch of wild strawberries she’d discovered. They sat together under a pine and feasted on the berries.

Character dialogue: What he says
“See John,” Mary said. “Didn’t I tell you it was beautiful? Look at the pine trees and the wild flowers.”
“You’re right,” John said. “The trees and flowers are beautiful, but you mentioned strawberries. I’m hungry.”

Character interior monologue: What he thinks
John grimaced. Pine trees. Birds. Wild flowers. Not my bag. No way will I tell Mary.

Character emotion: What he feels
John looked at Mary. She’s more beautiful than all the trees and flowers in this forest. If only this moment could last forever.

These are simple examples of complex concepts to make the point that setting can be presented through the point of view character. As authors you can apply the concept to more sophisticated setting descriptions.


More Tips:

8 Uncommon Settings for Your Mystery Novel
7 Ways Authors Can Create Realistic Settings
How to Write Great Settings: Some Do’s and Don’ts

Posted by: nancycurteman | January 9, 2016

“Lethal Lesson’s” Library Debut in California

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For those of you in the area, I will début “Lethal Lesson” on January 21 at 12:30 p.m. in the Fremont Main Library in California. I’ll give away recipes for Polish foods mentioned in the novel. I’ll provide Polish cookies to nibble. There will be a drawing for a free copy of my novel. Hope some of my Global Mystery friends can come to see my Power Point presentation. You may pick up some marketing ideas for your own novels.

Lethal Lesson


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Lethal LessonI’m delighted to announce that my latest Lysi Weston mystery novel, “Lethal Lesson,” has been nominated as the 2015 most popular mystery in the Preditors & Editors Readers Poll. Solstice Publishing has other novels in the mystery category as well as mine but a vote for only one book in each category is allowed. I’d love it if you would take a moment to go to the Preditors & Editors site and vote for my novel. Here are step-by-step directions to make it as easy as possible for you:

    1. Go to
    2. Scroll down to Print/Electronic Mystery Novel published in 2015
    3. Click next to “Lethal Lesson”
    4. Scroll further down the page.
    5. Type your name in the box labeled “Your Full Name.”
    6. Type your e-mail address. (Preditors & Editors does not keep your e-mail address on file. They just need it to confirm your vote.)
    7. Type a comment if you wish in the box
    8. Important: Type in the author of the book pictured below the white comment box. Try not to click on enlarge it if you can read it on the small book. (Do not type my name in that box.)
    9. Click on submit vote

    Important: You must finalize your vote by opening an e-mail from and clicking on the link under: TO CONFIRM YOUR VOTE, visit this URL.(DO NOT REPLY TO THIS EMAIL). (If you don’t see this e-mail within a day, check your spam). This is to avoid spamming and double votes.

    1. Please don’t give up immediately if there is a glitch. Sometimes the website “gets a catch in its get along.”



Thank you for considering a vote for my novel, “Lethal Lesson.”

Posted by: nancycurteman | December 22, 2015

Simple Ways to Create Plot Twists in Mystery Stories

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A plot twist in a mystery is simply an unexpected occurrence. When writing your story ask yourself what you might write that your reader would not expect.

Then give your reader

  • more than one suspect in a murder case before revealing the true culprit.
  • red herrings and dead ends.
  • important clues buried in emotion or action scenes.
  • a hero who uses a special skill to extricate himself from a terrible situation. A skill mentioned in passing earlier in the story.
  • a villain who has some traits that enable him to turn heroic.
  • trusted characters who lie.
  • a main character who thinks he’s won the battle but discovers later in the story that he hasn’t or that the win has endangered someone he cares about. Now he must continue the good fight.
  • a villain who wins victory after victory until the hero is almost destroyed. Note I said almost.
  • a plot that works towards a clear and easy outcome then throw up barriers that block the hero’s path to success.

Unexpected occurrences are the simplest way to create plot twists.

More Tips:

How to Murder Your Mystery Novel Plot
How to Create a Plot for a Novel
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Posted by: nancycurteman | December 13, 2015

Can Dogs Play a Role in Mystery Novels?

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If you love dogs as I do, you will enjoy writing about them in your mystery novels. Dogs can play a role in most mysteries. Sometimes they can add a touch of humor or romance or heroism. I’ve written dogs into two of my novels. In my latest novel, Lethal Lesson, I have a lovable St. Bernard named Falstaff that adores the ladies in the story. In Murder Down Under I wrote in Lizzie, a Border Collie that manages to work hundreds of sheep on a huge, Outback sheep station in Australia and fall in love with Lysi Weston, my main character. In the novel on which I’m currently working, set in San Francisco, my canine character is Artemis, a German shepherd that considers herself a lap dog. Unlike Artemis the huntress after whom she’s named, my dog character has never hunted anything except her food dish. Add a dog to your mystery novel and see how much it will enhance your story.

My brother, Billy and I were brought up with dogs. While I love dogs in general, I really adore German shepherds.  Billy sent me this image that does more to describe these lovable animals than any words could express.



Posted by: nancycurteman | December 3, 2015

How to Use Narrative Summary in Fiction

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Narrative summary has a place in fiction writing. Of course, show-don’t-tell is the author’s mantra, but it doesn’t apply in all cases. Narrative summary allows writers to skip the details of unimportant events and lay out facts quickly that might otherwise make scenes too long.

Narrative summary is a much more effective strategy to use when we want to present story segments in a compressed form. For example, to cover passage of time efficiently—summarizing a day, week or year.

Descriptions of scenery over time is better handled using narrative summary. It also is a better way to handle transitions between chapters or scenes.

Use narrative summary to present a character’s interior dialogue. Use it to present what a character is thinking about the current situation not back-story.

While narrative summary should not take up the bulk of the story, it is certainly a tool to employ when events aren’t important enough to be shown as scenes, or if there are too many short scenes in a row.

Narrative summary, when used appropriately, will improve the readability of fiction writing.

More Tips:

Too Much Description, Too Much Explaining
4 Do’s and Don’ts of  ”Show, Don’t Tell.”

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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.

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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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