Posted by: nancycurteman | March 24, 2015

5 Ways to Show You Respect Your Mystery Readers’ Intelligence

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th-1Mystery writers need to respect the intelligence of their readers. Mystery fans have a natural interest in solving puzzles. Don’t spoil their enjoyment of sleuthing by explaining everything they should be allowed to discover. Here are 5 ways to show you respect your readers’ intelligence.

  1. Don’t insert yourself into the story by explaining the meaning of what’s happening. Allow the reader to respond to the characters and action on their own.
  2. Don’t overdue the use of adverbs in an effort to describe actions. Verbs should carry the weight of the description. Use the most vivid verbs you can find.
  3. Don’t overdue adjectives an effort to describe places, characters and feelings. Add just enough description to provide a sense of the whole character.
  4. Don’t tell your readers how they should feel. Provoke emotion through character reactions and interior dialogue.
  5. Don’t reveal your own personal biases through your writing. Better to write factual descriptions rather than explicit emotional direction. Better to remain invisible. Let your readers’ own emotional and psychological backstories and personal, intimate temperaments dictate how they respond to your characters and events.

Have faith in the intelligence of your mystery readers. Their personal input based on their own life experiences will increase their enjoyment of your mystery novel.

More tips:

Too Much Description, Too Much Explaining

4 Do’s and Don’ts of  ”Show, Don’t Tell.”

Posted by: nancycurteman | March 14, 2015

Edith Piaf: A French Icon

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thEdith Piaf was Paris. In fact, she was the symbol of all France. In the early thirties her penetrating, defiant, tough, pugnacious yet wistful voice rang out in Paris, first on the streets, later in the clubs and music halls and at last on record players. She sang of the hard times, hard luck and heartbreak that reflected her own life.

Edith Gassion, later renamed Piaf (sparrow) was born in 1915 in a doorway under a light post on Rue 72 de Belleville, a working class section of Paris. At two months old, her mother, a café singer, handed her over to her alcoholic, maternal grandmother who kept the baby’s bottle filled with red wine. Her father found her two years later, dirty, drunk and half starved. He sent her to live with her paternal grandmother who owned a brothel. The filles de joies took good care of her treating her like a baby doll.

At age 15 she became a street singer for coins and was discovered by Louis Leplée who gave her the chance to sing in his cabaret. There in a simple skirt and sweater before an audience that included Chevalier and Mistinguett, Piaf became an overnight sensation.

In 1939 Europe was on the brink of World War II. During the Nazi occupation Piaf was ordered to sing for Herr Goebbels. She flouted the order by arriving hours too late. But she willingly entertained French soldiers in POW camps.

In 1947 Piaf found two loves—Contender for world middleweight boxing champion Marcel Cerdan and the United States of America where she would perform again and again. Her romance with Ceran ended with his death in a plane crash. Her romance with the United States endured the rest of her life. For each performance in the United States and in every country she always charged a flat one thousand American dollars per

In the 1950’s life for Piaf who was barely 4’10” with stooped shoulders, ulcers and arthritis became a series of physical collapses that seemed to be ending her career. In 1959 she arose from a hospital bed and embarked on what the French press labeled “Piaf’s suicide tour.” Friends tried to dissuade her from the tour but she insisted on going, saying, “I much sing! Singing is all I have. If I do not sing, I will die.”

That Piaf was finished was the talk of Europe. She was a physical wreck—broke, broken and dying. Then the announcement came: Piaf would open at her traditional Paris stand, the Olympia Music Hall for a month’s engagement. Stooped, battered, ravaged, her hair a cobwebby nimbus about her face, Piaf stood before a packed house and sang as never before. Day after day people lined up in the street for tickets.

Piaf continued performing until her death in 1963. A hundred thousand French visited Piafs home in the weekend following her death. Four thousand attended her burial in Père LaChaise Cemetary. Edith Piaf will forever remain a cherished symbol of France.

Appreciation to Rory Guy

More on France

The Mystery of the Pear in the Bottle
What Do Ham, Chocolates and Bayonets Have in Common?
Le Petit-Beurre: A French Traditional Cookie

Posted by: nancycurteman | March 6, 2015

How to Avoid Melodrama in Sad Mystery Novel Scenes

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th-2Melodrama has no place in a mystery novel. Unfortunately, melodrama can creep into the sad scenes that are essential to a convincing murder mystery story and sabotage the hoped for effect. There are ways to avoid turning a serious emotional scene into a farce.

Don’t be too explicit. Words that tell how the character feels–heartbroken, devastated, sad, miserable, wretched–do not allow the reader to participate in the emotion. You need to let the reader imagine the emotion based on their real life experience with tragedy rather than telling them how to feel.

Show how your character is reacting to a tragedy through her body language. She moves in slow motion, her body droops, her speech sounds flat, lip trembles. She hangs her head, gulps back tears. Your reader will recognize these symptoms of sadness. Let the emotion come from subtext.

Make character reactions realistic. Consider how the type of character you created would react. A stoic male would react differently than a sensitive little girl.

Keep sad scenes short. A few paragraphs that show your character’s pain will have much more impact than a full chapter of dwelling on the tragic event.

Build up to the sad scene. In earlier chapters, emphasize close relationships between characters. In the case of a death, show the importance of the victim in the lives of other characters and emphasize his good qualities.

Draw a connection to a previous tragedy. Maybe your character’s mother died of cancer and now your character’s best friend has been diagnosed with the same kind of cancer.

Make character reactions realistic. No one in real life would say something like “This is horrid beyond words,” when they witness an accident or other tragedy.

These are techniques you can use to avoid melodrama in mystery novel sad scenes.

More tips:
How to Write Love Scenes that Generate Emotions Not Giggles
How to write Emotion into Love Scenes
5 Ways to Make Your Characters Tap Into the Emotions of Your Readers


Posted by: nancycurteman | February 26, 2015

Le Petit-Beurre: A French Traditional Cookie

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Le Petit-Beurre (literally “little butter”) is a delicious and romantic little rectangular butter biscuit from France.

The origin of the French Petit-Beurre dates back to 1886, when Louis Lefèvre created an original square butter cookie in his Nantes-based biscuit factory in the seaside city of Nantes. Lefèvre was the first to create a cookie factory in France. Married to the beautiful Mademoiselle Utile, whom he adored, he decided to place both their initials “LU” on every biscuit. To this day, the crunchy butter cookie with its scalloped edges, tiny holes on the surface as if pricked by a needle, and a small browned ear at each corner is commonly called Petit Beurre LU or Véritable Petit Beurre and is the symbol of Nantes.

LU’s biscuit factory today produces about one billion French Petit-Beurre a year. The “pure butter” cookie has become a worldwide success. The recipe has been imitated thousands of times, but never equalled! Petit-Beurre connoisseurs even assert that the traditional LU packets contain 24 cookies to match the 24 hours a day. The modern authentic Petit-Beurre indeed perpetuates LU’s reputation as an entrepreneur thanks to its unique brown golden color, square shape and funny “ears” at the corners. Petit Beurre lovers traditionally bite off those corners first!

The two main characters, Lysi and Grace, in my latest novel, “Murder on the Seine,” devour dozens of these little French delights. Try them. You will, too.

The Mystery of the Pear in the Bottle

What Do Ham, Chocolates and Bayonets Have in Common?

Posted by: nancycurteman | February 18, 2015

How Mystery Writers Use Narrative Distance

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In a mystery novel, narrative distance is the difference between the reader’s perspective and the point of view character’s perspective. It can go from the reader experiencing what characters experience (close) to watching them experiencing it (far). There is no right or wrong narrative distance. Narrative distance should suit the story the mystery author is writing. Mystery writers may choose to use near zero narrative distance or a far distance depending on the chapter, scene, or the story.

Far narrative distance puts space between the POV character and the reader. A far narrative distance can make the reader feel like the author is telling instead of showing the story. A zero narrative distance really puts the reader inside the POV’s head. Carried to extreme it can make the reader feel unnecessarily entangled in the character’s emotions.

What should a mystery writer do? The answer is use close or far narrative distance where appropriate in the novel. Here are two examples to illustrate my point—one where far narrative distance is needed and one in which close or even zero narrative distance is appropriate.


Far Narrative Distance

In my novel, Murder on the Seine, I needed a description of setting that my characters would see as they approached a small village in the Pyrenees but that would not need reactions from them that would detract from the story plot:

“Half-timbered stone houses appeared signaling the outskirts of Tare. As they crested a hill the town appeared below them. Cradled in a ring of Pyrenees foothills, it dozed in the shadow of a steep, craggy mountain.”


Close Narrative Distance

In my novel, “Murder Casts a Spell, I wanted my readers to feel the excessive South African heat my character was experiencing without telling the reader my character was hot.

Mandisa reached into an apron pocket, pulled out a lace-trimmed handkerchief, and swabbed her brow and neck. She checked the centigrade wall thermometer and moaned. Thirty-six degrees. Already the corrugated metal building radiated heat like a furnace, and the sun hadn’t even hit its zenith. She gulped down a glass of water, upped the desk fan speed to high and directed the air toward her face.


Mystery writers must let their story dictate their choice of narrative distance. The correct choice depends on the effect you want in each segment of your novel.

More tips:

How to Open a Mystery Novel

Questions to ask before adding details to your Mystery Novel



Posted by: nancycurteman | February 10, 2015

How to Write a Realistic Mystery Novel

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Mystery stories must be realistic because in real life we are bombarded with mysteries everyday—in the media, among our friends and acquaintances, among family members and in our own lives. The trick is how to write realistic mysteries. Here are some strategies I’ve used in creating my mysteries.

I begin by introducing my characters in their usual everyday surroundings. Characters may be going to work, to a conference or on a vacation trip or they may be at home reading a good “who dunnit.”

Next, I introduce a problem that disrupts my character’s peaceful world. Since I write murder mysteries, the disrupting problem is always a murder.

Once my characters are involved in the problem, they begin to look for a solution e.g. the perpetrator of the dastardly deed. At this stage of the story I introduce one obstacle after another. I allow characters to overcome one obstacle then trip them up with another, more challenging problem. Sometimes I complicate this process by adding conflicts within their environment or within themselves. To plump out my mystery, I like to add side problems to my characters’ repertoires of misery such as relationship, personality or value issues. All these challenges continue until the climax of the story which usually involves endangering my sleuth. Overcoming this last most serious obstacle and the secondary issues ends the story. This is the basic plot line.

In summary, mystery novel writers need to show that their characters have goals and are overcoming obstacles in pursuit of those primary and secondary goals which relate either directly or indirectly to solving the murder. These strategies produce a realistic mystery novel.

More tips:

How to Write “Killer” Scenes in a Mystery Novel
How to Write Gripping Mystery Novel Scenes

Posted by: nancycurteman | January 31, 2015

The Mysterious Link Between Paris and an Ancient Fishing Village

Ile-de-la-CiteThe mysterious link between the beautiful modern city of Paris and an ancient fishing village is shrouded in the dense fog of a long-ago time. Over two thousand years ago, a Celtic tribe of fishermen settled on an ideal island in the middle of the Sequana River that runs through the center of Paris. The Celtic tribe called their village of thatched-roofed, mud huts, Lucotocia, a pre-Celtic word meaning marsh, a perfect description of the swampy land on which they lived. Later the Roman conquerors renamed the village Lutetia or Lutèce.

This small village was the origin of Paris. The modern name for the Sequana River is the Seine. Lucotocia Island today is called Cité and is the heart of modern Paris with famous sites like Notre Dame Cathedral, Police Headquarters and the beautiful Sainte Chapelle.

There’s more. The name of the Celtic tribe of Lucotocia was Parisii which means Boat People. This name fit because the only way villagers could travel to and from their island home was by primitive boats. What is the significance of the Parisii tribe? You guessed it. The origin of the name of the city of Paris, one of the most important world capitols, comes from the humble Parisii people.

Historians have only scratched the surface of the mysterious links between Paris and these ancient Celts but the research into the mystery continues.

You can visit the Île de la Cité in my newest novel, “Murder on the Seine

More about the Paris mystery

The Arénes de Lutèce: A Roman Amphitheatre in the Middle of Paris

Posted by: nancycurteman | January 20, 2015

Contrived Writing in Mystery Novels

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KillerIdeasForSafeTravelA common criticism mystery writers hear from editors is that some scenes in their novels seem contrived. What does “contrived writing” mean? What does it look like in a writing piece? What can authors do to prevent it?

Simply put, contrived writing means something happens in a story that has no realistic connection to anything in previous scenes in the novel. In other words, a seemingly unsolvable problem is suddenly resolved by an unexpected intervention of some new event, character, ability or object. A story is contrived if its plot has twists and turns that aren’t properly set up.

Here are some examples of contrived writing editors find in mystery novels:

  • A woman is kidnapped and locked up in an isolated cabin. A detective breaks down the door and rescues her. No explanation of how he found out where the kidnapper had hidden her.
  • A killer chases a mild-mannered bookkeeper through a quiet neighborhood. Suddenly the bookkeeper stumbles on a gun lying in the street. He grabs it and shoots his pursuer. No explanation of the origin of the gun or whether the bookkeeper knew how to handle it.
  • On a clear day, a vicious dog is about to attack a kid. Suddenly lightning strikes the dog and saves the kid. What?

Stories are contrived when the plot is too external– when it feels too much like the author is manipulating her characters and events to make the plot turn out the way she wants.

Mystery writers can avoid contrived writing by laying the foundation for events that are to come (foreshadowing) so they don’t appear to come out of nowhere. Don’t just plop a character in a specific place to advance the plot. To make a story ring true, take the time to create authentic characters and be sure that all their actions are authentic. Make sure it’s the decisions the characters make that effect how the plot plays out.

Authors can avoid contrived writing in a mystery novel by asking two questions: “Would this character really say or do this?” “Would this really happen the way I’ve written it?”

More Tips:
How to Write “Killer” Scenes in a Mystery Novel
How to Write Gripping Mystery Novel Scenes

Posted by: nancycurteman | January 10, 2015

10 Ways to Solve the Search Engine Optimization Mystery

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thIt’s easy to solve the Search Engine Optimization mystery. SEO is simply a process that enables people to locate your blog site and topics online. An effective SEO procedure will rank your site higher on search result pages and produce more frequent appearances of your site/topics on those pages. Here are some simple strategies to help you navigate the mysterious world of Search Engine Optimization:

  1. Decide on your blog topic and stick to it. Web crawlers lose track of frequently changing blog titles. My blog topic is Global Mysteries with a clarifying subheading, Travel the World in Mystery Novels.
  2. Incorporate a key word from your blog topic in every post you make. My key words are either mystery or travel.
  3. Include your key word in blog post titles. Here are a couple of titles I’ve used: “Mystery Novels, Why so Popular” and “Stonehenge and the Amesbury Archer Mystery.”
  4. Place your key word in the first paragraph of your piece, and several times in the body of your post. Include the key word in your tags and your category list. By the way, lose “uncategorized” from your category list. Web crawlers can’t use it.
  5. Cross link between other posts on your blog site that provide similar information. Embed the links directly into your post. Or add a phrase at the end of your piece like “More Information” or “More Tips.” List similar blog posts under it.
  6. Link to other blog sites like yours. On my site I have a blog roll that lists other interesting travel and writing sites. I also have a list of resource sites. I often embed hyperlinks to other relevant sites in the body of my blog posts.
  7. It’s helpful if other sites backlink to you, but it’s not something you can control. Try commenting on other sites. Those sites may backlink to yours. Doing guest blogs is also helpful.
  8. Updating content keeps search engines crawling back which gives additional weight to your site. Try for at least one post a week.
  9. Images can also help hold the reader’s interest and can lead them to click other content on your site, as well. I’ve had several clicks on my images only.
  10. Link to social networks like Facebook. Google+ and Twitter. The more exposure the better.

Remember, Search Engine Optimization allows you to market your blog site at no cost to you.

Check out Website Grader to find out how well search engines are finding your site.

Other Tips:

4 Ways to Use Blogging to Promote Your Mystery Novel 

Market Your Novel For Free


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Everyone has both positive and negative personality traits. That’s part of what makes each personality unique and interesting. So why do many writers tend to paint their characters either perfect or beyond horrid? These characters are unrealistic and thus boring. Readers want characters with whom they can identify—characters who have both positive and negative sides to their personalities. It’s easy to depict protagonists who use their strengths to advantage. It’s more difficult to write about characters who find ways to use what might be a real challenge to an advantage. It’s fascinating for readers to see how a character’s negative traits affect his psyche and actions. Here are five negative traits that make mystery novel characters more interesting:

  • Nosiness. What better way to search out clues and culprits than nosing into everyone’s business. Sure nosiness is annoying, but it’s essential to good sleuthing.
  • Bossiness. Don’t we all hate the person who is always telling us what to do? However that take-command attitude would be advantageous in thwarting a home invasion, attempted carjacking or kidnapping.
  • Finickiness. Picky, picky. Why so particular? On the other hand, what an excellent character trait for a crime scene investigator!
  • Pigheadedness is irritating. However, a good sleuth should pursue the solution to a crime with the stubborn tenacity of a pit bull.
  • This kind of person questions every thing you do ad nauseam. But this is a great trait for detective because no clue or unusual behavior will go unnoticed.

Clearly writers need to give their mystery protagonists negative traits that can be used to their advantage. Important caveat: Be sure to write these traits into your characters everyday lives. Make the traits annoying to the other story people with whom they come in contact. Have your characters try to eliminate the annoying habits. Do this and you will have a sympathetic character your readers will love.

More Writing Tips:

Perfect Characters are Paper Characters
Developing Characters is No Mystery
5 Ways to Make Your Characters Tap Into the Emotions of Your Readers

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