Posted by: nancycurteman | July 19, 2015

How to Prop up the Middle of your Mystery Novel

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Killer IdeasThe middle of your mystery novel is the longest story segment in your book. Don’t allow it to sink into a sea of insipid verbiage. I’m referring to what occurs when the prose that fills the large space between your novel’s opening and its climax fails to hold your reader’s interest. The most important strategy to prop up the middle of your mystery novel and prevent a disaster is to increase tension. Know your story goal and don’t let the reader lose sight of the goal or the consequences of failure. Try some of these strategies to prop up the middle of your mystery novel.

  • Each time the hero takes a step closer to achieving the story goal have the villains take a step closer to thwarting it.•
  • Consider how a minor character you introduced in the first part of your story might have a bigger presence in your protagonist’s life.
  • Frustrate your protagonist. Everything she tries seems to worsen her position.
  • Add some humorous or romantic scenes.
  • Have your protagonist discover new things about herself—some good things, some bad things.
  • Deluge your protagonist with internal conflicts that impede her conquering external challenges.
  • Introduce a second dead body. Now your protagonist has to deal with two murders. Will there be a third?
  • Vary your chapters and scenes by writing them from different points of view—the sleuth, the murderer, a supporting character.

Make your mystery novel middles interesting enough so your readers will not skip large segments but will savor the scenes as much as they savor the climax.

Posted by: nancycurteman | July 8, 2015

How to Write Realistic Mystery Novel Settings

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As authors we understand it is essential to create realistic settings for our mystery novels. Setting is one of the elements that enables readers to imagine their way into a story. Physical characteristics of a place might include urban or suburban backgrounds, weather, season, time of day, flora and fauna among other elements. How can an author produce these elements of setting? My solution has always been to visit the place in which I set my stories. Not only do I visit the places I take lots of photographs. I try to include myself in the photos because I may want to use them later at book events. Readers like to know authors write from a position of knowledge when they describe settings.Here are some examples of photos I used to write accurate setting in my latest novel, “Murder on the Seine.”

Grace, one of my main characters, experienced vertigo on the
third level of the Eiffel Tower.



Lysi and Grace, my two main characters, visited
Arc de Triomphe du Carrousel in the Tuileries where
they acted out a humorous scene with a French gendarme.



The Winged Victory in the Louvre was one of Grace’s favorite sites.



Lapin Agile is an historic Sing-Along cabaret Lysi wanted to share with
Maynard, her Aussie homicide detective.



Lysi and Maynard attend a CanCan show at the Moulin Rouge where Maynard
enjoyed the CanCan girls too much in Lysi’s opinion.



They say a picture is worth a thousand words, but it is also a tremendous help to Mystery authors who want to use words to describe settings. Try snapping a picture when you want to remember the essence of a place you want to write about.

More Tips on Setting:

7 Ways Authors Can Create Realistic Settings
How to Write Great Settings: Some Do’s and Don’ts

Posted by: nancycurteman | June 29, 2015

How I Use Social Media to Market My Mystery Novels

Bookmark and Share a723ed50e15501d21e3d8a7d88b5d64aPromoting mystery novels or any novel through online social media is one of the most effective and least expensive ways authors can publicize their books today. Here’s how I use social media to market my mystery novels.
  • • I began by focusing on six social media sites: Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Google+, YouTube and Pinterest. I signed up for each site for free. Clear directions for how to sign up are listed at each site.
  • • I explored what each site had to offer then chose which ones would fit my needs.
  • • On Facebook, Google+ and Pinterest, I chose to create my own page including photos of my book covers and myself along with space to post photos related to my stories. For example, I posted photos about South Africa for my novel, “Murder Casts a Spell,” photos about France for “Murder on the Seine” and Aussie photos for “Murder Down Under.” For example, I used the cat photo above to advertise “Murder Casts a Spell.” Under the photo I typed “Like a good mystery set in mysterious Africa?” I put a link to my novel sale page on Amazon. Simple as that.
  • I used my author name on these pages and as my Twitter handle.
  • On all the sites I created links to my Amazon Sale Page, my website and my blog site.
  • My publisher created and placed a book trailer video on YouTube. I placed it to on my website.
  • I installed Social Share Buttons as plug-ins on my blog. These buttons allow people to share my page on other social platforms such as Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn where their “friends” can read my blog posts.
  • On Twitter I tweet, retweet and favorite others’ posts, and express thanks when others retweet me.
  • On all my sites I’m careful to relate my content to my books. I avoid controversial political or religious topics.
  • I identified groups on Twitter and Facebook who might be interested in topics related to my book and joined them. Some of my interest targets are: Travel, Mystery Readers, Foreign Food Lovers.
  • I joined several virtual reader communities: Goodreads, AuthorsDen, Shelfari and Red Room. Check them out.

The efforts I’ve made so far to promote my mystery novels are just the beginning. I’m exploring more possibilities that exist in this exciting new marketing tool. If you have social media marketing strategies, I’d love to learn about them.

More Tips:

14 Suggestions for Creating a Marketing Plan
Free Book Marketing Using Email
How to Market Your Novel

Posted by: nancycurteman | June 19, 2015

Mysterious Izarra

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thIzarra is a sweet liqueur made in Bayonne in the French Basque Country. It is a popular liqueur with a mysterious history. Alchemists are credited with the original creation of the liqueur because they accidentally discovered extraction techniques while trying to convert base metals to gold. These alchemists gained the title of scientists because they developed the process of distillation, maceration, and blending. Soon monks refined the liqueur recipe in their effort to invent potions for long life and Izarra as we know it today, was born. Some creative individuals used liqueur recipes to create love potions to peddle to love crazed suitors. Joseph Grattau, a botanist, bought the recipe for the liqueur in the late 19th century and named it Izarra (Basque for “the star”).

There are two varieties of Izarra—yellow and green. Yellow Izarra is created from 32 secret herbs and has an almond flavor. Green Izarra is created from 48 secret herbs and has a peppermint taste. In addition to the herbs used in production, both Izarras consist of alcohol distilled with herbal flavorings, a liquid created by soaking prunes and walnut shells in Armagnac; syrup of sugar and local acacia honey. Infusion is the process used to create herbal liqueurs. The infusionist places herbs in a container and pours hot alcohol over them. The liqueur rests for six months in barrels before it is bottled. Izarra like Chartreuse is still considered a medicinal herbal liqueur.

Izarra is ubiquitous in the French Basque Country. The Basque drink Izarra straight, on ice or in cocktails. They use it in chocolates, sauces and desserts. Characters in my novel, “Murder on the Seine,” learn about this mysterious liqueur.

Today the Izarra distillery is still located in Bayonne, on the river Adour, and is open to visitors.

More about the Basque Country:

Basque Country: The people and Culture
Basque Country: The Culture and The People
The Mystery of the Pear in the Bottle
What Do Ham, Chocolates and Bayonets Have in Common?

Posted by: nancycurteman | June 6, 2015

Adjectives Have a Place in Modern Fiction

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Few rules in creative writing are inviolate. This is true of the much-touted view that all adjectives should be eliminated from  writing pieces. I maintain adjectives have an essential role to play in modern fiction. However, I do agree with Mark Twain’s words about the use of adjectives:
When you catch an adjective, kill it. No, I don’t mean utterly, but kill most of them – then the rest will be valuable.

The operative word is “most.” Of course we need to be selective and employ moderation in using adjectives.

Adjectives are words that modify nouns. Simple examples are small, purple, bald and foolish.These kinds of words are necessary in prose to help provide descriptions for the reader. In short, adjectives give us more information about people, places and things that enable us to understand and form a clearer picture of them. A well-placed and specific adjective can strengthen or clarify an image.

The key is, adjectives should be used only when they highlight something the noun can’t highlight. For example don’t use the adjective “high” to describe a skyscraper. The noun, skyscraper, already conveys the idea of height. On the other hand, a moonlit meadow is a good use of the adjective, “moonlit.” It lets the reader know it’s a clear evening in the meadow.

In narratives, it’s important to use strong adjectives rather than broad, meaningless adjectives such as beautiful, pretty, horrible, pleasant, wonderful. However, broad adjectives do work well in dialogue. “‘I had a wonderful time this evening,” Mary said.” This contributes something important to the story.

Specific adjectives eliminate vagueness when used to describe places, people or things. Use them, but choose strong descriptors that create a vivid image for the reader.

Adjectives have their place in modern fiction. Just remember to choose them carefully and use them sparingly.

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

Posted by: nancycurteman | May 26, 2015

Deep Point of View is No Mystery

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mystery1Deep Point of View is no mystery. It is a style of writing that has become very popular in recent years. In this piece I will define Deep POV and share strategies for using it.

What is meant by Deep Point of View?

Deep Point of View simply means that everything that happens in a scene where a main character is present is revealed through the eyes, ears. thoughts and emotions of that character. In short, nothing stands between a reader and the character because the reader is actually inside the character’s head and viewing everything from that character’s perspective.

What are some strategies for writing in Deep Point of View?

  • Remove nearly all traces of a narrator. If you place an invisible narrator between the reader and the character, you’ve inserted an authorial intrusion and distanced the reader from the character.
  • Make sure to only reveal to your readers what your current POV character knows.  For example don’t write, “He didn’t notice Mary leave the kitchen.” If your POV character didn’t notice it, then the reader can’t see it, either.
  • Leave out words such as: He thought or wondered or saw something.
  • Eliminate dialogue tags by replacing them with character action.
    Example: Bob peered into the refrigerator. “I see you took the last beer.”
  • Don’t write lengthy exposition, backstory, and description. Work it in through the characters thoughts, observations, dialogue and actions. Example: Mary gazed at the cloudless sky. It’s just like my childhood summers in Utah with Grandma.
  • Eliminate passive voice. Have your characters do the actions. Make your character the subject of the sentence.
    Example: Mary felt the stinging slap not Mary was slapped.
  • Don’t name an emotion. Make your character feel it.
    Example: Not: She was humiliated. But: Her cheeks burned and she ran from the room holding back sobs.
  • Italics are not necessary in Deep POV when a character is simply reporting his thoughts.
    Example: He stared at the angry bull and shook his head. It could trample a person to death in ten seconds.
  • Don’t have characters notice things they wouldn’t normally care about like brand names or designer labels.
    Example: John rode into town after a month on the cattle range. He noticed the pretty girl in the Chanel suit. (Most cowboys wouldn’t notice a Chanel label).
  • Leave out prepositional phrases used to clarify an action.
    Example: He clenched his teeth and glared at her in anger. (The actions make it clear he was angry. No need to explain to your reader).

Deep Point of view is no mystery. It’s a good POV writing technique, but not the only one. Only use it if it works for you.

More Tips:

5 Elements of Writing Craft
Tips on Changing Point of view in Mystery Novels

Posted by: nancycurteman | May 13, 2015

How to Solve the Interior Monologue Mystery

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the_thinkerInterior monologue is really no mystery. It is the expression of a character’s thoughts, feelings, and impressions in a narrative. It is a way to present a character’s inner emotions and sensations to the reader. The written word is the only method that allows readers of fiction to know a character’s thoughts directly. It’s not possible in movies or radio broadcasts. We can only guess what the character is thinking based on his comments and body language. This ability to experience what life is like inside a fictional character’s head, witnessing everything they think and feeling everything they feel, is one of the main reasons people read fiction. This ability is one of the huge advantages of novels and short stories.

Interior monologues can be short—just a quick line of thought, or long—a paragraph or even a few pages. Short interior monologues are best placed in the middle of scenes. Long interior monologues work best during interludes between scenes.

There are two kinds of interior monologues, direct and indirect. In direct monologues there is no author intrusion. The reader is overhearing the thoughts flowing directly through the characters mind. Indirect monologues are selected and narrated by the author with his evaluative comments.

Writing interior monologues is no mystery. Here are some basic strategies:
• Never use quotation marks around a character’s thoughts.

• Place short interior monologues in scenes where the action and dialogue in novels take place. It’s important not to disrupt the action in the scene. One or two lines of thought will not slow the pace of the story.

• Save the long interior monologues for the interludes in which the action has slowed and the character is taking time to review what happened in the previous scene and to generate his next action plan. Character pondering may take several paragraphs or even a few pages.

• Most novels are written in third person past tense. In this case, italicizing interior monologue is not necessary. When both the thought and the text surrounding it are in the same voice and tense there is no need for italics. In addition, italics are difficult to read. On rare occasions italics can be used to emphasize a character’s thoughts.

• Using tags such as “she thought” and “he wondered” is usually not necessary. When the narration is close and intimate, and the language is beginning to approximate the viewpoint character’s own speaking voice, tags won’t be necessary.

• It’s important to make it clear that the words are the character’s thoughts, and not the narrator’s words.

Interior monologue is a great tool for sharing your character’s inner emotions and sensations with your readers.

More Tips:
Interior Dialogue: A Great Tool for Mystery Writers

Posted by: nancycurteman | May 2, 2015

The Black Forest: Kirsch, Cake, and Cuckoo Clocks

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Germany takes great pride in the beautiful mountain range they call The Black Forest. This sea of green is located in the state of Baden-Württemberg in southwestern Germany. The name, Black Forest, comes from the dark green colors of the conifer trees that make up the forest.

The region is famous for its handcrafted cuckoo clocks. We visited the House of Black Forest Clocks, a family owned producer of cuckoo clocks. We saw a demonstration of the process involved in making these unusual clocks. The quality and variety of the clocks was astounding. There was even a huge clock with life-size dancers performing on the hour.

The Black Forest area is also famous for its Black Forest Cherry Cake. The cakes are a luscious combination of chocolate, whipped cream, cherries and a generous portion of Kirsch. Kirsch liqueur is a German specialty made from tiny sour cherries about the size of

The lovely scenery, adorable cuckoo clocks and Black Forest Cherry Cake make a trip to the Black Forest an unforgettable experience.


More Travel Tips:

Berlin’s Kindl-Schultheiss Brewery

The Best-Known Song in History: Lili Marleen

Berlin’s Charlottenburg Palace: A Trip Back in Time


Posted by: nancycurteman | April 24, 2015

Secrets of a Well-Paced Novel

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 top_secret Pacing refers to the variations in the rate of speed your characters move through scenes and chapters to reach the end of their story. Pacing differs with the specific needs of a story. There are times when you will want to slow things down or speed them up. If an event in a story is important, slow it so readers can linger over it. If it is not, speed through it so you can quickly move to more interesting scenes. To understand the variables involved in pacing, we need to understand the relationship between scenes and interludes.

Interludes happen between scenes. During an interlude characters think about or discuss with another character what happened in the previous scene and then decide what they will do in the next scene. Interludes should happen more quickly than scenes. Interludes can be a couple of pages long or as short as two words: “Two hours later…”

In a scene, a person or a situation must be altered. If nothing is changed, it’s an unnecessary scene. Pacing can vary inside a scene. For example, the scene’s opening is usually not filled with action. In pacing terms, it should happen fast and be over quickly. The action part of a scene should be full of conflict, and needs meticulous attention. This means showing in such a way that everything essential to the scene is described in vivid, sensory detail.


• Create scenes that read slowly, are packed with action and engender some intense emotions in your reader.
• Focus on your character’s movements, emotions, attempts at solving his problem.
• Use sensory details to create a feeling of immediacy and urgency. This makes a scene feel faster even though it takes several pages to read. Let your reader see the gaping wound, experience the fear, see the sweat.
• Buildup to the scene’s climax.
• Keep sentences short. Use some fragments.
• Replace adjectives and adverbs with strong verbs and nouns. • Keep dialogue tight.

• Create interludes that read fast and allow your reader to catch her breath.
• Use descriptive passages such as culture, character background, local color, clothing, and weather.
• Have your character think about his situation, make decisions and plan his next action.
• Use longer sentences with more visual details.
• Accompany dialogue with more description.

Pacing is a complex literary skill. Consider carefully how you will pace the events in your story.    

More Tips:

Pacing: A Critical Element in the Mystery Novel

Posted by: nancycurteman | April 17, 2015

11 Characterization Strategies

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A few weeks ago, I began a series of posts on writing craft. I listed 5 elements with brief descriptions of each. I indicated my next series of blog posts would explore in greater detail each of the 5 elements. I posted a piece about Plot. Now I will detail Characterization. In my general writing craft post I defined Characterization as 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). Here are 11 characterization strategies with examples:

Physical Description is the most common. It is not complex. You simply describe what you want your reader to see.
Dark brown hair cascaded over her shoulders almost touching an ample waist. Bright brown eyes, rosy cheeks and plump lips drew attention away from her large nose.

Names can tell a lot about a character’s background, educational level, profession and where they live.
A man who answers to the name Junior may not conjure up the same image as one who answers to the name Big Mike. Candy LaMar presents a different kind of woman from Elizabeth Goldmeir.  Janek Kitajewski may have a very different background than Jim Smith.

Actions depict how characters act physically or verbally and how they interact with other characters. Their behavior can indicate whether they are humble or arrogant, good-natured or mean-spirited, sympathetic or selfish, refined or uncouth.
She walked right past the new girl, refusing to even acknowledge her existence. She then approached a friend, cupped her hand to her friend’s ear, pointed at the new girl and sneered.

Environment refers to the world in which a character lives, or has lived. A person’s country, city, home or bedroom can reveal a lot about him and in fact, plays an important role on his development.
As soon as he mentioned he lived on a farm in the mountains of West Virginia, she knew he would have a difficult time fitting into her Manhattan, high-rise world.

Interests can be important in characterization. Frequently certain personality types fit certain kinds of interests. A chess player may have a very different approach to life than a fast-paced video gamer. A rock climber may view life from a different perspective than a beachcomber.
His intense interest in his gun collection made her uncomfortable.

Mannerisms are gestures, stances, repetitive behaviors. They can characterize story people as annoying, strange, lovable or any way you want to depict them.
He noticed she seemed to continually blink her eyes. Not a good habit. He decided to quit his own bad habit of cracking his knuckles.

Attitude describes how a character looks at life’s events, obstacles and little foibles. A character may view other characters and experiences with a positive, negative, biased, superior or neutral attitude.
She stopped making suggestions because he always greeted her ideas with a disdainful expression.

Dialogue is not just the words a character says, but the way in which they say them. The words they use can indicate intelligence, ignorance or educational background. The speed at which characters speak can indicate nervousness or relaxed. If the speech is overly hesitant, the character may be shy or unsure about something. Specific accents can indicate the speaker’s nationality.
He spoke in a slow drawl, halting every few seconds. She thought he might be a slow thinker from Mississippi or just plain scared to death.

Thoughts reveal the true feelings of a character. Are they confident or insecure, happy or sad, frightened or brave, honest or dishonest.
I have to get away from him before I go crazy, she thought. I’ll leave tomorrow while he’s at work. She kissed her husband and rolled to her side of the bed. “Goodnight, Darling,” she said.

The way other story people view your character is an effective characterization strategy. They can react to him any way you choose. They can admire him, hate him, envy him, feel uneasy, excited, anxious, angry or scared around him. You can have them view him quite differently from the way he views himself.
He smiled often, but his colleagues viewed him as a dangerous threat to be feared and watched.

Past experiences make us what we are. Your character is the product of everything that has happened to him in his life. Give your character a unique history to which he has responded in his own unique way and you will have a memorable character.
The freezing cold foxholes reminded Jake of the icy Minnesota winters of his boyhood. Maybe not quite so cold.

Careful attention to characterization will create a unique and memorable character.


5 Ways Negative Traits Make Mystery Novel Characters More Interesting
Perfect Characters are Paper Characters
Developing Characters is No Mystery

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