Posted by: nancycurteman | April 25, 2011

Questions to Ask Before Adding Details to Your Mystery Novel

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Killer IdeasAll writers understand the need to provide relevant details when writing a mystery novel. In fact, a small detail can lead the sleuth to the solution of the crime. However, a multitude of inconsequential details can derail the reader. Here are  questions to ask yourself before adding details to your story.

• Will this detail increase reader interest in the plot and/or characters?  For example, how important is it to the story that the heroine wore Estee Lauder lipstick? Maybe it’s more important that she had a scar on her left cheek. The scar is more likely to arouse curiosity and speculation on the part of the mystery reader.

• Will this detail add relevance to the story either immediately or later in the novel? Mystery readers love to collect details as they read. They’re hope is they will remember a detail that eventually led to the solution of a conflict or even the crime. Pile on too many details that have no relevance, and the readers’ minds get clogged. Soon they lose track of significant details. Avoid detail litanies like this: The man wearing a gray suit sat on a wooden bench next to a red fire hydrant and read the Mercury News until the clock in the sixty foot church tower across the street, built-in 1894 in honor of Saint Susan, chimed seven times. Whew! Which of these details will impact the story? Have mercy on your reader and cut any that are not critical to setting, character or plot.

• Does this detail describe how someone or something looks? That sort of detail works, but it shouldn’t be the only kind you write. Details about actions, history, worries, hopes, plans and failures provide insight into characters and settings. In fact, the old principle of  “show, don’t tell” certainly applies to details.

Details add interest to a mystery novel only when they contribute to plot and character development.

More writing tips:

7 Story Structure Weaknesses That Collapse Your Mystery Novel

Backstory: 10 things a Mystery Writer Should Know
9 Ways to Create Tension in a Mystery Novel
4 Do’s and Don’ts of  ”Show, Don’t Tell.”

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Responses

  1. […] 4 Do’s and Don’ts of  ”Show, Don’t Tell.” What is Story Structure? 6 Ways to Avoid “Information Dumps” in a Mystery Novel Questions to ask before adding details to your Mystery Novel  […]

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  2. More good pointers. Thanks. 🙂

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  3. Great post Nancy, I may not be writing a mystery novel, but there are mysterious things about both of my main characters, so I find your posts more useful than a lot of things online.

    I agree with showing small details, but relevant ones. I was going through that yesterday and trying to decide what to keep or delete in a certain scene, so this is a great pointer 🙂

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  4. Wonderful examples, NC. Especially enjoyed:

    The man wearing a gray suit sat on a wooden bench next to a red fire hydrant and read the Mercury News until the clock in the sixty foot church tower across the street, built-in 1894 in honor of Saint Susan, chimed seven times.

    Whew is right!

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  5. I usually get caught up in the details – I like details – but I guess readers don’t need to know the minute in s and outs of everything. Great post, Nancy.

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  6. […] Nancy Curteman shares the finer points of the level of detail you put into your mystery novel – Questions to Ask Before Adding Details to Your Mystery Novel. […]

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