Time To Write: Red Herring [Creative Writing Prompt – Mystery Month]

Last week’s writing prompt was a Random Words exercise. Check out some great pieces by fellow writers:

Now onto this week’s writing prompt:

Creative Writing Prompt: Red Herring | Creative Writing | Mystery | RachelPoli.com

Write a story based on the word above.

If you use this prompt, please leave a link to your post in the comments below and I’ll share it next week. Please be sure to link back to my blog so your readers know where you got the prompt!

Happy Writing!

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The Best Way To Plan A Crime In Your Mystery Novel [Mystery Month]

I’ve written this post a couple times now. Every time I do, it’s always so popular so I like to rewrite it each year for Mystery Month.

Keeping track of a crime when writing a mystery novel can be hard. There’s a lot to remember – clues and evidence, witnesses and suspects, the overall timeline, and more.

The best way to figure it all out and keep track of it is to answer some important, but fairly simple questions.

The best way to plan a crime for your mystery novel | Mystery | Creative Writing | RachelPoli.com

Who

The who can be a number of people. Ask yourself, Who is the…

  • Victim
  • Culprit
  • Accomplice(s)
  • Witness(es)
  • Suspect(s)
  • Detectives, officers, assistants, anyone solving the crime
  • Friends and family of the victim
  • Friends and family of the culprit
  • Person who discovered the crime

What

The what is the general term for the crime and anything else going on. Some things may not be known right away, but they’ll come to light eventually.

  • What happened? (What is the crime – murder, robbery, etc.)
  • What are the key items? (murder weapon, evidence, etc.)
  • What was the motive?
  • What happened before the crime occurred?
  • What happened after the crime occurred?

Where

Location is everything and sometimes it’s not where it seems.

  • Where does the story take place?
  • Where does the crime take place?
  • Where was the crime found? (Sometimes, bodies are moved to trick investigators into thinking the murder happened in a different place.)
  • Where were the clues and evidence hidden?
  • Where was the culprit hiding?
  • Where were the witnesses when the crime occurred?
  • Where was the victim when the crime occurred? (If a robbery, where did they go?)

When

Timing is everything. When it comes to a solving a crime, figuring out the timeline of events is important.

  • When did the crime occur?
  • When was the crime discovered?
  • When did the authorities arrive at the scene? When were they called?
  • When do the investigators find the clues? Piece together the evidence?
  • When does the culprit get caught? When does the crime wrap up?

Why

The motive is the driving force behind the crime. If there’s no motive, then you pretty much have a flop of a crime.

  • Why did the culprit commit the crime?
  • Why did the culprit choose their victim?
  • Why is the investigator the best one to solve the case?
  • Why does the investigator agree to solve the case in the first place?
  • Why does the crime take so long – or short – to solve?

How

How everything is constructed makes it believable and aids the timeline. It answers last minute questions that anyone may have in and out of the story.

  • How long was the investigation?
  • How did the culprit plan it out? How did they commit it?
  • How was the culprit caught? (Or get away?)
  • How did other characters react to the crime?
  • How did the investigator figure it all out?

A lot of the questions are similar to each other or pretty much mean the exact same thing, but I always find it helpful to comb through it all multiple times and make sure you’re consistent with yourself.

How do you plan the crimes in your mystery novels? What are some other questions you’d ask? Let me know in the comments below and if you enjoyed this post, please share it around!

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12 Ways To Kill Off Your Fictional Characters [Mystery Month]

I never thought I’d write a post like this, but… Here we are.

12 ways to kill off your fictional characters | Mystery | Creative Writing | RachelPoli.com

There are so many ways for people to die. There are four main categories that I personally put them into.

  • Murder
  • Suicide
  • Accidental
  • Natural

I’m only going to list 12 ways you can kill off your fictional characters, but there are many variations of these 12 ways. Not to mention there’s a lot more than these 12 ways.

(I’ll be honest, I was aiming for a longer list, but some of the research I did for this made my stomach turn, so use your imagination, people.)

1. Gun

This is probably the most common, but also the loudest. You can shoot to wound or shoot to kill. It all depends on where your character aims (or how well they aim). This can be used in murders, suicide, or even accidental.

2. Knife

Similar to a gun, you can stab to wound or stab to kill. It’s not exactly as loud as a gunshot, but it’s pretty messy. This would work well for murder, maybe suicide and accidental too.

3. Poison

Silent but deadly – for the most part. Poison can be administered in a number of ways. It can be ingested or administered with a needle and more. Poisons can come from just about anything too – drugs, household items and smells, plants and food… it’s kind of crazy, actually. Depending on the poison too, it might have an immediate effect or the victim might get sick first. Sometimes it could take days, weeks, or months for it to kill too.

4. Overdose

This can go along with poison, but drugs are a problem and can be used in a suicide or it came be an accidental overdose.

5. Hanging

Murder, suicide, execution. I guess it could be accidental too depending on the situation… I mean, it happened in Disney’s Tarzan.

6. Suffocation

I don’t think I need to explain suffocating someone. I don’t know if this has ever been used in suicides, but murders definitely and accidental as well.

7. Drowning

I think this is more accidental than anything else, but it could be used for murder.

8. Starvation

This would take a while if you were trying to kill someone by cutting off their food, but I’m sure it’s doable.

9. Hit and Run or car crash

Usually, this is an accident, but it’s often used as a murder method in movies. Unfortunately, I’ve seen it used as a suicide method on the news in real life. This could be one of the easier ways to cover up a murder too.

10. Natural Disasters

Floods, fire, and the like are known for taking many lives. All of it is the work of mother nature, but fire, for example, can be used as a murder method. It’s called arson.

11. Illness

Sometimes our bodies turn against us or aren’t strong enough to fight off an illness and in turn, it kills us.

12. Old Age

It’s the circle of life.

This was the most uncomfortable post I’ve ever written. It’s also the most morbid. But there you go. 12 ways to kill your darlings.

Do you have a go-to way to kill your fictional characters? Let me know in the comments below and if you’ve enjoyed this post, please share it around!

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Who Is Your Sleuth And Why Does He Matter? [Mystery Month]

Choosing a protagonist for your story – no matter what genre you’re writing – is so important. The protagonist is the one who drives the story forward, they’re the reason the story is happening, the reason your readers are still turning the pages.

My mystery novel is written in third-person limited and I had chosen the wrong character to follow causing me to have to do a huge rewrite. But guess what? The novel is so much better now. It really does make a difference.

Who is your sleuth and why does he matter? | Mystery Writing | Creative Writing | RachelPoli.com

How do you choose who should be your protagonist?

There are so many reasons to choose a protagonist. The character who has the most interesting backstory, the character who’s affected by the plot the most, and also, whichever character is begging to have their story told. (If a character is trying to write the story, let them. It’s just easier that way and you’ll avoid some temper tantrums from them and yourself.)

When it comes to writing a mystery though, there are some things to consider.

  • Which character is the most affected by the crime committed?
  • Which character has to solve the crime for whatever very good reason?
  • How the crime change the character’s life?

What role can your protagonist play in a mystery novel?

Your protagonist can do one of two things:

  • Solve the crime
  • Aid in solving the crime

When I say your protagonist can solve the crime, I mean you can have your protagonist be a number of sleuths.

  • Detective
  • Police Officer
  • Private Investigator
  • Lawyer

And a number of others. I’ve never seen it done before, but I think it’d be cool to have the protagonist be a coroner. My point is, it can be someone who is in the criminal justice or law enforcement field.

But it doesn’t have to be either.

Your protagonist can also aid the main crime solver but be the protagonist:

  • An assistant
  • A friend
  • The accused

There are a number of ways it could play out.

How I chose my protagonist

I have two main characters in my story. George, the P.I., and Lilah, his “assistant.” However, she wasn’t always his assistant. She comes waltzing in to hire him to solve a crime. Lilah’s not one to sit back and watch though. She aids him, much to George’s protests. The crime is personal to her and George needs the money. They both have motive and it becomes personal for the both of them.

I originally chose my protagonist to be George because I thought since he was the P.I. he had to be the focus. The very first draft I wrote, he was dumb. Lilah ended up figuring everything out and she was braver than he was too.

With the help of my critique group, they made me realize Lilah was trying to get her own voice heard. I rewrote it all with Lilah as the focus and it made a huge difference.

George’s personality changed for the better and so did Lilah’s for that matter.

Give your protagonist a reason to shine

Long story short…

  • Let their voice be heard if they want it to be – sometimes you don’t choose the protagonist. They tell you.
  • Give them a motive to solve the crime presented to them.
  • Don’t worry about their title – detective or assistant – as long as they’re important to the story and have stakes, they’ll make a good protagonist.
  • Make them likable and believable – I didn’t mention this because it’s obvious for any novel in any genre, but I felt I should say it anyway.

Choosing the right protagonist is important, but if it don’t get it right the first time, don’t worry. Your characters will yell at you and tell you how to fix it.

How do you go about choosing your protagonist? Have you ever had to do a rewrite because of it? Let me know in the comments below and if you’ve enjoyed this post, please share it around!

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5 Quotes From Sue Grafton [Mystery Month]

5 Quotes by Sue Grafton | Writing Quotes | Inspiration | RachelPoli.com

1. “Ideas are easy. It’s the execution of ideas that really separates the sheep from the goats.”

2. “Thinking is hard work, which is why you don’t see many people doing it.”

3. “Ghosts don’t haunt us. That’s not how it works. They’re present among us because we won’t let go of them.” (M is for Malice)

4. “We all need to look into the dark side of our nature – that’s where the energy is, the passion. People are afraid of that because it holds pieces of us we’re busy denying.”

5. “You don’t have to justify yourself to me. You did what you did.”

What’s your favorite quote? Are there any others you love? Let me know in the comments below and if you enjoyed this post, please share it around!

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Short Story Sunday 212: Number One Suspect [Part 2 – Mystery Month]

Short Story: "Number One Suspect" (Part 2) | Flash Fiction | Mystery | RachelPoli.com

DID YOU READ PART ONE?

“How could we have helped arrest the wrong man?” Lilah said with a grunt. She pushed the front door of their building open before George could even get the key out of the lock. She walked down the hallway with her arms up in the air in disgust heading for George’s office.

“You know,” George said calmly, “we don’t know for sure that we’ve arrested the wrong man.” He pulled the key out, locked the door again, and then closed it listening for the click.

“Right, but we also don’t know for sure that he’s the right guy we arrested.” Lilah commented. She made it to the end of the hall and jiggled the doorknob to George’s office. She sighed turning around to face him. “Why do you always lock your office?”

“In case someone breaks in,” George said already with the key in hand.

Lilah raised an eyebrow watching him come down the hall. “You know, if someone breaks in through the front door, they’ll easily break into your office.”

“You don’t know that.”

“I’m gonna try it.” Lilah replied snarkily.

George chuckled. “I’d like to see that.”

He unlocked the office door and pushed it open. The door creaked as it slowly widened showcasing the dimly lit room. There was only one window in the room and it was right behind George’s desk. It gave him decent light as he worked during the day, but the rest of the room was in darkness unless the overhead light was turned on.

Lilah entered first as George stepped aside allowing her to go right in. She walked straight ahead across the room sitting down on one of the client’s chairs on the other side of his desk. George followed walking around his desk. He turned on his computer and then sat down.

“So, now what?” Lilah asked. She leaned back folding her arms and legs.

“Let’s go over our notes.” George replied without bothering to look up at her. As he waited for the computer to boot up, he maneuvered some papers around the surface of his desk making room for his keyboard and a notepad.

Lilah nodded watching George as he tidied up the surface of his desk. She didn’t have a lot of notes from the case though.

Steven Bell had come to George and Lilah for help. He was having problems with his wife; he had suspected her of stealing money out of their bank account. While he wasn’t sure what she was doing with the money, he didn’t think it could have been anyone else.

Steven had gone to the bank and they wouldn’t give him too much information. No other accounts were touched; it was just his, which lead Steven to believe even more that this wasn’t a random theft.

The longer George and Lilah investigated, the longer they tried to help Steven, nothing was really turning up. They had spoken to the bank with Steven and also to his wife. It wasn’t too much longer after that that Steven’s wife was murdered.

“We walked in on him standing over his dead wife’s body with a bloodied knife in his hands. He himself was covered in blood, his wife’s blood. We didn’t see it happen, but that right there is enough to make anyone believe he’s a murderer.” Lilah said. She gazed at the ground deep in thought as she spoke. “So, why do we both get the feeling that he’s innocent?”

“Because we know Steven,” George replied.

Lilah lifted her head and George was staring at her.

“We’ve gotten to know Steven pretty well over the past few weeks. We even went out to dinner that one time, remember? It started off as business, but they we ended up staying a little longer because we were actually having a good time.”

“Oh, yeah,” Lilah smiled remembering that night. Then she frowned. “His wife wasn’t there that night.”

George shook his head. “Steven said that she was working. That’s why we were able to go over and talk to him about it.”

“Still…” Lilah said tapping her chin. “Wasn’t she a teacher? We went over to their house around six and stayed until ten… Did she have a second job that we didn’t know about?”

George paused and narrowed his eyes. Then he picked up his notepad and started flipping backwards a few pages. “Are you kidding me…? Why didn’t we see this before?”

Lilah bit her lower lip. “Did we overlook something…?”

“I wrote that she worked as a hostess three nights a week at Prevalli’s Restaurant.” George said.

“Oh, that’s right. Didn’t we go there and talk to a few of her co-workers?” Lilah asked.

George put down his notepad shaking his head. “Not after she had died.”

“But Barney went there after she died. We didn’t really have to.” Lilah said.

“We should have.”

“Why?”

“Because now that means Barney knows more than we do.” George stood up from his chair and walked around to the other side of his desk. “We’re on the same side as the police station, but we’re on two different sides of the same coin.”

Lilah crinkled her face in confusion. “Huh…?” Still, she stood up and followed George out of his office. She jogged a little down the hallway to catch up with him as he was already opening the front door.

“Are we going to the restaurant now?” she asked.

“Yes, we should have been there a while. I have a few questions I would like to ask Steven’s wife’s boss.” George replied. He stood on the front porch, waiting for Lilah to pass by him. Once she did, he shut and locked the front door.

Lilah stood in the grass watching George. “What else could we possibly ask them? They already talked to Barney, why do you think they’re going to talk to us about it?”

“I don’t know, but we’ll figure something out.” George replied.

“Can’t we just ask Barney what they said?”

“If he wanted to share what he found out, he would have already told us. If we ask him now, he may share something just to make it seem like he cooperated with us. But he certainly wouldn’t tell us all of it.”

Lilah puffed out her cheeks in frustration. “That’s annoying… Barney is supposed to help us like we help him.”

George stepped onto the curb and walked down the sidewalk towards the main street where the taxis would drive by. “I agree, but unfortunately it doesn’t work that way. The police station is the police station and we’re a private detective agency for a reason. We have less rules to follow.”

Lilah perked up. “We can break the law?”

“No,” George said sternly. “But remember that we don’t have a certain protocol to follow.” He winked at her.

Lilah smiled up at him, though she wasn’t entirely sure what he meant by that.

Words: 1,155

READ PART THREE HERE!

I hope you enjoyed the story! Let me know in the comments below. If you liked this post, please share it around.

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Poirot Investigates (Hercule Poirot 3) By Agatha Christie [Book Review – Mystery Month]

This post contains affiliate links. If you make a purchase through these links I’ll make a small commission at no extra cost to you. Thanks so much for your support!

Book Review: Poirot Investigates by Agatha Christie | Mystery | Short Story | Classic | RachelPoli.com

I bought a paperback copy from Barnes & Noble.

Summary:

First there was the mystery of the film star and the diamond… then came the ‘suicide’ that was murder… the mystery of the absurdly cheap flat… a suspicious death in a locked gun-room… a million dollar bond robbery… the curse of a pharaoh’s tomb… a jewel robbery by the sea… the abduction of a Prime Minister… the disappearance of a banker… a phone call from a dying man… and, finally, the mystery of the missing will.

What links these fascinating cases? Only the brilliant deductive powers of Hercule Poirot!

My Review:

Book Cover | RachelPoli.com

The book cover is simple enough. I’ll admit, I think they could have done better since this is a collection of short stories. I’m not really sure where this fits in with the book, but I do like the art style.

First Thoughts | RachelPoli.com

I bought this book because I’ve been enjoying the Hercule Poirot series. This is the third book in the series and I’ll admit I was surprised when I started reading as I didn’t realize it was short stories at first. I thought it was a novel like the two books before it.

Plot | RachelPoli.com

This book holds 14 short stories, all about Poirot and his partner, Hastings, solving them. Some of the cases were murder, others were robberies or missing persons. Each one was unique from the others.

I’ll admit some of the stories were hard to follow since they were so short. Each story was roughly about 15-20 pages and I felt as though some of them were too short for me to catch up with how fast Poirot figured everything out. I had to re-read some, but I enjoyed them all the same.

Writing Style | RachelPoli.com

Agatha Christie writes in a different style than books typically are today (since this book was originally published in 1924). I’ll admit, it’s not something I’m used to, so there are a few lines I need to read over to comprehend them. I was never one to follow “old English” easily especially since French is thrown into the book as well.

For the most part, it was easy to follow. While I wasn’t expecting the short stories at first, it was nice to read instead of a full length novel.

Overall | RachelPoli.com

This was a nice addition to the Hercule Poirot series. I wonder if there are other books in the series that hold short stories or if this was the black sheep of the series. Still, I enjoyed it and it was nice to read an Agatha Christie book again after so long.

Poirot Investigates (Hercule Poirot #3) by Agatha Christie gets…
Book Review Rating System | 4 Cups of Coffee | RachelPoli.com 4 out of 5 cups

Favorite Quote:

“‘Poirot,’ I said. ‘Am I quite demented?’
‘No, mon ami, but you are, as always, in a mental fog.'” -Agatha Christie, Poirot Investigates

Buy the book:

Amazon

Have you read this book? What did you think of it? Let me know your thoughts in the comments below and if you enjoyed this post, please share it around!

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Time To Write: Random Words 9 [Creative Writing Prompt – Mystery Month]

Last week’s writing prompt was a Sentence Starter. Check out some great pieces by fellow writers:

Now onto this week’s writing prompt:

Creative Writing Prompt | Random Words | Flash Fiction | Short Story | RachelPoli.com

Write a story using all the words above.

If you use this prompt, please leave a link to your post in the comments below and I’ll share it next week. Please be sure to link back to my blog so your readers know where you got the prompt!

Happy Writing!

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How To Research Properly For Your Mystery Novel [Mystery Month]

For me, the writing process is pretty straightforward and fairly simple. I outline, then I write. Then I edit and rewrite and so on and so forth.

During the outlining part of the process, that’s when I do the bulk of my research. When it comes to writing about mystery, there’s a lot of research to do.

How To Research Properly For Your Mystery Novel | Mystery Month | Creative Writing | RachelPoli.com

Who is who

One thing I always look up is ranks of the people in law enforcement, what their job entails, what tools they use, and what day to day life is like for them while working.

For example, I’ll research a coroner and figure out where they typically work, what tools they use to examine bodies, the paperwork they draw up, what they do day in and day out, and more.

The same goes for a detective, police chief, forensic scientists, and more.

How to kill

Yes, we all have to research this. Whenever I Google how to kill someone I always add “in a mystery novel” in case my IP address gets flagged or something… if that’s a thing. It freaks me out either way.

Still, there are many kinds of guns and various bullets. What kind did your killer use? Was it at point-blank range? Where are the best spots on the body to shoot someone? What about the ballistic markings? It’s a lot to think about and a lot to learn.

Plus, there are so many ways to kill someone. How long does it take for someone to drown? What kinds of poisons can someone ingest and how long will it take it to work?

How to investigate

Investigating a crime scene is a process. Gloves need to be worn, evidence needs to go into bags, the scene needs to be taped off, and things need to be out of place.

What’s the process like? Who goes to the crime scene? Who responds to the calls?

And so much more

There’s a lot more to look into, to think about, and to research. Of course, fiction is still fiction and while there should be a little bit of truth in there, you can take things with a grain of salt.

How do you research for your mystery novels? What sort of things do you look up? Let me know in the comments below. If you liked this post, please share it around.

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Writing The Mystery Novel [Mystery Month]

Writing a novel isn’t an easy task to do. The difficulty level can vary depending on the genre you write as well. If you’re writing a romance, things may be pretty straightforward. They’re possibly set in our real world and can be true to life.

Meanwhile, if you’re writing fantasy you may have a lot of world building to do. You might have to create new races and cultures of people, new languages, and go through the motions of an adventure.

Of course, all of this depends on you, your writing style, and what you’re writing. There is no right way to write fantasy or romance or any genre – those are just examples.

Mystery, on the other hand, can be more or less the same. While there are many subgenres of mystery, most mysteries have a common denominator – someone committed a crime and someone else needs to solve it.

Writing the Mystery Novel | Mystery Month | Creative Writing | Novel Writing | RachelPoli.com

What should be included in your Mystery

Mystery novels may include:

  • A crime
  • An interrogation
  • An investigation
  • A trail of clues
  • A list of evidence
  • Suspects, witnesses, and victims (or friends and family of the victim)
  • Red herrings

Depending on the type of story you’re writing, some of those will be used, others will not. It depends on your protagonist as well. For example, you might throw in a rival for your protagonist as well.

The beginning, middle, and end

Going from point A to point B can be a pain. I never found beginning mysteries to be all that tough. There are a number of ways you can begin them.

  • The discovery of the victim
  • At the crime scene investigating already
  • Showing your protagonist wrapping up a previous case
  • Showing the crime itself
  • Having the victim, feeling threatened, seek out your protagonist for help

There are many other ways to begin the story too. Although, I would shy away from having your protagonist wake up… I hope I’m not alone when saying that’s been done one too many times.

The majority of the middle is trying to solve the crime itself.

  • The investigation
  • Interrogations/questioning witnesses
  • Discovering clues and piecing evidence together
  • Following leads and red herrings

Endings are, of course, pretty straightforward. The bad guy is caught (or maybe not – justice sometimes isn’t served) and it’s onto the next case.

While middles can sag pretty easily, I always found writing middles in mystery to be fun and the easiest. As long as you can keep track of your clues and evidence, the timeline, and all the who dun it information, you should be good to go.

Keep track of your crime and clues

In order for your protagonist and your readers to follow along with the crime and be able to figure it out, you need to have all the information at hand. Crimes are confusing, otherwise, it wouldn’t be a mystery, and they can take lots of twists and turns. Again, that’s why it’s important for you to understand everything about the crime and the characters it involves like the back of your hand.

To do this, keep extensive notes. Figure out the who, the why, the when, the how, the where. What sort of clues can be laid out for your protagonist? Criminals are careful, but the truth always has a way of finding the surface.

Leave a trail of clues at a nice pace. Don’t make them so obvious and don’t throw them at your protagonist all at once.

Heed your research

It’s called fiction for a reason, but crimes are solved in a certain way with certain rules in real life. Look up anything you’re unsure of and try to make the investigation as realistic as possible.

Unless your protagonist is the coroner, they will not be performing an autopsy.

Have you started yet?

Writing a mystery isn’t an easy task, but it can be a lot of fun. Good luck.

How do you go about writing a mystery novel? Have you tried it before? Let me know in the comments below. If you liked this post, please share it around.

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