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How to Write a Damn Good Mystery: A Practical Step-by-Step Guide from Inspiration to Finished Manuscript
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How to Write a Damn Good Mystery: A Practical Step-by-Step Guide from Inspiration to Finished Manuscript

3.93 of 5 stars 3.93  ·  rating details  ·  199 ratings  ·  28 reviews
Edgar award nominee James N. Frey, author of the internationally best-selling books on the craft of writing, How to Write a Damn Good Novel, How to Write a Damn Good Novel II: Advanced Techniques, and The Key: How to Write Damn Good Fiction Using the Power of Myth, has now written what is certain to become the standard "how to" book for mystery writing, How to Write a Damn ...more
Hardcover, 288 pages
Published February 12th 2004 by St. Martin's Press
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Jim Frey is qualified to tell people how to write a good mystery novel because he has written several which I have never read and has taught in lots of writers' workshops of which I have never heard. His text is adequate but flawed in several respects. He insists on using the modifier "damned good" in front of nouns like sentence, plot, scene, character, complication, resolution and the like ... doubtless in furtherance of what he considers to be a clever book title. He offers ou... (show more)
Tyra Masters-heinrichs
A must read for those writing in the mystery genre and wanting to understand how this genre differentiates from other genres. A great into and confidence builder for writers.
Jeffrey Hammerhead
This book gave me som great insights on how to improve my craft of writing. A must for all mystery writers.
There's a lot of solid advice in this book, if nothing (much) new to anyone who's familiar with the writing process and/or mystery novels. I suppose I have spent quite a bit of time and energy thinking critically about how mystery novels are put together - writing a PhD thesis on the topic will do that to you, as will reading (and watching) almost exclusively mysteries. I haven't taken any creative writing courses since one taught by a TA who clearly didn't want to be there, but a lot of Frey's ...more
One of the better how-to-write books that I've come across, despite some (personal) annoyances (see below). Frey takes the fledgling writer from the beginning of why to write a mystery (quite an interesting chapter) through the acutal process of writing (including character creation and development) right up to how to find an agent and work with an editor. I especially liked how he took you step-by-step through the writing process, with an actual example (personally, I learn better that way).

Jackie Franklin
Jul 27, 2009 Jackie Franklin rated it 4 of 5 stars
Recommends it for: anyone interested in writing
Recommended to Jackie by: a good reads reader
I have always loved to curl up in bed after a long day and pick up a good mystery, usually Mary Higgins Clark but unfortunately I could not find a book about her experience as a writer. So, I found one by James N. Frey, How to Write a Damn Good Mystery. The title alone spoke to me. It sounded daring, exciting, and to the point. I was right; I read the book in 4 days, easily. When writing for the first time or changing your style of writing I believe this would be the most practical way of going ...more
Frey takes his clever title a bit too far by overuse of the adjective phrase "damn good" throughout the text, but the book itself is quite interesting. I am inspired to read his other writing how-tos (which he also mentions perhaps too frequently throughout this book). I do wonder, however, if much of the basic information will be repetitive. We shall see.

Reading How to Write a Damn Good Mystery feels a bit like taking a creative writing class, without the assignments and grades. It would be hel
It's hard--and maybe not fair--to evaluate a how-to book when you haven't executed whatever project the book outlines. I haven't written a mystery, either following James Frey's method or any other approach. But books about writing make up a good portion of my leisure reading, so I can compare this one to others. Frey's approach seems executable and potentially effective; as evidence, he's coached a number of successfully published mystery writers and has published several of his own mysteries. ...more
Frey claims that the mystery genre is the last bastion of the hero. I think it is his take on this genre, which causes him to urge writers to draw vivid mythic detectives for this long tradition of good battling evil. He also stresses that killers be formed into round characters, worthy, strong and intelligent, thereby making the hero/detective speedup his or her manhunt, while rising to greater strengths of logic and risk.

James N. Frey knows what makes mystery novels successful. His points offe
This one needs a 6 star rating. He spells out the process with such simplicity and inspiration it made me want to write mysteries, and to read the one he used for an example. This series is a brilliant how-to for writing, and it's done with fun. What more is there to ask for?
Terry Irving
I read this, among a bunch of other such books, before I started to write "Courier." It's a useful book because (like "How to Write a Movie in 21 Days"), it breaks down your reluctance to launch into writing. I know there are many many more aspects to writing a novel but Frey either simply tells you to forget them or simplifies them to the point where you can't use fear as an excuse not to write.

That, and as far as I can tell, if you aren't writing Great Literature, he's correct on all the esse
Tim Williams
I'm usually pretty reserved in my ratings for how-to writing books. Most have advice that is cheer leading or conjecture, often bad at that, and don't give any actionable advice. This one is different. It does. Not applicable to everyone and not suited to individuals who want to be artists or pantsers. It attacks the goal of getting published by treating your work as a product. LOTS of example work (I tended to skim that) but it is there for as much as you need that additional support. You will ...more
Sue Tabaka-kritzeck
This is the second of Frey's books on writing I have read. Must say that using his idea of writing journal entries in the voice of the character has helped me flesh out ideas and given my characters more personality.
I like Frey's irreverent tone, and I do think he has some good advice for writers, but the story he mocks up is full of cliches and uninteresting characters, and at times the prose makes it seem like he's very stuck on his way of doing things without acknowledging that different writers write differently. Worth a read, certainly, but you might get more out of his book The Key with its focus on archetypes and the hero's journey. A lot of that (and apparently material from his other books) is reha ...more
Kelly H. (Maybedog)
I read another book by him, How to Write a Damn Good Thriller: A Step-by-Step Guide for Novelists and Screenwriters, that I thought was terrible. I don't think I would find this helpful.
Amy Wadsworth
One of the things I loved about this book was the example that Frey used to support his technique. Not only does he tell the mystery writer what to do, but he gives an example as he creates an outline for a new story. Two outlines, really--what the reader sees and what he doesn't see. Great book whether you're writing mysteries or not because of the idea that there is more going on in a story than what the reader sees, which is true in all fiction!
Excellent instruction that is easily grasped through the examples given for each topic covered. Helped me get my confidence back.
Candy Lyons
This book was extrememly helpful in plotting the mystery element of my romantic suspense. I learned a lot about mystery plotting and creating a murderer from Frey in this how-to. I read through the whole book in one day. So it's an easy, fast read. I took copious notes to help me with my own writing and advise others. I really enjoyed it.
Jean Oram
This one goes through step-by-step with a very methodical way of building your mystery. I think if you follow his approach, you will have less plot point edits on the backend. However, you will have to be careful not to plan everything out so much it takes the fun out of the actual writing and closes off surprises.
Michael Mc Donnell
Soom good advice obfuscated by unhelpful biased personal opinion and page after page of useless examples which failed to express the values the author expoused or demonstrate the lessons he was trying to teach. Also a large amount of material rehashed (or straight up cut and pasted) from his earlier books.
Benjamin Boss
I love books on writing. And I've enjoyed a few others by Frey. Damn Good Mystery is a fine practical and entertaining book on writing mysteries, however, much of his advice is reworked material from his other books.
Susan Bischoff
Mar 26, 2013 Susan Bischoff rated it 5 of 5 stars
Recommends it for: commerical fiction writers of all sorts
I picked this up hoping it would help me be a bit less...linear. I was surprised at how much I enjoyed it and how much information it has on writing a good novel in general as well as a mystery in particular.
Still reading this book at present but so far I am impressed. Will update this review when I have finished the book.
Not the best. A lot of time spent dissecting one of his own novels, which I found tedious.
Not as good as Roerden's Don't Murder Your Mystery, but does have some good advice.
Adam Ross
A solid book on how to build a mystery. Good advice contained herein.
Feb 28, 2011 Mary added it
It is an excellent book on the fundamentals of writing a mystery.
I read this as part of research in to writing my Kidz RPG.
Mike Stop Continues
Mike Stop Continues marked it as to-read
Mar 28, 2015
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