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You Can Write a Mystery

3.85  ·  Rating details ·  133 ratings  ·  29 reviews
Award-winning author Gillian Roberts takes the mystery out of writing for the stable and profitable whodunit market. In Part One, she defines the genre, concentrating on core elements of the category, from developing ideas and building character profiles to researching crimes and selecting point of view. Following her examples and exercises, readers will begin to create th ...more
Paperback, 124 pages
Published August 15th 1999 by Writer's Digest Books
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Hákon Gunnarsson
As I’ve accidentally started to write a mystery, I thought I might as well read a book on how it’s done to see if I’m doing it all wrong. I have to say this is a rather good guide actually. It goes through starting the mystery, hiding the clues, red herrings, playing fair with the reader and so on. Most of it sounds like a good advice. There are a few things I think have more to do with Roberts own preference, than anything else.

For example, when she talks about cliches to avoid she mentions ne
Sep 24, 2017 rated it it was ok
Good pointers included:

• Play fair. If your sleuth knows something, let the reader know it at the same time.
• If your sleuth is an amateur, justify their involvement by making the police disinterested or misguided (but not stupid jerks).
• Create characters who stood to benefit from the victim's death. Roberts likes to make each of them lie.
• Amateur sleuths may become involved in the mystery because of a MacGuffin, an artifact that pulls them into the case but turns out not to be the main issue.
Aug 15, 2017 rated it liked it
I struggle with nonfiction. It is sad but true. This is a great book that covers not only the basics of writing a mystery, but the basics of writing any fiction book. And it handles that huge task in around 120 pages! What more could you ask for? It was well written, concise, and the tips were perfect for the budding author. And yet it took me somewhere in the neighborhood of 11 weeks for me to finish it! Something about nonfiction just doesn't hold my attention, even when it is a topic I'm inte ...more
Jun 15, 2015 rated it liked it
Shelves: mystery, writing
This is a fair introduction to the subject, but I'm glad I have a few other books that go more in-depth. The writing here is easy to read and understand, and there are some pretty good tips. The thing is that much of this reads more like a general introduction to novel writing rather than something focused specifically on writing mysteries. I wish there had been a bit more specific advice and less general stuff - I don't really feel that the brief chapter on writer's groups was needed, for examp ...more
J.J. Hanna
Jan 08, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: writing
A good book on writing will not only leave you feeling empowered to write but will also leave you feeling in awe of the secrets that were revealed.

That is exactly what Roberts did in this book. If you've ever wondered how mystery writers do it, how they lead you on a story that simultaneously gives you all the answers and hides them from you, this book is what you're looking for. Not only does she explain some of the tricks mystery writers use to keep you from noticing the important information
Apr 14, 2018 rated it really liked it
Shelves: non-fiction
A Good Starting Point for Writing a Mystery

Writing is difficult. Staring at a blank page is intimidating. In this book, Gillian Roberts tries to demystify the process of writing your first mystery. The book begins with developing your idea and goes through selling your finished work.

I love how the author included examples from well known novels throughout the book. I didn't learn any revolutionary writing information in the book. However, I believe that it is an excellent starting point for some
Tim Suddeth
Nov 09, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Great tips. Geared for mysteries but covers other novels also. Using revealing examples.
Jackie Layton
Jan 05, 2018 rated it really liked it
I found this book very helpful and easy to understand.
In You Can Write a Mystery, award-winning author Gillian Roberts gives aspiring crime writers practical advice on how to produce a marketable mystery novel. Included is everything from "The 15 commandments for mystery writers" to instructions on how to pick your detective and how to decide which kind of story is for you--a cozy or police procedural; a spy thriller or romantic suspense? There are also the seven Cs that good books should never do without--characters, conflict, causality, complicat ...more
Mar 06, 2014 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: writing, non-fiction
This book was wonderful! My only problem with it is that I don't have time to sit down and let my mystery novel pour out of me, the story in my head made better with the knowledge I have gained from Gillian Roberts.

I've read many inspiring writing books. I've read some terrible writing books. I've read books that made me want to sit down and write. This is one of the best "technique" books I've ever read. It inspired, it challenged, it clarified. It is everything one should hope for in a text s
Sep 11, 2009 rated it really liked it
Shelves: writing
I'll preface this review that I am already a writer of science fiction and picked it up to learn a different genre.

This book has lots of excellent advice and even better it is under 200 pages. I have found that books over 200 pages either are full of filler or have too much information to assimilate in one reading.

The book is very different from other books on writing written for the writers' workshop crowd. It is not for the person who wants to write "literature." It is about writing for publi
This book basically jumped off the shelf when I was volunteering at a local library this week. It's not something I would normally pick up, and perhaps none of the suggestions are particularly earth-shattering, but it strikes a nice balance between fuzzy encouragements and step-by-step instructions. It does well by removing the mystique around the writing process (at least, the mystery writing process) and draws your attention to the formulaic aspects that are present in any good mystery. The ch ...more
Rachel Pollock
Dec 10, 2014 rated it really liked it
Shelves: writing
What i really read this book for was the chapters on plot structure and clue deployment, as i'm working on something with a mystery element to the plotting. There are also many other chapters on more general writing advice (how to create complex characters, setting development, finding an agent once you're done, etc) which would be helpful to a beginner but weren't aimed at me as a reader. It's concise and a quick read, and i'd recommend it to aspiring mystery writers, sure. ...more
Papayamariah Whurr
Oct 27, 2009 rated it really liked it
I grabbed this one from the library to use as a reference for this year's NaNoWriMo and read it from cover to cover in two days. I'd give this book 5 stars just for the 15 Commandments for Mystery Writers Who Want to be Published listed at the beginning, but the rest of the book is just as informational. ...more
Adam Graham
Apr 14, 2013 rated it really liked it
Good for what it's worth: It's a great book that covers essential material on writing mysteries (though most of it applies to other forms of writing as well.) Loved the examples and suggestions. Only negative is that sometimes the short length can over-simplify issues such as a 3-page chapter on marketing. ...more
Sep 15, 2010 rated it liked it
Shelves: nonfiction
This was an easy read, but couldn't hold my attention. Maybe I've read too many "how to" books. She did offer a couple of lists of things to consider when writing a mystery. On the whole, it was same-old, same-old. ...more
Aug 01, 2009 rated it really liked it
This book, in general, repeats general fiction writing advice, thus it is not a five star book. However, the chapter on hiding clues is quite useful for anyone interested in writing a mystery or crime novel and the author pulls great quotes from other authors on their process as well.
May 23, 2009 rated it really liked it
One of those Writer Digest Books guides; a straightforward, thought-provoking guide. Books like this can't teach you how to write, but they can jog your thoughts and help you develop your ideas. I got a lot of benefit out of it. ...more
Jun 17, 2008 rated it really liked it
Shelves: writing, non-fiction
This book is filled with practical, easy to follow advice about writing in this genre. I like that the author uses concrete examples to support what she's saying. ...more
Misha Gericke
Not a bad writing book. But it does focus a lot on the basics of writing in general rather than what's useful to know for writing a mystery in particular. ...more
Dec 05, 2012 rated it really liked it
Concise, easy read that reinforced a lot of things I already knew and posed great suggestions that shall hopefully prove useful.
Jun 24, 2013 rated it it was ok
Shelves: writing-craft
Doesn't help with plotting, but give you an idea on plot points to include. I would borrow this book. ...more
Kathryn Johnson
Oct 16, 2011 rated it it was amazing
Excellent reference book.
Meghan O'Connor
Sep 19, 2012 rated it really liked it
Shelves: e-books-i-own
Very useful steps and examples. My only other comment is that she has a lot of tables for the exercises, and they don't format right for the Nook, making each table span several pages unreadably. ...more
Oct 02, 2012 rated it really liked it
Informative, succinct, highly readable. Packed with information and tips.
Feb 16, 2009 rated it really liked it
No, I can't. But this is a good step-by-step guide for those would might be able to. ...more
Aug 06, 2010 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: 2010, 2012
This book is pretty basic, but it contains a lot of good info. Great as a refresher.
Aki Seeroses
rated it it was amazing
Jul 03, 2012
rated it it was amazing
Dec 19, 2017
Anna Carroll
rated it it was amazing
Dec 08, 2019
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