1. – On making the crime of the story matter to the sleuth. This is what is known as the inciting incident. Whether the crime is large and threatens the future of humanity, or small and only threatens a person’s reputation, it has to matter personally to the sleuth. How this fits into a series novel, I don’t know yet. Maybe there must be an inciting incident in the first book and not in the second, but inciting incidents could happen fairly often.
2. – On generating ideas I used to believe that I couldn’t write fiction as I wasn’t skilled at making up things. It turns out you don’t have to be because interesting ideas are all around you. Learn to tune in, and pay attention when your brain says. But the ‘What if…?” question is an ideal generator.
3. – On secrets that fuel your plot In a mystery novel: Everyone has secrets, and it’s the revelation of those secrets that propel the story forward within their situation.
4. – On basing your story on a real person and event: A real character or an actual event can make an excellent beginning point for a mystery novel. A large number of existing events are too bizarre and unbelievable for fiction.
5. – On advancing your character past cliché: Interesting characters startle the reader. Be sure to build a disconnect between your character’s physical demeanour and true capabilities. Then mine the rift, be it through plot and action, reveal who your character becomes.
6. – On profligate adverbs; “Oh, goody,” John said enthusiastically as he smiled radiantly. Eradicate as many of those ‘-ly’ adverb words and replace them with excellent descriptions of what a character does. It’s the: SHOW DON’T TELL.
7. – On the unlikely villain: Yes, you want to surprise the reader. But the surprise has to be believable and realistic. All the evidence has to bein the novel somewhere.
8. – On coincidence: If some major part of your plot hinges on coincidence, readers will cry foul. Sure, there are coincidences in actual life, but your fictional world is far more demanding. Only unfortunate coincidences are realistic in real life and fiction.