Back-handed Writing of Mysteries


Back-handed Writing of Mysteries

Back-handed Writing of Mysteries


Back-handed Writing of Mysteries

Good morning!

Ruthy here with some of the fun things I've learned about writing mysteries.

First, they are crazy fun. And I mean that sincerely. As an author who never thought of writing mysteries who is now a huge fan of writing mysteries, let me just say my fave, fave, fave is writing mysteries with some romance attached.

I love romance.

I love the common goal of solving a crime or a puzzle while we have romantic division because it means that the hero

Back-handed Writing of Mysteries
Shot by Arrul lin/Unsplash

 and heroine 

Back-handed Writing of Mysteries
Shot by Sarah Cervantes/Unsplash

are there organically, not by an engineered plot. And that's a very important point. If the hero and heroine are naturally thrown together by circumstances neither can change then they have a chance to deal... grow... learn... adjust.... and be attracted without it being manufactured. Lots of fires begin with the tiniest spark... that then smolders... flares... and ignites. 

But I also like extended romance plotlines (Think Castle, Signed, Sealed, Delivered, etc.) where the relationship evolves over time and a whole bunch of things get solved. Now that's the premise for the indie series I'm working on to be released in 2023/24  "Perpetual Mysteries", a group of time-slip mysteries that make me smile every time I think of them!

But I owe the skills to developing that series to Guideposts and my work with them in Mysteries of Martha's Vineyard, Savannah Secrets, Miracles and Mysteries of Mercy Hospital and our newest one (another time slip that I love!) Mysteries at the Whistle Stop Cafe'.  

Everything's an education.

When you get a chance to try something new or spread your wings, I say go for it! Learning to work with other authors is huge... learning to develop stories within a story: Also huge.

Look at it this way. A stand-alone mystery is great.

A stand-alone mystery in a line with six or eight or ten other mysteries is exponentially better if you have the setting/characters/ideas to make the mysteries sing. And no matter if you're looking at the indie market or traditional publishing, the more you have, the more you sell. 

I work backwards in a mystery. I need to know the end game to write the story, so once I know what the characters are going to discover.... what the crux of the mystery is... I can figure out a path to get them there. I don't do it mathematically. Not intentionally. I want a beginning, a middle and an end, but in that middle I want them to be surprised... maybe discouraged.... thoughtful... surprised again... scared.... depending on the type of mystery because not all mysteries have a fear element. And I want them to be solving some internal personal problem, see some growth as the character(s) go through the steps.

But first they need a mystery, right? 

A child, given away seventy years ago. Why?

A child, given away last week. Why?

A cache of letters in an old metal box beneath a floorboard.

A bundle of clothing, stained and dirty as if it had been worn yesterday discovered in an old closet that hasn't been opened in a hundred and fifty years because no one knew it was there.

A son not given a stipend by his father... Why?

A woman who can't remember why she's on a quest to a little town in Northern New York but has a pair of tickets for a boat ride there.

Once you know what the question is, you can come up with answers... and then chart the path.

I don't know if it works this way for everyone. I know it works for me.  And while I can write suspense, I veer away from real suspense because I'm nightmare prone. No one needs that. But mystery?

No nightmares there!

I've got a copy of a mystery to send out to one commenter today... Leave a comment today to be entered and tell me what you like, love or don't like about mysteries. And if you're a writer, are you game to give one a try?

Back-handed Writing of Mysteries

Multi-published, bestselling author Ruthy Logan Herne is still having the time of her life as she creates wonderful stories, the kind of stories she likes to read with the kind of characters that live in her town and the small Western New York towns surrounding her. Email Ruthy at, visit her website or friend her on Facebook where you will see she is a flag-waving, dyed-in-the-wool conservative/libertarian-type gal who loves God, her family, dogs, coffee, chocolate and kids! 


17 Comments on Seekerville: The Journey Continues: Back-handed Writing of Mysteries

  • Jan Drexler
    on March 04, 2022 | 08:09 Jan Drexlersaid :
    "I with you in that love of writing mysteries!

    My current series are murder mysteries. Yes, someone dies. Maybe more than one. Victims of the worst crime ever. But then comes my sleuth and the county deputy (and yes, there's a romantic element) to bring the bad guy/girl to justice.

    But the one thing all mysteries have in common is a puzzle to solve! And to lay out the clues so the reader can solve the puzzle with the sleuth, I have to know the answer. Yup, I have the ending set before I ever begin writing the story.

    One thing I also do is to write the story from the bad guy's point of view first - not a full story, but a flow chart of what the bad guy is doing and why - most of it off stage - while the sleuth is figuring out the crime. Then, once I know what the murderer is doing, I can lay out the clues for the sleuth to pick up.

    I never thought I'd love writing mysteries as much as I do!

    Thanks for sharing your process with us, Ruthy, and a glimpse into the kinds of mysteries your sleuths are solving!"
  • Mary Connealy
    on March 04, 2022 | 09:36 Mary Connealysaid :
    "Ruthy, you're inspiring. I've always thought writing mysteries wasthe hardest kind of writing there is. But you do it so well.
    Yay for mystery writing!!!"
  • kaybee
    on March 04, 2022 | 09:39 kaybeesaid :
    "Ruthy, I am always amazed at how you fearlessly test your boundaries and take on new genres.
    I would like to write mysteries and probably will once current projects are out of the way. I used to feel intimidated by the plotting, but really there are books and blogs and Seeker pals to explain how to do it. It's just another level of plotting, really. And it sounds like so much fun!
    The genre I really don't feel smart enough for is sci fi. I could do the "fi," but I'm afraid the "sci" is beyond me. There goes my dystopian middle school novel...
    I agree that a romance in a mystery, or a suspense for that matter, or even in Western adventure is deeper because it's organic and the problem they have to solve draws them closer together. It deepens the story and enriches it. It's not just "he likes her, she likes him, but they have this hilarious misunderstanding."
    My favorite mysteries of all time were the Dorothy Sayers Lord Peter Wimsey books. I love the way he deepened as a character over the series, and how masterfully she described the effects of the Great War on England and the men who survived.
    My current favorite is the Maisie Dobbs series by Jacqueline Winspear, which also go deeply into a complicated character and her journey.
    What I DON'T like about series mysteries is when the author takes two or three pages just to reintroduce minor and secondary characters from the earlier books. Let's get on with it, and if there's a place for them in the new book, they'll find it. My rant for the day. (My literary rant, I'll probably whine about some other topic somewhere.)
    Doing phone interviews for the new nonfiction book, so will be on or near the desktop all day, will most likely be back later.
    Kathy Bailey
    Your Kaybee
    Solving puzzles in New Hampshire"
  • kaybee
    on March 04, 2022 | 09:41 kaybeesaid :
    "Jan, what a brilliant idea, the "bad guy's POV." That way you can enrich the villain, something I respect in mysteries and suspense. Unless he/she is a psychopath."
  • Terri Lynn Schump
    on March 04, 2022 | 09:45 Terri Lynn Schumpsaid :
    "Oh, oh, oh, so much to love! Something about asking a question demands that we look for the answer. You woke up my Nosie Nellie, Ruthie! I can't wait to read your mysteries and poke around to find out how these things are connected.

    I, too, am nightmare prone. Something as simple as a scary commercial can haunt me. Still, my current WIP is a romantic suspense. I think it's not as scary because I'm the one in control and I know how it's going to work out.

    Like Jan, the story really came together for me when I plotted the villain's goals and actions and then worked out how that would affect the hero and heroine. I love seeing how the Seekers do things! When I'm doing something the same way, it gives me a confidence boost and makes me think I might be on the right path after all. Thanks to all of you who blaze the trail and make it that much easier to follow!"
  • Jan Drexler
    on March 04, 2022 | 13:09 Jan Drexlersaid :
    "Even a psychopath, Kaybee! Exploring the mind of a character who believes up is down and wrong is right? That his actions are not only justified, but necessary for the common good? That anyone who opposes his plan is evil and must be removed?
    What could be more fun! (as long as we're still talking about fiction...)"
  • Jan Drexler
    on March 04, 2022 | 13:11 Jan Drexlersaid :
    "I absolutely LOVE Dorothy Sayers!"
  • Jenna Night
    on March 04, 2022 | 13:46 Jenna Nightsaid :
    "I LOVE cozy mysteries! Reading them & writing them. I especially love a mystery that makes good use of setting. Miranda James' Cat in the Stacks mystery series set in rural Mississippi has antebellum mansions and Spanish moss and all kinds of cool elements. HL Marsay's cozy police procedural set in York, England has interesting bits of history and descriptions of the ancient city established by the Romans worked into it without slowing down the story. You're writing time-slip mysteries? I'll have to do a wee bit of research and educate myself on what that is :-) Sounds like you're having a wonderful time with all your endeavors."
  • Ruth Logan Herne
    on March 04, 2022 | 15:02 Ruth Logan Hernesaid :
    "Kaybee, I agree... this is so stinkin' smart! Jan, I love this! Thank you for adding this element!!!!"
  • Ruth Logan Herne
    on March 04, 2022 | 15:03 Ruth Logan Hernesaid :
    "Hey, you're being NICE.

    Are you okay?

    Are you feeling all right?

    Are you on medication, honey???? :)

    Thank you, Mary!!!!!
  • Ruth Logan Herne
    on March 04, 2022 | 15:06 Ruth Logan Hernesaid :
    "I am not familiar with Dorothy so I must check that out.... and good for you, delving into non-fiction! Go you!!!!

    And I think you can slide folks in sideways with clever writing. And not all at once. With so many scenes in a 60K book, why crowd it, right?

    Thank you, Kaybee!!!"
  • Ruth Logan Herne
    on March 04, 2022 | 15:08 Ruth Logan Hernesaid :
    "Terri, I used to do the same thing. When I realized that Margaret Daley wrote in the same patterns I use, I was like YES!!!!!! It made me feel like maybe I belonged after all. I totally get it!

    And I love that we can gather here and talk writing, ideas, methods, etc. Nothing replaces the work involved. That's up to us... but to have that quiet support is a wonderful thing!"
  • Ruth Logan Herne
    on March 04, 2022 | 15:10 Ruth Logan Hernesaid :
    "Jenna, a time slip simply means there's a historical story that either complements or influences what happens in the modern contemporary story. I found while working with Guideposts that I not only loved that idea, I was good at it and so I can play with stories that bring a whole other side of how the past trods the heels of the present and how that affects the people... and even the places. So glad you came by!"
  • Debby Giusti
    on March 04, 2022 | 16:44 Debby Giustisaid :
    "Tackling something new is always exciting...sometimes difficult, but challenges make life more exciting. Good for you, Ruthy, learning the ins and outs of writing mysteries. Were you a mystery reader? I love suspense. Used to read mysteries, but not so much these days. Still, your stories are always delightful!"
  • Sandy Smith
    on March 04, 2022 | 23:42 Sandy Smithsaid :
    "Ruthy, I'm late getting to this today, but had to stop in. No need to put me in the drawing as you know I get the Guideposts mysteries. I have always loved mysteries. Trixie Belden was my absolute favorite as a child. My husband and I love watching the series on Hallmark Movies and Mysteries. But I have always thought it seemed too hard to write. Maybe someday I will try one."
  • Christine L.Henderson
    on March 06, 2022 | 23:36 Christine L.Hendersonsaid :
    "I'm an avid reader of mysteries and am intrigued with the idea of writing a series. I've started a couple of outlines with the victim, murderer, suspects and what they have to hide, but that's as far as I've gone."
  • Bettie Boswell
    on March 24, 2022 | 19:57 Bettie Boswell said :
    "I am a writer who recently became a mystery reader. I would love to give that genre a try. I haven’t been on this blog for a while but the topic and of course the author caught my attention. Thank you for a chance to win one of your stories. Have an amazing day!"
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