to let aspiring writers knowif they don't alreadyabout
Chris's book, DON'T MURDER YOUR MYSTERY. I picked up the book at the Skill
Build after listening to Chris's presentation and right away I knew she
was trying for something many of these instructional books fail to address
(although they are wonderful for learning other techniques). Chris offers
new writers a chance to learn how to avoid being placed immediately in
the dreaded "NO" pile before an agent or editor gets past their
first paragraph. The actual published examples she uses are wonderful....
Don't Murder Your
From the beginning of this immensely insightful writing manual, Chris Roerden focuses on what it takes to write novels that will survive both an agent's and a publisher's screening process. I spent a couple of years in the early 1990s reading the slush pile at two nearby publishing houses, and I can affirm Roerden's statement that the vast majority of manuscripts submitted to agents and presses are rejected because the writers fail to submit a solid, well-written, and entertaining product.
In the dog-eat-dog world of publishing, Roerden tells us publishers pick very few new writersand only those who look like winnersand they "ignore the rest whose work reveals evidence of average writing, aka 'amateur.'" She goes on to tell us: "The publishing industry cannot afford to gamble on writers who are still developing their potential, who show little evidence of having studied the craft of the profession they aspire to, or who fail to reflect the preferences that publishers and agents state in their submission guidelines" (p. 12).
The book setup is clever. In ten parts, she delineates 24 specific fiction-writing areas to focus upon in revisions. To start out, in Part I: DEAD ON ARRIVAL, she lays out all the reasons why writers simply must write, revise, edit, and format their novels or else they won't be published. In that section, Roerden tells us about THE JUDGES: Screener-outers - and what they look for; THE PLAINTIFFS: Writersand what you hope for; THE DEFENDANTS: Agents and publishersand why they do what they do; and CORRECTIONS FACILITIES: Self-editorsand how to do what you need to.
Each of the subsequent nine parts features one of the 24 fiction-writing techniques, which Roerden, tongue in cheek, labels CLUES. For instance, in Part III: FIRST OFFENDERS, she's got:
CLUE #1: HOBBLED HOOKS
- Replace with high-tensile lines that stretch your holding power;
The advice to "slice, dice, and splice" is quite simply wonderful, and with her terrific explanations, it's easy to remember what she means and apply it to work on a manuscript. In concise language steeped in good humor and fabulous examples, Roerden reveals each of the 24 CLUES (including FATAL FLASHBACKS, TOXIC TRANSCRIPTS, DECEPTIVE DREAMS, DASTARDLY DESCRIPTION, DYING DIALOGUE, KILLED BY CLICHÉ, GESTURED TO DEATH, and many more). She systematically provides tips and techniques for avoiding these pitfalls. The 24 "Clues," when properly understood and applied, will make any author's well-told tale a winner.
She rounds out this well-written guide with an index and four "Exhibits," including: instructions for standard manuscript formatting; a bibliography of the multitude of books she cited throughout the text; a list of popular Internet crime writing sites; and recommended nonfiction in the areas of general writing, mystery, editing, character building, marketing, etc.
All too often How-To guides warn you about basic no-no's, but I've never before seen a guide that does such a great job detailing HOW TO AVOID those no-no's. Using clear-headed explanations, Roerden creates outstanding examples of poor form and uses shining examples of good form from 150 published novels, all of which provides thorough and easy-to-understand instruction.
Despite the title of this book, this How-To manual is not only for mystery writers. I would recommend it for anyone who is attempting to create a finished draft for publication. HIGHLY RECOMMENDED.
L. Lake, Midwest Book Review
ForeWord Magazine Spotlight Review for May 2006
In the Spotlight
Don't Murder Your
Reducing the Carnage
For every author whose manuscript gets published, there are tens of thousands who are rejected. At literary agencies and publishing houses, screeners go through piles of submissions, searching for original voices, attention-grabbing characters, and writing styles that rise above the rest. The piles are large; time is short. The writer who has labored a year or more on a story may have only a page, a paragraph, or a sentence read before the screener moves on to the next submission. It is this heartbreaking reality that the author (who is also an editor and writing teacher) addresses in this helpful book.
Pitched midway between the writing advice books that concentrate on format and grammar and those that outline the large-bone mystery basics such as plot, character, dialogue, and creating suspense, DON'T MURDER YOUR MYSTERY identifies twenty-four aspects of the mystery novel, some dealing with the nitty-gritty of submissions but most discussing topics to help inexperienced writers improve the quality of their written work. Roerden's pitch is to help new writers identify and correct pedestrian mistakes and avoid amateurish writing, so they won't be quickly dismissed by screeners. What she has created is an essential handbook for writers longing to improve their knowledge of craft and technique.
One of this volume's greatest strengths is that it grows out of a large body of experience. Unlike the writer who writes one book, then publishes a "how-to" book, evidently believing that writing is a "see one, do one, teach one" profession, Roerden writes from forty years in the trenches. She has taught writing at the University of Southern Maine and the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee. She has published nine other books, including four ghostwritten for clients. As a writing coach, she has helped many writers improve their manuscripts. She knows what causes dull, flabby, or amateurish writing, and she knows how to fix it.
Roerden has a clear and thoughtful style with multiple examples from published authors illustrating how to write it right and contrasting examples of how writers get it wrong. In her chapter on the importance of "hooks" to grab a reader from line one, she offers this flabby and awkward version of an opening:
"I was lazily watching my tall, well-built body guard mowing the lush green lawn in her bright pink bikini when I heard a loudly buzzing small, private airplane flying overhead. When I looked up, I saw the scary sight of a man's body falling from the sky."
Roerden then contrasts this with the actual opening of Charlaine Harris's Dead Over Heels:
"My bodyguard was mowing the yard wearing her pink bikini when the dead man fell from the sky."
If writers will read Roerden's book and absorb the lessons, the world will be a better place for readers. She addresses irritations such as the "data dump," contrasting it with carefully chosen and telling detail, tired old conventions like the detective staring into a mirror, the unknowing and tiresome use of clichés, jumpy point-of-view, screwy time-lines, and missing transitions. She provides solid advice on integrating setting into story and listening as a way of learning to write dialogue. She reminds the writer not to have characters named Jackie, Ritchie, Teddy, Megan, Marilyn and Margaret in the same story. To bring attention and originality to gesture so that a book isn't full of women perpetually tossing their heads. Each point is made with detailed explanations and supported by examples. Chapters end with succinct summaries of major points.
Some readers may find the structure used to organize the book, a peculiar mixture of medical and investigative technique, off-putting. There's also a tendency toward puns, as the author defines a leading cause of a manuscript's slow death as "adverbosity and adjectivitis." Skip those parts if they bother you, they don't affect the substance of her book.
DON'T MURDER YOUR
MYSTERY is smarter, more comprehensive, more effectively targeted, and
more accessible than most books on writing. While it is designed for the
beginning mystery writer, it should not be overlooked by mainstream writers
or authors with experience. Roerden's clues, especially those later in
the book on cliché and gesture, on learning to show, not tell,
and on style, language, and resonance, offer a thoughtful tune-up for
writers at all levels. (May)
Midwest Book Review
DON'T MURDER YOUR MYSTERY: 24 Fiction-Writing Techniques To Save Your Manuscript From Turning Up D.O.A. by Chris Roerden (40 years experience as an editor in niche publishing) is a no-nonsense guide to improving one's professional writing skills, making one's manuscript more publishable and not subject to common rejection flaws, and learn from the experience of over 140 published writers. While DON'T MURDER YOUR MYSTERY is written especially for mystery, suspense, and crime fiction writers, the tips, tricks and techniques from bewaring cliches or avoiding clumsy and confusing body language descriptions to making one's dialogue snappy, sharpening self-editing skills and much more will prove invaluable to fiction writers of all genres. An enthusiastically recommended, energetic, easy-to-follow guide.
Southern Review of Books
Noteworthy small press books: Dont Murder Your Mystery
If youd like to try your hand at writing a mystery, heres a tip. Get a copy of DON'T MURDER YOUR MYSTERY: 24 Fiction-Writing Techniques To Save Your Manuscript from Turning Up D.O.A, by Chris Roerden (May 2006: Bella Rosa Books).
Roerden ought to know her subject. Shes a manuscript editor, and shes seen most of the mistakes fledgling writers make.
The first readers at a publishing house who review your manuscript are given the job of screening out rejects. They stop at the earliest clues to rejectable writing, she cautions. Out of every 100 manuscripts submitted, 99 are rejected, or as she puts it, dead on arrival.
To help writers find and fix the flaws first readers use to toss works in the reject file, Roerden draws on her 40 years of editing and teaching. She notes, for example, that inept writers typically open with a prologue that cripples Chapter One with chronic low-tension, post-prologue, backstory ache. Scenes are weakened by buried agendas (tension deficit disorders), and reader attention discouraged by adverbosity and adjectivitis, extra words that novice writers think makes them appear creative.
Roerden, who has taught at the University of Southern Maine and University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, speaks regularly at writer conferences.
Lets bottom-line this puppy! When it comes to your manuscript for the perfect mystery and the excruciatingly-painful wait for it to come back from wherever you submitted itdont you want to know that you have done everything humanly possible to make it appealingno compelling to an editor or a literary agent?
Of course you do!
Chris Roerden wants you to know that also. Thats why she wrote Dont Murder Your Mystery, a comprehensive (and almost exhaustive) study in what to do and what not to do in the mystery writing genre.
Let me tell you Ive written a mystery or two, so I get touchy about being corrected on my faults. And, darn it, Chris; you didnt cut me any slack either! You touched on my backstory (your Bloody Backstory section) and my flashback foibles in your Fatal Flashbacks telling, then went straight for the Perilous Prologues that I tend to favor.
I started to feel weak in the knees, like I was going to pass out or something. I mean, I was beginning to think Chris wasnt going to leave me anything to cling to and I was out on a ledge, man! You know, its tough when you realize that all those little tricks and gifts you thought you possessed are Old School and not worthy to put in front of a reader.
But luckily Chris doesnt leave you to twist slowly in the wind. No, she brings you around to face your bad writing habits and helps you to craft a fine mystery. Written up in chapters that are light-heartedly named Loose Ends or Rogues Gallery, she combines her tips on writing into a Writing Mysteries For Dummies type of work; yet, she doesnt depreciate your level of present talent. Instead, her aim is apparent; she works to enhance what you have.
As well, I like her funny notes and experiential witticisms, as well as the many, many citations of mystery writers works. Its always good to footnote and quote.
Chris Roerden backs up her thoughts with many such notations. I appreciated that. And I think you will appreciate DON'T MURDER YOUR MYSTERY.
R.L. Hall, SouthLit Reviews, www.southlit.com
... As I read each chapter, I discovered new reasons why agents reject my manuscript after a partial read. With the exception of the chapter on Prologues and the one on shifting point of view, there wasn't a mistake that I hadn't made. The good news, of course, is that all of these mistakes can be corrected, and thanks to Chris Roerden, now I know how to do it.
Whether you have written a mystery, a romance, some other genre, or a literary novel, Chris Roerden's book can help you improve a lackluster manuscript into something that will catch the eye of agents and editors.
Sam Falco, Florida Writer's Association, reviewing DON'T MURDER YOUR MYSTERY and DON'T SABOTAGE YOUR SUBMISSION
Murder Your Mystery
(Bella Rosa Books, $17.95, 304pp)
Imagine this scenario:
a writer has toiled away on his manuscript for a year and is ready to
send it to an editor he met at a conference. This editor had requested
the manuscript, so the writer, not realizing such invitations are par
for the course at events the editor is hired to attend, is confident the
manuscript will get fair treatment. As insurance, though, he "accidentally"
turns page 33 upside down. The manuscript comes back with the literary
equivalent of a "Dear John" letter. Once the writer's tears
dry, he thumbs through the manuscript and sees page 33 is just as he had
(Scott Nicholson is the author of The Farm, The Home, The Manor, The Harvest, and The Red Church, with They Hunger out in April 2007. He is also vice-president of the Horror Writers Association.)
I finished your book over the weekend, and I sincerely needed to seek you out and thank you from the bottom of my heart. I believe your advice on avoiding rejection may comprise the best technique book I've ever read. The oddest part of this whole thing is that I don't even like mysteries. But after giving some thought to it, I think your book can apply to any genre. I posted a review of your book at my site (www.danbirlew.com), adding a few tips for writers on how to translate your instruction to their own writing regardless of genre.
I've been publishing for nine years now as a work-for-hire contract author with Macmillan, Pearson, Penguin Putnam, and Random House, writing about licensed material. I'm 65,000 words into a young adult novel (I think it may reach 90,000 words). After reading the first half of your book, I rewrote my first chapter and removed a flash-forward style Prologue (because although you didn't say it outright, I think you made some great points about avoiding crazy time and confusing organization). I'm going to hold off on further revisions until I finish the first draft, but your book has already shown me the way.
I just wanted toI don't knowTHANK YOU, and let you know that when I publish my own work ("when," not "if"), you're one of very few people I have to thank!
Sincerely, Dan Birlew
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