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  1. #1
    antonio smith
    Guest

    "Description" in Mystery Writing

    I have a finished mystery novel -- or at least I thought so. Someone read it and criticized the description. The story takes place in the 50's, and he just didn't feel enough of a sense of that era, and didn't feel there was adequate engage-the-senses description in general.

    I agree with him, but I have a dilemma. On the other end of the spectrum is the school of thought that says don't include even an extra word that doesn't move the story forward (especially for a mystery). I tried to follow that, and went a little too far. I'm struggling with the notion of adding stuff that's not gratuitous.

    Can you recommend any mystery novels that you feel have just enough compelling description to make the reader see/hear/feel/taste the story, but not so much that it bogs down the pace? Any mystery authors that are known for their excellent description? Any good books/articles/web sites that provide advice on this? Any other tips? Thanks!



  2. #2
    Finnley Wren
    Guest

    Re: "Description" in Mystery Writing

    I think you need to use words both to move the plot forward and also to reveal character. Perhaps (for example) you can use descriptions of the seedy haunts or bars your protagonist frequents to both give more a sense of the time as well as to reveal his character. Maybe he has a personality quirk, e.g. he is a sucker for Bobby Darin / Sandra Dee flicks, or laments what this newfangled thing called "Rock and Roll" is doing away with his beloved Big Band music or something. Throw in some of the jargon of the day, daddy-o!

    One of the best writers who places you square in the era he writes about is James Ellroy. "L.A. Confidential" was made into a flick, but I'd suggest you also read "The Big Nowhere." I remember enjoying a book called "Mobtown" by Jack Kelly that took place in Buffalo of the fifties. You might also go straight to the source and read some of the hardboiled stuff that was written in the fifties. Mickey Spillane, David Goodis, et. al. Good luck!

  3. #3
    R. Radish
    Guest

    Re: "Description" in Mystery Writing

    >>>Can you recommend any mystery novels that you feel have just enough compelling description to make the reader see/hear/feel/taste the story, but not so much that it bogs down the pace?

    You describe any good mystery, or any good story for that matter. What mystery authors have you been reading?

    Among thousands of others, try "The Last Good Kiss" by James Crumley. Or JDMacDonald's Travis McGee series ["The Lonely Silver Rain" is among best]. Or Laurence Block. Raymond Chandler. I just finished a fun read: "Blackmailer," by George Axelrod [first pubbed in 1952]--main character's an NYCity publisher.

    The forward dynamic, the unfolding of plot, is critical, but not sufficient, for a good read. Plot progression is comparable to say, a car's engine, gas/brakes, steering. But environmental factors make the ride pleasant--suspension, comfy seats, leg room, heating and air conditioning, acoustic insulation, sound system. Just moving isn't enough. Reader needs a sensory experience, not merely a kinetic one.

  4. #4
    nom de plume
    Guest

    Re: "Description" in Mystery Writing

    After reading these posts, I did a search on Mickey Spillane. I've never read any of his books but I certainly will now after reading a few excerpts (fast-paced writing!) here:

    http://pages.interlog.com/~roco/excerpts_more.html

  5. #5
    Beautiful Loser
    Guest

    Re: "Description" in Mystery Writing

    And Then There Were None, Agatha Christie.

  6. #6
    Granny Ten
    Guest

    Re: "Description" in Mystery Writing

    Read anything by Charles Todd. He does a wonderful job setting the scene in the 1920's. Agatha Christie is great, too, PD James, comes to mind. Remember, also, that description does move the story along. If the reader doesn't know where he is, he'll not have a sense of story. Oh yes, and Raymond Chandler and Patricia Highsmith. And, did you live in the 50's. I was a teen then. Talk to someone who was alive then.

  7. #7
    C DyVanc
    Guest

    Re: "Description" in Mystery Writing

    Antonio,

    Have you ever heard of the movie Along Came a Spider?

    Well it's part of a book series by James Patterson. He's a NY Times Bestseller. Read his stuff. It's more of a thriller type, but he writes it in such that it could be considered a mystery. Maybe that's just my opinion.

    But I would still recommend his books.

    Good Luck

    DyVanc

  8. #8
    R. Radish
    Guest

    Re: "Description" in Mystery Writing

    ...forgot to mention:

    >>Any good books/articles/web sites that provide advice on this? Any other tips

    "Description" by Monica Wood. She addresses the problem of using description to move the story.

  9. #9
    Beautiful Loser
    Guest

    Re: "Description" in Mystery Writing

    <http://www.fantasticfiction.co.uk/years/1952.htm>

  10. #10
    Joe Zeff
    Guest

    Re: "Description" in Mystery Writing

    You've all missed one of the best: Dashiel Hammett. The descriptions in The Maltese Falcon drop you right into the middle of '30s San Fransisco, and those in The Dain Curse make you feel like you've been wandering all over the Bay Area. In fact, that second book is so good that you'll probably never even notice that the first-person narrator neither describes himself or even tells you his name.

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