Sunday, 25 September 2022

As seen on SLEUTHSAYERS...posted here for the convenience of my regular readers ~

SIX Reasons Mystery Manuscripts Fail


 I was talking to a former student the other day about his classic mystery manuscript.  It's really good in so many ways - so good in fact, that it was shortlisted for the Crime Writers of Canada Unpublished Manuscript award.  However, this manuscript has yet to to be picked up by a publisher or agent.

So that got me thinking, why not?  What could be the reasons novice novel writers might just miss the boat?

So here goes.  Based on my reading of over 1000 manuscripts (from being a judge of various contests, and being a teacher of advanced novel writing for over thirty years) here's what comes to mind first. 

Why Mystery Novels Fail:

1.  Too Many Characters

I was reading a manuscript the other day that had me so confused, I went back to review my own work.  In my latest novel (The Merry Widow Murders, out early 2023 from Cormorant) I have 12 named characters.  The protagonist, her sidekick, her lover, six suspects and or victims, plus three secondary characters (total 12.)  I then went to my client's manuscript and stopped counting at 20.  

Too many character can be hard to keep straight and will take a reader out of the story.  In this case, I advised combining a few characters and not naming people who only appear as support (the taxi driver, the Porter, the woman behind the cash.)

2.   No Clear Protagonist

So many times I've heard students say to me, "Oh, my novel has three protagonists."  And I calmly tell them the accepted definition of a novel:  A protagonist with a problem or goal, and obstacles to that goal.

The problem with having more than one protagonist, I explain, is the reader doesn't know whom to root for.  Have you ever dropped a book after about ten pages?  Chances are, you didn't care about the protagonist.  

The first job a novelist has is to make readers care about the protagonist, so they will want to find out what happens to him/her/they.  Of course you can and should have strong secondary characters.  I always recommend a close sidekick, for the reason below.

3.  No Close Sidekick 

It's a trick experienced novelists have, you might say.  Give you protagonist a sidekick to talk to, so that there aren't pages and pages of internal monologue.  Dialogue is active; monologue is telling.  Give your protagonist a Dr Watson or Captain Hastings, and they can discuss the case together, making it a much more dynamic read.

4.  Not Enough Suspects

This should be obvious.  A mystery novel should be a mystery until the very end, when you find out whodunit.  I've queried several publishers, and they tell me you need at least three good suspects for a mystery novel.  Even better if you can develop five.  If you have only one good suspect and he/she/they is obvious from the start, then it's not a mystery!   It may still be a crime novel (including caper, suspense or thriller) but if the perp is obvious, well you're simply not writing classic mystery.

5.  Violating the rule of Chekhov's Gun

Yes, that Chekhov - the one we tried to get out of reading in high school.  To paraphrase his famous rule:  If you point out there is a gun hanging on the wall in the first chapter, it absolutely must be fired by the end of the book.

I was reminded of this rule while reading a manuscript recently that had the action chapters interspersed with the insertion of diary excerpts.  Trouble was, the diary excerpts were several pages long, and the reader (me) had no idea why she was supposed to be reading them.  It took one out of the story. In the end, much of the information in the excerpts had no bearing on the crime.  

It's that last bit that makes me think of Chekhov's gun.  Sure, someone will say we need red herrings in a mystery novel.  But info-dumping a whole bunch of information at once that may have no bearing on the crime can be a reason a book is not picked up by a publisher.

6.  The Protagonist Does Not Solve the Mystery

Okay, we all know that mysteries need to be solved by the end.  That's the whole point of them.  No one reads to get to the middle, as Mickey Spillane said.  They want to get to the end, and there better be an ending.  All my students know this.  But what they sometimes forget is that the protagonist needs to be in at the 'kill'.  Most readers (and therefore publishers) will not accept a mystery novel where the protagonist is 'told' who the killer is.  They want the protagonist to come to that conclusion by examining a series of clues and making brilliant, while logical deduction

That's the first six that come to mind.  Have you any to add?

Melodie Campbell writes capers and mysteries, along with pretty much anything else publishers will pay her for.


 

Wednesday, 24 August 2022

How to be a Success: Go Cookie Cutter Blonde and Stay There

(This post appears on SLEUTHSAYERS, Aug. 27.  Repeated here for my regular viewers.)

WARNING:  Not a comedy post.

Back in my forties, I made a critical career error.  I didn't dye my hair blonde.

Dark auburn from birth, I kind of liked my unique hair colour which went well with the snake green eyes I also came with.  (My first husband was a big fan of the combo, and used to say, every time a British Racing Green Jaguar went by, "there go your eyes".)


Thing is, back then, I didn't know that every successful woman was supposed to be blonde.  Not brunette, not auburn, and certainly not grey. 

Yes, I'm talking about the current uproar in Canada, about Lisa LaFlamme being let go from the CTV news anchor position. She was 58 and had let her hair go grey due to the pandemic.

What you may not know is that Lisa LaFlamme is gorgeous.  She is glamorous beyond anything I could achieve.  She is a respected journalist with 30 years experience, much of it in the field, overseas.  She has been given the Order of Canada for her work.

She is also the 'brand,' meaning she was the anchor for the top rated evening news show in Canada.  It is the most viewed IN CANADA.

And CTV have let her go.

Who torpedoes their most successful brand? 

No amount of back-peddling can whitewash this.  We all know why.  The big honcho in charge was even quoted in a meeting as having said, "Who allowed Lisa LaFlamme to go grey?"  Every major media outlet and blog in the country is screaming foul on this.  The Beaverton, a wonderful satirical magazine, said this:  "...clearly she should have been fired the day she turned 50...We cannot apologize enough for subjecting our viewers to the sight of a woman who is almost 60 years old."'

Some time ago, my former agent (a nice guy who died suddenly) said to me, "Keep dyeing your hair." Showing your age, it seemed, would be career-limiting.

Why this post?  Lisa LaFlamme and I are of an age. She chose to eschew the cookie cutter blonde look (I'm sure the networks buy this dye by the barrel) and embrace her grey, confident in the fact that her professionalism was the key to holding her anchor position.

So I ask it again, as I did in my 40s, and my 20s, will we ever have a world where the way a woman looks does not override what she accomplishes?

I could write more, but I'm due back out on the picket lines carrying my sign, "I can't believe I'm still protesting this shit."

 


 

Wednesday, 3 August 2022

NEWS FLASH: CBC INTERVIEW AIRS FRIDAY, 5:50, ON HERE AND NOW (RADIO 99.1)

 You'll hear a familiar voice at 5:50 tonight, on CBC radio, 99.1 in Toronto, streaming on the CBC website.  The subject?



Friday, 27 May 2022

Honoured to have been on the other half of the screen with IAN RANKIN

 At the Maple Leaf Mystery Conference today!  

IAN RANKIN in conversation with Melodie Campbell

Why is my mouth so open?




Tuesday, 24 May 2022

Melodie Campbell in Conversation with IAN RANKIN

 This Friday, 2 pm!  Maple Leaf Mystery Conference

Sponsored by Crime Writers of Canada and Sisters in Crime!

Cool pix taken at the Maple Leaf Mystery Conference Deadly Laughter panel!  That's me in the middle.




Wednesday, 27 April 2022

The Vote is IN! THE silliest of all the humour columns I have been paid to write, as awarded by experts (be warned...)

 reprinted with permission

 


 

Books I will Never Write: Dino Porn

 

By Melodie Campbell (Bad Girl, who wishes this could have been posted on April 1, even though it's largely true)

Apparently, I have been sounding too normal these days.  There have been complaints.  The following is an attempt to rectify that.  

People pay money for the weirdest reads.  Don’t believe me?

Dinosaur Porn

Yes, you heard that right.  This is a ‘thing.’  No, I don’t mean porn that randy male dinosaurs might read, involving somewhat sassy females of the same species who like a good time.  Last I checked, dinosaurs couldn’t read.  Not even the urban ones.

But I’m not here to talk about that.  I’m not even going to talk about the weirdness of someone wanting to write about sexual relations between a human of today and a creature that might possibly have become extinct during an ice storm back in the good old days.  All writers are weird.  Some are more weird than others (thank you, George Orwell.)

Nope.  I want to talk about the blatant inequity in the dinosaur porn field.  Not only that, in ALL areas of human/not-even-remotely-human erotica.

Don’t believe me?  Have you noticed that all these erotic books that star humans and some other race like Vampires or Werewolves or Aliens or Ducks (hey! Has it been done?) always feature a girl with the Vampire or Werewolf?  Or, in our case, a girl with the T-Rex?

Why is it always that way around?  Never do you see a young man being pursued by, say, a randy female dino.  I have to assume female dinos are more discriminating.   

Still, in the interests of fair play, I offer my version of Dino porn:

It might go like this:

“La, la, lalalala, la, lala, la, la…” <innocent young female stegosaurus frolics among the Precambrian (whatever) wild-flowers, unaware that she is about to be approached from behind>

“Hey hey,” says healthy male homo sapien, who obviously time-traveled here from another era.  “You on Tinder, babe?”

“Tinder?” says Steggy-gal, unfamiliar with the vernacular.  “Isn’t this a grassland?”

“How about I just show you my equipment?” says creepy guy, who might possibly be blind.  “I’ll just take it out here…oops, no. That’s my phone.”

“Oh!  There’s a butterfly!” says Steggy-gal, easily distracted.

“HA,” says creep, lining up to do the dirty. “Bet ya never had it like THIS before!”

“Gee, these flies are a nuisance,” says Steggy, batting the annoyance away with her spiked tail. "Why do they always hang around THAT end…”

“YEOOOOOOOW”

Okay, enough pastiche-ing around.  It’s discrimination, pure and simple.  Okay, maybe not pure.  And possibly more complicated than simple.  All those tentacles… which reminds me. Girl with a Squid comes out in 2019.

Melodie Campbell writes some pretty wild comedy.  She even gets paid to do it, by poor unsuspecting publishers.