Masterclass: Writing Mysteries and Thrillers

with Betty Webb
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Workshop Type: 2015, 4-Week, In-Person, Mystery/Thriller, Some Experience, No Published Work Necessary, Unlisted, Winter
Length: 4-Week
Genre: Mystery/Thriller
Type: In-Person
Skill Level: Writing experience required, although it is not necessary that the student already be published.
Location: Piper Writers House, ASU Tempe Campus» View Map
From: Wednesday, 15 January 2014
To: Wednesday, 05 February 2014

Time: 6:00pm - 8:00pm

Got mystery?  This hands on mystery writing course taught by an award winning mystery author of two successful series is for you.  The course will include information on writing a series and inserting human rights problems into plots to make them more contemporary and meaningful.

Upon completion of the class, students will be better prepared to write, edit, and submit their manuscripts to an agent or publisher.

Please come prepared with the first five pages of any current manuscript, preferably a mystery or thriller in progress. No old manuscripts, please.

Workshop Schedule

Before the Workshop Begins

Before the classes commence, the student will email the first five pages of his/her current manuscript. The instructor will read and critique those pages during the first class.

Books recommended for the class are: “How to Write Killer Fiction,” by Carolyn Wheat; “The Successful Novelist,” by David Morrell; and “Gotham Writers’ Workshop – Writing Fiction.” These will be referred to during the length of the class, and it is suggested that each student have those books before classes begin.

Week 1

We delve into the major differences between mysteries and thrillers, and learn how those differences affect plot, story structure, interior logic, setting, the arc of action, character development, and challenges to the protagonist. The mystery writer learns the differences between noirs, mean streets, traditional, and cozy mysteries, and which kind of detective or amateur sleuth is appropriate for each. The thriller writer learns about the “stair-step” approach towards the inevitable confrontation, as well as what types of villains are best-suited to which type of thriller (domestic, corporate, international). Also covered in Week I are the how-to’s and the don’t do’s of proper research, plus the importance of being well-read in the student’s chosen field of writing. Finally, we learn about plot, scene and character clichés to avoid – or at the very least, approach with caution.

ASSIGNMENT: The student will begin working on a short story, either a thriller, or a mystery.

Week 2

For mysteries, we look at whodunit, howdunit, and whydunit. We study method, motive, weapons, standard police procedure, and the justice system. We learn how and why every mystery must pass the “smell” test of common sense and logic.

For thrillers, we learn how and why the protagonist’s rise through the stair-steps of the arc of action must be stymied at every turn, and why the protagonist’s temporary defeats are necessary for to reach the final satisfying conclusion.

ASSIGNMENT: The student sends the first page ONLY of his/her short thriller or mystery story to the teacher, and receives feedback.

Week 3

Scene-setting and style: Why each individual scene must be a story in and of itself, containing the who, where, what, when and the why of the scene – as well as the arc of action of the scene. We explore the use of all five senses to bring the scene to life, because in the end, a novel is simply one scene after another. We discuss tone and how important it is to match the type of story the writer is telling. Along with this, we also discuss developing a clear, yet unique, authorial voice.

ASSIGNMENT: The student now sends half of his/her short story to the teacher, and receives feedback.

Week 4

We cast theory aside and learn about the nitty-gritty of actually writing the book and getting it published. We discuss the advantages and disadvantages of writing an outline before beginning the book. Covered are self-discipline and self-editing: what must be taken out of the manuscript and what must be added to it. We learn how to write a synopsis, which all agents and publishers demand. Then we learn how to find an agent and why having a good agent is important. We also, in light of the rapid changes in the publishing industry, look at the many forms of publishing now available: traditional publishing, where the publishing house pays the author for his/her manuscript; subsidized publishing, where the author contributes of the cost of publishing the book; self-publishing, whether in print or online. We also take a look at publicity, marketing, social media – all have become increasingly necessary in this brave new world of publishing.

ASSIGNMENT: The student sends in the finished, self-edited manuscript of his/her finished story, which will then be critiqued by the teacher.

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Betty Webb photoAbout Betty Webb

Betty Webb is the author of the nationally best-selling Lena Jones mystery series (Desert Wives, Desert Noir, Desert Wind, etc.) and the humorous Gunn Zoo mysteries (The Koala of Death, The Llama of Death, etc.). Before beginning to write full time, Betty worked as a journalist, interviewing everyone from U.S. presidents, astronauts who walked on the moon, Nobel Prize-winners, and polygamy runaways. She has taught creative writing classes and workshops at Arizona State University and Phoenix College, and has been a nationally-syndicated literary critic for more than 20 years. She is currently serving as an Edgar judge; the Edgars, often called “The mystery writer’s Pulitzer,” are considered the most prestigious mystery/suspense award in the U.S. In addition to other organizations, Betty is a member of the National Federation of Press Women, Mystery Writers of America, and Sisters in Crime.

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