The Mysterious Landscape

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A mystery story needs a mysterious setting. A combination of the unfamiliar, the partially glimpsed, and the slightly strange should do the trick.

Location is the first thing most people think about in connection to a story’s setting, and it’s certainly an important element.

Any location can be mysterious if it is unfamiliar to the character. Where there’s also the possibility of becoming lost and ending up in an unexpected place, there is an added sense of mystery. 

Buildings partially hidden from view by surrounding trees may stir up curiosity. And in a forest, almost anything can be hiding in the trees.

Vacant places also work well. If you’re wondering where everyone is, you’re already in the mystery-solving mindset.

Location isn’t the only element that can add a little mystery, though. Time is a useful factor. Setting a book in a time period readers may not be very familiar with, can be a great way to add a sense of mystery. But stories set in the present can make use of time, too, by including night-time scenes. While it’s easy to see what’s happening during the day, it’s not as easy to work out what’s going on when you are literally in the dark.

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The local wildlife can contribute, too. My current work is set in Costa Rica so I have a wide choice of wild animals to add to the atmosphere. Creatures that are hard to spot, as well as animals you can hear but not see, act as reminders there are things going on you don’t know about.

The weather is another way to add the feeling you don’t quite have all the pieces of the puzzle.

An eerie fog or drifting cloud obscuring the view of whatever the characters are heading towards, can convey a feeling of uncertainty, particularly if they start to lose sight of other people.

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It is the plot that holds the enigmatic puzzle to be unravelled. But if you look hard enough, you may find a little mystery in the background of every scene.

Deborah Grant-Dudley is the author of The Lost Castle, a mystery for readers aged 11 and over, available in paperback and Kindle edition on Amazon. Look out for The Lost Plantation, coming soon.

A Clue of No Importance

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There are three types of clues in mystery stories. Clues that lead to a solution, clues that eliminate a solution, and red herrings. 

Clues that form a trail leading to the solution are satisfying because you feel you can work out the solution yourself. It’s important you don’t work it out too early though, or you will lose interest in the book. Often there is more than one possible solution right up to the last chapter. 

Elimination clues are used to disprove options. These are pieces of information that change the direction of the investigation without revealing anything about the actual solution. The last clue is often an elimination clue.

Red herrings are facts that don’t relate to the mystery at all. They just keep you guessing!

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It is good practice to avoid leading the reader every step of the way with a neat trail of clues. But it can be tricky to keep the reader’s interest when it isn’t clear that progress is being made. 

You see, just because progress isn’t obvious, that doesn’t mean there isn’t any progress. Even when a character has gone down the wrong track, he is gaining information he will need later. He just doesn’t know it yet.

That’s when a red herring can come in handy. It looks like progress even though it is not getting you any closer to the truth.

The main character in my books is a teenager, navigating new places and cultures. Most of the time, he has to depend on others. But occasionally, he has to step up and be the responsible one, despite not always knowing what to do. And that is when great things happen.

Because even when we go down the wrong path in life, there may be something beautiful at the end of it.

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Deborah Grant-Dudley is the author of The Lost Castle, a mystery for readers aged 11 to adult, available in paperback and Kindle edition on Amazon. Look out for The Lost Plantation, coming soon.

A Gaping Hole in Time

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The second iteration of a book manuscript is like an inescapable black hole draining time and energy from the universe. 

Some authors may disagree with this statement, but that’s my take on it.

The process for the first draft of the book looked like this:-

Research

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For me, research involves travelling to amazing places to experience the culture and meet the locals. Most of the background comes from the real life setting, although there is always some detail that crops up during the writing stage that needs to be looked up on the internet. The answer is never what I guessed it would be.

Research is probably my favourite part of the whole writing process.

Outline 

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In the outlining stage, all the notes from the trip and all my ideas about the storyline are thrown into a melting pot, given a good stir, tried in different combinations and sequences and eventually emerge as a plot.

That overarching plan is then broken down into chapters. Each chapter gets an outline of its own.

It’s a very creative and enjoyable time.

Write

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The writing stage is where the story runs wild and I just try to keep up with it.

Often, at this point, the characters take over and the story starts to evolve. New ideas are added in as they come along, creating a rich and interesting narrative, that I feel very proud of having produced.

Celebrate Completion

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And relax…

Now compare this to the revisions process, which includes second and subsequent drafts. It goes like this:-

Replan

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To replan, take one beautifully crafted plot, add necessary information that was omitted the first time, subtract paragraphs that aren’t adding to the story (usually the best written ones) and move scenes around to maintain a steady pace of progression. If you love what you’ve created, this can be painful.

Rewrite

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Rewriting includes revising chapters you thought were finished, to accommodate the changes identified. It may also be necessary to add transitional scenes to enable the relocated sections to fit in more naturally.

This part is hard work.

Incorporate feedback

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Feedback is when people tell you what they don’t like about the manuscript you’ve just spent six months writing.

When you have recovered from this ordeal, you get to repeat the previous step.

Edit

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Editing is the check for flow, consistency, spelling, grammar and over-used words. Tedious, but important, this is the stage when authors often wonder why they wanted to write the book in the first place.

Throughout the revisions process, you may feel anxious about how long all this is taking.

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Anxiety is optional (and not recommended) but the time pressure is real. 

The reason for this is that authors have bills to pay. Having multiple titles available significantly increases the chances of a sale.

In my case, there is a second reason for wanting to complete the book soon, and it is actually pretty awesome. People who have read my first book have started contacting me about when the next book will be published because…

…they are waiting to read it!

If revising a manuscript is like a black hole, then being contacted by a reader who is waiting for your next book to come out is like a supernova.

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There is a high-energy explosion throwing out positive vibes and renewed enthusiasm in all directions.

Huge thanks to those fantastic people. Now I just have to create some order from this wonderful chaos!

Deborah Grant-Dudley is the author of The Lost Castle, a mystery for readers aged 11 and over, available in paperback and Kindle edition on Amazon. Look out for The Lost Plantation, coming soon.

A World of One’s Own

You may think once the first draft of a book is finished, the book is almost ready to publish. But that’s not even close to the truth. It must be nurtured with months of revisions and countless edits, until every detail is just right and it is no longer a story but a complete world.

This world-building is essential to make the characters’ lives feel real.

Here’s a sneak preview of some of the details from the world of my next book, The Lost Plantation.

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What game of basketball would be complete without a few canine spectators?

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The book is set in a coffee-producing country, and the characters have some early starts for their mystery solving excursions, so it’s only natural for coffee to make an appearance. Are you feeling thirsty yet?

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Part of the story takes place in the rainforest, where tree frogs like this little fellow can be found, if you look closely enough.

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Hungry teenagers in a hot place – there must be ice cream.

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Here’s another sport and animal connection. If you’re looking for your chicken, try the nearest football pitch.

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Meet up at the beach, anyone?

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Hummingbirds may be the closest thing to magic you can find in real life and also in my book.

A first draft is a seed from which a book can grow.

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Deborah Grant-Dudley is the author of The Lost Castle, a mystery for readers aged 11 and over, available in paperback and Kindle edition on Amazon. Look out for The Lost Plantation, coming soon.

Modest Expectations

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This week, I received my first rejection letter from a literary agent. My book is already available on Amazon, but I’m working on expanding my distribution and publicity, and I’d really like to squeeze in some time to continue writing, so I’m looking for an agent. 

I started by researching agents who represent books for older children / young adults and are currently accepting submissions. Then I emailed a sample of my manuscript, along with a synopsis of the story and my agent query letter to a suitable literary agent. 

Then I just had to wait for the reply.

Friends and family have been very kind, worrying about how this rejection will affect me. Perhaps they thought I was expecting a lucrative book deal with a hardback in every high street bookstore and a big launch party. In fact, I gave the submission no thought at all after submitting it, since I was expecting the book to be rejected.

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As an author, very little of my training has taken place in a classroom, I mainly develop through experience. And that includes experiencing rejection.

There are many good authors whose work has been rejected by literary agents. There are some great authors with a stack of rejections to their names, who are now very successful. 

An agent rejection isn’t a reflection on the quality of an author’s work. Well, sometimes it is, but that’s not where I’m going with this. It’s mainly about finding the right fit.

It’s like being considered for a job. We’ve all been there. You turn up for an interview and see a dishearteningly large pile of CV’s. There is a long list of people who can all do the job. The interviewer gradually whittles the number down to two or three candidates who can do the job really well. Then they just have to pick the person they think will be the best fit. 

This partly comes down to the people they already have on their team, because in addition to the skills required for the role, they are looking for someone who has something their existing team members don’t have. So there’s an element of luck involved. 

It’s disappointing when you aren’t the one that gets picked. But there are other jobs. And there are other agents.

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I see this as a practice run. In the same way interview skills get better with every interview you go through, my books will get better the more I write, and my synopsis and query letter will get better the more times I submit them. I may even receive some useful feedback from some agents that will help me hone my writing skills further.

I will give myself a week or two to think about how I can improve my submission for the next agent. In the meantime, I have writing to do.

Deborah Grant-Dudley is the author of The Lost Castle, a mystery for readers aged 11 to adult, available in paperback and Kindle edition on Amazon.

Journey to the Centre of the Story

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Why is the middle of a story the hardest part to get right?

I’m currently revising the manuscript for my second young adult mystery. The start is really powerful and I’m happy with it. The last part needs some polish, but the ending is one I believe will stay with readers after they’ve finished the book. The overall concept is compelling enough, too. So, what, exactly, is wrong with the first draft?

Well, it doesn’t have a good rhythm, the flow is off, it doesn’t get to where it needs to go quickly enough, then takes a few wrong turns and gets a bit lost. I’ve given this a lot of thought and I’ve concluded that it may be too realistic.

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A sense of realism is a great thing. But that’s not quite the same as being truly realistic. In the real world, events don’t spread themselves out evenly so our lives can unfold at a comfortable pace. We have days when we don’t make any progress towards our goals, and days when we achieve more than we’d aimed for (more of the former than the latter in my case). And that’s how it is for my main character right now. But we don’t want to read about that. We want to read about dynamic characters with thrilling lives, overcoming obstacles to solve mysteries, and certainly not doing anything we might have just done ourselves.

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What having a sense of realism means to me is that my book must consist of events that seem plausible, rather than anything bearing a passing resemblance to everyday life. This makes sense because books are an escape for many of us. And I want to create worlds that readers can escape into, and trails they will want to follow, even if that means weeks of replanning and rewriting. I’m going to keep making revisions until my story is dancing with rhythm and flow, and progresses consistently from start to end. Because that’s the sort of story I want to read, and my readers deserve nothing less.

Deborah Grant-Dudley is the author of The Lost Castle, available in paperback and Kindle edition on Amazon.

The Secret Reader

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What’s the difference between a successful author and a struggling one? Talent? Hard work? A long list of books? Sadly, there are plenty of talented, hard-working, prolific authors who still need a day job. 

The answer is you. Don’t believe me? Here’s how you can launch an author’s career in minutes.

Review, Review, Review

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When you are looking for a book on Amazon, do you ever check the rating? Ever look at the stream of other book suggestions that appear at the bottom of your screen? Ever think about how Amazon works out which books to show there? No, it doesn’t employ mind-readers; it employs reader reviews. Books with lots of reviews are shown to potential purchasers. Books without lots of reviews… aren’t. 

It isn’t important for the review ratings to all be 4* or 5*, because the rating shown next to the book is the average – so you don’t even have to love a book to help it sell.

It takes two minutes to write a review that could change the path of an author’s career. That power really is in your hands.

Strapped for cash? There are ways to support an author without even buying a book. 

Like, Share, Comment

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Have you noticed how Facebook sometimes suggests pages you might like to follow? If yours are anything like mine, they aren’t always of the most interest… That’s because they are selected only from pages where lots of people have clicked the Like button at the top of the page. Wouldn’t it be great if more people saw pages about lovely authors who write entertaining books? You can make that happen with one click.

Do you ever read a blog post or article on social media and want to tell someone about it? Do you click the Like button? Can I tempt you to move a little to the right? 

Sharing a post makes it visible to everyone in your network. It takes zero seconds more to click Share than to click Like. That’s a really fast way to raise an author’s profile!

Commenting is even better. Readers are much more likely to remember an author they have had a conversation about – or with – than one they just read a post from. I know, this idea takes slightly more time than just clicking a button, but if you do have a few minutes to spare, it’s a nice way to spend them.

Follow

Following people on social media is very popular but did you know you can also follow authors on Amazon and Goodreads? On the book page, if you click on the author’s name, it will take you to their author page, where you can click the Follow button. It’s that easy!

This will let you know when they release a new book, which – if you’re as forgetful as me – is really helpful. It also makes the author appear more popular. So even if you don’t buy their book, you might encourage someone else to.

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If you don’t review, like, share, comment or follow, you are invisible to other readers. But with the click of a button, you’re not a secret reader anymore.

Ask a Librarian

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This tip may seem counter-intuitive, but bear with me… Some readers prefer to try new authors through their local library. If they like the first book, they may buy the next one. Plus, libraries pay more for e-books than individuals do, so authors like libraries.

If you borrow e-books from your local library, and they don’t have a particular title available to borrow, you can ask them to stock it, and they’ll try to track it down for you. Brilliant!

Your Author Needs You!

So here’s the part where I ask if you would like to make me a successful author. You would? Great! Here’s a helpful summary with links.

  • Review The Lost Castle and/or follow me on Amazon
  • Review The Lost Castle and/or follow me on Goodreads
  • Like the Deborah Grant-Dudley Blog on Facebook
  • Ask your local library to stock the e-book of The Lost Castle ISBN 9781393465300
  • Click the share button or comment on this post!

And Finally

Thank you to all the wonderful people who have already done one or more of these things for me. I am truly grateful and will support your careers in any way I can.

Deborah Grant-Dudley is the author of The Lost Castle, available on Amazon and as an e-book at online retailers.