What’s Your Mystery Subgenre? – by Zara Altair…

Chris The Story Reading Ape's Blog

If you don’t know your subgenre, you won’t reach the right audience. The mystery genre contains a variety of subgenres. When you are clear about subgenre, you’re prepared to write a story that appeals to the right readers. Someone who loves a cozy mystery may have no interest in your cop thriller or noir detective.

A subgenre is a subcategory within a genre. Within the mystery and crime genre a variety of subgenres. 

How you label your story will help you reach the right editor and categorize your book to self-publish on digital platforms like Amazon.

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Toward The Final Act in Your Mystery

The Detective Finds Clues in the Killer’s World

​Let the complications roll! Your detective screws up, asks for help from the wrong people, stumbles over his weaknesses. If it’s bad, bring it on. In the final section of Act II (Four-Act Structure) your detective dives deeper into the killer’s world as the ultimate exploration of the victim’s world.

As you are developing your storyline, take some time to brainstorm some really nasty ways to confound your detective and threaten not just his discovery process, but the detective as well.

13:39 Q: Is there a difference between evidence and clues?
15:49 Q: I want to write a crime novel. Should my detective be a private investigator or a police investigator?

Writers’ Guide to Homicide 

Before the Confrontation, It’s One Big Mess

26       Your protagonist retreats in the face of his worst disaster yet, a disaster that feels so much like that thing he never got over that’s he’s having déjà vu. He might’ve noticed a chink in the antagonist’s armor, but not soon enough to take advantage of it.

There’s another murder, your detective thought she understood the victim’s world but now she feels as though she’s back to the beginning. There’s a glimpse of the killer but either the detective doesn’t notice it or doesn’t give it due attention. Time to lick some wounds and then gaze around.

In plot land you’re at the aftermath of the second pinch point.

27       As he’s gathering new allies and resources, something your protagonist did (or failed to do) in Act Two because of his misbelief comes back to bite him on the butt. (Subplot A)

Your detective finds new connections, alliances among suspects he was unaware of earlier and now he realizes that he overlooked important information (back in Act Ii) that needs new examination. While these discoveries feel like a new beginning of sorts, his opponent jams it up with a new attack. This attack can take his eyes off the case and onto something personal like a flaw that is holding him back.

Yes, it’s complicated, and meant to be. You’ve arrived at the fifth complication in traditional story structure.

28       He’s got to eat crow, beg for help, sacrifice more resources or improvise within an already imperfect plan—and he can only blame himself. He starts to question his misbelief:  his biggest success came when he’d temporarily abandoned it, but the idea of giving it up voluntarily is terrifying. (Subplot B)

So, that flaw, emphasized by the opponent, it’s got your detective in a heap of trouble and it’s all his fault. Your detective may need to ask the opponent for a detail or help. He starts to question his vision of the victim’s world. The love interest helps him look at that world a different way. But he resists because it’s not his way.

In structure, this is the aftermath of the fifth complication and it’s messy.

29       Your protagonist attacks that vulnerability that he noticed earlier, and at first it seems he’s caught the antagonist unprepared—is victory at hand? (Subplot A)

The opponent encourages the protagonist to look at the victim’s world in a new way. He notices something new about the killer. Is it that easy? Just shifting perspective?

If you’re still hanging on to story structure this is the setup for the second plot point. Yes, you are headed toward Act III.

30       Nope. (Maybe there’s a twist here?) Either the antagonist was using that weakness to draw the protagonist in, or he reacted fast enough to protect it. Your protagonist gets one clear shot at the antagonist, but he has to give up his misbelief to take it, and he isn’t able to make that leap of faith.

The killer uses a smokescreen and the clarity fades. The detective has one chance to confront the killer, but he has to clear his vision of the victim’s world and antagonist gets away because your detective is still missing a piece of the puzzle.

You’ve reached the second plot point in story structure. It’s going to get wild now.

Confuse All Your Characters ​

With all the confusion, hot mess, and frustrations your detective struggles in this part of your mystery. Keep the story from sagging by mixing things up. Your detective’s opponent may unknowingly give her an insight while trying to stop her. Or, her love interest may threaten to call it quits. Keep your reader guessing. But still you want to keep them guessing about how the detective will solve all these problems and solve the mystery.

Amidst all the setbacks, your detective gets close to the killer. Even though your detective may overlook the clues in the middle of the confusion, the killer feels the pressure. The killer takes on the role of antagonist and actively works against your detective… even if it’s behind the scenes.

Zara Altair

Zara Altair writes mysteries set in ancient Italy. Her course for beginning writers Write A Killer Mystery is coming soon. Get on the notification list.

A Name By Any Other Name Can Change Your Story

Title Your Novel for Maximum Visibility


“What’s in a name? That which we call a rose

By any other name would smell as sweet.”

Romeo and Juliet, II, ii, 1-2

What’s in a name? The title of your book may not change the story but it can change a potential buyer’s interest.

The title is one of the selling points of your book. Along with the cover it creates a first impression. A title that is interesting, catchy, and relevant to your story has a better chance to get a reader to buy your book.

The title of your novel creates a connection with your potential readers. Think about the effectiveness of a title that tells a story, like The Spy Who Came in from the Cold.

Your choice directly impacts the buyer’s first impression.

Brand Awareness and Genre Targeting

Because the title is so important, many authors wait until they finish their novel before they create it. They may have a working title while the novel is in progress but save the name of the book until they complete the manuscript. This can be particularly helpful for cross-genre novels, as the target readership may only become clear during the writing process.

Tucker Max of Scribe stresses the selling potential of a title:

The title of your book is–by far–the most important book marketing decision you’ll make.

Memorable titles also help readers connect the title with your name. Your author name is your brand. When readers associate your name with the book you write, you build your brand awareness. Authors who offer more than one book benefit by creating titles similar in format and concept.

Features of a Good Title

You have several options for creating a book title, but all good titles have elements in common:

  • grabs attention
  • easy to remember
  • indicates genre or theme
  • easy to say

These guidelines make your title recognizable, targeted toward your genre, and easy for someone to remember when they recommend your book. You book will get noticed, be remembered, and shared with other potential readers.

Creating Your Book Title List

Your title is a marketing tool, so choose your title with your reader in mind. Your reader is someone who enjoys books in your genre. Use a marketing filter when you think about your book title. Get the essence of your book, then add words with emotional hooks.

Finding the right title for your book is a brainstorming process. Start large. Think of as many titles as possible first. Take time. Work the process over at least a few days if not weeks. Every time you think of a title possibility, write it down. While you are in the stage of compiling ideas, don’t judge, just add title ideas to your list.

While publisher iUniverse suggests examining titles in your genre as a sixth step, looking at your successful competitors is a shrewd tactic. Knowing how successful authors in your genre use titles to sell books is a good guideline for how to think about framing your title.

Make a list of potential titles. Start your title idea list while you are writing and keep adding to the list as you get new ideas.

Once you have a sense of the titles that sell in your genre, brainstorm titles for your manuscript. Is your story steamy or sweet, action-packed or literary? Dark and chilling, or light-hearted and cozy? Think of words and phrases that capture the tone of your manuscript.

Go through your manuscript looking for phrases, including dialogue, that reflect the essence of your story. Think of your story theme or the major conflict. Is there a quote—poetry or Biblical—that suits your novel?

The idea is to gather as many title possibilities as you can. Then play with your current title collection by trying one of these tricks:

1) Change word order.

2) Add an action verb. KickKillKiss

3) Add an emotionally charged adjective. DeadlyRavishedIrresistible

4) Work in your protagonist’s role. The MagistrateThe Stumbling Detective,

5) Reference the antagonist or her role. Hannibal is a good example.

6) Use location.

At the end of this process, you’ll have a long list of title ideas.

Pro Tip: Make sure the title you use is not already popular. Do a quick search to make sure.

Tools For Fun

Title generation tools are fun to use to spark ideas if your title muse doesn’t show up. Keep in mind that doing the work is still the best way to create a title that works for your potential readers.

Here are two title generators that can help you bring your muse back.

The Fictionalley title generator can get you started just by switching words. You’ll get ten title ideas per word set. It’s a great way to get your title juices flowing.

Lulu’s Titlescorer claims to give you an idea of your book titles by entering and title and adding a few bits of information. Satisfy your curiosity, but I tested several best-selling titles that all scored at 10.2%. So take results with a grain of salt.

Narrow Down Your List

Brainstorming is playful and fun, but once you have a big title list, you need to narrow down the options.

Review the titles of successful books in your genre. Evaluate which of your titles best suit your genre, and remove the rest from the list. This should turn your long range of options into a more focused shortlist.

Test Your Title

Before you make a final decision, get feedback. Use vehicles to test your title.

  • Informal choices from friends and family. May be instant feedback but not always the best marketing judgment.
  • If you have a reader fan base, send a survey. Use quick tools like SurveyMonkey or a Google Form to compare choices.
  • Get feedback from real readers customers with PickFu

Your novel title is a first-level marketing tool. Use a brainstorming process. Guide your decision by the novel’s genre. Then, test for feedback before you make your final decision.

How did you get on? Let us know in the comments!

Have you tried ProWritingAid’s software integrationsyet? What are you waiting for?


Source: A Name By Any Other Name Can Change Your Story

The Detective Finds the Killer’s World

bubble image, the killer's world inside the victim's world in a mystery

bubble image, the killer's world inside the victim's world in a mystery

Avoid the Sagging Middle in Your Mystery

Mystery writers have an advantage over many other genres when it comes to keeping the middle from sagging. Up to the middle the detective has delved into the evidence and suspects in the victim’s world

The essence of keeping a reader turning pages is heightened tension. Rather than episodic scenes where this happens and then that happens and then something else happens, you create tension by throwing up increasingly baffling obstacles for your detective.

In the chapters after the crisis in the middle, your detective gets glimpses of the killer’s world. These glimpses into the killer’s world are the mystery writer’s advantage because the detective enters a world within a world. The killer’s world is inside the victim’s world.

In these chapters, the detective gets glimpses of the intersection between the two worlds.

What is a character bible?
How to liven up dialogue.  
Reference Article Characters Don’t Speak in Semicolons 

After The Middle

Using the Four-Act structure your detective recovers from the crisis in the middle, gets his bearings, and digs deeper.

Act Three

21       He might feel foolish for not seeing things clearly until now, but your protagonist makes a new plan. Unfortunately, now that he’s past the meltdown, he fails to recognize that temporarily abandoning his misbelief was a healthy thing, and he grabs onto it more tightly.

Your detective, stumped by recent events, tries going back to old interpretations. She reviews what suspects said, considers the victim’s world and pokes around in it, completely missing key elements. She’s regrouping but sees nothing new.

Story structure label: aftermath of the midpoint.

22       Executing the new plan while gathering allies and resources as he goes, your protagonist hits a snag and it becomes apparent that his epiphany might’ve made him a wee bit overconfident.  (Subplot B)

The opponent throws up a roadblock as your detective goes out to find new resources – histories of the victim and new knowledge of the victim’s world. His great idea is not getting him closer to finding the antagonist.

If you are holding tight to structure labels, this is the fourth complication.

23       He must improvise once again in the face of a dilemma:  his misbelief wants him to choose option 1, but his epiphany suggests option 2 is the way to go. (Subplot A)

Out in the victim’s world, your detective makes a stab at connecting with suspects she’s met, but an inspiration suggests he get background on the suspects and how they operate in the victim’s world. Things get intense with the love interest and they may say or do something that gives your detective new insight.

In plot world, that fourth complication threw your detective for a loop. This is the aftermath.

24       Whether he makes the wrong choice or fumbles after making the right choice, he’s now on a collision course with the antagonist. He might be walking into an ambush, or he might be deliberately seeking the confrontation without realizing how seriously he’s out-gunned.

Although he doesn’t know it, your detective’s new vision of the victim’s world sets him in direct opposition to the killer. Feeling pinched, the killer may strike another victim. The detective thinks the two murders are related, but doesn’t see how.

In story structure, this is the setup for the second pinch point.

25       The antagonist has the upper hand, and your protagonist feels his enemy’s true power—the antagonist is even stronger than before. Your protagonist might get a glimpse into the enemy’s end game, but he definitely realizes how deeply he’s in over his head. (Another place where you might add a twist!)

Your detective’s world turns topsy-turvy. Perhaps a seemingally suddenly becomes antagonistic. Or a reluctant suspect shares new information. Without knowing it, the detective is getting close to the killer. The killer knows it and now plans ways to stop your detective. Make the complications complicated.

This is the second pinch point in plot structure. Make it hurt.

Frustrations, Complications, and Weakness

Just as you highlighted your detective’s strengths at the beginning, highlight his weakness as you leave the middle. You don’t have to make this glaring. For example, take your detective’s strength as far as it can go until it becomes a hindrance. If he is confident, take it to over-confident so he misses an important detail.

Plant new clues to the killer’s identity. Get suspects to misdirect your detective. Allow your detective to look in the wrong places while the killer starts to feel the threat. Make your detective work hard for every piece of information.

The aim in this section of your story is to make things as difficult for your detective as possible. The closer he gets to the killer, the more things get in his way. The detective finds the killer’s world, but he hasn’t found the killer.

Zara Altair

Zara Altair writes mysteries set in ancient Italy. Her course for beginning writers write A Killer Mystery is coming soon. Get on the notification list.

The Detective In the Victim’s World

The Detective In The Victim’s World Without A Map

victim world

​As you take your detective and your readers deeper into the story in the first half of Act II, your detective enters a new world, the victim’s world.As he wanders the victim’s world he gathers bits and pieces of information, meets suspects and in their environment expands his vision of the victim’s world. In this sequence of chapters, your detective searches and searches. She thinks she knows the victim’s world, but discovers there’s more than her first introduction.

With each discovery your detective learns goes deeper into the world until he makes a discovery that turns everything around.

Pay close attention to this section of your story. Here’s where many new novelists start sagging. Avoid trying to rush to the end. Focus on going deeper into discovery and getting to the middle. ​

15:16 Q: I’ve got the story but I keep changing the title. Do you have any tips for narrowing it down?

Write your mystery. Access all Mystery 40 Sentences here.

​As you take your detective and your readers deeper into the story in the first half of Act II, your detective enters a new world, the victim’s world.As he wanders the victim’s world he gathers bits and pieces of information, meets suspects and in their environment expands his vision of the victim’s world. In this sequence of chapters, your detective searches and searches. She thinks she knows the victim’s world, but discovers there’s more than her first introduction.

With each discovery your detective learns goes deeper into the world until he makes a discovery that turns everything around.

Pay close attention to this section of your story. Here’s where many new novelists start sagging. Avoid trying to rush to the end. Focus on going deeper into discovery and getting to the middle. ​

To The Midpoint ​

​Your next chapters focus on the detective in the victim’s world and headed toward the midpoint which is high drama. Either a great win or a stunner loss.
16       Retreating, your protagonist finds temporary safe haven, but only at the cost of a sacrifice big enough to hurt. He licks his wounds, and if he receives advice, his misbelief keeps him from understanding how to apply it correctly.

Your detective retreats to review what he knows so far, but he’s not progressing. He may be licking his wounds from something his opponent did that keeps him from moving forward. Someone, either a suspect, a love interest, or even his opponent tells him something, but he overlooks the information.

Still lost in plot terms? This is the aftermath of the first pinch point.

17       Your miserable protagonist reaches for one of his usual coping mechanisms, but even if it’s available in this strange world, it doesn’t give him relief. He might hide it well from those around him, but he’s on the verge of a meltdown and desperate enough to try something new, even if it means temporarily abandoning the misbelief that he’s been hiding behind. (Subplot A)

Lost in the victim’s world, your detective tries one of her tried-and-true methods, but no one in this world is responding. She’s so frustrated. She’s a breath away from throwing in the towel. Desperate, she tries something she’s never tried, but maybe it will work in the victim’s world. Then, in walks the love interest, and things get open or even intimate.
Things are mixing up in the plot world as you get to the third complication.

18       A new door opens up for your protagonist…but the price of walking through is steep, and might include losing allies or sticking his neck out in a big way. (Subplot B)

Something unexpected happens and your detective is on it! But he will pay a price. His opponent keeps him from taking the next step and /or a suspect shows him in spades that he doesn’t understand the victim’s world.

You are at the aftermath of the third complication in traditional plot labels.

19       On the other side of the door waits an ambush that your protagonist survives by improvising, surprising even himself.

As far as your detective is concerned, from out of left field a surprise that spills the puzzle pieces. Forced to improvise, he sees everything in a new light.

In story structure, this is the setup for the midpoint.

20       Past the ambush, your protagonist makes a discovery or has an epiphany that allows him to see that he hasn’t been playing the game wrong, he’s been playing the wrong game…and more is at stake than he ever imagined. (Man, is this a great place for a twist!)

While your detective rearranges the puzzle pieces, he sees something new/ has an epiphany that tells him he’s been looking at the wrong details. It could be that the suspect who seemed like the right one reveals an alibi that puts them out of the picture. Whatever it is, he’s still lost in the victim’s world and realizes he’s been looking at the wrong clues.

Congratulations! You’ve made it to the midpoint.

The Middle

The middle of your detective story is a pivot where your detective goes from digging deeper to getting closer to the killer. From discovery to going on the trail. He’s learned enough to hunt for the killer with some idea of who that person could be.

The middle chapter is high drama and pulls your reader deeper into the story. One way to focus this chapter is to make it either a mirror of the end or its opposite. Whether your detective has a complete fail or a win in this chapter your detective suddenly sees the victim’s world in a new way. You can make this very high drama. You don’t have to save it all for the end.

The middle is one of the most important sequences in your detective story. Spend some time honing every detail while shining a light on your detective’s skills. He’s been lost in the forest and can’t see it for the trees. Now, at the middle his has a glimpse of the forest.

Zara Altair

Zara Altair writes mysteries set in ancient Italy. Her course for beginning writersWrite A Killer Mystery is coming soon. Get on the notification list.

How to Use Subplots in a Mystery

Backstory and Dreams – What To Do

man in a fog, backstory and dreams in novel