Posted by: nancycurteman | January 11, 2019

5 Ways Animals Can Add Humor to a Mystery Novel

Recently I wrote a blog post titled 5 Ways to Use Animals in a Mystery Novel. In this post I will refine my view of the role of animals a bit more. Most mystery novels no matter how dark can benefit from the interjection of a bit of humor. Animals make great vehicles for adding funny scenes to a heavy story. Here are 5 ways animals can add humor to a mystery novel:

  1. Alligator. On a swamp tour in Louisiana I encountered an alligator that followed our boat gobbling marshmallows our guide tossed to it. What if a bad guy threw a good guy into the swamp expecting our marshmallow-loving alligator to attack but instead the alligator waited for marshmallows.
  2. A family I knew had a pet parrot that they allowed to fly free about the living room. Unfortunately, the parrot was very territorial and would fly at and peck visitors. So the family had to keep it locked in its cage when friends came by. What if the family forgot to lock up their pet upon leaving one evening and a burglar entered. The intrusion of the burglar angered the territorial parrot and it viciously attacked the culprit.
  3. Dog. I read about an amorous Labrador that lapsed into a passionate state of arousal at the sight or scent of a man’s jeans. Upon the appearance of a jean clad leg it would rush forward and vigorously hump away on the man’s leg. Only its master could end the romantic interlude. What if a voyeur in jeans entered a yard planning to indulge his compulsion to peek through a bedroom window and the dog loped forward and satisfied its sexual appetite on the peeping tom’s leg. Would the voyeur lose interest in satisfying his own compulsion?
  4. Goose. My father always maintained that geese were great “watch dogs.” They not only sound a loud alarm when a stranger invades, they will also attack. If you’ve ever been bitten by a goose you know how painful it can be. What if an unsuspecting intruder sneaks into a geese-guarded yard and several geese honk furiously, fly at him and clamp their vise-grip bills onto his flesh. Did I mention geese don’t like to let go?
  5.  Skunk. I once knew a family that had a smelly skunk setting up housekeeping under their front porch and had to enter their home through the back door for fear of upsetting the skunk. They contacted a “skunk eradicator” to remove said skunk. What if a burglar approached the house through the front door, upset the skunk causing it to use its only defense mechanism. Skunk spray might cure the burglar of his penchant for stealing.

These are a few ways animals can add humor to a mystery novel. I had fun making up these scenarios. Try making up your own humorous scenes. Have fun.

More tips”

Can Dogs Play a Role in Mystery Novels?

5 Ways to Use Animals in a Mystery Novel

Posted by: nancycurteman | December 26, 2018

What do Crime Scene Investigators do?

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Crime scene investigators have specific procedures they follow to collect and preserve physical evidence while preserving the integrity of a homicide crime scene. Their report must include a scientific assessment of physical evidence and witness statements. Mystery writers need to understand these procedures if they want to write realistic and believable crime scene investigator chapters in their novels. Here is a summary of  sequential procedures common in most crime scene investigations:

  • On arrival at the scene the investigator introduces herself and identifies her role to any other officials who have arrived at the scene before her.
  • Her next job is to establish crime scene physical boundaries and protect the area and any evidence from contamination by people, animals or weather.
  • She must ensure that the Medical Examiner confirms the individual is dead.
  • The investigator needs to confer with other agency representatives who may be at the scene such as fire, EMT,law enforcement.
  • Next is a walk through the scene to view the body and identify, photograph and collect evidence.
  • To safeguard against allegations of tampering, theft or planting of evidence the investigator must see that all evidence is labelled and preserved in proper containers.
  • Document, document., document. Record time and place of collection of evidence and witness interviews and by whom. In addition, written description of the scene must be generated to include blood and body fluid evidence such as blood spatter, scene environment including odors and temperature.
  • An investigator must make an effort to determine where the death of the victim took place. Did it happen at a location other than the crime scene? For example, were there “drag marks?”
  • As indicated above, the investigator must ensure that witnesses are interviewed and their information documented.
  • Conduct a body examination prior to moving it. Include clothing, position, physical characteristics, scars, tattoos. Look for trace evidence such as hair or fibers.
  • Identification of the victim may be as simple as checking his wallet or as complex as reviewing fingerprints, dental records or DNA.
  • Finally, the investigator must debrief with crime scene personnel in order to assign post-scene responsibilities, share investigative data and ensure that all evidence, equipment and personnel are removed from the scene.

These are the basic tasks of a crime scene investigator. As an author you may elaborate on as many as you need or simply reference them. The important thing is that you know them because they will certainly enable you to enrich your story.

More Tips:

Crime Scene Investigation Strategies For the Mystery Writer
Add a Twist to Your Mystery: Stage Your Crime Scenes

Posted by: nancycurteman | December 2, 2018

5 Ways to Use Animals in a Mystery Novel

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Animals can play a variety of roles in a mystery novel, some important, others less so. Here are 5 ways authors can use animals to enhance their stories.

1.Rescue a main or secondary character. In one of my novels a German shepherd saves a teenage girl from a couple of would be kidnappers by growling and biting one of them in the foot. Any size dog could alert a character about an intruder by barking up a storm

2. Refine setting.A fat, lazy cat sprawled on the back of doily covered couch will add to the look of an elderly lady’s living room. On the other hand, a vicious hound baring its teeth, barking and growling as it strains at the end of a rope tied to the bumper of a broken-down car certainly says something about the setting.

3. Solve a crime. A dog could aid a sleuth in investigating or solving a crime using its superior sense of smell. It could discover a hidden body or track a criminal. It could even locate a missing person.

4. Add humor. There’s nothing like a feisty, arrogant, ungrateful cat to add humorous scenes to a novel. It may lie quietly purring on a character’s lap and the next moment bite him then race off. How about an amorous dog that jumps on a character and soaks his face with sloppy dog kisses or worse, tries to hump a character’s leg. Consider an alcoholic cat or a sassy parrot.

5. Expose character.We can certainly say a lot about the values of a character by the way he treats animals. The character who mistreats animals will present a different image to a reader than the one who treats them with affection and kindness.

Animals can indeed enhance a mystery novel.

More Tips:

Can Dogs Play a Role in Mystery Novels?

Posted by: nancycurteman | November 11, 2018

Leprechauns: Are They Lovable?


Americans have a fondness for a group of Ireland’s little people known as leprechauns. We think of them as little tricksters—harmless and lovable. But, are they really lovable?

The leprechaun has a long history in the Emerald Isles. He is a type of fairy in Irish folklore. His origin can be traced back to an eighth-century group of water sprites that merged with a mischievous household fairy believed to haunt cellars. Interestingly enough, there is no evidence of female leprechauns. Some believe them to be the offspring of evil spirits and fairies that flit about even today.

Those who have glimpsed a leprechaun say he is an elderly man about three feet tall often with red whiskers and hair who wears a red or green coat laced with gold. Seven rows of seven buttons adorn the front of his jacket. His breeches are buckled at the knee. He wears a cocked hat. His shoes sport fancy buckles.

The profession associated with leprechauns is cobbler or shoemaker which makes one wonder how they accumulated the big pot of gold they purportedly store at the end of a rainbow. If you wish to sight a leprechaun yourself, simply listen for and follow the tapping of their little cobbler hammers as they create fairy shoes. Catching a leprechaun may be worth a try because legend has it that people who capture one can barter his freedom for his treasure or force him to grant three wishes in order to be released. I haven’t heard of anyone succeeded in this effort due to the devious nature of these creatures.

Leprechauns are indeed devious little tricksters and you can tell when they’re engaged in a mischievous activity because they leap on a wall or boulder and spin wildly with heels in the air balancing themselves on their hat. I’ve not witnessed this myself, but I understand it is quite a spectacle.

Leprechauns are capricious and cannot be trusted. They may delight you with their magic one day and turn a nasty trick on you the next. The lesson the leprechaun teaches is success comes with hard work not from magical get rich schemes.

Are Leprechauns lovable? Sometimes yes but oftentimes no.


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Blarney Stone, a Gift to Writers


Posted by: nancycurteman | October 19, 2018

Onomatopoeia as a Literary Device


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Simply put, onomatopoeias are verbs, nouns or interjections that imitate the natural sounds of something from the softest whisper to the loudest boom.

Here are a few examples of onomatopoeias: Animal sounds—tweet, woof, moo, meow. Nature sounds—splash, drip, whoosh, flash, rustle, crackle. People sounds—giggle, grunt, screech, murmur, whine, whew. Mechanicals—tick-tock, clickity clack, brrring, bong. These are a few of thousands of examples of onomatopoeia.

One more category I would mention is “made up” words that an author thinks kind of sound like a given action—fuff, mmff, rrrrr, ewww, aaagh.

Let’s look at why authors use this literary device. Use of onomatopoeia is a “show, don’t tell” device that taps into a readers senses. It enables readers to hear and feel story events. Readers step into the novel. Onomatopoeia creates an emphasis that makes writing much more lively, realistic and appealing to readers.

Perhaps most important, onomatopoeia adds a note of lighthearted fun to the sometimes laborious job of writing. Purrrr!


More Tips:

Deep Point of View is No Mystery

Adjectives Have a Place in Modern Fiction

Posted by: nancycurteman | September 29, 2018

Do Clothes Make The Mystery Novel Character?

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Clothes can play an important role in depicting mystery novel characters. Clothing descriptions can build impressions and reveal social standing and character personality or values. Clothes are a way to describe class, taste. body image, mental health and even intent. Clothes can make your characters.

But, clothing description must have a purpose. Only describe a character’s clothing if it is important to the story.  Here are some ways writers can use clothing descriptions to enhance their novel characters:

  • In a mystery novel clothes may act as clues. This strategy has endless uses—witness descriptions, shoe prints, fibers, clothing markers.
  • Use clothing to contrast characters’ personalities—a sexy babe’s short, thigh-high skirt would contrast with her colleague’s conservative at-the-knee  hemline.
  • Use clothing to create authentic settings and scenes. Clothing will differ in foreign countries, historical settings, sciFi.
  • Clothing can enable a writer to show rather than tell basic character traits. Do his clothes show sloppiness, extreme neatness, insecure need to put on airs, rebelliousness?
  • Use clothing for quick identification of infrequently appearing characters. One unique or strange garment can be used to identify a character throughout a novel.
  • Use clothing to distinguish between numerous characters that are not important enough to present in greater detail. Again, use a unique piece of clothing for quick identification..
  • If clothing is worth describing, it is worth detailing. Don’t describe it as a jacket, describe it as a very British houndstooth, sports jacket.
  • Beware of lists: He wore a gray jacket, black pants, a red tie with a silver tie clasp and matching cufflinks and topped it all off with a derby hat the same color as his brown loafers. Phew!
  • Variations in clothing can reveal something about a character: Long sleeved white shirts say something different than tight t-shirts. An out-of-style, threadbare collared shirt says something else.
  • Use metaphors and similes to provide interesting descriptions of clothing: She looked like a prize-winning pumpkin in her gold jersey dress.
  • T-shirts with slogans printed on them can say a lot about a character: “I am Woman Hear me Roar” does not connote the same value as “Man Completes Woman.”

These are a few purposeful ways to use clothing descriptions to make mystery novel characters or any other kind of characters interesting. Share any additional ideas you might have.

More tips:

How to Create Characters Readers Can Relate to
5 Ways Negative Traits Make Mystery Novel Characters More Interesting
Perfect Characters are Paper Characters

Posted by: nancycurteman | September 10, 2018

How to Write Interesting Minor Characters

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Minor characters have three important jobs. They advance the plot, reveal information about the major characters and serve as background or scenery for the story. If a minor character does not do at least one of these jobs, eliminate him or her.

Here are some ways to ensure minor characters enhance a story:

  • Show minor characters as independent people with personalities, motivations and desires of their own. For example, a woman racing past a protagonist wants to get to a bus before it leaves. Or an old man whiling away his day on a park bench smiles as a gaggle of baby geese passes by.
  • Give minor characters a few quirky details. Make them eccentric or obsessive. Consider a limp or hippie clothing or purple hair.
  • Provide them with a bit of action or dialogue that says something about your character or advances the plot. They might look down their nose at your protagonist or try to steal something from her or say something funny, sarcastic or rude.
  • Minor characters are really part of the setting that says something about your protagonist’s situation. If a protagonist is dressed in shorts and a passerby puts up her umbrella and hurries to shelter, there is no need to explain the protagonist’s problem.
  • Choose short, succinct details about your minor characters that describe the scene setting, e.g. a couple of bedraggled men leaning against a store front holding beer bottles, or a woman wearing a diamond necklace to her daughter’s back-to-school night.
  • Provide a little backstory. His wife died ten years ago and he hasn’t been fully sober ever since.
  • Have a minor character interact with your protagonist. He could give your protagonist advice—good or bad; spill something on him; ask for a handout.

Giving your readers a few interesting characters can add a quick note of humor, sadness or fear. Follow these tips and you’ll create minor characters worthy of a readers’ attention.

More tips:

How to Create Minor Characters in Your Mystery Novel

Posted by: nancycurteman | August 18, 2018

3 Research Methods for Novelists

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Research is an essential skill that authors need to master whether they write nonfiction or fiction. There are three basic research methods for novelists, interviews, reading/internet and visiting locations.

In my case, I wanted to add a Muslim female character to one of my stories. I needed to gain an understanding of the customary dress of Muslim women. I will share my research as a way of demonstrating how I used the three research methods.

Interviews. I have a neighbor who is Muslim so I shared my objective with her and asked her the questions I had prepared ahead of time.

Question: Why do Muslim women wear what they wear?
Answer: In the Qur’an, Allah tells believers they should be modest and wear their veils. For many women a hijab is a visible sign of their faith. She added there are other advantages to their mode of dress including not being judged for beauty, being known as a Muslim and comfort in the loose, flowing clothing.

Question: Do women have to wear traditional clothing?
Answer: No. For example, women choose to wear the hijab for many different reasons. Some choose not to wear traditional clothing at all. In some communities men wear traditional clothing.

Question: Do men insist that women wear traditional clothing?
Answer: Absolutely not. The only cases in which women are forced to dress traditionally would be in very conservative communities and countries.

Visit a place. In my case, I couldn’t visit a Muslim country although that would have been ideal. In the country or location, you encounter all the sensory experiences: sights, sounds, smells, touching. The next best thing for me was to watch videos or documentaries about the place on television and on the internet.

Read/Internet. Libraries and the internet are great resources with one caveat: Confirm any information you learn by consulting other sources. I learned valuable information using this research strategy. I gained an understanding of some of the various types of traditional clothing:

Hijab-a veil that consists of one or two scarves that cover the head and neck.

Jihab-a robe or coat that covers the whole body except the head and hands.

Burqa-a full body veil. The wearer’s entire face and body are covered, and she sees through a mesh screen over the eyes.

Niqab-covers the entire body, head and face but an opening is left for the eyes.

Many modern Muslim women choose not to wear traditional clothing although some do. It is their choice.

Using the 3 research methods for novelists, I’ve gathered a lot of information I can use to round out my character.

More Tips:

How to Open a Mystery Novel

Questions to ask before adding details to your Mystery Novel 

6 Ways to Avoid “Information Dumps” in a Mystery Novel

Posted by: nancycurteman | July 31, 2018

3 Ways to Ignite Reader Emotions

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Readers want to cry, laugh, fear, rage, and worry with a novel’s character. Fiction is not real, but emotions must be. It’s the author’s job to induce emotions in readers, to enable them to feel character emotions right along with the hero and heroine.  There are three basic ways to ignite reader emotions: description, adjusting elements of writing and interior dialog. Note none of these methods include simply stating the character is mad, sad, happy, angry. The old rule applies, “Show, don’t tell.”

Description. Describe the impact the emotion is having on the character’s body—weak knees, cold hands, trembling, sweating, swallowing, clenched teeth, blushing etc. These are a few examples to illustrate the physical impact of given emotions on characters.

Adjusting The Elements of Writing.  Slow pacingin emotional scenes such as fear of imminent danger or a death scene or romantic interlude. Darken settingwhen the mood is fearful or sad, brighten setting when the mood is joyful. A character’stone(the viewpoint character’s attitude) should be reflected in his actions and words. For example, if he is desperate, show it in his actions and in what he says. Make thecharactersympathetic so the reader can identify with her hopes, joys, sorrows and needs.

Internal Dialogue.This is one of the most effective strategies for invoking reader emotions because it can bare the character’s soul. Internal dialogue lets the reader in on the character’s deepest, most worrisome thoughts and memories that describe why he or she is feeling a given emotion—she hated her stepfather and this man acts just like him. Her friend died in a car accident on a dark rainy night and now she’s terrified of driving on stormy nights. Why did he insist on that last scotch? He knows he’s driving erratically. Can he make it home before a cop pulls him over?

All three of these strategies, description, adjustment of the elements of writing and internal dialogue are essential to igniting reader emotions


More Tips:

How to Increase Tension Through Character Inner Conflict
How to Use Character Inner Feelings to Drive Story Action
How Unconscious Motivations Drive Character Behavior in a Mystery Novel

Posted by: nancycurteman | July 12, 2018

Your Favorite Lysi Weston Novel

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Now that I’ve completed six Lysi Weston mysteries and am beginning my seventh, I’d like to find out  which book you enjoyed the most. In each novel I introduced new characters along with the ones that are permanent in the series. Learning which novel is your favorite will give me some insight into how you feel about each new character and whether I should continue their appearance in future novels.

I realize how precious your time is but I hope you can spare a moment to complete this poll. Of course your vote will remain completely anonymous. However, if you wish to add a comment you can do so in the comment section below the blog post. The poll results will show on my blog.

Thank you for taking a moment to complete my poll.

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