Helen Fitzgerald, author of Keep Her Sweet, shares five tips for writing mystery novels


1. Before you start counting the words, ask yourself this question: Could someone else write this book? If the answer is yes, don’t write it, save a thousand hours, let someone else do it. I don’t think there are any original stories, but everyone’s voice is or should be unique and that originality is what makes a good book stand out. Many years ago (before my publication), a famous poet asked me where I had found my voice. I had no idea what he was talking about and said, ‘It’s Australian’. I had to google “voice” when I got home, then I started worrying that I hadn’t found mine and I should really start looking for it. Turns out it was in my teenage diary and it was (and still is) that of an angry, maniacal teenager who loves to laugh. Oh and it’s Australian too. Yours could also be in your teenage diary – go check it out.

Helen Fitzgerald, Keep It Sweet

2. Write character biographies before you start counting words. If you know your characters inside out – all of them, not just the main ones – then the story will jump out at you. This is the funniest part, the biography stage. From birth, make a timeline for each person. Where were they born? Were their parents happy? Did they have a stutter? When did they kill their first victim? It will eventually translate into words, I promise.

3. Don’t obsess over word counting. If you have to count anything, count the hours – the time you spend thinking, writing biographies, pulling your hair out, feeling nauseous, talking, pitching, taking notes – those things are also of writing.

4. Put yourself in your character’s shoes; each of them. (There are no little characters, just little writers!) In these shoes, ask yourself: what is she thinking? How does she feel? One of my early editors wrote this in the margins of every page of my first draft – But what does she FEEL? Answering the question was very difficult work – but helped me and the book a lot; I was changing the pure action and dialogue into a scene that would make the reader feel what the character is feeling.

5. Don’t neglect your end – please, for me. Some TV editors and curators seem to only care about the first third or first episode – I hate that. Before you begin, I think it’s essential to at least have an idea of ​​where your character ends up, otherwise the final chapters are explanatory and infuriating. In my mind, you will have negated all the hard work and originality you started with. The end of an exposition makes me regret having enjoyed a beautifully written opening. Aim for a surprising but inevitable ending. Good becomes meh if there is an unsatisfying climax.


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