Charles Finch on getting started with a mystery

October 30, 2019 | By Jim Stovall | Filed in: journalism, writers, writing.

How do you write a mystery novel?

Charles Finch, author of the Charles Lenox, says that plots don’t come naturally to him, so he has a trick:

I start by writing a brief, extremely dull short story. No one will ever see one of these if I can conceivably prevent it; it’s usually only about three pages, but I refine it for weeks, as carefully as Rudy Giuliani mixing his old fashioned before he Skypes in to Hannity, because, like Rudy, I’m focused on doing a crime. Specifically, that small story contains a full, straightforward account of the case my detective must solve, told in simple English. It enumerates who committed the crime and why, how they covered it up, and all the stuff of mystery novels: clues, red herrings, false leads, bloody knives, mysterious scars, anonymous notes, midnight rendezvous — in short, all the details I know I’ll have to omit from the real book I write, the actual mystery novel. Source: Charles Finch on How He Writes Charles Lenox Mysteries

This is an interesting look into not only the method but also the mind of a novelist.

Most novelists get some form of the question, “How do you come up with your stories/ideas/plots?” on almost a daily basis. This article in New York magazine’s is Finch’s answer.

Finch is an under-40 author who has developed an audience and made it onto a number of best-seller lists. He is a true preppie — which, of course, is no knock on him or his background. He was born and raised on Manhattan, educated at Phillips Academy, and did his college at Yale, where he majored in English and History. He also has a degree in English literature from Merton College in Oxford.

His advice on how he writes mysteries is surprisingly low-brow and straightforward:

This probably sounds like an artificial way to go about writing a book. But it isn’t, or at least, it doesn’t feel that way when I’m inside of doing it. The first impulse of each mystery I write is some crime — or occasionally some enigmatic and ominous image — that gets a grip on me. (A good test I use for these is whether I’d listen to a whole season of Serial about whatever I just made up. If not, I scrap it immediately.)

If you are interested in the writing process, this is a good (and short) article to read.


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