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How to Write a Damn Good Mystery: A Practical Step-by-Step Guide from Inspiration to Finished Manuscript Hardcover – February 12, 2004


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Frequently Bought Together

How to Write a Damn Good Mystery: A Practical Step-by-Step Guide from Inspiration to Finished Manuscript + How to Write a Damn Good Thriller: A Step-by-Step Guide for Novelists and Screenwriters + How to Write a Damn Good Novel: A Step-by-Step No Nonsense Guide to Dramatic Storytelling
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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 288 pages
  • Publisher: St. Martin's Press; 1 edition (February 12, 2004)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0312304463
  • ISBN-13: 978-0312304461
  • Product Dimensions: 8.4 x 5.8 x 1 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 13.4 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (44 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #523,523 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

From Booklist

From the author of How to Write a Damn Good Novel (1987) comes a companion volume aimed at would-be mystery writers. Frey doesn't believe in those collections "of tips on what to do and what not to do," arguing that they give the false impression that writing good fiction is merely a matter of mixing ingredients in the right proportions. Instead, Frey contains, the key to a good mystery isn't picking clues and getting the technical stuff right; it's a matter of finding the right people to tell your story, finding the right words to frame it, finding the right sequence of events to maximize suspense. Frey also spends time on an important but frequently neglected aspect of the writerly trade: the audience. Who reads mysteries, and what do they expect from them? Meanwhile, he tackles the nuts and bolts in a particularly clever manner, by guiding the reader through the creation of a virtual novel, which he calls Murder in Montana. This approach proves eminently practical and rich in details. A must for budding crime-fiction authors. David Pitt
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved

Review

"Confidently guides the novice through the crime-writing basics."
--Publishers Weekly
 
"Eminently practical and rich in details. A must for budding crime-fiction authors."
--Booklist
 
"Frey ... delivers a witty and entertaining writer's-conference-in-a-book."
--Library Journal

More About the Author

James N. Frey is the author of internationally bestselling books on the craft of fiction writing, including How to Write a Damn Good Novel, How to Write a Damn Good Novel II: Advanced Techniques, and The Key: How to Write Damn Good Fiction Using the Power of Myth. He is also the author of nine novels, including the Edgar Award-nominated The Long Way to Die. He has taught at the University of California, Berkeley, Extension, the Squaw Valley Community of Writers, and the Oregon Writers' Colony, and he is a featured speaker at writers' conferences throughout the United States and Europe. Former students include recent Anthony award-nominees Betty Winkleman and Cara Black, and many best-selling authors including Marjorie Reynolds, Melba Beals, and April Sinclair.

Customer Reviews

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

137 of 139 people found the following review helpful By hear-hear.com on February 14, 2004
Format: Hardcover
Despite its drawbacks, How to _Write a Damn Good Mystery: A Practical Step-by-Step Guide from Inspiration to Finished Manuscript_ is the best book I have yet read on writing a mystery. For a step-by-step guide to mystery writing, I found it more flexible, more readable and less stuffy than _The Weekend Novelist Writes a Mystery_. _How to Write a Damn Good Mystery_ offers excellent guidance for character creation, but I would recommend _Getting Into Character: Seven Secrets a Novelist Can Learn From Actors_ by Brandilyn Collins, which goes into character creation in greater depth, as supplemental reading.
I highly recommend _How to Write a Damn Good Mystery : A Practical Step-by-Step Guide from Inspiration to Finished Manuscript_ with two caveats:
1. The author often offers his opinion as fact.
2. The book sometimes reads like an advertisement for the author's other how-to-write-fiction books.
Jim Frey mentions his other how-to-write-fiction books about twenty times during the course of this 267 page book. At an average of one plug every thirteen pages, that doesn't sound too bad. But, Frey tends to begin chapters by talking about his other books, which quickly becomes repetitious and grated on my nerves because I thought it unnecessary: Don't tell me what you said in another book, just tell me again in this book. I can only recall one place where he mentioned a fiction book he wrote. This may be because all the mystery novels he has written are now out of print.
Jim Frey uses his ten years of teaching experience to justify some of his opinions, which he presents as facts. Jim's mystery novels are all out of print and he appears to be making a living putting on writing workshops and writing how-to-write-fiction books.
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99 of 111 people found the following review helpful By Kim B on June 13, 2004
Format: Hardcover
This was one of the worst writing guides I have ever purchased. The real mystery is why it received so many great reviews on this site. Are you all Friends of Frey?
I bought the book thinking that the previous review ("A great guide, but some "facts" are actually opinions," February 14, 2004) was a great kickoff, eager to hear more from Frey himself. For example, the idea of flying through a quick first draft, writing it almost as a screenplay and blocking out the actions in all caps, intrigued me. Frey rolls around to this idea towards the end of the book and admits it wasn't even his own idea but one he'd lifted off a half-ploughed writer at a conference. Having finished the book, I can say I got as much from the review above as I did from the book itself.
Frey treats his own method as THE WAY to write, gives no alternatives, and makes no acknowledgement that there are a number of ways that writers approach their work. Worse, he states that thick, well-rounded characters are preferable, but then peoples his own examples with the thinnest of trope characters. He even advocates these `archetypes' (which read more like stereotypes) as a good way to start framing your characterization, a process I think is completely backwards, and tends to leave writers in the shallow waters where they began to kick about. The examples he gives throughout tend to be uninteresting and lack consistency; when he gives an example of a poor writing sample he does not remedy the ill by making that same sample better or good or `damn good,' he just skips to a new example completely, which tends not to be `damn good' itself.
Most annoying, Frey kicks off nearly every chapter or salient point with a blatant stump for one of his other published books on writing.
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15 of 16 people found the following review helpful By Sophie on June 23, 2004
Format: Hardcover
I have been a fan of James N. Frey since his first "how to" book, "How to Write a Damn Good Novel". I was pleasantly surprised that he has now adapted his method to the mystery genre.
This book does not go into all the poisons, weapons, clever plot reversals, etc. that you might find in other mystery writing books, but it does tell you where and how to begin, how to create characters with depth and interest, a plan for a logical and surprising plot, and tips on improving writing style. To me, it is the first book I have read on this subject that makes the writing process clear. I have been a fan of mystery novels since childhood, and I always wanted to write one but did not know how to generate a good enough story. Now, since Frey's book, I have an idea I am excited about and I am, for the first time, writing a mystery novel.
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13 of 14 people found the following review helpful A Kid's Review on August 28, 2005
Format: Hardcover
Sure, the author offers many opinions as facts and writes as if his way is the only way. So? He still gives PLENTY of solid advice, and so this book must be read with an open mind. The only reason I purchased it was because I am working on a cross-genre novel, and am quite unfamiliar with writing mysteries. I knew not where to start. Thus, while reading this book, I understand that I am breaking many of the "rules" that the author states, for this is the art of fiction.

I would not recommend this book to any writer who is familiar with mystery fiction. However, just as it was for me, it is an excellent book if you are new to the field. Just remember to read it with an open mind (I actually find the author's obvious resent of literary fiction rather humorous - just one of many things that you must grit your teeth and bear as you read onward).

Of course, do not for the life of you depend solely upon his advice for plotting and characterization. It will be death of you. For both plotting and characterization, I HIGHLY recommend reading some of Nancy Kress's writing books. Although not a mystery writer, she gives some of the best advice I've ever read.
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