Three Tips for Writing YA Mysteries

I’ve loved mysteries since I first sat down in front of the TV on Saturday mornings to watch Scooby Doo. In the past two years, I’ve had two crime short stories published in anthologies from Mt. Zion Ridge Press. I could have written my short stories from any point of view, but I felt most comfortable writing from the POV of a teen. In the process of writing “Debt to Pay”, a country noir, and “A Rose from the Ashes,” a Christmas mystery, I learned some important lessons and want to share three tips for writing YA mysteries.

Teens make great amateur detectives.

Stories with amateur detectives have always attracted me because they are the ultimate underdog in mysteries. And I love underdog stories, making me empathize and sympathize wit the main character. Who could be more of an underdog than a teen, especially one who isn’t even a legal adult yet? Without the aid of official standing, fellow officers, or a crime lab, the amateur detective tries to solve a mystery relying solely on her intellect and abilities.

To make the amateur detective more believable as a character, I need to give her some qualities that she can apply to crime solving. She can have an insatiable curiosity or just plain nosiness. Maybe she can’t stand seeing someone bullied or has a deep desire for justice. If the mystery involves other teens, then the teen detective has an edge over the police because she can investigate in ways they can’t.


In “A Rose from the Ashes,” my teen detective, nineteen-year-old Rae Riley, shows great determination and courage as she tries to fulfill her late mother’s dying wish. She thinks if she uncovers who tried to murder her pregnant mother twenty years before, she may also discover the father she’s never met.


The investigation is about more than the investigation.

The teen detective’s pursuit of the mystery should mean more than just finding the answer. In the real world, the teen years are a time of change and discovery. Uniting those themes with a mystery makes for a richer story. The investigation can be a sign that the teen detecrive is ready for more independence or responsibility. Or maybe he’s a loner, who learns to rely on friends. Many of these themes can be applied to mysteries with adult characters, but I find them more meaningful when used within a YA mystery. In my story, Rae is desperate for a family since her mom died. She’s willing to take on a would-be killer if it leads to her father.

The teen detective must be active in the solution.

As a teen, I never wanted to read a YA book where the teen main character screws up so badly that an adult has to save him. Although it’s often true in real life, and because of that fact, I wanted something different in my fiction.

After encouraging readers to follow the teen detective through her investigation, I can’t have the police or some other adult solve it for her. Or, even worse, have the police rescue her from the criminal. Having the teen detective blunder so badly that she must be bailed out will only irritate readers.

That doesn’t mean the detective can’t make mistakes. The teen detective has to remain human. Only Sherlock Holmes can get away with perfect deductions. She doesn’t have to figure out every part of the mystery. She can unmask the criminal but maybe not understand all his motivations until after he’s arrested and questioned by the police. Or the criminal isn’t who she suspected, and when the true one comes after her, she captures him. But the teen detective must be essential to solving the mystery and never just a helpless bystander.

What are some of your favorite YA mysteries? I’d love to get some recommendations!

Writing Tip — Favorite Stories

Anthology Meme 1

Because my focus this month is the anthology Christian fiction off the beaten path and writing short stories, I decided to feature another anthology. This book has a special place in my heart because it contains my first published work, “Debt to Pay”. But more than that, it showed me that I could write more than my YA crime novel.

I’d worked for years on that novel. I’d occasionally stir the interest of an agent, who’d ask for sample chapters and my business plan. Then they’d always turn it down. I hadn’t considered writing a short story until this opportunity came.

Forcing my imagination outside the world I’d invented for my novel released a creative flow I didn’t realize I had. My imagination had grown stale, working with the same characters, in the same setting. I’d lost a lot of my enthusiasm for writing fiction. The challenge of the short story showed me that I was more than a one-book writer.

Once I got “Debt to Pay” out the door, my imagination took off in all sorts of new directions. I was excited to create stories again. Below are summaries of the nine stories. For a chance to win From the Lake to the River, click here to enter a chance to win the anthology. Deadline is 5 p.m. EST, November 13.

“EVIE’S LETTER” BY CINDY THOMSON

Historical fiction. A group of ladies in Cardington, Ohio, are answering letters to Santa. One letter from the daughter of a Confederate soldier asks for something more difficult than giving toys and candy. The women must decide if they can put aside their sorrow for the sake of a child.

“CHRISTMAS ANGELS” BY CAROLE BROWN

Historical fiction. Her mother called her a failure, and maybe she was. Her husband was gone—in the service, yes, but if he loved her—really loved her, why didn’t he write? Or call? Or send the money she needed?

What she needed was a miracle…and that wasn’t going to happen.

“COLD READ” BY SHARYN KOPF

Time Slip. When Stephie Graham volunteered to direct The Rainmaker at the historic Holland Theatre in Bellefontaine, Ohio, she might not have thought it all through. Like how hard it can be to find six male cast members for a small community production. But then Andy Tremont moseys into the audition—and into her heart.

In case things weren’t difficult enough, the theatre might have a ghost named Juniper who’s trying to keep Stephie and Andy from getting together. There was, in fact, a Juniper who took the Holland stage in 1933 and sang about her broken heart, certain she had lost her chance at love.

But maybe God has a plan for both women that is beyond what either could ever imagine.

“FRED’S GIFT” BY BETTIE BOSWELL

Contemporary. Widowed mother Dawn is filled with regrets concerning her aging father. Is it too late to make up for lost time? Or, will she find peace and perhaps a new love as her father’s final journey is revealed?

SOLDIER’S HEART BY TAMERA LYNN KRAFT

Historical fiction. Noah Andrews, a soldier with the Ohio Seventh Regiment can’t wait to get home now that his three year enlistment is coming to an end. He plans to start a new life with his young wife. Molly was only sixteen when she married her hero husband. She prayed every day for him to return home safe and take over the burden of running a farm. But they can’t keep the war from following Noah home. Can they build a life together when his soldier’s heart comes between them?

SURPRISED BY LOVE BY SANDRA MERVILLE HART

Historical fiction. Set during the tragic 1913 Great Miami River Flood in Troy, Ohio.

Lottie’s feelings for an old school crush blossom again during the worst flood her town has endured in years.

Desperate circumstances throw Lottie and Joe together. Can tragedy unite the couple to make her long-buried dream of winning his love come true?

SUMMER SONG BY MICHELLE LEVGINE

Contemporary. Dani has growing doubts about mixing marriage and a music ministry on the road. Then again, with as little time as she and Kurt can spend together, despite working for the same ministry, she might never see that engagement ring. Four weeks at a teen music boot camp gives them time together, but the egos and politics that converge in one place might threaten everything.

DEBT TO PAY BY JPC ALLEN

Country noir. While cutting wood near their home in Wayne National Forest, a teenager and his older brother stumble across a dying millionaire, who claims his plane was rigged to crash. Do the brothers seek justice or cash in?

COURTESY TURN BY REBECCA WILLIAMS WATERS

Contemporary. Recently widowed Lori returns to square dancing as she tries to open a new chapter in her life.

 

 

Writing Tip — Guest Blogger, Bettie Boswell

39760465_2130678013617363_178544449079476224_nMy friend Bettie Boswell is joining me today because as a writer of both words and music, she brings an informed view about how the two arts interrelated. Thanks so much for stopping by, Bettie!

Music and the written word have characteristics that are both similar and yet very different:  Patterns, rhythms, and lyrical phrases fill music and the written word. Both have meanings that are clear and hidden. Both reach for the listener’s heart and emotions. They move at varying tempos. They both involve pitches but what a difference between the two. Highs and lows move throughout the song and the story but again they have contrasts in meaning. A symphony has distinct sections and so does a story. Picture books may have a recurring refrain and so do many songs.

By popular definition, music is organized sound. The written story consists of organized words. Organization makes the difference between a rambling journal entry and a well-written novel.

Music begins with a BEAT that binds the piece and the performers together. The story has a heartbeat that ties the tale together through either a theme or an outline designed to show changes along a hero’s journey. In writing, the beat can also refer to actions that keep story movement going between conversations in quotes.

RHYTHM adds sparkle to the music by breaking up the constant beat. Rhythm forms patterns that repeat and change. Patterns reveal FORM in the music and make the music memorable and easier to perform. Surprising rhythms are exciting to listen to and make each composition unique. Certain rhythms indicate genre, be it Jazz or Baroque or Rock. When an author pens a story, they will follow certain word rhythms or plot types that will take them into genres such as Young Adult, Picture Book, Mystery, Romance, or Suspense.

PITCH in music makes the music sing as the melody moves through high and low notes. Stories also move through high and low events for the main character. Pitch can strain or relax the musician’s abilities. In the writer’s world, a pitch can be one of the most strenuous events that the author will experience. Will they easily sing out the essence of their story to an editor or agent, or will they over do it and ruin their chance at having their voice (story) heard?

Speaking of voice, in music there are many TIMBRES (tone qualities.) In a symphonic orchestra, a b-flat played on an oboe will sound very different from one played on a tuba or a viola, yet they are in tune with each other.  A singer can also perform the same note but he or she will have his or her own unique voice. Authors are encouraged to find their own voice for telling the story in a genuine way. They also need to find special voices for the players making up the orchestra of characters found in their book.

All those voices playing together create HARMONY or dissonance in the music or the story. When things go well there is harmony; when they don’t there is dissonance. Dissonance creates tension in both music and the story. It happens when two voices get too close and create a displeasing sound. Dissonance creates the desire to resolve the sound into something more pleasing. When those two voices give each other a little space, they find harmony and a happy conclusion is the result.

Writing is like being the conductor of an orchestra. The author keeps the beat and rhythm going and knows when to speed up or slow the TEMPO of the story. They know what voices should be part of the story and where to cue the reader that something is about to happen. They lead with quiet or loud words when approaching the DYNAMICS of each scene. They direct emotions by using smooth lyrical sentences, or staccato phrases to make a point. Just as a songwriter chooses the perfect lyrics for a ballad, an author finds words that are meaningful to their chosen audience and to themselves. They stand before that audience, give it their best (after many rehearsal hours of revising,) and hope that they receive a singing review for a work well done.

Best wishes and Merry Christmas to all aspiring writers and musicians,

Bettie Boswell

*****

Find Bettie’s Christmas short story “Fred’s Gift” as well as my country noir one “Debt to Pay” in the anthology below. Click here for ordering links.

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Bettie Boswell is an author, illustrator, and composer for both Christian and children’s markets. She holds a B.S. in Church Music from Cincinnati Bible College and a Masters in Elementary Education from East Tennessee State University. She lives in Northwest Ohio. Her numerous musicals have been performed at schools, churches, and two community theater events. When she isn’t writing, drawing or composing, she keeps busy with her day job teaching elementary music. You can find her online on Twitter @BboswellB and on Facebook.

 

 

 

 

Writing Tip — Favorite Story: From the Lake to the River

From the Lake to the RiverI am very excited to announce the upcoming publication on September 1 of my first short story in From the Lake to the River: Buckeye Christian Fiction Authors 2018 Anthology. The theme for the nine stories is that they are all set in Ohio, whether in the present or the past. To give you a hint of what’s inside, here are four summaries:

Soldier’s Heart by Tamera Lynn Kraft

Noah Andrews, a soldier with the Ohio Seventh Regiment can’t wait to get home now that his three year enlistment is coming to an end. He plans to start a new life with his young wife. Molly was only sixteen when she married her hero husband. She prayed every day for him to return home safe and take over the burden of running a farm. But they can’t keep the war from following Noah home. Can they build a life together when his soldier’s heart comes between them? 150 years ago the history of America changed forever.

Surprised by Love by Sandra Merville Hart

Set during the tragic 1913 Great Miami River Flood in Troy, Ohio.

Lottie’s feelings for an old school crush blossom again during the worst flood her town has endured in years.

Desperate circumstances throw Lottie and Joe together. Can tragedy unite the couple to make her long-buried dream of winning his love come true?

Summer Song by Michelle Levgine

Dani has growing doubts about mixing marriage and a music ministry on the road. Then again, with as little time as she and Kurt can spend together, despite working for the same ministry, she might never see that engagement ring. Four weeks at a teen music boot camp gives them time together, but the egos and politics that converge in one place might threaten everything.

Debt to Pay by JPC Allen

While cutting wood near their home in Wayne National Forest, a teenager and his older brother stumble across a dying millionaire, who claims his plane was rigged to crash. Do the brothers seek justice or cash in?

As you can see, our anthology offers a romance and history, as well as crime fiction. In fact my story qualifies as “country noir”. What is country noir? I’m so glad you asked! It’s a sub-genre of crime fiction which I will discuss in my next post.

I am a huge fan of anthologies because I can sample the works of many different authors. What are some of your favorite anthologies?

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