Monday 9 October 2017

Getting to grips with a different genre - my switch to mystery writing

by Paula Harrison

I started my writing life dreaming up fantasy adventures for 9 +. These were the books I loved best as a child, particularly The Dark is Rising series by Susan Cooper and The Weirdstone of Brisingamen by Alan Garner. I wrote the Red Moon Rising trilogy, published by Nosy Crow, and the Robyn Silver books, published by Scholastic, which very much fall into that genre. But I also had eclectic reading tastes so it wasn't long before I switched age groups and switched genres in my writing too.  

I love trying out new things so I thoroughly embraced writing mysteries. My books are short mysteries, about 15,000 words long, and best suited to children aged 6+. But they're mysteries nonetheless. Writing them involved a slightly different process than a fantasy adventure and that's partly why I enjoyed doing them so much.

Firstly, plotting was different. I'm not a pantser - I plan out my stories before I start - but if you have a sudden inspiration in the middle of your adventure book or if you find that your plot isn't working, you can wing it quite a bit and write your way through the middle of your book. I've always enjoyed doing it. Some of the best inspiration comes when you are deep within a story and you can see that the artifice you set out to create at the beginning doesn't fit together as well as you thought it would. It feels a little bit daring, leaving the plan behind and thinking on my feet.

However, this does not work well for me when I'm writing a mystery book. For my mysteries I need the framework to be absolutely solid. All plot lines, suspects and red herrings must be worked out and thought through in detail before I begin, otherwise the whole thing can fall apart.

The second thing I found very different was the overall shape of the book. To me, the plot of a book has a shape and this is often the 3 act structure that most stories use. There is the beginning, an incident which heralds the meaty middle section of the book, and then a climax with a concluding section. When I started to write mysteries I was interested to find my 3rd act or concluding section much shorter than I made them in adventure stories. I wondered why this was the case and I decided  perhaps it was in the nature of mystery or detective fiction. The whole thrust of the book leads to the moment when the mystery is resolved and after that it works best if the story is wound up fairly quickly.

So here are my first four mystery books. The Case of the Stolen Crown and The Secret of the Silk Dress are out now with the 3rd and 4th books due out in January.


  1. These look great. Congratulations, Paula! Who are they published by?

  2. Thanks Anne! They're published by Scholastic.

  3. Great stuff. How many words would these new mysteries be?


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