Issue 93: Dark and Twisty: Mystery Writing, Thriller, Horror, Twists, Paranormal, Crime

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Why Women Crime Writers Are Killing It: Mel McGrath, Cass Green, Sharon Bolton, Angela Clarke, Rosie MacLeod

How to Write Fiction that Keeps Readers Up at Night by Camille Faye

D.M. Pulley: Thriller Novelist and Master Storyteller

Writing Tension, Suspense, and Twists in Fiction

Straddling Two Worlds of Crime and Mystery Writing with Frankie Y. Bailey

How to Twist Like Agatha Christie

Analyzing the Twist Ending in Se7en and The Sixth Sense

From Grief and Rejection to Success in Self-Publication with Writer/Editor Patricia A. Nugent

This Writer's Favorite Thriller Twists

This Writer's Favorite Thriller Twists

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Issue 93: Dark & Twisty


Readers love a jaw-dropping twist—a shocking surprise that you didn’t see coming; and yet, the entire story suddenly makes sense because the author carefully crafted it from the beginning. A twist so breathtaking that the book is embedded in your heart and soul for years to come. Who doesn’t want that? Both writers and readers do!

I remember the first time I read a twist, aside from a mystery novel where the twist is expected. It was the late 90s. I was experimenting with novels outside my typical genres and picked up Fight Club by Chuck Palahniuk. The novel was billed as literary mainstream, but it quickly became a cult classic for its disturbingly accurate interpretation of modern consumerism—specifically, its satirical take on the dehumanizing effects of chronic materialism and lifestyle obsessions fueled by advertising. But it’s the twist that everyone remembers. And of course, the mantra of Fight Club’s rules: “The first rule of fight club is: You don’t talk about fight club.” The same thing holds true for twists. “The first rule about twists is: You don’t talk about twists.” Why? Because you spoil it for everybody.

Well, in this “Dark & Twisty” ezine issue of WOW, we break that rule into pieces. Our writers not only talk about twists but dissect them for craft elements, examine different types of twists, and explore all the tools that go hand-in-hand with twists: plotting, pacing, tension, suspense, release, downtime, and more. Oh, and Spoiler Alert! This issue is full of spoilers. But you can’t talk craft without including them. Twists are not easy to pull off, and writing a twist takes all the tools in a writer’s toolkit; so, in this issue, we break out all the plotting tools to help you begin building your novel house.

I also want to mention that twists are not just for book-length fiction. I’ve written twists in both short stories and creative nonfiction. For CNF, it’s about pacing the information, what you want to show to the reader and when—for impact—and your word choice. There’s a slight of hand available to nonfiction writers—that when done well can be just as jaw-dropping as a novel’s twist. Some essays are so cleverly written that the “shift” (that’s what we call it in CNF rather than a twist) comes as a shock. Don’t believe me? Jo Ann Beard’s “The Fourth State of Matter” is an awe-inspiring example, and nonfiction writers can use the same tools we explore in this issue for their creative nonfiction and memoir projects. And if you’re writing true crime, then bonus for you!

Besides twists, we also cover the “dark” side of Dark & Twisty through interviews with crime writers, mystery authors, horror novelists, and more. We examine the psychology behind fear, learn the rules of mystery writing, and even attend a conference dedicated to crime and murder. You could say we be gettin’ all Halloween-y up in here! But we’re writers, and that would be terrible grammar. Besides, this issue is timeless. We love to write and read these genres during any season. Are you ready to do the twist? Let’s get started!

A big, warm thank you goes to our freelancers and staff members:

We welcome freelancer Rosie MacLeod to the WOW family, and thank her for her fascinating deep dive into the psychology of female crime writers in “Why Women Crime Writers are Killing It.” This article covers some concepts I hadn’t thought of before, like how we, as women, are taught to fear from an early age in a way that men simply aren’t. When we slip a key into the door of a dark house, thoughts about who might be waiting on the other side run through our heads like the plot of a crime novel. Being conditioned to fear and protect ourselves is what makes women crime writers so darn good at inserting that fear into their work. Rosie chats with authors Mel McGrath, Cass Green, Sharon Bolton, and Angela Clarke about how they use the fears that drive them as fuel for their stories. There are plenty of ideas in this article that writers can use for their own plots; and in fact, when I talked to Rosie about writing this article, she expressed her excitement for Angela Clarke’s fourth crime novel, On My Life, which is set in a prison and was inspired by Angela’s own work teaching in prisons. Angela found out that there is no midwifery service for women in prison, and any woman who gives birth in prison (in the UK) is literally just left to her own devices. When I heard that, I was eager to find out more because women can use crime writing not only to conquer their fears but also as a way to highlight injustice and evoke change. Another topic that’s covered in-depth is the dangers of the internet and social media, cyber-bullying, trolling, suicide, and how technology is advancing so quickly that there is really no way of policing the internet. Welcome to the Dark & Twisty issue where we go deep!

Paranormal author Camille Faye is already part of the WOW family since she’s in Margo L. Dill’s writing group and an expert in WOW’s Individualized Marketing for Authors class, but this is the first article she’s written for WOW, and it’s fantastic. In “How to Write Fiction that Keeps Readers Up at Night” Camille shares her best tips, including “Plotting that Keeps Readers Turning the Page,” “Characters that Face Down their Demons,” and “Details that Infuse Magic into Your World,” and also includes exercises you can put to use right now. I have to admit, I cringed when I read this because her advice is what I needed to hear—even as a memoirist! My writing has been compared to Charles Dickens—full of description, possibly flowery—so stripping everything away and really analyzing plot in a practical manner is an important lesson. Camille makes it easy. She even includes percentages, like how much dialogue you should have in your work-in-progress. She equates novel writing to building a house, where plotting and characterization are part of the structure and description is the finishing tool, the decorations. The best part is she includes excellent examples from her own novels! We recommend this article as a base for every fiction writer.

I always find it so interesting how all the articles fit together so well in an issue—it means we’re uncovering a theme that’s collectively out there in writers’ minds. We never know what we’re going to get until we receive it, and this Interview with “D.M. Pulley, Thriller Novelist and Master Storyteller ” by Dorit Sasson is incredible because she talks about all the topics we’re going to discuss in-depth in this issue. D.M. Pulley’s first novel, The Dead Key, was the winner of the 2014 Amazon Breakthrough Novel Award; and since then, she’s sold over half a million books worldwide and had her work translated into eight different languages. Amazon’s publishing company, Thomas & Mercer, offered her a publishing deal for all of her books, including her recently released fourth novel, No One’s Home. In this interview, D.M. talks about the writing blunders when attempting to write crime fiction and horror, the key ingredients for writing tension and suspense, uncovering your fears, the differences in the genres of crime writing/horror/paranormal/thriller, her favorite writing craft books, and publishing tips. Not to miss!

Speaking of tension and suspense, we welcome back Karen S. Wiesner, award-winning author of over 134 titles, and thank her for her riveting article, “Tension & Twists,” which is excerpted from her craft book, Cohesive Story Building (formerly titled From First Draft to Finished Novel, Writers Digest Books). Karen not only discusses tension and suspense but equally important, release and downtime. She also covers twists, and what questions to ask yourself while writing to figure out how to incorporate them. She includes the practical section, “Six Tips for Creating Tension and Suspense,” at the end of her article, which includes using doubt, atmosphere and mood, contrast, pacing, foreshadowing, and flashbacks. It’s always a pleasure to learn from such a masterful novelist.

Frankie Y. Bailey knows crime. She’s a professor in the School of Criminal Justice at the University at Albany and has written both nonfiction and fictional crime and mystery books. Her first published book was the scholarly, Out of the Woodpile: Black Characters in Crime and Detective Fiction, and her mystery novels feature Southern-born crime historian, Lizzie Stuart, in five books, beginning with Death’s Favorite Child. Frankie’s two near-future police procedurals feature Albany police detective, Hannah McCabe in The Red Queen Dies and What the Fly Saw (Minotaur Books). In “Straddling Two Worlds of Crime and Mystery Writing with Frankie Y. Bailey,” Christy O’Callaghan interviews Frankie about crafting her characters, writing police procedurals and whodunits, plotting and pantsing, her surprisingly easy road to publication, her work with Mystery Writers of America and Sisters in Crime, and her biggest writing influences, including Agatha Christie! Frankie is such a warm and inspiring guest.

Ah, Agatha Christie, the Queen of the Golden Age mysteries, and a writer who broke all the “rules” of mystery writing. We welcome author Louise Tondeur to the WOW family and thank her for her excellent article, “How to Twist Like Agatha Christie.” I think it was Pablo Picasso who said, “Learn the rules like a pro, so you can break them like an artist.” That’s exactly what Agatha Christie did. Agatha was a member of The Detection Club, an elite group of mystery writers officially formed in 1930. The founder of the group, Ronald Knox, penned the “Ten Commandments for Detective Novelists” as the bylaws for the club, which included rules like “The criminal must be someone mentioned in the early part of the story, but must not be anyone whose thoughts the reader has been allowed to follow.” Agatha’s novel, The Murder of Roger Ackroyd published in 1926 (notably before Knox wrote his commandments), broke the second part of rule number one. In this article, Louise Tondeur examines rule-breaker Agatha Christie’s plot devices and why her twists are so memorable, including “Everybody Dunnit,” “Misdirection,” “Setting and Confinement,” “Stately Homes,” “Transportation,” and more. This is a fascinating dive into devices you can use right now in your own WIPs. She includes a sidebar list that I’m going to print out and save!

To really understand how a twist is constructed, it helps to read the book and take notes, or watch a movie (for a faster breakdown). We welcome author Michelle Cornish to the WOW family, and thank her for her article, “Analyzing the Twist Ending in Se7en and The Sixth Sense.” Hopefully, you’ve seen these movies by now, and we’re not spoiling them for you! Michelle shows us two very different types of twists: one that uses repetition and a pattern-style setup, like in Se7en by Andrew Kevin Walker, and one that uses POV and an alternate perspective, like in The Sixth Sense by M. Night Shyamalan. I never realized why these twists were so effective until she explained it, and they’re such different techniques that I’m excited to try these out in my own works!

Can you imagine attending a police academy? One where you get to see and touch police equipment, examine evidence and a grave with a forensic anthropologist, learn the art of interrogation, mingle with FBI agents, and more? That’s what WOW’s team member Renee Roberson did by going to MurderCon, a four-day conference for writers put on by the Writers’ Police Academy. In her article, “We Speak for the Dead: The Creation of a Writing Conference All About Crime,” Renee chats with the founder of the conference, Lee Lofland, a former law enforcement officer and author of Police Procedure and Investigation: A Guide for Writers (Writers Digest Books), who shares how he created this conference that’s so important to crime writers who want to write authentically. It wasn’t easy putting something like this together, as you can imagine, but I’m so glad he did! Renee also chats with Sherry Harris, an Agatha Award-nominated author and president of Sisters in Crime, about her experiences attending the conference. If you’re a crime writer, a conference like this is gold and something you probably won’t find elsewhere!

Earlier, we had Michelle’s comprehensive analysis of the movies Se7en and The Sixth Sense; and now, we have an article that examines novel twists! We welcome back Pinar Tarhan and thank her for her article, “This Writer’s Favorite Twists: From Gone Girl to The Partner.” Pinar breaks down the plot points of four thrillers: The 500 by Matthew Quirk, The Partner by John Grisham, The Girl on the Train by Paula Hawkins, and Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn. There are definite spoilers here; but if you’ve read these books, it’s helpful to have a list of twisty plot points to look to and compare to your own plotting devices. She also shares what you can learn from the twists as a writer.

Are you ready to try writing your own twists? Why not start out with a short story! We’ve picked several “Mystery Markets that Pay Writers” for you to submit to. Mysteries and thrillers make up the second most popular genre of books after romance. The subgenres span from cozy to noir, hardboiled to police procedural, thriller to suspense, paranormal to spy, and more! If you write short form mysteries, you’re in luck. We’ve listed a number of paying markets that don’t charge submission fees. Check them out; and if one of them catches your interest, submit! (Note: please check their reading periods. Some of these are closed for now, but most are open.)

Last, but certainly not least, a huge thanks goes to WOW’s managing editor, Margo L. Dill, for working closely with the freelancers in this issue and making sure the articles contain valuable takeaway for writers. And as always, for her mad editing skills and making this issue a pleasure to read!

Re: Fight Club. While putting together this issue, I started re-reading Fight Club for the first time since the ’90s, and now I realize all the clues were there. “I know this because Tyler knows this” may not have meant anything to me back then, but certainly does to me now. Re-reading your favorite twists can help you understand the work deeper on a craft level, and I definitely encourage it. I’ve said this before, but Chuck Palahniuk’s novels are what inspired me to want to pen one myself. All of his books contain a jaw-dropping twist that I promise you’ll never see coming, and that’s why I wanted to write. To learn how to do that, too.

Happy writing and submitting!






Angela Mackintosh is editor-in-chief and art director of WOW! Women On Writing. She has been published in Vice, Maxim, Red Fez, Awakened Voices, and The Nervous Breakdown, among others. Her work has been nominated for The Best of Net. She recently wrote the foreword to The Writer’s Digest Guide to Magazine Writing. She is an award-winning artist whose works have been commissioned for public art by the city of Long Beach, and has received grants from Funds for Women. She’s currently working on a memoir about grief and addiction, tentatively titled Hit. She lives in Los Angeles with her husband, Mike, and her tuxedo cat, Jazzy.



Margo L. Dill is the managing editor of WOW! Women On Writing, where she also teaches classes, blogs, and takes care of the social media accounts. She is the author of three children’s and YA books and owns her own editing business, Editor 911. She also works for an ag economic media company as a managing editor in St. Louis, MO. Currently, she is working on picture books and teacher manuals, revising a women’s fiction novel, and continuing to blog on her author site about anything she thinks is helpful to parents and women! She lives in St. Louis with her eight-year-old daughter and lab mix rescue puppy, Sudsi.


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