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How To Write A Murder Mystery

The murder mystery genre’ is alive and well and living at an on-line bookstore just a mouse click away. How is it that this over-utilized method of story-telling has remained so fresh and compelling after well over a hundred years? The answer lies in the basics of writing.

Grab Them Where it Hurts and Their Minds Will Follow

An author must first and foremost always tell a compelling story, involving, to one extent or another, recognizable three-dimensional characters. T...

writing, murder mystery, how to write

The murder mystery genre’ is alive and well and living at an on-line bookstore just a mouse click away. How is it that this over-utilized method of story-telling has remained so fresh and compelling after well over a hundred years? The answer lies in the basics of writing.

Grab Them Where it Hurts and Their Minds Will Follow

An author must first and foremost always tell a compelling story, involving, to one extent or another, recognizable three-dimensional characters. The fact that the story takes place against an otherwise formulaic backdrop, involving the effort to solve a murder mystery is just icing on the cake.

A reader needs to care about at least one of three people: the person who was murdered; the murderer; or the person searching for the murderer. Unless the reader can identify with at least one of them, the story will generally not coalesce. Reading a book utilizes our time, and in the modern world, that is frequently our most precious resource. The author must have a compelling answer to the question: why should I waste my time reading your novel?

The answer to that question is that the story is about someone the reader will find quite interesting: himself. The reader needs to recognize parts of himself in one or more of the characters. Though he will see them in situations that are different from his every day life, he needs the opportunity to ponder whether he would react the same way under those circumstances?

The Murder Mystery Must be Solvable Only When the Story is Concluding

Readers love to guess at the ‘who done it’ aspect of a murder mystery. Yet they are generally disappointed if they can figure out the answer too easily, or at least too early in the story.

Life is about obscurity. We never really know the secrets held by the people around us, even our most trusted loved ones. That is what makes murder mysteries so compelling: in truth, our own lives are informed by mysteries that are never solved.

Yet, unlike real life, in the novel everything is explained by its conclusion. Hence, we find comfort in the difference between our real lives and the novel; the satisfaction of finding out the answer. Psychoanalysts have a term for this: repetition compulsion. It is the need to duplicate the essence of an earlier trauma and this time, control the outcome. The reader knows there are secrets being withheld by the author, but unlike in the messy and traumatic chaos of real life, if she reads on to the end, all will be explained.

Those Who Can Teach, Write

Some of the best murder mysteries involve discourses on unrelated esoteric topics. This usually leads the reader to learn some obscure subject matter having nothing to do with the murder itself.

The act of reading involves a commitment to inhabit the mind and feelings of another person. Sometimes, that person’s expertise and erudition is an integral part of understanding them. Hence, in the course of reading a murder mystery, one might learn the evolutionary symbiosis between butterflies and orchids; the esoterica of military strategy and tactics of the Civil War; or the protocols for DNA identification of human remains.

Another example is that in my recent novel, Point and Shoot, I discussed the subtle intersection of the internal and external martial arts, using the Okinawan art of Shaolin Kempo Karate and the Chinese art of Tai Chi Chuan as an illustration:

I went to the dressing room and put on a Kung Fu uniform that I always used for Tai Chi Chuan practice: simple, loose black pants and jacket with a white collar. When I taught Kempo, I would wear the black Karate uniform with the rainbow of fighting animal patches and under that, the black belt with six stripes, but for Tai Chi, this understated garb was the uniform of the day. It was a tacit reminder that, although admittedly they were both derived from the same original Chinese Shaolin Temple forms, the two arts had developed in wholly distinct ways. Diverging branches from the same tree.

My practice of Kempo Karate had been merely adequate through my mid-adolescence. I had dutifully memorized the movements and their names, making my way up through the belt rankings. In five years, I had reached brown belt level. However, like so many martial arts students at that rank, I felt discouraged by the fact that I performed the movements so inadequately when compared to the black belts. I had reached technical proficiency, but that was all. There was obviously something more, and I had no idea what that might be.

I shared my misgivings with Grandfather, and he suggested that I learn the basic 24 posture Tai Chi short form and after that, the 108 posture long form. At first, I simply learned the Tai Chi as I would any other Kempo form. In fact, the postures and strikes were very similar to the crane form I knew so well from Kempo Karate. I executed them the same way: with focused force, albeit at a slower pace.

But over time, he painstakingly helped me unlearn everything he had taught me about the Kempo. It was a very Eastern undertaking: a Master taking his disciple back to the beginning to start fresh. This was the man who had taught me to move with blinding speed, now urging me to slow down; who had taught me to strike with devastating, focused power, now urging me to be soft and gentle with those same movements; who had taught me to prevail decisively over my attackers, now urging me to yield to the attack. In short, it was the man who taught me the external aspect of the Kempo, now helping me switch to the internal.

It was the hardest thing I ever learned, mostly because it involved unlearning. But I stuck with it, and eventually, it started to come to me. I began to immerse myself in the river of the Tai Chi form. I began to move with the flow and relaxation I had often read about in the writings of the ancient Chinese masters, but had never understood. And my martial arts practice finally started to blossom.

The Tai Chi enhanced my Kempo Karate into something beyond simple punching and kicking. I began to understand the difference between learning the martial arts and being a martial artist. I had spent so many years memorizing the Kempo combinations and forms with my head, so much time training my hands and feet to execute them, that I had completely neglected to apply the most important part of my body: the heart. I had never connected with the martial arts as a passion, a life enhancing undertaking. Like Grandfather had.

After that, he suggested I re-learn the entire Kempo Karate system from white belt on up. They were the same Kempo combinations and animal forms, but now they felt and looked different. It was like first learning a beautiful poem through translation, and then because you loved it so much, re-learning it in the original tongue. I was finally learning Shaolin Kempo Karate in its original tongue.

I still cannot adequately define what exactly changed. But somehow, I had tied into something deep and eternal. I had developed a balance and centering that extended well beyond my practice of the martial arts. I found myself becoming a different person: less angry, less anxious, more forgiving and embracing of other's failings, their weaknesses. In a word, the internal arts enhanced me.


In essence, a murder mystery should be a story that could stand alone without the murder and without the mystery. The characters should not be tangential to the story, but instead, drive it forward. They should at least have some characteristics with which the reader can identify. In other words, the reader must care enough about these characters to want to stick around and solve the mystery.


How to Write a Short Story

So how do we write a great short story? What are the things to keep in mind in order to come up with a short story that works?

tips, short story, storywriting

Everybody knows writing a story is not easy. Like the drama or the poem, it is imaginative literature that should appeal to the emotions of the readers. Since it communicates the writer's interpretation of reality, there must be an artistic use of language to signify human experience. But how do we write a great short story? What are the things to keep in mind in order to come up with a short story that works? Here's a quick guide to get you started:

1. Read

Reading is essential to anyone who wants to write. In order to be able to write a good short story, you must read other short stories first. This will not only give you the motivation and inspiration for your own story, but it will also help you learn how other authors made an impression on the reader and use their style as basis to create your own style and impression.

2. Get inspired

For seasoned professionals, there is no need to obtain inspiration because thoughts naturally flow and they only have to put them into words on paper. But for novice writers, it is important to have one because it will not only help you begin your first paragraph but also keep you going throughout. Your inspiration may take the form of an object. a person, or an event that you just can't seem to forget.

3. Conceptualize your story

Think of something you want to talk about with your readers. Let's say you want to relate a story about a couple who fell in love with each other. What about the couple? What is it about them that you are interested to let your readers know? Focus on this idea and think of other concepts that you want to associate with this couple. Suppose the girl's parents discommended their relationship. What about the parents? What did they do to stop the two from loving each other? This could signal a good beginning for your story. From here, you would have the notion what to write down.

4. Map out the scenes

In order to keep your writing aligned with your pre-conceived story events, it is good to briefly map out scenes of your story on a different piece of paper. Write down the possible characters of your story and list the main events in order. You don't have to put so much detail on them because this only serves as a rough sketch of how your story will look like.

5. Chooose your point of view

Who tells the story and how it is told is very critical for a short story to be effective. The point of view can change the feel and tone of the story radically. Hence, you must decide carefully before finally resolving with the angle of vision to use for your story. But whatever it is you decide to choose as the point of view, make sure it stays constant throughout your story to maintain consistency.

6. Conceive your characters

For a short story, create a maximum of only three main characters. Too many main characters will make your story confusing since each new character will provide a new dimension for the story. Each character should be more than cardboard caricatures. Make your characters speak naturally in proportion with their traits. Make them believable but mysterious.

7. Furnish a good introduction

When you have everything planned out, start scribbling your first paragraph. Introduce your main characters and set out the scene. The scene must be some place you know much about so that you'd be able to supply the necessary snapshot for a clearly described setting. Make your introduction interesting to hold the reader’s interest and encourage them to read on to the end. It is also important to hold back significant details and the greater part of the action at this point so the mystery is kept.

8. Build up a great plot

From your introduction, draw out events that will eventually create a problem or a conflict for the main character/characters. After that, begin laying out an array of clues to keep the reader interested, intrigued and guessing. Intensify the conflict as the story moves forward. This will not only make your reader enthused to read more but will also keep them riveted to your story.

9. Show don't tell

The characters should be the ones responsible for expressing the story through their actions and dialogue and not the writer telling the reader what is being expressed. Rather than saying, "Annette was really mad at her bestfriend Christina for stealing her boyfriend", say "Annette felt an ache in her stomach and a strong pang of betrayal as Christina approaches her and flashes her with a sweet smile. She breathed hard trying to calm herself as she speaks with suppressed anger: "I hope you're happy now that you've proven yourself as a friend."

10. Use active verbs

Put as much life into your story as you can. In order to do this, employ verbs in the active voice in your story. Instead of saying,"The flower was picked by Johanna", say "Johanna picked the flower."

11. Use dialogue every now and then

Dialogue is important in bringing your story to life. Don't just use it to pad out your characters. Use it to convey your character to identify with the reader. Use it in direct quotes like "Go there!" instead of indirect quotes as "She told him to go there."

12. Keep references handy

A good reference such as a thesaurus or a dictionary is crucial in creating a good story. You can use them to check your spellings and to find the words which best fit your description. Instead of using one lengthy sentence or paragraph, you can utilize one or just a few words to convey what you want to say. Oftentimes, one strong word has a greater effect than a paragraph full of fancy language.

13. Conclude briefly

Conclusions are tough sledding. For a good ending, it is advisable to experiment and to add a little twist. Make your ending unique but not hanging in a loose end. Make it satisfying without making it too predictable. Keep in mind to keep it short but concise and lingering so that the reader is left with a feeling of resonance. Your conclusion should wrap up everything from start to finish.

14. Edit and revise

After fashioning the last words of your story, it is time to begin the editing cycle. Carefully go through your work and fix all your mistakes regarding sentence construction, word usage, formatting. punctuation marks, diction, spelling, grammar, and descriptive analysis. Scratch out words, phrases and even paragraphs which don't seem to contribute to the basic elements of the story. After you're done, let it sit for a while for days and even weeks, then edit it again. Reread your story over and over again at different occasions. This will make you see various things you may want to change to make your story shine at its best.

15. Let others proof read

Have your friends take a look at your work. They may just be able to see mistakes which you have missed. For instance, they may be distracted with some words or lines which you adore dearly. In this case, you have to decide on changing it or cutting it off completely.

Writing a short story may not be easy but it can surely be done. With some knowledge on the basic elements and some passion and patience, it's effortless to pull together a story with just a few ideas. Just keep in mind that you're writing not because you have to, but because you want to. Keep the spirit up! Give it a go now!


How To Write An Authentic Martial Arts Fight Scene

Most fight scenes rely heavily upon the vague, and somewhat inaccurate, public perceptions of how martial artists would utilize their skills in a real fight. That is an unfortunate limitation, because the most interesting aspect of the martial arts is what goes on inside the mind of the fighter. That is where the most compelling part of the story truly lies. It’s what needs to be told.

Authenticity is the Polestar

Authenticity is the polestar. An author must always know...

martial arts, writing,kempo

Most fight scenes rely heavily upon the vague, and somewhat inaccurate, public perceptions of how martial artists would utilize their skills in a real fight. That is an unfortunate limitation, because the most interesting aspect of the martial arts is what goes on inside the mind of the fighter. That is where the most compelling part of the story truly lies. It’s what needs to be told.

Authenticity is the Polestar

Authenticity is the polestar. An author must always know the subject, and if the subject is the martial arts, that means keeping a few basics in mind. First, there is no such thing as one martial art. Instead, there is an amalgam of thousands of both popular and obscure fighting arts worldwide.

We may be familiar with the term, Karate, which had its birthplace in Okinawa. But how many of us realize that there are dozens of distinct styles of Karate, each with its own rankings, requirements and principles? How many of us are familiar with the South American discipline of Capoeira, a Brazilian martial art, which can be traced to Africa; or Krav Maga, the modern Israeli martial art; or the more than 1500 various styles of the Chinese martial art called, Kung Fu?

Hence, the first question an author describing a martial arts encounter must answer is what style does her protagonist practice? The next is this: how would that style fare in a real fight; with adrenaline fueling the encounter and panic setting in? The authenticity of a real fight is that it is savage, bloody and frayed at the edges. Unlike the crisp, well-executed forms and drills of typical martial arts training, a physical confrontation is hard to control. Breaking boards is fine, but they don’t hit back. An opponent does.

In short, write about the chaos of a real fight. Bring the reader into what makes a fight something to avoid. Show the dark underbelly of the encounter.

For example, here is a fight scene from my novel, Point and Shoot, in which the protagonist uses an Okinawan style of Karate called, Shaolin Kempo, which relies on the interpretation of the five shaolin animals (tiger, crane, leopard, snake and dragon) for its basic moves:

I ducked under the second swing and snapped myself into the tiger mindset. The other four animal styles of our Shaolin Kempo Karate system, the snake, the leopard, the crane and the dragon, often utilized a block or parry before moving in for a strike. The tiger was the only one whose nature did not significantly involve defense. This animal was at the top of the food chain, the strongest and deadliest in the Kingdom. It went in one direction, always forward, toward the prey. All offense.

No holding back.

I formed my hands as if I were gripping imaginary tennis balls and launched myself at him. I dug my fingers into the bicep of the swinging arm and ripped at the muscle, while striking the forearm on the same side, straight in with the heel of my palm, the “paw” as it were. It was a thousand year old battle protocol from the great Kung Fu masters: first, attack the arm that attacks you.

The bat fell to the ground.

Next, press the advantage decisively. I ripped into his face with the middle and forefingers of my right hand, raking along his nose and mouth. With the other hand, I struck his neck and dug my fingers in, grabbing the windpipe. The technique called for me to pull it out, lacerating his throat and killing him. But there were other options. I pushed rather than pulled, momentarily closing the windpipe against itself, cutting off his air.

Then, I sped things up. Kempo Hands.

I had once timed myself at six strikes per second, and if anything, at that moment, it felt even faster. A double palm heel blow to both ears, ripping downward along the cheek and collapsing onto his throat; stepping under and inside his flailing arms to shoot an elbow upward into his abdomen, taking his center; rolling into a palm heel strike to the groin; and back into a rising elbow to the underside of his chin; arcing down into another palm heel onto the bridge of his nose. There were no wind ups, no wasted motion; each movement was designed to roll naturally into the next.

His body jerked from one direction to the other, in rhythm to the apposite lines of each attack. The primary strategy of Kempo Karate was to strike an aggressor in opposing directions, so he could not muster his composure sufficiently to counter-attack. It also forced the aggressor's body to lurch into the next stroke head on. The strokes would roll into one another and create a tumbling effect. To an outside observer, it would appear to be one simultaneous tornado of movement, of blinding speed, a blur too fast for the eye to follow.

Blood splattered from his nose and mouth. His eyes closed and he made a gurgling sound, flailing his arms impotently as he flew backward.

But my mind-set was the tiger, an animal that kept going when it saw blood. The next move in this particular combination would have gotten him on the ground and "smashed" both hands into his throat. The smashing tiger. A finishing blow to the throat, for insurance.

Instead, I took another step forward and chambered both my hands, palm forward, elbows bent: the left one at shoulder level; the right, at my hip. I shouted a Kiai, the warrior yell, and launched a double palm heel strike, imagining both my palms penetrating through his body. I made contact with his bladder and the underside of his cheekbone. They were both prime acupuncture points; but just as the meridians could be used for healing, the pathways could also be blocked.

His head whipped around, and he collapsed, lying on his back, bleeding from the various facial lacerations and coughing in fits.


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