Detective Work an Author Can Appreciate

Think Like a Detective to Improve Upon Your Writing

Writing a good story is like being a good detective.

Any piece of writing can be appreciated if it is well-crafted. Readers love a good novel and will eagerly anticipate an ongoing series if they fall in love with the characters and plot.

Authors may follow generally accepted writing processes that help them finish their stories with flair.

However, any story can be greatly improved if one takes the mindset of a detective during the editing process.

Check details carefully.
Check details carefully.

Observe details.

To be a good detective, one must be a good observer of details including behavior of characters, crime scene evidence, time of day or year, etc.

To be effective, an author must also carefully observe the details of his or her writing with intense scrutiny. It is the little details that can increase readers’ interest, but it is also the little details that can bring confusion and reader dissatisfaction.

To avoid disappointment, therefore, an author must edit his work with great attention to the details concerning all areas of the writing process.

As a detective walks through the scene under investigation, the detective takes an overall view of what has taken place.

Obviously, a crime has happened. But what exactly was the crime? How did it happen? Who did it? What was the motive that would cause such an event to take place?

Pay close attention to the chain of events.

The detective then takes a second look and makes a hypothesis as to what happened. He (or she) may have several hypotheses at this point.

However, the hypotheses must fit his observation.

Did the suspect enter the room through the door or window? If the window was broken then the assumption may be made that the suspect came through the window. If no windows were broken and every window was locked, then any hypotheses that began with an entrance through a window would be discarded until and unless further evidence was uncovered which would lead to a different conclusion.

Broken glass photo
Evidence of broken glass

An author must also step through his or her story reviewing the events that occurred.  Are the events in order?

A careful overview may reveal that some parts are out-of-place.

Did a character named John have a conversation with another character, Jill, at the beginning of the story and then suddenly in chapter five be newly introduced (again) to Jill?

Did a character named Joe die in chapter 3 and have a car wreck in chapter 4?

The above examples may seem silly, but they do happen. It is easy to overlook a seemingly insignificant character’s appearance in one’s writing, especially when one is writing a lengthy novel.

Is the sequence correct?
Is the sequence correct?

Is anything missing?

What is lacking that is necessary to the story?

After the hypotheses have been formulated, the detective carefully looks back over the scene making note of things that are missing.

What should be there but isn’t? What is making the scene being observed incomplete?

Is there a blank space on the wall with evidence that a picture once hung there? Are there speakers but no stereo? Is there an open safe?

Empty picture hanger
What’s missing?

An author must also look for any writing that is out of context. Are the characters believable? Is the setting appropriate? Are clues missing that are needed to solve the mystery?

All clues or inciting moments should lead up to the conclusion.

Remove unrelated material.

Finally, the detective must disregard any details that have nothing to do with the crime.

Food in the refrigerator would have nothing to do with a broken window unless food was taken from the refrigerator. An untouched bedroom would be inconsequential to a crime scene located in the living room except to say no one had entered from that location.

An author must also delete those unnecessary details that are not related to the story line and only succeed in slowing down readers who are in a quest to reach the next heart-stopping moment in a series of events.

Those types of unnecessary additions are hard for authors to discover. That is when the detective and the author must bring in another set of eyes to view the evidence.

Hire an editor to proof read your work.

Enlist someone else to preview the material before closing the case or might I say, book.

Will the assistant detective come to the same conclusions as the main detective?

Can the author’s assistant visualize the story line just as the author did?

Were the assistants confused at any point as they followed through the chain of events from start to finish?

Did either get bogged down in a specific area of their search?

Even if the assistant detective is surprised at the final outcome of the investigation, does the assistant feel satisfied with the conclusion?

The assistant to the author may also be delightfully surprised as the assistant concludes his or her investigation into the writings of the author, but is the assistant satisfied with the final product?

Get others to review your writing.
Get others to review your writing.
Yes, writing can be greatly improved when the detective’s cap is put on and errors are discovered and corrected before reaching the hands of readers.

Copyright 2016 by Peggy Clark

Feel free to comment if this post has been beneficial to you. I enjoy hearing your input.
Peggy Clark is the author of So, What's the Latest News? Messages from a Prisoner in Rome, a reader-friendly study of Colossians available from WestBow Press, a division of Thomas Nelson & Zondervan.