Mystery book reviewer Oline Cogdill spoke to the Florida Chapter of Mystery Writers of America at the August meeting. Oline’s reviews have appeared nationwide as well as regularly in the Sun-Sentinel. Oline offered some useful tips for writers on repetitive elements to avoid in crime fiction.
· Strippers as murder victims or confidential informants are overused. Also, male writers seem to have an obligatory scene with a woman in front of a mirror fantasizing herself in this role. How many women secretly long to be a stripper? Not many.
· Coffee habits can take over the story. Count how many times your sleuth meets someone for a cup of coffee, drinks the coffee, heats up a mug of coffee, or tosses the empty cup in the trash. Go lightly in this regard.
· Restaurant scenes where a conversation occurs, and then the diners get up and leave in a huff before finishing their meal, are unrealistic. At least, have them sit down and finish eating or ask for a takeout box.
· Don’t neglect the kids or the pets. Show them being cared for and not being left alone at home or in a car. If you stay away all day, remember to let the dog out when you come home or to feed the cat.
· The sleuth shouldn’t wish for a murder to relieve her boredom. She should have a personal reason for getting involved in solving the crime. The death should be treated with gravity and respect.
· Don’t have your character rush out at night or go into a dark cellar alone without telling anyone or calling for backup.
· How many times is the cell phone left at home or runs out of its charge or there’s no signal? Don’t overuse this excuse. Just as important, if the phone rings, have your character answer it. Too often the ignored phone call means doom and gloom are in the next chapter.
· Less is more regarding graphic violence. It’s better left off-scene for the most part.
· Use the word “woman” instead of “girl,” where appropriate.
· Avoid the “talking killer” who explains the entire crime to the sleuth while holding a gun to her head.
· Talking animal stories don’t have to be silly. Treat them more seriously.
· And a non-story tip: Keep your website updated. Have a short bio, a longer bio, a good headshot, and author contact info. Do not play music in the background.
Oline spoke next about ethics among reviewers. She mentioned “sock puppets,” which are false online identities some people create to praise their own books and to trash others. Respected critical reviewers give objective opinions. It’s best for new authors to avoid paid reviews.
It was really fun hearing these clichés, some of which I’ve been guilty of using. Thanks to Oline, now we’ll all be more alert to these foibles in the future.