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Blog Tour: Every Breath

Author Ellie Marney stops by to share her 10 rules on how to write a crime story.

Blog Tour: Every Breath

Welcome to Every Breath Blog Tour!

Every Breath is the first book in a new series that posits: “What if Sherlock Holmes was the boy next door?”

Here’s the official word:

Rachel Watts is an unwilling new arrival to Melbourne from the country. James Mycroft is her neighbour, an intriguingly troubled seventeen-year-old genius with a passion for forensics. Despite her misgivings, Rachel finds herself unable to resist Mycroft when he wants her help investigating a murder. And when Watts and Mycroft follow a trail to the cold-blooded killer, they find themselves in the lion's den—literally.

A night at the zoo will never have quite the same meaning again ...

My review of the novel goes up tomorrow, but first, author Ellie Marney has stopped by our lockers to help us understand what goes into writing a crime novel like Every Breath, and possibly inspire us to write one of our own!

Puzzles and Murder and Boy Geniuses, Oh My

by Ellie Marney

So … I wrote a crime story.

That’s what Every Breath is—part of the new wave of YA crime that seems to be slowly spreading out to grab readers by the throat. It’s my job to be the Puzzle-master, the Game-maker, the Nefarious Maze Inventor—the Crime Queen, if you will.*

I get to make this shit up.

How exactly do you do that? you wonder. Well, I’m here to tell you that it’s not all that hard** if you follow a few simple rules. Well, they’re not really rules. They’re more like guidelines. And you can follow them or not. It’s up to you.***

Are you ready? Cool. Now, this is how we’re gonna do it.

We’re gonna write a story. But we’re gonna have rules. That’s how this thing works. And the rules are:

1. There has to be a puzzle.

See how I wrote that nifty footnote down there, about how I sometimes don’t follow the rules? Well, some rules I throw out the window, as stated, but this rule is the one I usually stick to.

You kind of have to have a puzzle. It doesn’t necessarily have to be a murder puzzle, but I like those. With murder, the stakes are high, which makes things interesting. Also—gore! What’s not to love.

In Every Breath, someone dies. Somebody else has to figure out how and why it happened. And maybe how to stop it from happening again. That’s the puzzle.

2. There has to be a detective.

One person, whose job is to figure out the puzzle. Maybe there are two people, who work together. That’s good too.

In Every Breath, it’s Rachel Watts and James Mycroft—but dudes, don’t steal my character names, you have to think of your own, yeah?

3. You have to know what you’re talking about.

If it’s a crime puzzle, you need to do your research. Don’t have police investigating your puzzle who don’t follow standard police procedure. Find out what the heck that procedure is.

Det Snr Sergeant Vincent Pickup—who is basically the Lestrade to Rachel and James’s Watson and Holmes—would have looked mighty stupid if he didn’t question the witnesses who first came upon the murder scene, for instance (and he calls it ‘homicide’ not ‘murder’ which sounds more like the terminology a proper professional police officer would use). Professor Walsh, the forensic pathologist who assists on the case, observes standard (and sanitary!) procedure when donning gloves to examine Homeless Dave’s body.

Find out what all the professional people involved in figuring out the puzzle do—how they do it, why, what their roles are. Make it authentic. Make your puzzle sound real, or no one will believe it.

4. The puzzle is a product of the social and geographical situation it lives in.

It should reflect something about the times and society in which it is set. A murder can happen anywhere—but a murder in the White House will have an altogether different tone to a murder in a lonely village in Iceland. The puzzle and its clues should be wrapped up in the nature of the location in which it occurs and the people it involves.

Melbourne is a great place for a murder puzzle, by the way. It has alleyways and cobbles (much like Holmes’s London), and it has a huge variety of peoples/languages/ethnicities/sexualities/identities, so it has diversity to the max.

5. The reader has to know all the clues.

Please, don’t do what I did in the first draft of Every Breath, and toss around clues willy-nilly. To keep your story-readers interested and invested in your puzzle it’s good to give them the chance to work it out for themselves. If you hide the clues too well, it’s like a bad Easter egg hunt—sometimes readers get ticked off.

It’s okay to hide the clues if your detective is uncovering them at the same time as the reader. But don’t have the detective magically produce something that the reader didn’t know, to solve the puzzle at the last minute. That’s like cheating.

Okay, I don’t think I give the reader every clue in Every Breath. But you see all the clues Rachel sees, because the story is told through her eyes. (I also needed to retcon stuff when I realised I needed a clue deep into the story arc—it meant I had to go back and hide that little sucker somewhere earlier in the narrative. It was a headache. See: Puzzles are hard.)

6. No Acts of God.

Solving puzzles is hard work—it involves intellectual strain, and sometimes-tedious research.

So the solution to your puzzle should not be “discovered in a dream.” The detective does not have an unexpected, mind-expanding, impossible-to-understand jump of logic in a moment of sheer intuition that solves the puzzle. A landslide does not uncover a heretofore-unheard-of solution in the finale. The perpetrator does not have an identical twin.

Rachel, for instance, does not strategically stumble upon the one solitary clue that “makes everything make sense.” And Mycroft may be a genius, but he doesn’t bump his head and suddenly develop magic powers that allow him to solve the puzzle. (See: That’s like cheating.)

7. There may be a twist at the end.

Think about how the puzzle would play out if everything went seamlessly for the detective. Now, write the opposite. Screw everything up for the detective. How hard can you make it for them? We like to see things go wrong—just like in real life!—so write that twist, baby.

8. But you may not make it an impossible twist.

The solution can’t be something ridiculous, or something no one has ever heard of, or someone returning from the grave to confess to the deed. If you didn’t start with a supernatural plot device, you can’t add one for convenience at the end. The solution cannot be a special weapon or substance that has not yet been invented. (See: That’s like cheating.)

9. The perpetrator has to be known to the reader.

This is an old rule that is sometimes not followed by contemporary writers, but I think it works. It kind of harks back to Rule 5: The reader has to know all the clues. It can also make things suspenseful—you know that amongst all the guests at this party, one of them is a baddie.

Maybe you knew who the baddie in Every Breath was as soon as they appeared. Congrats, go you! But even if you figure it out before the detective does … (Quick, keep reading!) ...

10. The journey has to be as interesting as the whodunit.

Sometimes the reader works out the perpetrator on page one. That’s okay, as long as the story is interesting enough to keep the reader curious about what will happen when the detective finds out.

The journey to the end of the puzzle has to be fun, and interesting, and exciting. I hope that Every Breath is a satisfying journey, and I hope you enjoy reading it as much as I enjoyed writing it! And if you want write your own crime puzzle one day... Respect. Go for it. The world needs more YA crime.

Xx Ellie

*Please, call me the Crime Queen. Don’t let me discourage you from doing that at all. It’s utter blag if I call myself a Crime Queen, but other people can do it with impunity.

**This is a lie. It’s hard. Like a piece of granite is hard. Like a block of wood pounded against your head is hard. In fact, making up puzzles for people to solve can produce a feeling remarkably like having your head pounded over and over with said block of wood. Now I’m thinking about it, I must be some kind of masochist to do this crime-writing stuff ...

***Sometimes I follow them. And sometimes I throw them all out the window. It seems to depend on the day. It also seems to depend on what I’m writing, how much coffee I’ve consumed, and whether I got enough sleep the night before.

Have a good week, and happy crime writing! xe

About Ellie:

Ellie Marney was born in Brisbane, and has lived in Indonesia, Singapore and India. Now she writes, teaches, talks about kids’ literature at libraries and schools, and gardens when she can, while living in a country idyll (actually a very messy wooden house on ten acres with a dog and lots of chickens) near Castlemaine, in north-central Victoria. Her partner and four sons still love her, even though she often forgets things and lets the housework go.

Ellie’s short stories for adults have won awards and been published in various anthologies. Every Breath is her first novel for young adults.

You can connect with Ellie on Twitter, Facebook and on her website.

Be sure to visit the rest of the stops on the tour, which you can find via Tundra Books' blog.

Every Breath is available now.

Mandy Curtis's photo About the Author: Mandy is a small town girl living in a nerdy world, or—if you want to get literal—an editor/writer living in Austin, TX. In addition to yearning for YA books—the more dystopian or fantastical, the better—she can also be found swooning over superheroes, dreaming of The Doctor and grinning at GIFs.