Book Recipes: How to Write an Urban Fantasy

Time for another book recipe! This time I’ll be looking at urban fantasy, so load up on eyeliner and edgy leather jackets. It’s about to get edgy.

 

Ingredients:

  • One feisty yet clueless female protagonist
  • One of the hot kind of supernatural creatures
  • A different (but still hot) supernatural creature
  • A token best friend
  • A cape-wearing villain
  • The Object of Power
  • One skyscraper-ey backdrop
  • Background spooky magic
  • A constant cycle of full moons

 

Method:

  1. Put your feisty female protagonist and her token best friend against your suitably urban backdrop. There, you’ve done your setting.
  2. You’ve stumbled across a mythical thingy! Hopefully this won’t be important later.
  3. Symbolic dreams!
  4. Suddenly there’s a lot more hot and brooding men about making vague allusions to The Prophecy. Huh. Tinder got weird.
  5. But no! It’s the plot. Our feisty main character is the proud owner of the Object of Power, and all the supernatural hotties want to get their hands on it.
  6. Have your first brush with death. It’s OK though – you’re immediately rescued by a shirtless vampire or something.
  7. Have sexual tension with one of the leads, then angst.
giphy angst
No-one understands. (image: giphy.com)
  1. Time for the main character to finally learn what’s been going on! Sit them down and ’splain them a thing. Make sure this covers The Prophecy, the weird supernatural world they’ve stumbled into, and setup for the conflict in the final third of the book.
  2. Wonder at all the magical stuff the main character can see. Maybe she’s pals with a dragon now! Maybe she’s made out with a wizard! Maybe she’s been to a market staffed entirely by snake-headed women! Pick a thing to illustrate this world’s weirdness and roll with it.
  3. Have sexual tension with a different lead. Think about the other lead, then angst.
  4. Here’s our first mention of our cape-wearing villain! Make sure to drive home to the reader that they are a bad, bad egg.
bad-egg
Like this. (image: gobrightwing.com)
  1. Turns out the main character has powers now. Time for a training montage!
  2. Time for another brush with death. Don’t worry, the main character is still fine.
  3. More sexual tension! We didn’t include all these shirtless werewolves for nothing.
  4. Learn some more about The Prophecy, or The Ancient War, or The Object of Power. Make sure to pay attention. We’re heading into the last quarter of the book, so there’s a 90% chance that any piece of new information will resolve the final conflict.
  5. Remember that best friend from step one? THEY’VE BEEN KIDNAPPED OH NO
  6. The villain demands the main character hand over The Object of Power or they’ll kill their best friend. This is a real and tangible threat because even though the best friend hasn’t been mentioned since step one, WE TOTALLY CARE ABOUT THEM YOU GUYS
  7. Go to meet the villain with The Object of Power. Be polite and let him monologue for a bit before you hand it over.
  8. Use your newfound powers to save your friend, get The Object of Power and save the day! Bonus points if you can get rescued by a shirtless hottie as well.
  9. Set up the next book in the series. And the next. And the next, because this will go on for ever.

THE END. Serve with plenty of moody eyeliner.

 

Tips:

  • Make sure you pick the hot kind of supernatural creature for your romantic leads – the angstier the better. Vampires, werewolves, fallen angels and demons are all solid choices, but trolls, ghouls and zombies are best left in the background.
  • Always include a love triangle.
  • In this one you’ve got the option for your main character to be secretly half-fairy or whatever. If you go down this road you’ve got three things to remember:
  1. This can’t have a bad effect on their appearance – pointy ears or an unusual eye colour is the most unique thing you can go for.
  2. The main character must be utterly and completely clueless about her heritage at all times.
  3. The reveal must be the Most Dramatic Thing
  • Don’t forget about your main character’s piece of significant jewellery! It’s almost always magical, but she’ll have had it all her life so she’s probably used to the glowing.
  • Don’t bother researching into actual supernatural lore. Just make it up! It’ll be fine.
  • Never, ever let your main character work out that supernatural creatures are real before someone else explains it to her, even if it’s super obvious. She can’t already believe in vampires or whatever, everyone knows they aren’t real.
giphy vampire
OR ARE THEY (image: giphy.com)
  • Your supernatural races should all look like human hotties, but that doesn’t mean you can’t find a way to easily tell them apart by sight! Here’s a handy guide to get you started:
    • Vampires: wear black
    • Werewolves: beefy
    • Angels: blond
    • Fallen angels: blond, but also pale and sad
    • Demons: have piercings
  • Always have one ‘bad boy’ love interest who wears a leather jacket.

 

And here’s one I prepared earlier…

 

“I don’t understand! Just tell me what’s going on!”

Byron doesn’t stop. Hand clenched around my arm, he drags me away from the goo-spattered alleyway, his jaw clenched. “You could have got yourself killed! What were you thinking?”

I try and tug my arm out of his grip but I can’t – he’s crazy strong. He leads me into another alleyway, far away from the sticky black goop we left behind. We’re round the back of a nightclub in the bad part of town, sirens blaring and a nearly-full moon blotted out by flickering streetlights and grimy concrete towers. He drags me behind a dumpster – no-one can see us from the street now – and it occurs to me that this may have been a bad idea.

Still, I want answers.

I’ve got this old necklace I’ve had since I was a baby. It’s nothing special – just a perfectly spherical blood-red gem on a chain as thin as cobwebs. I’ve always worn it. But ten minutes ago it started glowing, and then the guy that my best friend Mary was dancing with grew a lizard head, and then I chased him out into the alleyway and he exploded into this amorphous blob of goop when I touched him. If Byron hadn’t been there I would’ve been covered in the stuff, but he just waved this knife around and the goop-blob kind of dissolved.

Byron runs a hand through his dark, floppy hair. His cheekbones glisten in the moonlight. “Echo Bellereve,” he mutters, “why is it that every time we meet I have to perform an exorcism?”

“It’s not my fault that – exorcism?”

“Yes! What did you think I was doing?”

His face is white with anger – but now I think about it he’s always been kind of pale. Maybe it’s just because he’s always dressed in black. I swear I’ve never seen him without his leather jacket. I don’t know what he’s going to do when it starts getting to summer – but now I think about that, I don’t think I’ve ever seen him in the daytime either. Huh. Weird.

“Do those pointy ears of yours actually work, Echo? Have you been listening to a word I’ve said? You don’t –”

I pull my auburn curls around my face, covering my ears. OK, so they are kind of pointy, but he doesn’t have to be a jerk about it. “Don’t make fun of my ears!”

“So you heard that, did you? Well, listen up. You don’t belong here. Go back to your safe little world and don’t bother me any more. You don’t know what you’re dealing with.”

God, he’s practically growling at me. I hate that he still looks good doing it. He’s got to have some flaws – but no. Perfect cheekbones, dark eyes, a jaw like granite. I guess his teeth are kind of pointy but I don’t think that really counts.

I glare at him. “I’m not leaving my friend behind! Now, are you going to tell me what happened back there, or –”

“You don’t know? You don’t – Echo, you could have died! It’s a miracle you weren’t –”

He stops. His pale face gets paler.

“You’re bleeding,” he says.

OK, his teeth really are pointy. Also, I can’t believe I didn’t notice this before but his eyes are kind of red. And glowing. Is he wearing contacts?

I touch my cheek and my fingertips come away bloody. “Oh yeah. But look, what was…”

He’s suddenly much, much closer now. Every eyelash stands out sharp against his cheeks. His eyes are really red now – like, properly vermillion, not just garnet – and suddenly I’m annoyed. He’s just doing this to scare me and he’s not even answering any of my questions.

“Stop being a jerk,” I snap, and shove him away. He doesn’t move. I’ve basically just slapped him in the chest and now I feel like an idiot. I did at least get to touch his pecs though, so there’s that.

He doesn’t say anything. Just stares, and now his canine teeth are like, super-sharp.

“I said, take your damn contacts out and stop being a –”

Someone slams into him.

I shriek. Byron goes flying into the wall. He hisses, eyes still glowing, and then someone – a huge someone, built like a goddamn mountain – slaps him right across the face.

“Echo!” says a familiar voice. “Are you hurt?”

It’s Rex Volkov, from school. Rex Volkov, who’s six and a half feet tall and so broad-shouldered he has to turn sideways to fit through the classroom doors. He comes running over to me, mahogany eyes wide with concern.

“Oh, Jesus,” he says, and there’s a certain amount of hissing and frantic scrabbling from Byron, “you’re bleeding. Did he bite you?”

I frown. “Um, no. Why would he do that?”

Rex stares at me. “Are you serious?”

Byron springs up again. His eyes are glowing red, his canine teeth are sharp and pointed, and he’s hissing at Rex. Rex doesn’t even turn around. He just punches Byron in the side of the head and he goes crashing down.

“He’s a vampire,” Rex says.

“Oh, very funny, Rex. There’s no such thing as vampires.”

“Jesus wept.” More hissing. “Look at him! Look at his teeth! His eyes started glowing at the sight of blood!”

“They’re just contacts! And…and prosthetic teeth, probably. You can get those, right?”

“Prosthetic…never mind. Look, you need to get out of here. He’s going to try and eat you now he’s scented blood. There’s a church a couple of streets away. If you run, I can hold him off long enough for you to –”

Byron scrabbles at his leg. Rex picks him up and throws him into the dumpster.

“Real mature, Rex. Real mature. Next you’ll be telling me you’re a werewolf!”

Rex goes very quiet.

“And that I’m a half-fairy, half-angel mythical being who’s like, princess of everything!”

Rex starts shuffling his feet.

“Yeah. I didn’t think so either. Now you’ve had your little joke, so why don’t you let Byron out of the dumpster and get him to tell me what’s going –”

Byron bursts out of the dumpster. His eyes are blazing red, his teeth have turned to fangs, and two large, leathery bat wings are poking through his jacket. Hissing, he rounds on me. Rex shoves me out of the way, rips off his shirt – and damn, by the way – and then promptly turns into a wolf.

And that’s when I passed out.

 

 

My full book-cookbook can be found here. Let me know what you’d like me to look at next – and as always, take this recipe with a pinch of salt.

Alice-In-Wonderland-I-See-What-You-Did-There
Heh heh heh. (image: replycandy.com)
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Tales as Old as Time: How Stories Age

Picture this. You’ve just picked up a copy of a classic book. It’s the kind of thing that people study in English lessons or write dissertations on. People you know can quote one or two of the lines off the cuff. There’s about seventy million adaptations of this thing, usually featuring Hollywood’s latest chiselled British darling as the leading man. Cultured and intelligent people read this book in tweed jackets and discuss it over port, and now that you have finally got a copy, you’ll be able to talk to them about it instead of sitting in the corner and hoarding all the cheese.

So, you read it. And it’s kind of disappointing.

57facf1fddb81bd102070ce99691116d
Apart from the chiselled British darlings. They never disappoint. (image: pinterest.com)

This has happened to me too many times to count – especially the part where I eat cheese in a corner instead of joining in a conversation. I’ve read quite a few classic books and it’s very rare that they live up to the hype. Part of this is probably because hype is kind of everywhere now, and when you’re in the middle of a constant cycle of “This feels-wrenching drama will stop your heart and set your soul on fire” -style advertising, it can be very difficult to go into stuff believing that this heart-stopping, soul-searing experience is actually going to happen to you.

But it did also get me thinking. On my Strong Female Characters series, one of the things that came up most often for classic books was that when they were originally written, their characters were ground-breaking. Now that time has passed, they’re not. The way that we receive and interpret stories depends entirely on the context in which they are read, and this includes time and place. Meanings get lost over time. The definitions of words change over the years, and implications that might have been obvious to a historical reader are lost on a modern one. Similarly, readers bring new interpretations to historical texts because we are looking at those texts having grown up with ideas that hadn’t been conceived when they were first written. Context is everything.

Plots and clichés are an excellent example of how stories have changed over time. Modern readers expect different things from the things readers expected fifty years ago, let alone a hundred years ago. Ideas that were original and unsettling when they were first introduced have been used so often that the shine wears off and they become clichés.

The perfect example of this is that classic trope, ‘The Butler Did It’.

We’ve all seen this cliché before – in fact, I had a lot of fun with it in one of my Book Recipe posts. A bunch of people are invited to a mysterious old house, there’s probably a murder or two, and our plucky detective eventually discovers that the culprit was the butler all along! What shock. What horror.

But it’s worth remembering that when this trope was first introduced, it wasactually shocking. Servants were not just people who came to a rich person’s house, sloshed some bleach in the toilet and then went home. They lived with them. They washed and dried their clothes. They cooked their food. They made their beds. They helped them dress. They helped them wash, sometimes, or helped them clean their teeth. It was incredibly difficult to have secrets from a servant, because you had to depend on them for so many things. The idea that the person who cleaned the lipstick off the collar of your shirt, who swept up the pieces of your mother’s favourite vase, who saw how many cigarette butts you left in the bottom of your ashtray could also be plotting your death – it’s kind of horrifying.

It’s not just clichés. What is acceptable in terms of plot has completely changed. This is something that dates way beyond the invention of the novel. In the original epic fantasies – stories like The Iliad, The Odyssey, and Beowulf– storytellers would often take time out to send their heroes off on interesting little sidequests because they were fun and exciting. Sometimes these are pertinent to the plot, sometimes they’re completely irrelevant. Then, with the gradual move away from storytelling as a spoken form, there’s a trend to keep the plots more linear. You’ll still get little anecdotes off to one side sometimes, but generally these all serve a purpose for the story as a whole (probably because by this point editors had been invented). And then, later still, you have the move towards modernist fiction. In modernist fiction the idea of a plot can go completely out the window if that’s what the author wants. There’s more of a focus on mood, style and ideas, and most of the time that makes my head hurt a bit. We’ve come to expect different things from stories, and so we’ve rolled them out into new shapes.

giphy squish
Like this, but hopefully with less ruining cookies. (image: giphy.com)

This shifting definition of what is and what is not acceptable for a plot also affects characters too. Over the past few years there’s been a move towards stories that are more character-driven than plot-driven, and this changes what people expect from a protagonist. Stories where a character gets sent on a quest because of ~*Destiny*~ are slowly being replaced by stories where a character goes on a quest because they’ve decided to do it. It’s no good to have a protagonist who just sits around waiting for the plot to happen – much more compelling are protagonists who go and makethe plot happen for themselves. The classic example of this is the characters in fairy tales. When the stories were originally told the characters weren’t really much more than archetypes. You had your handsome prince, your wicked witch, your pure and beautiful girl, and that was about it. There wasn’t necessarily a lot of detail about the characters’ personalities. But when you look at modern adaptations of fairy tales, the characters tend to be a lot more fleshed out. Writers will make a lot more effort to give them goals, preferences and personalities so that they can move away from the archetype. The perfect example of this is Belle’s character in Beauty and the Beast. The Disney film went out of its way to establish Belle as a bookworm who felt isolated by having an interest that nobody in her village shared – something which is completely absent from the original fairy tale.

But this cuts both ways. As expectations move forward, some characters are going to get left behind. Details about characters are lost because modern readers aren’t reading literature in the same context as it was written. Take, for example, the first mention we have of Mr Bingley in Pride and Prejudice. We’re told that when he was seen about town he was wearing a blue coat, and we don’t get any more detail than that. For the modern reader, this illustrates the gossipy nature of Mrs Bennet and not much else. But for the Regency reader this was a pertinent detail. Blue dye was expensive and not many people wore it. The coat itself is a piece of outerwear and worn in the daytime, so it wouldn’t be the fanciest piece in Mr Bingley’s wardrobe. The fact that Mr Bingley’s coat he wears for slouching about town is blue would have spoken volumes to the Regency reader – it’s signalling that he has mad stacks of cash.

giphy unicorn money
Holla holla get that dollar. (image: giphy.com)

But it’s not just the minor details that get lost in translation. What constituted a radical and ground-breaking character a few centuries ago is now seen as old hat. This is particularly obvious in female characters, as the social and political capital of women has changed so much over the past few hundred years. When she was first introduced to readers, Lizzie Bennet was radical by anybody’s standards. She was cheeky, she got her clothes dirty, she turned down a marriage proposal from a man she didn’t love. But two hundred years on these things aren’t radical any more. They’re normal. Modern readers go into Pride and Prejudiceexpecting a character who’s radical and game-changing, and meet someone who is pretty conventional by today’s standards. It’s not hard to see why some people might find this disappointing.

So the big question is this: how do you make a story that lasts? Well, luckily for you I have the answer right here in my new book, How to Write an Epic that lasts for One Billion Years, very reasonably priced at $99.99 per chapter…

…I’m kidding. But it is a question that’s worth asking. How come some stories have lasted for centuries while others have been forgotten?

I don’t have a definite answer, but this is what I think. Let’s jump back to fairy tales for a moment. Yes, they’re vague, and yes, the characters are basically fill-in-the-blanks exercises. In this case, that’s what works in their favour. As the detail just isn’t there, this means the reader, listener or writer can fill it in themselves. It’s easy to make a new adaptation of a fairy tale because the basic shape of the story isn’t tethered to time, place or the personality of its characters. Cinderella can be a cyborg, Snow White can be a vampire, Red Riding Hood can be a werewolf (and yes, all those stories do exist). These are stories that have got legs.

Baba_Yaga_House
Goddammit, Baba Yaga, that’s not what I meant. (image: everything.wikia.com)

More complex stories are harder to preserve because so much of a story’s meaning is enmeshed in a social and cultural context. I talked about this briefly in my worldbuilding post so do look there for more detail, but what’s important to remember is this: what informs a setting also informs its characters. This applies as much to historical fiction as it does to fantasy epics. Stories written hundreds of years ago are caught up in a framework of cultural norms and societal beliefs that probably isn’t there any more. This is why editions of Shakespeare’s plays and Jane Austen novels so often come with big wodges of footnotes at the back – they’re crammed with references that modern audiences just wouldn’t get without some serious background reading. Going in blind would be like showing a doge meme to someone from the 1500s and expecting to get a laugh. At best, you’d get a ‘sayest thou what?’ and at worst, you’d get burned as a witch.

But obviously, more complex stories do last. We’ve got Shakespeare’s plays, we’ve got The Iliad, we’ve got The Journey to the West. Countless stories have outlived their authors and gone on to become beloved classics for generations of readers. There’s no hard and fast reason as to why this is. It isn’t just good writing, compelling characters and an interesting plot that makes a story get remembered. You’ll still need all those things, but there’s always something else in the mix as well – some mysterious alchemy that lets good mature into great. I don’t know what this is. If I did, I’d probably have my own island or something.

giphy money
Or just this. (image: giphy.com)

Context is everything. Unless the details of a time and place are meticulously preserved, as Shakespearean scholars have done, then modern readers will miss something and the original meaning will slip away. But modern readers bring their own contexts too, and can shed new light on old stories. Adaptations aren’t always a way for an author or a movie studio to make a quick buck: done right they can be a thoughtful and compelling examination of something we thought we knew. Readers and audiences have new opportunities to see familiar stories with fresh eyes, and that’s something that shouldn’t be forgotten. Perhaps that’s as close as we’ll get to seeing the impact of these stories when they really were new.

Stories that have lasted have something in them that speaks to people regardless of time and place. It can be anything from a feeling to a turn of phrase. Maybe it’s Shakespeare’s description of loss in MacDuff’s speech from Macbeththat speaks to you, or maybe it’s Cinderella’s message that no matter how bad things may get, things will, one day, turn out all right. Whichever classic you pick, there’s something there that has spoken to hundreds, thousands or even millions of people. And whether you like or dislike the actual story, it’s always worth acknowledging that that is truly extraordinary.

Book Recipes: How to Write a Spy Novel

Time for another book recipe! This time I’ll be looking at spy novels. Choose your code names and watch out for explosions!

 

Ingredients:

  • One dashing and debonair spy
  • Laaaaadies
  • An assortment of exotic locations
  • A dastardly villain
  • Gadgets
  • One superior officer, only to be ignored
  • A TRAITOR
  • So many ‘splosions.

 

Method:

  1. Your debonair spy receives his mission from his superior officer. This is the only time this character will ever be listened to.
  2. A plot is afoot! Infodump the details onto the main character. It doesn’t matter what they are – the only thing you really have to bring out is just how evil the villain is.
  3. Pick up your gadgets. Try not to look bored.
  4. Go to your first exotic location! Don’t worry about all the extensive research into place and culture that real spies have to do – just show up in your flash car, it’ll be fine.
  5. Meet your first beautiful woman. She must fall into one of three categories:
    1. Suspicious, but in a way that’s really hot
    2. Innocent, but ultimately doomed
    3. Foreign
  6. Do some spy stuff for a bit. It doesn’t matter what it is as long as you’re sneaking.
giphy hiding
Quick! Hide! (image: giphy.com)
  1. Receive a sinister message from the villain. If you chose the innocent-yet-doomed woman for step five, it’s time to kill her off.
  2. Go to another exotic location! Don’t worry about blowing your cover, we’re only on step eight.
  3. Oh look, it’s another beautiful woman! Let’s see if she’ll survive all twenty steps.
  4. Infiltrate, steal or smash something belonging to the villain. It’s all very exciting.
  5. Blow something up.
  6. It’s time to meet the villain! You can’t kill them because we’re only on step twelve, so have a tense conversation where you never directly address what’s going on instead.
  7. Form an uneasy yet sexy alliance with the highly suspicious hottie. It definitely won’t backfire.
  8. You’ve uncovered a code! Hooray! Celebrate with another explosion.
  9. Fight some baddies for a bit.
  10. Use your code to get into the villain’s secret lair. You’re so close to foiling their evil plans…
  11. …but oh no, you’ve been betrayed! The highly suspicious hottie has double-crossed you, as literally nobody ever thought she would.

  1. While you’re captured, the villain very kindly explains their evil plan, with diagrams. They then leave immediately, because they’ve got to take their fluffy white cat to the vet before they take over the world.
  2. Break free of your restraints, go to another exotic location and foil the evil plan! Fortunately this is very easy, as the villain’s plan is always foilable by cutting the right wire or pushing a big red button.
  3. Hooray! The day has been saved. Retreat to the nearest tropical island with all the surviving and non-traitorous hotties, and then fly back home for tea and medals.

THE END. Serve shaken, not stirred.

 

Tips:

  • There are no unattractive women allowed. Ever.
  • Don’t worry about memorising false names and elaborate cover stories when you’re infiltrating places. Just make it up! It’ll probably be fine.
  • If you include a beautiful foreign woman as one of your gorgeous lady friends, don’t bother actually researching her culture and background to give a better understanding of her character. Just stick a few of her lines in another language and give her an accent.
  • Always walk away from an explosion, never run.
giphy explosion
Otherwise you’ll end up looking like this. (image: giphy.com)
  • Don’t worry about cleaning up after the messes you’ve made, or blowing the cover of any other agents in the field. That’s your superior officer’s job. They’ll yell at you a bit, but it’s all fine.
  • Drive flash cars, fly private jets and pilot speedboats. These are the only acceptable ways for you to travel, apart from running along in the Mission: Impossible pose. Never, ever use public transport.
  • Give yourself a cool name. No-one likes a spy called Gerald.

 

And here’s one I prepared earlier…

 

“Mr Diamond.”

Leaning on the black marble bar, Jack Diamond turned. One of the General’s men was standing in front of him – a big, tattooed guy with a shaven head and a suit that strained across his biceps. He wore dark glasses, even though they were indoors, and he was sweating in the heat.

The man inclined his head. “My employer would like you to join him. This way, please.”

Diamond picked up his whiskey – Lagavulin, two fingers, with a maraschino cherry on the side – and followed the man through the casino. Past the craps table, past the roulette wheel, past the sheer glass balcony that looked out over palm trees and a long-dormant volcano. They passed through a crowd of suits and evening dresses until the General’s bodyguard led Diamond to a private room. He knocked on the mahogany door and showed him in.

There, at the head of the table, was General Victor Sly, dressed all in white to match his hair. Diamond knew him from the files, of course. The scar pulling down his left eye socket was enough; the glittering black opal that replaced his left eye made him impossible to miss.

He smiled. “Ah, Mr Diamond. So good of you to join us. Sit, please.”

Diamond sat down. Katya was with him, sitting at the General’s right hand as she’d said she would be. She wore the fur hat she’d had in Rome; she’d stuck a brooch in it to match her evening dress. Blonde and beautiful, she gave no sign she recognised him. It was part of the plan, but Diamond still felt a little stung. After all, they’d held hands.

“I do so like to meet my investors,” the General said, “it makes such a difference. I thought we might play a little game and get to know each other.”

Diamond raised his glass. “When in Rome,” he said, and drank. It was a mistake. He’d picked the whiskey because it had been on the top shelf of the bar and he could put it on expenses if he kept the receipt. If he’d known it was going to be this strong, he would have asked the bartender to mix in some lemonade. He tried not to cough in front of Katya.

“Yes,” said the General, “have you been to Rome, Mr Diamond?”

Someone poured him another drink. Diamond fished out the cherry and ate it, wishing he’d had dinner before he came to the casino. “No. Definitely not.”

“Really? How unusual. I was under the impression you had met with some of my investors there.”

Diamond took a gulp of his whiskey and signalled for another cherry, thinking fast. He’d been supposed to meet his contact in Rome to pick up the map of the General’s secret facility, but the man had been murdered before he could make the drop. Diamond had had to blow up the Trevi fountain just to make himself feel better.

“Oh, that Rome,” he said, after another mouthful of whiskey. “I thought you meant Rome, Georgia. Not Italy. Where I haven’t been.”

“I…what?” The General frowned. “Why would I…”

Diamond drained his glass and wondered if there was anywhere he could get some chips. “I haven’t been there,” he said again.

“Right…” said the General. He shook his head and smiled again. “You know my associate, of course,” he said, nodding to Katya.

“No,” said Diamond. “Definitely not.”

Nyet,” said Katya, glaring at him, “Mr Diamond and I have corresponded vith regards to his investments, but ve have never formally met.”

“Ah. Then allow me to introduce my business associate, Yetakerina Mikhailovna Lyegova.”

Katya held out her hand. Diamond kissed it, and felt all giddy. “Charmed.”

She sat back down and wiped the back of her hand on her skirt. Obviously, Diamond thought, she was doing it to maintain her cover. He ordered another drink.

“Well,” said the General, “now that we are all acquainted, let us begin our game.”

He signalled to one of his men, who stepped forwards and began shuffling a pack of cards. He laid down five cards in front of each of them and put the rest in the centre of the table. Diamond took another sip of his whiskey, and giggled at the funny slurping noise. Then he stopped, because Katya was watching.

He looked at his cards, lifting the edges the merest fraction off the table. “Threes?” he asked.

The General smiled enigmatically, and Diamond took a card from the pile.

“Sevens,” the General said. Diamond shook his head, and the General took another card.

“Jacks,” said Diamond. The General raised an eyebrow, and slid a card across the table.

“Secret access codes,” he said.

Diamond froze. Under the table, his hand strayed to his revolver, strapped against his thigh. He was feeling a bit wobbly, and really, reallywished he’d stopped for a kebab.

His finger curled around the trigger.

“No,” Diamond said. “Go Fish.”

 

 

My full book-cookbook can be found here. Let me know what you’d like me to look at next – and as always, take this recipe with a pinch of salt.

Alice-In-Wonderland-I-See-What-You-Did-There
Heh heh heh. (image: replycandy.com)

A World of Your Imagination: On Worldbuilding

There’s nothing quite like a good setting. Previously on this blog I’ve talked about characters and clichés, and that hasn’t really left a lot of time to talk about the other elements of a good story. Setting is one of them. It’s easy to forget that the right setting for a novel can transform it, elevating the events of the plot into something really special. Rebecca would be nothing without the vast, chilly halls of Manderley. Dracula would not be nearly so frightening if the Count’s castle was a three-room flat in east Croydon.

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Although those London house prices are pretty terrifying. (image: giphy.com)

Setting is a hugely important part of writing. In fantasy and sci-fi, the term gets all fancy and becomes ‘worldbuilding’, although it’s essentially the same concept. There’s just more of it, because instead of telling the reader where your characters are, you also have to tell the reader why they’re all holding laser swords and why it was a bad idea for them to steal the unicorn’s bouquet on a full moon. Worldbuilding can be one of the most memorable things about fiction. It can take on a life of its own, allowing the setting to be examined and discussed apart from the characters who inhabit it.

The basic elements of setting and worldbuilding are pretty similar. No matter what genre you’re writing in, you still need to know where your characters are standing. Broadly speaking this can cover a lot of different elements – culture, geography, climate and the physical layout of the scene would all come under this umbrella. These elements make a story convincing regardless of its genre. They get included in most stories that aren’t about two characters having conversations in featureless white rooms. Of course, rather than just having big lumps of description sitting around uselessly these can then be used to reflect mood and create atmosphere within the story. As a general rule of thumb this is true of both setting and worldbuilding – the only real difference between the two is that in worldbuilding, the author tends to make more of it up.

So – how do you actually go about creating a rich and compelling setting? Description. While it can get quite frustrating to pause the action and set the scene, it’s impossible to have a complex and detailed setting without settling in for a paragraph of description every now and then. But when it’s done well it doesn’t feel like a pause. In some of the best fantasy settings – like Middle Earth, Discworld and Hogwarts – this scene-setting feels more like an opportunity to explore than something that has to be skimmed over.

Real talk: this is super hard.

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But I don’t wanna… (image: giphy.com)

Obviously writing is pretty tricky to begin with, but worldbuilding is a whole other level. Setting a scene can be difficult, but if it is set in some variation of the real world it’s easier for the reader to make assumptions based on the details of the scene. For example, if a writer describes a group of people all in black heading for a church, the reader is likely to assume that they’re heading to a funeral. It doesn’t always have to be the case – in fact, turning assumptions on their heads is one of the most fun things an author can do – but the assumptions have to be there for that to happen, and details from the setting is what plant such ideas in the readers’ minds. You have none of those connections to rely on if you’re building a fictional world. If writing is like learning a new language, then putting a fictional world together is like making up your own language from scratch.

There’s a couple of forms this tends to take.

 

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image: buzzfeed.com

The Pocket Universe

These are fictional universes that have their bases in the real world in some capacity. This is where you’d find stories that diverged from the real-world timeline – where the Titanic never sank, or where the Germans won the Second World War. This is also where you’d find stories about worlds within the normal world, such as Harry Potter – stories about unusual societies that have been kept secret and are stumbled across by some hapless protagonist.

Pocket universes have a lot of benefits. As they are rooted in the real world, it’s easy for the writer to draw on a lot of common cultural touchpoints, which requires less explaining to the reader. If you don’t want to spend a lot of time making up fictional animals for your characters to eat, or describing the odd clothes they wear, you don’t have to – you can cut straight to the plot. However, they’ve got a lot of drawbacks as well. Rooting your pocket universe in the real world will usually mean that at some point, you’ll have to deal with all the boring parts of reality. This pops up a lot in the Harry Potter universe, when everybody wonders why wizards don’t have formal education for their kids before the age of eleven. In alternate histories pocket universes present another problem – the vast amounts of research a writer has to do to make them convincing. It’s not enough for an author to say that the Germans won the war: readers will want to know how, and when, and who is alive now and who isn’t, and whether the Sixties still got to happen. Don’t write one of these unless you’re prepared to hit the books.

 

A Whole New World

image: denofgeek.com
image: denofgeek.com

This is the other kind of worldbuilding and it’s exactly what it sounds like. These are the fictional universes that have no link to the real world whatsoever. They can be inspired by real-world societies, and often a lot of them are, but they are emphatically not on Planet Earth in any kind of capacity. This is where you’d find a lot of fantasy stories – anything from Game of Thrones to Discworld to the entire works of Tolkien – and some sci-fi stuff as well.

Starting from scratch also has its own particular set of benefits. As an author you have complete creative freedom: anything goes. Terry Pratchett proved this when he created the Discworld – the planet is a giant flat disc, supported by four massive elephants all standing on the back of a cosmic turtle swimming through space. As I said, anything goes. It’s also easier to suspend disbelief. The lack of cultural touchpoints works in your favour here, as the reader isn’t automatically comparing it to things they’re already familiar with. However, these also have drawbacks. Making up a fictional world from scratch is so much work. You have to come up with vast amounts of detail, most of which may never make it into the finished book but you just need to know they’re there. You’ve got to establish your own cultural touchpoints and make these clear to the reader, but you’ve got to do it in a way that doesn’t seem stilted or weird. And you’ve got to make all of this completely watertight, because there is nothing readers (and editors) love more than poking holes in things.

 

So. Which is better? That depends: on your preferences, on the story you’re trying to tell, on the kind of readers you’re writing for. These things would also affect the level of detail you go into when setting the scene. But no matter which one you choose, the most important thing to remember is this: it doesn’t stop at description.

One of my favourite kinds of worldbuilding is when an author can do it through their characters. It’s a lovely way of integrating scene-setting with character development. Characters are products of their worlds, therefore their thoughts, actions and beliefs are a part of worldbuilding. This is particularly important in historical fiction. Choice of language can make or break both the scene-setting and the character’s internal monologue – if an author picks a phrase that sounds too modern, it can completely smash the readers’ suspension of disbelief. In historical fiction this presents its own set of problems as of course, modern and historical thoughts and beliefs are wildly divergent.

One of the easiest ways to illustrate this is the way that historical fiction treats corsets. I was talking about this with my colleague the other day (thanks, Cat) as we’ve both worked on historical fiction before. Corsets in fiction have become more symbolic than anything else. They’re something for the feisty heroine to cast aside before she becomes a pirate or rides off into the sunset. But this wouldn’t work in reality. Corsets were structural underwear and all the rest of a woman’s clothes were designed on the assumption that a corset would be worn. They make you stand and move differently and if you’d worn one all your life, taking it off would feel really strange. Casting the corset aside is a nice piece of authorial shorthand – look at how emancipated our female lead is! – but without it all the seams of her clothes are in the wrong places, everything is scratchy and she’s going to get terrible back pain from having to use underdeveloped muscles all of a sudden.

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Actual footage of post-corset muscle deterioration. (image: giphy.com)

My point is this: clothes are worldbuilding. The way characters think about clothes is worldbuilding. The way they care for their clothes is worldbuilding, and so is what the clothes are made of. Worldbuilding is not just about describing landscape and weather – it’s about clothes, food, slang, morality, social norms, marriage, relationships – I could go on. In short it’s about how characters fit into a setting as a context, and how that context affects them. Take, for example, Terry Pratchett’s description of the dwarves of Ankh-Morpork. Pratchett’s dwarves only acknowledge one gender, and thus most of the dwarves in the Discworld series present as male. When one of them decides she wants to present as female, it causes a massive cultural uproar, going against centuries of dwarf lore and tradition which go on to affect later books in the series. This introduces the reader to a whole new section of Discworld society, the factions within it, the conflict this brings about and how this manifests to other characters. This is very detailed worldbuilding, and it’s all done without a landscape in sight.

Worldbuilding is incredibly hard. It requires a lot of work, careful thought and research, all of which can really get in the way when you just want to jump to the plot. But it also helps make better stories. When the characters and the setting work in tandem, that’s when the setting feels the most vivid and a book really comes alive. It makes for rich and rewarding stories that a reader will remember. Despite all the hard work, I think it’s always worth it.

Book Recipes: How to Write a YA Coming of Age Story

Time for another book recipe! This time I’ll be looking at coming of age stories. Get ready to go back to high school – don’t you really miss puberty?

 

Ingredients:

  • One monologue-prone teenage protagonist
  • Parents who don’t understand
  • A hot teen issue of your choice
  • High school
  • One love interest, two if you’re greedy
  • Peer pressure
  • A faithful best friend, to be ignored at every opportunity
  • A really bland setting
  • The word ‘like’

 

Method

  1. Take your teenage protagonist and clueless parents and slap them all in a house. Make sure it’s really boring, so the reader really gets why the protagonist wants a car or something.
  2. Get out of bed, it’s time for school. No, you can’t have five more – get up, I said!
  3. Time to meet our delightfully quirky high school friends. Choose your clique carefully. Everybody hates cheerleaders, so you’re best avoiding them, but remember no-one likes an unwashed nerd either.
  4. Go to class or something. Whatever. I don’t care.
giphy angst
No-one understands. (image: giphy.com)
  1. Omigod guys, it’s the high school crush! They’re coming this way, everybody be cool, and make sure to talk about how the main character’s got a zit they don’t want noticed in the internal monologue.
  2. Our protagonist gets to hang out with their crush for some reason, yay! But uh-oh, they were supposed to see their best friend at the same time. How do you choose between –
  3. CRUSH CRUSH CRUSH.
  4. The main character has hung out with their crush and it’s all been reasonably fine. The hot teen issue came up though. Hope that’s not going to be a thing later on.
  5. Monologue about stuff. It’s that or homework.
  6. The main character has an opportunity to hang out with their crush! Isn’t this just the best. But uh-oh, what’s that coming up ahead? It looks like…
  7. PEER PRESSURE.
giphy chipmunk
Dun dun DUUUUNNNN (image: giphy.com)
  1. OK, the hot teen issue is becoming a bit of a problem now. Sure are a lot of opinions about this thing. Monologue about them.
  2. Ignore your best friend again, you’ve got a crush to drool over.
  3. You’ve been invited to one of the cool kids’ parties! You know, one of those absolutely mythical parties involving jet-skis and cocaine and that thing belonging to their parents that had better not get smashed.
  4. Argue with the parents about it.
  5. Disobey the parents and go to the party anyway! Your crush is there and it’s all great until –
  6. The hot teen issue happens! But you know, in a really bad way.
  7. The police get called and you’re in trouble now. In fact, you’re grounded until the age of thirty-four.
  8. Mope a bit, but then realise that this hot teen issue stuff is important and you’re allowed to have your own opinion about it. Do something thoughtful to show how mature you are now.
  9. Make up with your best friend. Make out with your crush, or don’t, depending on how much of an idiot they’re being. And look at this – you’re un-grounded, and just in time for prom! Maybe those parents do understand after all.

THE END. Serve sprinkled with ‘like’ so everyone knows you’re definitely a teenager.

 

Tips:

  • Make sure to get the teenage slang just right. It’s important, yo.
giphy kids
Fleek. (image: giphy.com)
  • Choose your teen issue carefully. If you’re going for something like sex or drugs, then keep it toned-down. Funny tingly feelings are fine, but full-blown orgies are off the table.
  • Keep to the acceptable pantheon of curse words. You want a few in there to show you’re edgy, but you drop any f-bombs and you’re grounded, mister.
  • Just because you’re writing a teenage character doesn’t mean you have to compromise on your authorial metaphors. Go ahead and lay out the fanciest literary imagery you can think of – and then add ‘like’, ‘whatever’ or ‘or something’ to the end of the sentence. They’re teenagers, it’s what they do.
  • Make sure your main character spends 40% of the book shrivelling up with embarrassment. It’s comedy!
  • If your main character is a boy, their best friend is always a skinny nerd. If they’re a girl, the best friend is always fat. It’s the rule.
  • Love triangles are optional here. If you do decide to include one, at least one of the people involved must be a Bad Boy™.
  • Always, always write in first person.

 

And here’s one I made earlier…

 

“I dunno, Cass,” says Martha, leaning against the locker next to mine, “I think it’s pretty risky.”

I roll my eyes and grab my Trig folder. Martha Floffmann has been my best friend since forever, but she can be a bit of a square sometimes. But she’s my best friend, so I don’t mind too much.

“It’ll be fine,” I say, as we head to our next class. “Everyone does it eventually. It’s not like it’s a big deal.”

She blushes and pushes her glasses a little higher. “Yeah, but…now?”

“Well, maybe not right this minute, but y’know, soon.”

“Are you really ready for something like that? I know I’m not.”

We stop outside the classroom. “Well I mean, I guess I am. Who’s ever really ready for something like that? But I mean, y’know, if I felt really strongly about it and the right person was, y’know, in the running, then –”

“Hey! It’s Cassidy, isn’t it?”

My whole body goes tingly. My heart literally stops and my entire body starts blushing. I know that voice. When I turn around, he’ll be standing there.

I’m not ready for this. I look terrible – my hair’s a mess, there’s a Nutella stain on my shirt and my dog threw up on my trainers this morning. Maybe he won’t notice the smell. Or the fact that my face is basically one giant zit.

Well, here goes.

I turn around and see him: Trent Calliber. Captain of the football team, tall, with dark blonde hair and green eyes and a face sculpted by literal angels. He looks like a cross between Michelangelo’s David and a swimsuit model and I’m just dead. It actually hurts to look at his face, he’s so pretty.

He smiles and goddammit, I can feel my heart dancing a merengue.

“What are you girls talking about?”

Martha butts in. “Lowering the voting age to –”

“Nothing,” I interrupt, “just, y’know, girl things. For girls. Your hair is…hair today. I mean, it’s nice. For hair. Um.”

This always happens whenever I talk to him. My brain just passes out and my mouth is all welp, here’s freedom, at last. It’s so embarrassing.

Trent’s frowning. Oh God, I’ve done something wrong. It’s simultaneously the best and the worst thing I’ve ever seen and goddammit, why does he have to be so pretty?

“Lowering the voting age?” he asks. “You don’t actually care about that stuff, do you?”

Martha’s opening her mouth but it’s too late – I’m laughing, too loud, and now everyone is staring at me. Oh God, I can see the Nutella stain out of the corner of my eye. I know it’s there.

“No, no, of course not! Voting’s like, for dorks, or whatever. God. Ew. I mean, so last year!”

He smiles. “Great. For a second I thought you were like, a square or something.”

“Me? No way! I’m…triangular?”

He laughs. Oh God. Is it possible to get pregnant from this?

“You’re funny. Hey, listen. I’m throwing a rager Friday night. You should swing by sometime.”

Omigod. Oh my God. Trent Calliber has just asked me out. Trent fudging Calliber. OK Cassidy, play it cool, play it cool. It’s the moment you’ve been waiting for.

“I mean, I guess I could,” I say, tossing my hair. Bonus – now it covers up the Nutella stain! “I mean, if I’m not too busy.”

“Oh, Cass,” says Martha, “Friday’s when we’re going to that –”

“So where is your place?” I say, nudging her out of the way. “And what time should I get there? And do I need to bring anything? Is there a dress code? What about –”

He laughs again. I really am going to have to ask the nurse about this pregnancy thing. “Relax, babe,” he says, and my entire body is going did you hear that he called me babe!, so relaxing is kind of off the menu now. “Just be there.”

“Sure.”

He walks away. Martha frowns up at me, but she’s my best friend, so I don’t mind.

“I thought you said you were coming to my thing. I’ve bought the tickets.”

Trent is still walking away – slowly, thank God. My body is so tingly I literally cannot think about anything else and I’ve lost all motor function in my arms. Guess that’s why I’ve dropped my Trig folder.

“Did you hear?” I whisper, “he called me babe.”

 

 

My full book-cookbook can be found here. Let me know what you’d like me to look at next – and as always, take this recipe with a pinch of salt.

Alice-In-Wonderland-I-See-What-You-Did-There
Heh heh heh. (image: replycandy.com)

My Top Ten Favourite Female Characters

So most of you already know about my Strong Female Characters series. That’s over and done with now, and it was a lot of fun, but the series had its drawbacks. The ten-question formula was helpful but didn’t cover everything, and often encouraged me to be a bit on the harsh side. I often wound up being quite harsh about characters I really like in the interest of putting out some sensible criticism.

Well, no more of that! These are the ten female characters I just really like. There’s no real criticism going on here, I just think they’re great.

 

  1. Miss Phryne Fisher
Miss-Phryne-Fisher-miss-fishers-murder-mysteries-39429677-375-500
image: fanpop.com

A.k.a. the female James Bond, Phryne Fisher is the lead character in Miss Fisher’s Murder Mysteries, an Australian series about a lady detective in the 1920s. It’s a long-running series of books which was made into a TV series a few years ago and she is just great. There is nothing she can’t do – whether that’s burlesque, directing a movie or being a racecar driver for a little bit. In all honesty she’s probably a Mary Sue but I like her so much I just don’t care. It’s really refreshing to see a female character who can turn her hand to anything in the same vein as male super-spies – with the added bonus that she is so clearly having a great time doing it.

 

 

  1. Marion Ravenwood
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image: pinterest.com

I’ll try and be brief as she’s had a proper blog post. Even though she didn’t pass my test I still love Marion. She certainly has her flaws but that’s never stopped me from liking her as a character. She’s crass and full of life, and when things don’t work out for her she keeps trying anyway. Full credit to Karen Allen for her performance – she provides a lot of Marion’s charm and it wouldn’t be the same without her.

 

 

  1. Granny Weatherwax
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image: wikipedia.org

Surely this one shouldn’t come as surprise. Blog post is here for more detail but the crux of the matter is this: I love seeing a crabby old woman save the day on a regular basis. Granny is sharp, spiky and judgemental, but, y’know, in a really good way. She’s the best and I will fight anyone who says otherwise.

 

 

  1. The Other Mother
other-mother-coraline-49.8
image: behindthevoiceactors.com

I never did a post on the Other Mother – I dressed up as her instead. For the uninitiated: she is the villain in Coraline, where she spends most of the novel trying to persuade a little girl to sew buttons over her eyes. I would’ve liked to have done a blog post on her but I quickly realised it just wasn’t possible – we just don’t know anything about her, apart from the fact that she’s an eldritch abomination. But for me the mystery is part of her charm. What is she? Where did she come from? I want Neil Gaiman to tell me, but not in a way that’s too scary or I’ll get nightmares.

 

 

  1. Toph Beifong
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image: avatar.wikia.com

Hands down my favourite Avatar character. I did a blog post on her – do look if you’re interested, as I’ll be keeping this one brief. Toph is loud, rude, boisterous and over-confident and it’s just great. She’s one of the most powerful characters in the series and she knows it, and she’s also consistently hilarious into the bargain.

 

 

  1. Sailor Jupiter
Sailor.Jupiter.600.79796
image: zerochan.net

The best Sailor Scout, hands down. In some ways she’s very traditional: she’s a great cook, cleans and organises her home herself, and wants to get married and open a cake and flower shop when she’s older. But she’s also a badass warrior with electricity powers, a great martial artist and one of the most physically strong characters on the show. She’s a really interesting combination of masculine and feminine traits, which is what I really like about Sailor Moon – being girly doesn’t mean you can’t be strong.

 

 

  1. April Ludgate
April-Ludgate-GIFs-From-Parks-Recreation
image: popsugar.com

April is one of my favourite characters on Parks and Recreation because she’s just so weird. She’s almost like the missing member of the Addams family – quirky, morbid and immature, which makes her moments of sincerity something really special. I really love how playful she can be while at the same time being really odd. Also, Janet Snakehole and Burt Macklin is the best couple’s costume ever, hands down.

 

 

  1. Bridget Jones
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image: pinterest.com

I’ve done a blog post on our Bridget so I’ll try and keep it brief. Long story short I really identify with her particular brand of cringing embarrassment, especially when flirting. She’s the kind of everywoman I can really get behind, which is to say one that’s based on common experiences rather than common traits. As a young woman working in publishing, I relate to her on a molecular level.

 

  

  1. Baby Jane Hudson
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image: pinterest.com

The creepier female lead in the 1960s classic, Whatever Happened to Baby Jane? ‘Baby’ Jane Hudson is a former child star caring for her wheelchair-bound sister, who went on to become a much bigger movie star before getting in a car accident. There’s all sorts of interesting stuff going on in the movie about sisterhood, Hollywood and femininity but the crux of it all comes down to Jane. Her decision to try and restart her career – reviving her old Shirley-Temple-style act when she’s in her fifties or sixties – is a fascinating look at what the pressures of fame can do to someone, and what happens when women get boxed into a particular kind of femininity that they can’t shake off.

  

 

  1. Leslie Knope
Leslie
image: parksandrecreation.wikia.com

The best politician in America. Again, I did a blog post so I’ll be brief, but I just think Leslie is great. She’s enthusiastic, competitive, wholesome in a way that I don’t find irritating – I just love her.

 

 

Black_Panther_Textless_Character_Poster_08
image: marvelcinematicuniverse.wikia.com

BONUS: Shuri

I was originally going to keep this list to ten characters but then I went to see Black Panther. AND IT WAS GREAT. Shuri, Wakanda’s irreverent tech genius, is my favourite character, hands down, but all the female characters in the film are interesting, well-developed and compelling. But Shuri’s the best one. Obviously.

 

 

 

And there you have it! A short list of my favourite female characters – and frankly, it was really difficult to keep it short. There’s just so many to choose from!

Book Recipes: How to Write a Country House Mystery

Time for another book recipe! This time I’ll be looking at the country house murder mystery. Let’s hope we live through all twenty steps.

 

Ingredients:

  • A big old spooky house
  • An assorted group of debonair guests. Choose your own flavours from any of the following:
    • The Ingénue
    • A crusty old man
    • A prim and proper widow
    • A bounder and a cad
    • The Femme Fatale
    • Loveable newlyweds
    • The idle rich
  • A sinister butler
  • Storms
  • So much alcohol
  • Unreliable phone lines/roads/Wi-Fi
  • Dark yet slightly sexy secrets
  • MURRRDERRRR.

 

Method:

  1. All your characters have been invited to a big country house, for plot reasons. They make small talk like they aren’t going to die.
  2. There’s a big storm! Better gather everyone in one room. It’s not important. I’m sure it’ll be fine – oh, all the lights have gone out.
  3. AND THERE’S A MURDER.
  4. Some of your guests try and leave, but they can’t! Those unreliable phone lines are down, or the road is flooded, or maybe someone has just Lemonade-ed over all the cars.

  1. Gather your guests in one big room, along with any servants you might have lying about the place. One of them is a MURDERER.
  2. Decide that the best thing to do is wait until morning in one big group. That way no-one will –
  3. JUST KIDDING GUYS LET’S SPLIT UP!
  4. Pick a character who will survive until at least step 18 and follow them around for a bit. This one is almost certainly not the murderer, but you never know.
  5. Pick your first suspect. You’re going to want to choose someone who is ridiculously suspicious because –
  6. Oh, no, looks like they’re dead. Never mind.
  7. Okay, obviously it wasn’t suspect number one. Who else could it be? Have your main POV character ponder this for a bit while they wander spooky corridors.
  8. Have another big meeting with the remaining characters. Someone is acting suspicious…
suspicious-gif-18
Hmmm… (image: gifimage.net)
  1. Settle on suspect number two. This should be less obvious than suspect number one, but still not something you’d really have to reach for. Someone who your main character has seen sneaking off down a corridor, or having a –
  2. Oh, no, they’re dead too. My bad.
  3. Some more murders happen and everyone is very distressed. First to go is anyone who decides to leave and get help, so your best bet is to keep your main character hidden behind the sofa.
  4. You have found A Clue. Oh boy! This sure takes your mind off all those murders.
  5. We’ve narrowed it down to our third and final suspect. All the clues point to them. There’s no-one else it could be. Gird your loins and get ready to confront the –
  6. Oh, they’re dead as well. Huh. So the real murderer must be…
  7. IT WAS THE BUTLER DID IT ALL ALONG MY GOSH
  8. The butler explains his evil plan for the readers’ convenience and advances on the main character. But just when he’s about to do another murder, we reach the end of our twenty-step guide and he’s arrested.

THE END. Serve with tea and flickering lights.
 

Tips:

  • This one comes with an alternate ending! If you’re feeling especially bleak, just have your butler kill everybody and waltz off into the sunset with all their stuff. Make sure he still explains his plan though, that part’s important.
  • Detectives are optional. Feel free to invite one along, but just be aware that in steps 1 and 2 they’re going to have to earn their keep by deducing where people went on their holidays.
  • Make sure to choose the right kind of dark secrets. They can’t be too dark or you’ll put the guests off their champagne. The best ones are sexy and melodramatic.
  • Always include at least one hysterical woman, and one man who thinks the first murder is an elaborate prank.
  • No-one ever, ever suspects the butler.
giphy spanish inquisition
You all knew I was going to make this joke. (image: giphy.com)
  • Choose your setting carefully. The past is your best bet, because Wi-Fi and working phone lines can really ruin a good murder mystery. Nobody likes a detective who relies on Google.
  • Don’t make your creepy house too creepy or the genres will get muddled. Also, don’t make it gross. Nobody wants to bleed to death on a grubby floor.

 

And here’s one I prepared earlier…

 

“I expect you’re all wondering why I called you here.”

The guests were in the drawing room, settling into chairs with coffee. The butler, Stabbington, moved discreetly round the room, topping up glasses of port. Alice Sinclair placed a hand over her glass and sat up straight. It was awfully fun to be asked to join the adults.

Her host, Sir Jeffrey Spishous-Mann, had got to his feet. The room fell silent. Apart from the howling wind the house was quiet. Crumbleigh Place was on top of a mountain, swathed in snow, and was only accessible after a three-day journey through a dark and creeping forest. Alice thought it was jolly exciting. The house reminded her of a Gothic novel, or one of those perfectly thrilling horror pictures she and the girls had snuck out to see at Bletherleys. If Bunty could have seen her now, she would have thought her terribly sophisticated.

Stabbington took a discreet step forward and murmured in his master’s ear. Sir Jeffrey frowned. “What? Now?”

“I’m afraid it cannot wait, sir.”

“Very good.” He turned back to his guests. “Do serve yourselves, gentlemen, ladies. Stabbington will be in the kitchen sharpening his knives. Where was I?”

An old man who’d been introduced to Alice as Major Edmund Blakely-Smythe spluttered in his chair. “Eh? What?”

His aged sister leaned over and patted his knee. “Sir Jeffrey was just about to tell us something, Edmund.”

“What? Speak up! Get him to speak up, Agnes.”

Sir Jeffrey cleared his throat again. “As I was saying. I expect you’re all wondering why I’ve called you here…”

There was a sudden bang. Alice flinched. Her neighbour – a tall young man wearing an ascot and a predatory expression – laid a hand on her arm.

“No need to be afraid,” he murmured, offering her his hand, “I shall protect you. Jonty Framlingham-Piggott, at your service.”

Alice shook it, blushing. She wished she was wearing lipstick. “Alice Sinclair. Absolutely super to meet you.”

He took a drag on his cigarette. “Isn’t it just. Cigarette, Miss Sinclair?”

“Oh, I –”

Stabbington came back into the room, smoothing his hair back into place and brushing snow off his shoulders. “I do apologise, sir. The cleaning gun went off.”

Major Blakeley-Smythe squinted at him. “Eh? What’d the butler chap say?”

“He says the cleaning gun went off, Edmund,” Agnes yelled into his ear.

“Damn shame,” the Major said. “Happened in India once. Chap never did get it back. Last saw the damn thing swimming in the Ganges.”

Sir Jeffrey took a deep breath. “Anyway. Now that you’re all here, I shall reveal to you…”

Jonty leaned forward and whispered in Alice’s ear. “Frightfully dull, isn’t it? Let’s slip away for a moment. I’ve picked up a few things on my travels I’d be delighted to show you.”

Alice blushed. Matron hadn’t said anything about this. “Souvenirs, do you mean?”

He flicked the ash off his cigarette and smirked. “Of course, dear girl.”

Sir Jeffrey was counting to ten. “As I was saying…”

Stabbington bustled over to the drinks cabinet. He knelt down, fussing with a little packet of powder, and saw Alice looking. “I beg your pardon, Miss.”

“Is that…rat poison?”

Stabbington shoved the powder into his pocket. “Yes. For the rats.”

“In the drinks cabinet?”

“…Yes.”

“Oh. Well, I suppose they can be very clever little fellows.”

Stabbington straightened up, and Alice saw a flash of brass by every one of his knuckles. He had an awful lot of rings, for a butler. “Very clever indeed, Miss. Do excuse me.”

He left the room. Sir Jeffrey set down his glass. “As I was saying…”

“Eh? What?”

“He’s about to tell us something, Edmund…”

Sir Jeffrey stood on his chair and yelled “I’m very rich and I’m about to die!”

There was a long silence. Snow whirled against the glass; wind howled down the chimney. The guests all stared at their host, who climbed down from his chair.

“Good,” he said. “Now that I have your attention –”

All the lights went out. Then, there was a scream.

 

 

My full book-cookbook can be found here. Let me know what you’d like me to look at next – and as always, take this recipe with a pinch of salt.

Alice-In-Wonderland-I-See-What-You-Did-There
Heh heh heh. (image: replycandy.com)