Guest Post: Top Tips from Rohan Gavin on Writing Mystery / Detective Fiction

Knightley and Son K-9Later this week sees the publication of Knightley & Son: K-9 by Rohan Gavin, a doggy detective adventure will collar your funny bone and get your crime-solving noses on the scent.

Rohan Gavin comes from a very creative family, is married to the singer Dido and is the son of award-winning children’s author Jamila Gavin. He’s previously worked as a screenwriter in LA, and he’s a long-term fan of Sherlock Holmes which makes him the perfect author to bring back the classic detective mystery to young readers. Knightley and Son, Rohan’s debut novel was received to great acclaim and has been selected for the 2014 Summer Reading Challenge.

To celebrate the next volume in his detective series, Rohan today shares his top tips on writing mystery/detective fiction:

Rohan Gavin“In order to write good detective fiction you almost need to be a detective yourself. You need to keep an eye on the neighbours in case they’re doing anything suspicious in the back garden. You need to keep an eye on the bartender in case he tries to slip you a mickey (a strange powder in your drink). And you definitely need to be careful if the postman rings more than twice.

All of the above will get you into the mind-set of a detective. Everything around you could be a clue to a bigger mystery. No one is to be trusted.

When I start creating a plot I usually start with four or five scenes that I’ve noted down in the middle of the night, or in the bathroom, or while staking out the neighbours’ house. The four or five scenes will be scary, mysterious or surprising in some way. They will form the backbone of the plot, even though I may not know what that plot is yet. Then I try to find a thread that will link the scenes together into a story. That usually involves what Hitchcock called a ‘maguffin’–an object that drives the plot along, like a missing person or a stolen gem. The hero of course must be motivated to solve the crime, which will become more and more personal to him or her, even though at the beginning it may seem quite mundane. The detective will come equipped with a set of skills necessary to solve the crime, but quickly the plot will put every one of those to the test, and take the hero far outside their normal comfort zone. There’s an old adage in screenwriting, which is: first chase the hero up a tree, then throw stones at him, then get him down again.

For my particular heroes, the intrepid father-son duo, Knightley & Son, I make sure the situations I put them in are particularly problematic to them. It’s always good to personalise the threat. For example, if your character has a phobia of spiders, then clearly they must land up trapped in a room with a giant spider. As I do all this, I usually listen to a lot of music to keep me in the mood–usually soundtracks from films I love like Chinatown, Vertigo or the Bond movies.

Next comes the hard part, which is constructing a tightly plotted story around that handful of key scenes, and trying to trick the heroes (and the reader) into staying glued to the page until they find the solution. Somehow you have to keep them guessing until the very end. This means introducing red herrings, and closely guarding the real plot, which is quietly ticking along underneath the surface of the story. Sometimes you must deliberately mislead your readers.

By the end, the heroes will have been tested physically, mentally, and psychologically, until they have truly earned the prize. Even if the prize isn’t what they expected and the real villain remains at large.

That’s all for now. The neighbours appear to be carrying an unusually large black bag into their back garden…”

This guest post was provided by Rohan Gavin / Bloomsbury. The views expressed do not necessarily reflect those of the Federation of Children’s Book Groups.

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