The Evolution of a Mystery Novel

Finding a premise

Since I’m pretty new here I thought I’d focus my first few blogs on helping you get to know me, and one of the best ways to do that is show you how I work. Today, I’m going to discuss how I made my way from a blank slate to In Deep, my first published mystery novel.

I had been working on another mystery series for several years, and finally realized that it wasn’t ever going to work. The whole premise needed to be put aside—at least for a while. 

So I needed to come up with a new idea. Usually I work in my office. In addition to writing mysteries and thrillers, I run a freelance writing and editing business, so I have a terrific home office. It’s quiet and since it’s full of technology stuff, it’s very conducive to writing about technology, which is what my business specializes in. But not really set up for brainstorming. So I picked up a notebook and my favorite pen, grabbed a snuggly blanket, flipped on the fireplace, and let Molly, my long-haired miniature dachshund, sit on my lap. Now I was in the zone.

Since I write in first person, I need to know who the narrator will be, so my first thought was of my protagonist. I visualized a tiny, almost elven-ish woman. She was a bit of a tomboy, and she wanted to be a photographer. Her name, I realized, was Newton Fleming, although everyone called her Newt.

Not so fast…

Newt was swimming one day and was hit by a Jet Ski. After that, whenever she looked at one of her photographs, she saw the future of the people in the picture. I wrote several chapters on this premise, until I realized it was too gimmicky of an idea for my writing style.

Crumple pages. Brainstorm anew.

A mystery series is born

This time, my protagonist was a scuba diver, and her goal was to become an underwater photographer. Her name was Finola Fleming, after a grandmother whom she’d never met, and everyone called her Fin. 

Unlike Newt, her predecessor, Fin is very tall and strong. She’s an extremely good photographer, but like many women, she struggles to get the recognition she deserves, given her level of skill and talent. Her father’s name is Newton Fleming, so the name survived. He has the money, and the silver-fox good looks the name implies. Sadly, he abandoned Fin when she was very young, and she has no idea why. She’s spent her life feeling like there must be something wrong with her, or why else would her father have made no effort to see her for more than twenty years.

But now I needed a murder. Hmmm.

Years ago, while diving in the Cayman Islands, we were lucky enough to see a female free diver trying to set a new world’s record. For those of you unfamiliar with the sport of freediving, it consists of diving without any of the usual scuba gear. 

No tanks. No fins. Nothing. 

While there are several different versions of competitive freediving, the most interesting is called “constant weight, no fins.” The idea is to go deep and then make it back to the surface on a single breath of air. You dive, and whatever weights you wear to help you get to depth fast, you have to bring back to the surface with you. It’s a balancing act.

And you dive alone, except near the surface where there are usually safety divers. It sounds extremely dangerous, but until recently, there had never been a fatality during competition. So how could I make a murder happen, nearly 400 feet underwater, with no one around? 

For that, you’ll have to read the book. Sorry. (Not sorry.)

Book 2 in the series, Sunken Death, was just released, and book 3, Dark Tide, will be out in the spring. I hope you’ll read them all, and that you’ll love Fin and her friends and family as much as I do.

Sharon Ward Author of the

Sharon is a successful freelance writer specializing in technology, manufacturing, and supply chain—even before the supply chain became the topic of the year. Before that, she worked at some of the most successful tech companies in the world, including Microsoft and Oracle. Her real love, though, is diving. As a PADI-certified divemaster, Sharon helped local dive shops with their training classes and has hundreds of dives under her weight belt. Wanting to share the joy and wonder of the underwater world, she wrote In Deep, her debut novel, released in August 2021. The second in the series, Sunken Death, was released on December 31, 2021. The third, Dark Tide, will hit the shelves in the spring of 2022.

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6 thoughts on “The Evolution of a Mystery Novel

  1. I love reading about other people’s writing process! I think this is great advice. Sometimes you need to step away from the computer and give yourself time to think. I wish I had a cute writing buddy like Molly!

    1. Thanks, Kate. Molly is a cutie, and when she’s cuddly, she’s a great writing buddy. And when she feels like playing chase, she’s not. But she does ensure that I get up and walk around every once and a while. She’s like an Apple Watch that never needs charging.

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