September 26, 2019

Hallmark’s Mystery 101: Words Can Kill has Tips for Writers

By Annette Cole Mastron, Communications Director for Southern Writers Magazine

Mystery 101 is a Hallmark series, and “Words Can Kill” is the third in the movie series. The series protagonist is Amy Winslow, a professor of English literature who specializes in mystery fiction. Amy's father, Graham, is an author of a bestselling series of crime novels. Another character, Travis Burke is a new-to-town police detective. The series takes place in the fictional town of Garrison in the Pacific Northwest.

In one scene of Mystery 101: Words Can Kill, at fictional Elmstead College, Professor Amy Winslow has Detective Travis in a POV class discussion. The dialogue is:

Amy: “So you’re saying I’m wrong?”

Travis: “No, I’m just saying we view things differently.”

Amy: “Isn’t that the same thing as saying I’m wrong?”

Travis: “I mean that’s one way of looking at it. The other way is saying that I’m right.”

Amy: “Alright, well the point of inviting Detective Burke here today was to better understand Point of View in fiction,more importantly in crime fiction where the perspective of the detective is everything. And what drives every whodunnit is the question of who is solving the mystery.”

Travis: “But in the real world as a cop, I don’t have that luxury. If I’m going on “who,” that could be based on prejudice. Maybe I like the person, so I’m going to rule them out. Maybe the opposite’s true. Either way, I’m wasting time to get to the right arrest. I have to follow the hard evidence. The first question we ask is “what.” If I do that, the “what,” will lead me to the “who.” I think that’s the main difference in how I’m thinking as a detective, and how you guys might be thinking as crime fiction readers.”

Amy: “Detective Burke underscores a key point that we’ve discussed before: The best mystery writing really is just a search for identity. Not just of the killer but also of the investigator.”

Travis: “But who I am doesn’t matter as much as how we find the evidence.”

Amy: “You sure about that?”

Travis: “Pretty sure.”

As this exchange of dialogue shows, the perspective of the detective in writing a mystery story is paramount, and often contradictory, to real life investigations. There are different ways a real life detective investigates so it might help for authors to talk to investigators to understand the procedure in investigating a crime. Often, police departments and various agencies have citizen based training that could help you in writing your mystery or true-crime stories.

Author DiAnn Mills writes an FBI book series and has attended several “citizen academies” held by the FBI and ATF in her area. She also wrote a blog post for SWM’s Suite T about the experience. You can read her SWM Suite T, guest author blog post, titled Writing Authentic and Accurate Law Enforcement. By attending these “academies,” she received authentic research for her book series. Something for all mystery crime writers to consider for actual field research. 

You might want to check out various departments and agencies to see if one in your area can help you expand your knowledge to help you in developing authentic stories. 

Who knows, like Hallmark’s Mystery 101: Words Can Kill, you and your book might appear at the next book festival in your area. The fictional festival in the movie was titled, “Murder We Wrote Book Festival.” Don’t you just love that title for a festival?

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