We've been having this discussion on the Crime Thru Time list. Some historical mystery authors prefer to unfold their book slowly, telling about the weather, describing the setting, revealing the players, and then several chapters in--boom! There's a body. It was my contention that, One: most of these authors have been published for quite a few years and this was accepted practice when they started publishing. Now, agents and editors seem to expect a little more movement, a snappier beginning to get to the story sooner. And Two: that there certainly isn't any one way to drop the body into the plot. Because I'm writing a "Medieval Noir", my pace is considerably faster than other medieval mysteries and the body shows up usually in the first chapter. I don't feel the need to let the reader get comfortable with the setting and characters first. Let them sweat it out with the protagonist. Let it unfold for the reader just as it unfolds for him. Let them absorb the setting as the story progresses.

What about you? When does your body show up? Are the demands of the publishing industry a factor for you in this? Or is it strictly writing style or even a product of the genre in which you write?

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Hmm. Thanks, but I did rather stumble over "descriptive nonsense" (linked to romance novel exposition). I take it you mean the slow start with the loving description of characters and relationships, homes, luxury goods, etc. I suppose they fill a function in that sort of novel, and sometimes those reader preferences (or author's styles) are transferred to mysteries and historical novels. Plenty of romance writers have been switching hats.
But far be it from me to reject description in favor of stripped down action/dialog. The latter is just too thin or shallow for me.
Actually, I put the body where it seems to drop naturally.
I.J. said, "Actually, I put the body where it seems to drop naturally."

The more naturally the better.
In WHOO?? the first body shows up in Chapter 5, page 46. But, there are kidnappings, fights, and other action throughout.

It's historical setting is the mid 1890's, lotsa stuff happening as we are about to enter the Twentieth Century. I think my writing style for the particular story dictates how I address this issue.

The story I wrote for the MWA conference has the body discovered in the first paragraph.
I rarely begin a book with a body. In fact I'm lucky if there is a body within the first hundred pages. The way that works best for me is to bring characters together to let the reader watch them interact and then to find one of them dead.
But then the writer must work hard to built tension without a body and to keep the reader's interest, feeling that something bad is about to happen.
The great thing about mystery novels is that there are no hard and fast rules. Whatever works for a particular writer is the right way to do it.

Rhys Bowen
Well, true enough, and different styles appeal to different readers. I tend to be impatient. If, as in a book I'm trying to read at the moment, interesting tidbits (why did someone send the couple a set of their father's underwear and why are a bunch of well-brought-up youngsters terrorizing a nice elderly couple?) are injected but remain unanswered while people go on having banal conversations, I get pretty impatient. And I don't really need a body. I just hate empty dialogue that clutters up the works. However, the point here is, that the author is well-beloved by many readers and his style clearly works for him.


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