Although I've always loved mystery and crime fiction more than anything else, I was 'raised' by science fiction writers.  I got in to the Clarion Workshop when I was a complete newbie, and I have a strong network in sf.

But lately I've been trying to build a network of mystery writers, I'm finding it kind of a culture shock.  Among sf and fantasy writers, you have to beat off critique partners with a stick.  I have been poking around various mystery forums and groups looking for someone to trade chapters with.... and I've had zero luck.  None at all. 

It's making me wonder, though, if maybe the heavy reliance on workshopping and critique groups in sf is something of an abnormality.  Is it just that mystery writers sauve and sophisticated professionals who don't have time or need for much workshopping?


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I suppose having another mystery writer read your books and stories may be better than having another sort of writer reading, but I've never had that opportunity. My mysteries were being read by men and women who wrote SF, fantasy, and chicklit. Didn't seem to matter too much.
What I find is that fantasy writers (and romance writers) seem to want the prose to be more lush, and pretty much everyone I've come across in sf and fantasy hates Christie, because of the reliance on dialog to tell the story. And that's part of why I was hoping to find some mystery writers, because telling at least some of the story through dialog is critical in traditional mystery - and you have to learn to do that well.

But aside from that, I just find it curious that everywhere I go, the experience is the same. If someone has a critique area - even a mystery oriented site - it's all fantasy writers, some sf, and maybe YA romance.

I'm beginning to think that either Mystery writers are grown ups and don't really need feedback that much, or if it's partly that with a mystery, you don't know what is real, what's a lie or a clue. I imagine in depth critique would end up something like this a lot "So-and-so came off as a stereotype, unless he's faking it. And I didn't believe she would do that, unless she really didn't and there was some other nefarious reason...."
And persistence does pay off. I am finding (after much pushing and whining everywhere I can think to winge) that there are some serious groups out there that keep a low profile and limited membership.
I read online about mystery authors talking about their critique partners, but it seems to be an arrangement they arrived at out of mutual admiration of style, or because they've known the person long enough to really trust them. I don't know that I've ever seen mystery writers partner spontaneously on any site I've been on.

I don't know why. My first reader is my husband, and I usually don't seek out anyone else while I'm writing. In fact, I tend to resist letting anyone else look at what I'm working on until I've finished. I'm an organic writer, so things mutate as I go along, and I don't want to be continually handing off stuff that I've rewritten from further back in the story, so the new stuff will make sense.

I think part of it may also be a desire not to have someone figure out the mystery before I've even finished writing it. For others, it may be that clever twist they're working so hard toward at the end--they don't want anyone appropriating it and using it elsewhere. It may just be that the nature of this sort of storytelling requires a great deal of mutual trust to make a critiquing partnership work.

It does seem, though, that other genres workshop a lot more than mystery writers do. I'm on an email list where there are constantly messages about workshops for writing romance, young adult, children's books, various other things. Hardly anything for those interested in mystery writing.
Yeah, I think you've nailed it. The need for secrecy in plotting does kind of limit critique. (For that matter, it makes reviewing books hard too, or talking about them analytically.)

I also hear you on the resistance to letting others see your work at the wrong time. The truth is, I have found the critique culture of sf kind of pushy and often don't mention what I'm working on at all until I'm ready for some feedback.

The truth is, I think that the critique culture of sf and fantasy is also kind of limiting. There are a lot of techniques and styles in sf that are subject to group obsessions. Mystery writers seem a lot freer to just tell their story in whatever way works. (I.e. telling the story through dialog, point of view shifts, stark or lush prose.) I think there is more reluctance in mystery writers to intervene in another writer's style, and maybe that's not a bad thing.
Well, I don't think lush prose really makes it anywhere. And I doubt anyone would try to analyze a partial from the point of view of "who done it" before the end of the novel. If someone raises the the issue of believability before, it should be taken seriously, because the book needs to make sense at any time during the reading. You do not want your public to be reading the book while shaking their heads. And the sort of defensiveness I've encountered in my group when raising believability issues ("But that will all be explained later!") merely serves to show that something doesn't work.
That wasn't exactly what I was talking about. But maybe you were putting this together with something I said upthread? When I said that mystery writers may be reluctant to comment on things they didn't know were real or not, I wasn't saying they _shouldn't_, only that it was a reason why mystery writers don't seem eager to give critique.

What I was talking about in the post you just replied to was the fact that there is a culture of conformity in sf and fantasy workshopping. It has definitely pushed the genre into being one of the most literary of the "genre" fiction categories. But you end up with a bias toward lush prose and extensive world-buiding. When I say lush, I don't mean purple. I mean well-written, but just more of it than average.

I see a lot of published and even award-winning mystery fiction that would never make it through any sf workshop. The voice, the handling of point of view, the prose, the techniques and scene set ups all violate too many strongly held views of what is good writing. I'm not saying that those who would have criticized are wrong - actually, in most cases I would have agreed with them - but I am saying that perhaps that best selling author was better served by not being in a group like that.
I can't speak to SF workshops (taught by whom?), but romance and perhaps also juvenile books follow publisher-set formulas. Nothing literary about that. SF is more varied as a genre, so literary SF is quite as possible as literary mystery. And that really means that both mystery and SF need to be focused on a particular type rather than the whole genre. The subcategories just aren't that much alike.

I should add that I'm somewhat familiar with SF because I've critiqued novels by fellow writers. In those instances, there was no difference in the style between mystery and SF -- at least not in terms of stripped-down prose and lots of action and dialogue.
I'm a member of a mystery writers group. We're all mystery writers. It's not online though. If you go to the Absolute Write Water Cooler forums there is a Beta Readers forum to find beta readers. I sometimes trade chapters with folks, but I am pretty busy and behind in my critiquing at the moment. Because I'm so busy, I also find I have to be selective in what I choose to read. :-) I'm betting though, that if you go to AW, you will find a beta reader.
Thanks, J.E.

I've got some invites to be on the waiting list for a couple of good groups just this morning, and a few other people, but I'll definitely check out Absolute Write.
I never really thought about this before but I must say I haven't seen many either. Our local chapter of Sisters In Crime has made a few stabs at it but not with any real long term success. I'd love a good critique group for mysteries
Can't say I agree that the need for secrecy is relevant. As a mystery/suspense writer I like to get feedback precisely to test whether I've successfully hidden what I need to hide.


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