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1st scene: dead body or no?

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My WIP is a YA historical mystery. Now..I'm taking an online mystery writing class at Gotham and the teacher said it's not encouraged to start an adult fiction mystery with the dead body because I am revealing my first major plot twist right away. However, I feel like in YA, agents and editors want big things to happen right away. They don't seem to encourage a build up like in adult mysteries.

Thoughts?

On one hand, if I start the novel with my MC finding the body, then I need to backtrack a bit to reveal some clues.
On the other hand, I have a nice opening scene where the MC is hanging up laundry on a clothesline when the romantic interest shows up. This slower, opening scene also allows me to highlight some suspects.

So do I go for the big hook and open with the dead body? Or do I save that for the third or fourth scene?

I'd love to hear some feedback.
#1 - March 02, 2014, 02:32 PM
www.kimberlyggiarratano.com
Author of YA novel, Grunge Gods and Graveyards (Red Adept Publishing, 2014)

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I think YA allows for some warmup as long as it is all relevant and leads naturally and with increasing tension toward the dead body reveal.

When the body appears on the first page, it's hard for the reader to know how she should feel about anyone in the scene including the body. Of course, if done well, you could make it work, but I wouldn't be afraid of a bit of a build up.

I'm certainly not an authority on YA, though, so others may have better advice for you.
#2 - March 02, 2014, 05:10 PM

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Adult books differ from kids books. However YA starts to become very close to adult books to some degree. Yes, you need some action or some hook to bring the readers in, but how much of a back story are you going to do after the dead body?


My suggestion is to read some YA mysteries that involve DBs and see how they are incorporated. If you need some suggestions, I can probably glean some from my reading lists for you.


I read a lot of 'cozy mysteries' and the dead body usually shows up by the second or third chapter. The more hard core mysteries it can be a lot sooner.  Remember it is your story. Rules are meant to be broken.
#3 - March 02, 2014, 06:51 PM
You must do the things you think you cannot do.  Eleanor Roosevelt

http://www.lizstrawwrites.com/

You ultimately get to decide what works for the story. But in favor of the slower start (that you sound like you might be leaning toward), I have heard a lot of professional writers, agents, and editors saying that starting in the middle of the action for YA is getting weary. What makes it YA is the voice. And as long as you are hooking your readers in SOME way, immediate action is not necessary and can even be off putting.
#4 - March 02, 2014, 07:23 PM

Thanks, everyone. It was my inclination to do some build up, but when I posed the question to some YA authors (one who is also an editor), they were like, "Start with the body."

I think I will go with my gut and open the book with the slower build up. It's a good scene and the feedback I got from the teacher of the mystery class was that the scene was engaging.

Liz, I'd love for some book recs. Thank you!
#5 - March 03, 2014, 10:11 AM
www.kimberlyggiarratano.com
Author of YA novel, Grunge Gods and Graveyards (Red Adept Publishing, 2014)

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I read a lot of mysteries for adults. In general, a common place for the dead body is either at the end of the first or second chapter. It makes a good cliffhanger chapter ending.

I wouldn't leave it too much later than that. I critiqued a friend's (adult cozy) mystery and the murdered body didn't show up until Chapter 4. I thought that was too late and suggested that she didn't have to introduce all the suspects beforehand.
#6 - March 03, 2014, 11:16 AM
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I have reading lists on my blog - this years is not up to date.  I have a lot of adult cozy mysteries. Most of the kidlit mysteries I read our MG - I beleive a couple of Sammy Keyes books by Wendelin Van Dranan may include a dead body, most do not. A body in Indian Creek by Peg Kerhart or ? also has a dead body.

the following books may or may not include dead bodies - short term memory -too many books.
I,Q by Roland Smith (series)
Dirty Laundry by Daniel Ehrenhaft
I'd Tell You I Love You, but then I'd Have to Kill You (The Gallagher Girls) by Ally Carter **** (series)
Deadly Drive by David Patneaude
Chasing Shadows by Valerie Sherrard
Me and the Morgue by
#7 - March 03, 2014, 05:01 PM
« Last Edit: March 03, 2014, 05:12 PM by Liz Straw »
You must do the things you think you cannot do.  Eleanor Roosevelt

http://www.lizstrawwrites.com/

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The last post kept getting screwy on me. The I,Q series has a lot of bombings, DB, and kidnappings. Your average teenager stuff. ;)
The Gallagher Girls is a great spy school series with the same sort of training with the eventual DB, etc. showing up.
As I recall Me and the Morgue is all about a DB
#8 - March 03, 2014, 05:15 PM
You must do the things you think you cannot do.  Eleanor Roosevelt

http://www.lizstrawwrites.com/

My plan is to reveal the dead body by the 4th scene, so the end of the first chapter, beginning of second. I think that's a good point in the story.

Liz, I will check out some of your book recs. I have read Sammy Keyes.
My favorite mysteries are the kind with the accidental sleuth. The Caged Graves was like that.
#9 - March 03, 2014, 05:54 PM
www.kimberlyggiarratano.com
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End of first chapter, beginning of second chapter sounds good to me.
#10 - March 04, 2014, 07:53 AM

I started mine with the DB but on recommendations from CPs, I moved it to the end of the first chapter. That allowed time for the reader to connect with the MC and learn something about the victim.
#11 - March 04, 2014, 09:41 AM
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This thread has been crazy helpful. I just started revising/revamping the first scene and getting into characterization. I feel so much better about where this headed.
#12 - March 04, 2014, 09:59 AM
www.kimberlyggiarratano.com
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There never used to be dead bodies in middle-grade mysteries but it does seem more common now. Still for younger readers, in my current WIP, I have no plans for dead bodies. My mysteries are more about secrets, thefts and if there's violence it happened in the past. For YA, though, when I return to writing that, I love to write and read murder mysteries.

#13 - March 09, 2014, 08:44 PM
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