Saturday, April 21, 2012

The Craft of Writing by Marja McGraw

Welcome to Mead Mountain, Marja McGraw. It's great to have you visit here now that the snow's finally melted. Please tell us how you feel about the craft of writing.

A craft is a skill, which would mean the skill of writing a story. However, being crafty means you’re adept in the use of subtlety and cunning or marked by subtlety and guile. What wonderful words for a mystery writer; cunning, subtly, and with guile.

As a mystery writer I think being crafty is more appropriate than having a craft. After all, my skill requires that I dazzle the reader with twists and turns, and supply clues and red herrings. The craft part of this equation is making it all come together while making sense. Including some humor in my stories adds an extra degree of skill.

Writers, in general, put a lot more of themselves in their books than people realize. While a character may not be based on me, I still have to know what I’m talking about. Whether it’s personality traits, appearance of an individual, or purpose and reason, you can’t just pick stuff out of the air and hope it works. I’ve had to study people and their reactions to all kinds of situations. In a way, a good author is part psychologist. I need to be able to “read” people and situations. If I hadn’t learned to do this, then my characters would come across flat and unrealistic.

I had to learn all kinds of things. Writing an action scene can make or break a part of the story. The action needs to be quick and generally intense in one way or another. It can’t drag on with long sentences or you lose all sense of action.

 Even writing a romance scene can be tricky. Writers have to decide if they want the romance to be graphic and heavy duty or subtle and intimate. Do you want the romance to overwhelm the mystery? Or do you want the mystery to be the main focus of the story?

 The craft of writing a mystery involves so many facets, and as an author I want the reader to feel they’re right there, watching what’s happening. The protagonist has to be someone readers can relate to on some level, whether they like the individual or not. Actually, the reader should be able to relate to the antagonist as well, even if they’re reaction to the bad guy is, “Ick” or “Eewww”.

What about sub-characters? They’re important, too. Whether it’s a one-time client or a repeat friend, foe or relative, they need to be as real as the main character(s).

 So, in the end, the craft of writing involves so much more than the readers realize. It takes study, research, planning and crafting a story. No matter how outrageous the storyline is, there has to be some kind of reality to keep the reader grounded and reading.

From learning how to format a page to writing the story, I had a lot to learn, including how to turn out a good story. Don’t sell your favorite authors short, because they’ve had a lot to learn before writing the story that still lingers in your memory.

 Thank you for having me in today, Jean. I’ve really enjoyed talking about writing, but then it’s one of my favorite subjects.

 My pleasure, Marja. Come back anytime, espeially when you don't need snowshoes.

Just released: Bogey’s Ace in the Hole (See my book trailer)

You can visit Marja at her website, and her blog site.

Her books are available at

At the end of this tour two names will be randomly selected from those who've left comments and they'll each receive a copy of Bogey's Ace in the Hole. Be sure to leave your email address. with your comments.


  1. Crafty is as crafty does. Enjoyed seeing your take on craft vs crafty. Thank you both for another interesting day of blog.

  2. Thank you for stopping in, Jake! Whether I'm crafty or utilizing my craft, I'm having a lot of fun.

  3. You hit the nail on the head, Marja, when you said an author has to understand people. Most writers tend to be people watchers and that comes in handy when it comes time to create believable characters.

    I remember a conversation with my b-i-l (years ago), where he was surprised by the actions of a man he'd just met. The man in question had a handlebar moustache of epic proportions. (We're talking MASSIVE, almost cartoon-like.) I pointed that out to my b-i-l, adding the man was obviously an eccentric.

    Physical appearance isn't always a good indicator of personality, but it can provide a hint at what lies beneath the surface. All the writer has to do is be observant...and then embellish with gusto.

    Great post!

  4. Great comment, Anne. I particularly like the last sentence. LOL We do well with embellishing with gusto. Thank you for stopping in.