In the process of revising and editing, I’ve discerned a few stages. Maybe not in every case, but often enough to make an impression. Aside from achieving clarity and fluency, in the story and in the language used to tell it, the two elements that I keep track of are fear and atmosphere. Every chapter, if it is to be successful, must contain these elements if the reader is to remain engaged, the first step in entertainment. These elements are particularly important in the genres of mystery and crime. Without them, a novel is not a novel but, instead, a lengthy documentary, or report, or newspaper story. Why? Because these are what give life to a novel, and a novel needs to live and breathe if it is to entertain.
In my research for the Muhammad Amalfi Mysteries, I came across the following passage at the very beginning of a book written by a traveler to Algiers.
Moghreb-El-Acksa; A Journey in Morocco, by R. B. Cunningham Graham (London: William Heinemann, 1898)
When he talks about ‘pleasing,’ he’s talking about entertainment. If a mystery is to entertain, it should establish its own unique atmosphere. Think of the moors in England and how often they’ve figured in the work of writers from Ann Radcliffe with her Gothic tales, to the Sherlock of Arthur Conan Doyle to the Peak District of Stephen Booth and scores of other writers, great and small. Atmosphere, and in any form or degree, is essential. It can be introduced by no more than a few words, or it can come, as in the opening of Dickens’ BLEAK HOUSE, in a stream that carries the reader off and into the unknown. I am hopeful that each chapter in the series of Muhammad Amalfi Mysteries conveys a sense that sense of atmosphere to the reader.