Planting the Clues with Joe Clifford

To write a mystery that grips your reader, you need to know your ending and plant your clues in the right places. Author and editor Joe Clifford shows you how it's done in this four-week workshop.

Your Instructor: Joe Clifford, author of 'Lamentation' and 'December Boys'

Where: Online — Available everywhere!

When: This class is not currently enrolling. To be notified when it is offered again, Click Here

Enrollment: 16 students

Price: $325

Class Description

Think of the best mysteries you know.

Go ahead. Think. Your very favorites. The ones that stick with you. 

The better the twist, the more convoluted the plot, the more you can be certain the writer knew his or her ending first. The key to a successful mystery is knowing when, where, and how to plant your clues, because these are the essential building blocks to propel your narrative. 

But how do you know where those vital pieces of information should go? 

Joe Clifford is the acquisitions editor for Gutter Books, managing editor of The Flash Fiction Offensive, and producer of Lip Service West, a reading series in Oakland, CA. He is the author of the books Choice Cuts, Junkie Love, Wake the UndertakerLamentation, and the upcoming December Boys, as well as editor of Trouble in the Heartland: Crime Stories Based on the Songs of Bruce Springsteen.

And he'll show you how to take the mystery out of writing mystery, by sharing proven strategies for success—focusing on causality, tension and relevance. This class will include lectures, assignments to be critiqued by your instructor and your peers, and plenty of opportunities for Q&A along the way. 

What This Class Covers

Week One

Lecture: You'll discuss basic ideas for the mystery novel you would like to write, exploring possible directions, citing benefits and pitfalls of each approach, and limbering up to run the race. Beginnings mean figuring out who/what/when/why, but very rarely do you have that information from the get-go. There are assorted techniques to draw these answers out. You'll talk about those, and their benefits and drawbacks.

Assignment: If you have a working draft, you'll create a summary, or you'll outline your idea. You'll use this to create the first few scenes for submission to the class. You'll discuss key concepts like setting, motivation, skills and relationships to see how you can use these to connect your scenes with a 'so' and not an 'and'.

Week Two

Lecture: Using the movie Kiss Kiss Bang Bang as a reference point, you'll talk about a secret that almost all mysteries use. You'll look at subplots and love stories and how your scenes connect.

Assignment: Submit the first ten pages of your WIP. Do other options exist to tell this story? There's no right or wrong way, but the idea is to look at your work from other angles and consider new approaches.

Week Three

Lecture: How could major works be improved? How do the masters like Chandler and Westlake achieve perfection? You'll deconstruct existing stories to see how they work and what you would change about them. You'll apply the lessons from weeks one and two to see how you can backtrack through your story and tighten up the narrative.

Assignment: You'll rework your submission with those ideas in mind. Which scenes do you keep? Which do you eliminate? By now you should be able to see where you should start planting the clues.

Week Four

Lecture: This is where you get practical. How do you sell this stuff? Writing is an interplay between audience and author and there are tricks to make your work stand out.

Assignment: You'll go over your reworked submission to make sure it's as good as it can get.

Goals Of This Class

  • Learn how to bring together structure, pacing and motivation to create a narrative with a clear endpoint.
  • Assess the strategies for getting words down on the page so you can start to answer the key questions about your story.
  • Apply the techniques other writers use to your own work and learn how to create a connected, casual narrative.
  • Look at the options for selling your work and how to create a relationship between audience and author.
About Our Classes Class FAQs