Sisters in Crime Writers Workshop

We attended a free all day workshop for mystery writers that was fun and informative. It was held at the Schaumburg Library on Saturday, November 14, 2015. Here is the agenda:

  • Dialogue and How It Sounds to the Actor
  • Writing Difficult-To-Like Protagonists
  • How to Use Medical Terms and Technology Correctly
  • Writing Mysteries for Children.
  • Projecting Your Voice So Your Audience Can Hear Every Word
  • Sisters in Crime workshop

Here are my notes. There are hand-outs for several of the sessions. I’ve scanned them. If you would like copies, e-mail me at

For simplicity’s sake, I’ve changed most of the pronouns to she, but most could apply to both female and male characters.

Dialogue and How It Sounds to the Actor

Why these words now? What exactly are the words doing in the scene?

What does the character want? How much does she want it? What are the obstacles staying in the way? What is she willing to do to get what she wants/needs?

What is the relationship between the characters?

(I have a hand-out of a scene written in prose and then just the dialogue.)

Sisters in Crime

Writing Difficult-To-Like Protagonists

Why do you write an unlikeable character? Are you your character or perceived that way? Are you unlikeable?

Likeable characters (even if flawed) are relatable and approachable. They have empathy (you can see the events through their eyes).

Hard to like characters are hard to relate to. They are not like us. But maybe we want to be more like them. We wish we could say that. We wish we could break the rules.

Examples of famous non-likeable characters: Jack Sparrow, Sherlock Holmes, everybody in Breaking Bad. (I have a hand-out with more examples.)

Interesting fact: People have a harder time liking an unlikeable FEMALE character than a male one.

Why write a non-likeable character?

  • Create conflict
  • Rounds out point of view, edgier
  • Aspects of human psyche; makes them real
  • Themes to explore
  • Reader feels better about their own bad traits
  • More interesting than nice
  • Best person to tell this particular story.

Tips for making your non-likeable character MORE likeable

  • Create a necessary emotional bond with the character:
  • Glimpse of humanity
  • Show sympathy/moment of weakness
  • Let her tell the story, from her point of view. No one is the villain of her own story.
  • Make her the captain of her own ship. Make her actively unlikeable. Example: Jack Sparrow.
  • Make her compelling and interesting
  • Allow bad traits to help her. It moves the story forward
  • Be very good at what she does. Example: Sherlock Holmes
  • Show the character through another character’s viewpoint. Example: Doctor Watson is telling the Sherlock stories
  • Show off flaws through humor
  • Show other characters liking her. Example: Dr. Watson
  • Show character loving someone else. Example: Again the relationship between Sherlock and Watson.
  • Have the character act counter to her bad traits/show occasional kindness
  • Exaggerate bad traits to the point of ridiculousness. Example: Sheldon from Big Bang Theory.
  • Give readers someone to hate more. Example: Moriarty
  • Redeem her or show potential for change

Sisters in Crime

How to Use Medical Terms and Technology Correctly

Two hand-outs. One explains the difference between Basic EMT’s, Intermediate EMTs and Paramedics. The other is a four-page list of drugs, toxicology screenings, etc.

Of special note: Emergency Medical Systems are under the jurisdiction of Department of Transportation, NOT the Department of Health and Welfare. It got its origins because of traffic accidents.

Only true paramedics work for the fire department. EMT’s are independent, like privately owned ambulance companies.

Not only does every state have its own rules and regulations for what EMT and Paramedics are allowed to do, but every region and city have their own. For instance Schaumburg and Chicago have different rules.

Sisters in CrimeWriting Mysteries for Children.

Hand-out: Booklist Readers 100 Best Children’s and YA Mysteries of the Past 10 Years.

Categories of children’s literature

  • Picture books
  • Chapter books
  • Middle grade (10-13 years old)
  • Young Adult (14-18 years old)
  • Crossover (young adult and adult)

How to write for kids

The child should be the protagonist. Stories should be kid-focused (get rid of the adults). Protagonist/kid should be self-reliant. The readers should see themselves in the story.

  • Characters: kids
  • Setting: must be relatable
  • Plot: clear and easy to follow
  • Problem: make the reader care
  • Solution: make it satisfying

Children’s mystery should have the same elements as adult:

  • Plotline
  • Character development
  • Crime or other inciting incident
  • Collection of clues
  • Red herrings
  • Gather together the suspects
  • Explanation of conclusion
  • Wrap up loose ends

Projecting Your Voice So Your Audience Can Hear Every Word

Writing is a solitary endeavor. But at some point authors need to speak. Just like any other muscle, the larynx and stomach muscles must be strengthened to improve volume. Practice, practice, practice!


Again, I will be happy to send you the hand-outs from this fascinating workshop. Just e-mail us at

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