Character drives the narrative.

The omnipotent power to mold a person on the page is a delicious prospect. To be believable, the reader must be given intimate insight into a character’s thoughts and emotions, likes and dislikes. The author must imbue her or him with both admirable qualities and flaws to emulate real life, where nobody is perfect. Evil or noble? Intelligent or foolish? Witty or dull? Take a smidgen of this and add a pinch of that, and, voilà, a person begins to emerge. Once readers make an emotional connection, you have them hooked because it means they want to know the story behind the character.

Daniella Bernett

Daniella Bernett

The Motivating Factor.

Readers must know why. An author must play on this thirst for answers. An air of authenticity is established only if an author thoroughly understands the criminal’s, and the sleuth’s, mindset before sitting down to write. Each of us is shaped by the myriad people with whom we come into contact; the situations in which we find ourselves; and the opportunities we’re given or let slip through our fingers. It is this confluence of factors, combined with our inherent nature and temperament, that makes us unique. In a mystery, one character’s motives are different from another’s because of his or her reactions to a particular situation, whether it be a perceived slight, a kind gesture or downright duplicity. Readers will eagerly delve into a world of lawlessness and mayhem, if they grasp your criminal’s rationalization for taking the fatal step.

Red Herrings.

Without a tangled web of deception, a mystery would be dull. Some clues are key to solving the crime, but these must be scattered like tiny breadcrumbs on the wind. The red herring adds an element of surprise and heightens the tension by creating an atmosphere of distrust. Red herrings are a wicked test by the author to determine whether the secret sleuth within the reader can detect the truth or is merely swayed by circumstantial evidence. It’s the equivalent of waving a red flag in front of a bull to distract and cajole the reader into pursuing a false path.

Setting is critically important.

It helps to set the tone and propel the tale. The beauty of a place can cloak peril for the ill-fated victim. By contrast, fog (which I love), rain and the murky darkness of a lonely place can foreshadow danger.


Ending a chapter with a cliffhanger and starting the next one with a different character or another thread in the tale sends the adrenaline sluicing through readers’ veins. One is compelled to keep turning pages, if he or she wants to find out what happens. Another variation on this technique is to dangle a nugget on the last page to leave readers dying for the next book.

Be Curious about...everything.

Curiosity is essential for a mystery writer because it coaxes the Muse and stokes the imagination. You must be open to story ideas because they can come from anywhere: a snippet of overheard conversation; an article; a dream; or a chance encounter.

The art of the lie.

Authors are consummate liars. A story is not the truth. Rather, it is a massaging of the truth, a manipulation of perception. A lie conjured for the sole purpose of taking the reader on a journey to a different world. However, the tale must have the ring of truth to be believed. A mirror image of reality, but reality turned upside down and twisted round to come up with a tantalizingly diabolical alternative. The two most powerful weapons in an author’s arsenal are: What if. It’s a thrill to chase down the endless possibilities because they allow me to spin a delectable puzzle to confound and appeal to a reader’s intellect. 


Daniella Bernett is a member of the International Thriller Writers and Mystery Writers of America. She graduated summa cum laude with a B.S. in Journalism from St. John’s University. Lead Me Into Danger, Deadly Legacy, From Beyond The Grave, A Checkered Past, When Blood Runs Cold, Old Sins Never Die and Viper’s Nest of Lies are the books in the Emmeline Kirby-Gregory Longdon mystery series. She also is the author of two poetry collections, Timeless Allure and Silken Reflections.

In her professional life, she is the research manager for a nationally prominent engineering, architectural and construction management firm. Daniella is currently working on Emmeline and Gregory’s next adventure.

Visit or follow her on Facebook or on Goodreads 


The wicked kill…but the dead speak

Journalist Emmeline Kirby and her jewel thief/insurance investigator husband Gregory Longdon were in the mood for intrigue at the theater. However, murder was only supposed to take place on stage. All too soon, the evening’s peace is shattered when the ceiling collapses in the Upper Circle. In the ensuing chaos of the evacuation, Emmeline and Gregory discover tabloid reporter Verena Penrose in her box. Her neck had been snapped. Verena had done a brisk trade in scandal, blackmail and splashy exposés. Her fatal error was tangling with the Raven, an elusive international assassin with ties to the Russians and ETA, the Basque separatist group.

Although Verena despised her, she leaves a cryptic message for Emmeline that is too tantalizing to ignore. But the layer upon layer of lies, jealousy and revenge touch too close to home when her brother Adam is implicated in the Raven’s schemes to infiltrate the London Diamond Bourse and to murder a prominent British official. To restore the family honor, Emmeline and Gregory race to Madrid only to walk into the Raven’s trap.

A MIND TO MURDER, Book 8, will be released on September 17



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