Five Insights from Nikki Trionfo’s “Creating a Sense of Mystery in Any Genre”

By Michelle Stoddard, UVW Treasurer

Mystery is kind of like romance: no matter the genre you’re writing, it always seems to make an appearance. That’s why when Nikki Trionfo presented to Utah Valley Writers on “Creating a Sense of Mystery in Any Genre” the audience was full of writers from across the genre spectrum, all speedily jotting down notes.

Missed it? Well, you’re in luck. Here were my top five takeaways:

#1: Do One Reveal Per Scene

While it can be tempting to want to create drama in a particular scene by loading it with reveals, this actually does the opposite and can be difficult for the reader to follow. By limiting your reveals to one per scene, you’re making it easier for the reader to remember and giving your characters a chance to react. Also, if you must put more than one reveal in a scene, group them together.


#2: Create a Sense of Progression Through Narrowing Options

The farther you get through a story, the more your list of solutions or suspects should narrow, not widen. Adding more possibilities to the list creates a feeling that the story is still ramping up. Obviously this isn’t bad if you ARE getting things started, but if by mid-book the process of elimination hasn’t started it will feel like the story isn’t going anywhere. Eliminating possibilities creates a feeling of progression that funnels your readers into your finale.


#3: Give Red Herrings Deeper Purposes.

When we hear “red herring” we tend to think “dead end,” but that doesn’t mean red herrings have to be a complete waste of time. You can use red herrings to touch on issues related to the theme of your story, develop your main character’s inner conflict, or even sprinkle “plants” (see the next section).



#4: Make “Plants” Memorable, But Distract From Them.

A “plant” is a clue that is not immediately recognized as a clue. They can lead to some great twists, but handling them can be tricky. You need your reader to remember the clue without realizing that it’s significant to the story. A good way to do this is to associate the clue with something unrelated to the plot (a funny occurrence, the romantic interest, etc.), but then quickly distract from it before readers can think it’s important.





#5: Create Non-Physical Clues.

Not all clues need to be physical. A clue can be anything: a hand gesture, turn of phrase, or scent. This creates interest and breaks up the pattern of finding “things.” Non-physical clues work as great plants; drop them in carefully and no one will suspect they’re clues!


As you can see, tricks of the mystery-writing trade can be useful to any writer. By implementing these lessons, you can keep your reader turning pages until the very end.

Charlie Holmberg, Author of Fifth Doll, to Present on August 17th

Charlie Holmberg

August 17th 7 p.m.

Orem Utah Public Library Storytelling Wing

Whether your story takes place on an inter-galactic battle field or a tea shop on the corner of 3rd and Main, well-developed characters need a well-developed world to play out their lives. Even the best characters will fall flat in an invisible setting. Good world-building invites a reader to be a part of the full experience and keeps them coming back for more. A truly engaged reader will still want to explore your world even after the story is over. Don’t short-change your readers with cardboard walls or talking heads. Show them the story as it was meant to be: with depth and vision.

Settings can be as complex as the multi-layered world of the Hunger Games with districts and class-systems, or as simple as the single room that holds all Twelve Angry Men. Either way, the details and events that make up the world of the story also help shape the plot and the characters themselves.

Charlie N. Holmberg is coming to the UVW to share her insight and expertise on world building. Her own trilogy, The Paper Magician, entwines Victorian London with a magical community of spell-casters that are bound to specific elements. Her detailed and engaging world comes complete with a bit of history, including the invention of dark and twisted flesh magic. This forbidden art and an old enemy launches the main character into a series of tantalizing events and the ultimate outcome is a captivating read and a successful writing career. And she’s coming to share what she’s learned along the way.

Born in Salt Lake City, Charlie N. Holmberg is the author of Followed by Frost; Magic Bitter, Magic Sweet; The Fifth Doll; and The Paper Magician Trilogy, which includes The Paper Magician, The Glass Magician, and The Master Magician. A RITA Award finalist, she majored in English and minored in editing at Brigham Young University. Raised a Trekkie alongside three sisters who also have boy names, Charlie plays the piano and ukulele, owns too many pairs of glasses, and finally adopted a dog.

Come listen and learn from Charlie N. Holmberg on Thursday, August 17th at the Orem Public Library. Her presentation will be preceded by an optional one-hour critique session from 6 to 7, also in the Storytelling Wing. Bring 1,000 words of your own work, and your ability to helpfully critique others’!

All UVW members current on their dues are automatically entered into a drawing for two free copies of her books that will be held at the end of her presentation. She will have some copies available for sale afterwards as well. If you haven’t joined or renewed yet, what are you waiting for? Go here.


post author: UVW vice president Jessica Allred.



Nikki Trionfo to Present on Writing Mysteries Into any Genre

Lurking intrigue keeps pages turning, even if there’s not a dead body in the drawing room next to a rolling pin. All genres benefit from a sense of wonder and puzzlement. Mystery author Nikki Trionfo will teach tricks learned from agent Josh Geztler about doling out teasing information, handling clue-threads and red herrings, and tying up a mystery’s loose ends. Even if your story isn’t a crime novel, give your readers a satisfying finish to the teasers that make them pick your book up off the shelves in the first place.
Nikki Trionfo lives in Riverton, Utah with five kids, a CrossFit-training husband who writes computer code, and lots of hip hop background music. Her teen murder mystery SHATTER won grand prize in LDStorymakers’ First Chapter Contest and first place in League of Utah Writers’ YA manuscript category. She’s the Public Relations Director for the largest writing conference in Utah, Storymakers Conference, and used to handle their after-hours parties. Alongside Heather Clark, she hosts free writing webinars on YouTube at #50FirstChapters. Other notable stuff includes an honorable mention in Writers of the Future and a spot in Utah Horror Writer’s short-story anthology. This all sounds really serious, but if you run into her, she gets down. Truly.