Mystery Monday: Howard Shrier on 10 Rules of Writing

Today we welcome TorontBuffalo Jumpo Author Howard Shrier. I had the pleasure listening to Howard speak about Buffalo Jump at The Scene Of The Crime on Wolf Island, Kingston, Ontario and never dreamed I’d be hosting him on my blog. Howard writes the Jonah Geller series.

Howard is sharing some of his insight today, but if you’re interested in more…Howard teaches a Mystery Writing Workshop at the University of Toronto.Boston Cream


1.Create characters with strong needs and send them on a journey worth documenting and telling

2. Place significant obstacles in their path and allow them to reveal their characters through the actions they take to get around them.

3. Do enough research to be authoritative and plausible, but keep it to a minimum in the text.

4. Read voraciously, epsecially but not exclusively in your chosen field.

5. Tell your story in the most compelling voice you can muster. Have a sense of urgency, even if it’s buried. And develop an ear for dialogue if you don’t already have one.

High Chicago6. As Hemingway and so many others have noted, the best writing day ends when you know how you’re starting tomorrow.

7. Outlining, even if it’s in your head, can save you months of grief. The process of building a story in notebooks, all the aha moments, can be every bit as creative as writing itself.

8. Throw everything you can at the first draft. You can always cut it later.

9. Cut it later. And often.

10. Do not, under any circumstances, make the mistake I did and quit your day job before your first book comes out.

11. Bonus: A first draft is just that. Once you finish it, get people to read it. Take their comments graciously, even if you don’t agree with them. Sleep on them. See if they make sense in the morning. For me, revisions are where the best writing happens. Cutting what’s not needed, tightening the springs that provide tension, sharpening dialogue. As much as you revise your completed text, polish your first few chapters to a fine point. Bring them to a note of suspense, perhaps the incendiary incident we’ve talked about. Create a worthy sample of 5,000-10,000 words to show an agent if you get the chance.

Howard Shrier Bio

Howard Shrier PhotoHoward Shrier is the author of four acclaimed novels featuring Toronto investigator Jonah Geller: Buffalo Jump (2008), High Chicago (2009), Boston Cream (2012) and Miss Montreal (2013). A two-time winner of the Arthur Ellis Award for excellence in crime fiction, he has also written the standalone thriller Lostport, and is now working on a crime novel set in Montreal, 1950, when it was Canada’s Sin City.

Howard was born and raised in Montreal, where he earned an Honours Degree in Journalism and Creative Writing at Concordia University in 1979. He started out as a crime reporter at The Montreal Star and has since worked in print journalism, theatre and television, sketch comedy and improv, and corporate and government communications. Howard now lives in Toronto with his wife and two sons and teaches writing at University of Toronto’s School of Continuing Studies. He also works with mystery writers on their manuscripts to bring them up to professional standards. You can find out more about his work at


6 thoughts on “Mystery Monday: Howard Shrier on 10 Rules of Writing

  1. Thanks for this post. I’m a big fan of Howard’s books — had the pleasure of meeting him at Bloody Words in 2012 (not that he’d remember me — it was at the lobby bar and I was just starting my first draft). I remember saying to him, I can’t wait to find out what happens in Miss Montreal and he said, “Me too.”

    Liked by 1 person

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