Mystery Readers Only

Whose Story Is It ?

By Donnell Ann Bell

The craft of writing has always been a mystery to me. There are so many accepted “rules” among the writing community that people automatically accept and never question the premises.

Rules such as: Avoid omniscient point of view. Never write a prologue. Flashbacks are verboten. Never start a book with a dream or your protagonist taking a trip, and, God forbid, do not start your book with a funeral.

These are just a few of the “rules” I’ve heard handed down by agents and editors. And, if you’re a writer hanging on the words of one of these industry professionals, chances are their words contain more weight than any law passed through Congress.

Writers listen, which is an excellent trait. But sometimes paying too close attention can hamstring a story. Further, it prohibits authors from thinking outside the box and limits creativity. That’s why it’s important to know the so-called rules, while it’s just as important to know when to break them.

Some years ago, I belonged to a critique group made up of some very talented authors. During one session, a partner glanced up from my pages and asked, “Whose story is this?”

I was taken aback for a moment. But then I questioned the premises. My critique partner writes romance. When I read her books, which I enjoy, I know within the first pages who the stars of her books are. There’s only two of them and the cast of characters is small.

I write police procedure, which is made up of a task force of police and FBI. Lieutenant Everett T. Pope, Special Agent Brian DiPietro, Special Agent Devon Taylor and Officer Allison Shannon are each important to the book, although there is a pecking order.

Some authors give task force characters individual books to avoid confusion. Whereas I prefer the entire task force to work together to drive my plot. (Think Criminal Minds or NCIS.) Although I have only four points of view in the entire book, the reader is going to know what each member of the task force is doing to solve the case.

Neither scenario is wrong. There are audiences for both. But if I was a strident rule follower and didn’t understand the genre I’m writing, I might have gone back to the drawing board and made my newest release a much different book.

Which might have been a mistake as Black Pearl, A Cold Case Suspense is a finalist in the 2020 Colorado Book Awards Thriller Category.

I enjoy a larger ensemble of characters, a threat, and a ticking clock. Whose story is it? I’ll let the reader decide. As they say, after all, “Go big or go home.”

Can you break the rules? Authors do all the time. You can do anything if you tell a great story.

About Black Pearl

A cold case heats up when a 9-1-1 call puts police at a Denver murder scene pointing investigators to the abduction of a Colorado teenager fourteen years before. The connection? A calling card—a single black pearl—is found on the newest victim. Is the murder a copycat? Or has a twisted serial killer, thought dead or in prison, returned to kill again?

The hunt for a multi-state killer is on and brings together an unexpected team: a Denver Major Crimes police lieutenant; an FBI special agent who investigated the previous murders, a rookie FBI agent with a specialty in psychology; and the only living victim of the Black Pearl Killer is now a cop.

For Special Agent Brian DiPietro, the case is an opportunity to find answers. For Officer Allison Shannon, the case will force her to face down the town that blamed her for surviving when another did not. And for both DiPietro and Shannon, it’s a chance to find closure to questions that have tormented them both for years.

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About the Author: Donnell Ann Bell is a multi-award-winning author. Writing around the theme SUSPENSE TOO CLOSE TO HOME, her novels have been Amazon e-book bestsellers. Before turning to fiction, she was an editor for a weekly business publication and a parenting magazine. You can find her through her website at

By Thonie Hevron

Mysteries to keep you reading through the night.

16 replies on “Whose Story Is It ?”

What a great post. I read books all the time where the writers have broken the rules, and they do it well.

Readers usually can pick out the stories that are done well. Thanks for dropping in, Jackie.

Donnell, Such good points, especially about rules. Thank you for the post! Having been taught by nuns off and on, one through grad school, I was always inundated with RULES. I learned when to hold ’em and when to fold ’em, mostly just by writing and meeting up with some awful good editors and beta readers. I think we always have to follow the creative path wherever that leads. Then we visit those good editors, and the delete button. Nancy Nau Sullivan

John Schembra, congratulations on your writing awards. I believe an author must do what works for the story. Sometimes the experts are right, but sometimes . . . 🙂

Thank you, Kathy. You’re right about conscious decisions. I imagine industry professionals see a lot of the same openings and and plot devices cross their desks. I’m grateful my editor and publisher trusted me. They insisted on changes for sure, but not on the amount of character time on the pages.

Nancy Nau Sullivan, you too? I was taught by nuns too! on the left-hand side of our report card was a section for check marks for things that needed improvement. One of my most frequent check marks included … does not follow directions 😉 Thanks for sharing your thoughts!

Nuns and rules? I make three Catholic school students and I have to mention Sister Mary Catherine who encouraged and inspired me.

Thonie, I had very strict nuns as well, and they did encourage me to write… and follow directions 🙂 Too funny.

Please don’t mind me but have to add….I can still remember Sister Salome (what a name…right?) standing at the blackboard and diagramming sentences. That’s when it hit me. Words belong in certain places….And Sister Agneta junior year….She got so worked up over Anna Karenina I just had to see what all the fuss was about….And Sister Georgia’s journalism class? She never cracked a smile, her father was an old-school newsman, and she encouraged me, right into a master’s in journalism and 20 years of news writing….Love those ladies. Thanks for letting me share, Donnell. Look forward to your posts. Nancy Nau Sullivan

I agree with you. I like a full cast of characters because in life we meet many people who influence our decisions in one day.

Nancy and Thonie, sounds like we have some very early influences. My second book is based loosely (and I mean loosely on my Catholic school days.) Thanks for sharing!

Lynn Rage, what a good point you bring up. If we had a small cast of characters, it wouldn’t be very challenging to the reader as far as suspects. Writing mysteries is about creating a puzzle. And there are different sizes of puzzles, right?

Thank you for your words of wisdom about “writer’s rules.” At a pitch session years ago, the agent went nearly apoplectic when I read my first sentence: “Oh, my God, you just shot my dog!” I thought it was sort of an eye-catcher. She said you NEVER begin a book with the death of a pet!!!!!! NEVER! In my next novel I began, “I never meant to kill anyone when I left for work that day.” And, I didn’t pitch it, I just published it.

Welcome to Thonie's world!

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