Common Core Standards and YA Mystery Writing (and Reading!)

Poe_rue_morgue_byam_shawYes, you read the title correctly — this post is about that monster of today’s headlines, the Common Core State Standards being implemented in schools across the country. Or rather, it’s not about the standards … but about the wild and wonderful opportunity those standards are creating for mysteries geared to “young adults” (YA) and the adventurous adults who also read (and write) this genre.

Forget about things like testing and accountability. Think about classrooms full of readers instead. And teachers. To me, the Common Core State Standards — okay with you if I just say “the Common Core”? — good — the Common Core says, by the time teens leave high school, they’ll be able to read like adults. That is, like adept adult readers. They’ll be able to pick up a mystery by Agatha Christie or Henning Mankell or Janet Evanovich or Craig Johnson (Longmire!) and follow the plot, savor the characters, plunge into the setting and the issues or the humor or the wordplay, with the rest of us.

And that means, we who write YA mysteries are invited to lead our readers into ever more interesting and exciting books. Naturally, that’s about plot twists and story arc and all that good stuff — and it starts with words. Consider this list of “mystery genre vocabulary”:

alibi – an excuse that an accused person uses to show that he/she was somewhere else than at the scene of the crime

breakthrough – an advance or discovery that helps solve a crime

clue – a  fact or object that helps to solve mysteries

crime – an act committed in violation of the law

deduce- to infer by logical reasoning

detective – a person who investigates crimes and gathers information

evidence – something, such as a witness statement or
object that is used as proof in a crime

hunch – a guess or feeling not based on known facts

motive – an inner drive that causes a person to do something or act in a certain way

mystery – something that is secret and unknown

plot – the arrangement of incidents in a story

purloin – to steal or filch

red herring – something that is used to divert attention from the basic issue

setting – the time, place, environment and surrounding circumstances of a story

sleuth – another name for a detective

suspect – a person who is suspected of a crime

victim – someone who is harmed or suffers some loss

witness – someone who saw or can give a firsthand account of something

Plus, the Common Core invites us to deepen our mysteries with “rich vocabulary” like inhale, stroll, caress, probe — words that move away from the simplistic, into detailed depictions. Sign me up! This sounds like fun, and a good adventure.

For more on the topic of “rich vocabulary” and writing, visit — it’s definitely on my mind this week!

About bethkanellbooks

My life is always a three-strand braid: love for Vermont, love of reading, and the need to write (and write better and better). Come visit and chat at any of my blogs and posts -- there's a big wonderful world of writing and reading, and we're in it together.
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