Now and again, I receive the privilege of editing the odd mystery, my favorite genre (just ask the private eyes from the Triple Threat Investigation Agency). Having touched upon the various types several months back, I thought I’d post about what makes a good mystery . . . a good mystery.
Like other genres, it contains a few necessary [vital] components:
♠ characters/protagonist(s) ♠ setting/locale ♠ plot/storyline ♠ conflict(s)/friction/tension/problem(s) ♠ solution/ending.
In terms of mysteries …you want a main character (detective, amateur sleuth, cop, grandmother, biker, you pick it) who is strong and/or likeable and is up to the task of solving the crime. It should be a person that readers can identify or sympathize with. Someone who is wishy-washy, weak, whiney, probably won’t cut it. But never say never.
Given there will be a villain—the perpetrator(s) of the crime(s)—make sure you detail him/her thoroughly. You likely won’t want to let readers know who the perp is until the end, so watch how much you reveal. Readers can encounter the villain early in the story . . . amid a number of other potential suspects. You’re providing a puzzle for readers to piece together, so make it both complex and entertaining.
If, however, you do wish to reveal the perp early on, you may want to let us know what makes him/her tick: why did/does he/she do what he/she did? <LOL> An FYI: I won’t continue reading a book if I know who the culprit is by page 50, but others may. Personally, I want the challenge of determining who did it!
Exotic settings, like a velvety white-sand beach in the south of France, are always lovely and appealing, but a small town in Midwest USA can hold equal appeal. Small towns are often picturesque and . . . rather soothing . . . until a murder occurs, of course. You can even set your mystery in a fictional city or village. Or, if you’re aiming for a mystery taking place in the future, make it another planet or galaxy. Just ensure you provide enough details to make the setting/locale come alive (let readers envision it, smell it, hear it, feel it).
Consider where the crime took place and where [other/potential] suspicious actions occur. Big cities have long, dim and dank alleys. But a nightclub, with strobe lighting, can make for an equally daunting place, depending on how you “paint” it. Weave from one place to the next; variety is the spice of life. Small towns and rural settings have dark, deserted barns, winding dirt roads lined by tall leafy trees. But they may also have a diner run by a neurotic cook and weird waitress. The sky is the limit. Paint, paint, weave, weave.
Your plot can be complicated—twists and turns work well in a mystery—but do ensure events and actions make sense and that any loose ends are tied up at the end. And who says a mystery has to revolve around a murder or two? They do make for more “fun”, but your story can just as easily incorporate a robbery or kidnapping that the main character has to figure out. Whodunit!?
A lot of mystery lovers enjoy being yanked right into the crime/action. I’m one of those. But, you know, I’ve found mysteries that open with casual discussions in comfy salons with a blazing fire can work quite well, too. It’s a matter of how you present the discussion (dialogue) and characters. Tweak our interest. Being yanked in is fun, but a nudge or prod can work well, too.
On the way to the solution/ending, add a red herring or two. Mystery readers love to determine who the culprit is, so provide some misleading clues; don’t make it too easy. And, when you’re ready to provide that solution, make certain that it makes sense.
You know, your main character may miss a clue, and that’s perfectly okay; why not allow readers to hone in on it while your protagonist does some head-scratching? Know the ins and outs of the crime. Before you write the mystery, determine the who, what, where, when, why and how. And, lastly, the evidence: does it make sense? Descriptions/details should be relatively comprehensive and plausible.
Some food for thought (a favorite expression of mine of late, maybe because food is a favorite of mine of late). <LOL>
Happy trails . . . of breadcrumbs . . . and clues.