Putting the Mystery in a Mystery

mystery:  secrecy  /  ambiguity  /  whodunnit  /  enigma  /  puzzle / conundrum / riddle / unsolved problem

The gals thought today’s post should review the mystery genre—specifically, how to write one.  Sounds good to me.

As you know, mysteries can fall under various categories: cozy, amateur sleuth, professional sleuth, private eye (like our trio, JJ, Rey and Linda), police procedural, noir, suspense, historical, mixed genres, literary, and caper, which is a crime story that leans towards comical (didn’t know that one had a category until recently, so there you go; you do learn something new every day).

Let’s stick to an overall review of penning a mystery, because each category has its own specific components and that would take up several pages.  But, hmm, that’s a thought; maybe we’ll feature each one separately over the next few weeks.  Ah, Rey’s giving two thumbs up.  <LOL>  I guess that’s what we’ll be doing.

You’ve decided to write one but aren’t sure what type?  Well, which mysteries do you enjoy reading?  Cozies?  Then go for that, something familiar.  Later, if you’re so inclined or are looking for a challenge, try something else.

Regardless of the type, you need a compelling story, one that yanks the reader right in.  Have a murder or three (or an enthralling crime/riddle to solve), also known as “plot”.  There should be conflict and tension, and action (but this doesn’t necessarily have to be of the racing-against-time or hit-over-the-head intensity).  Provide an interesting and preferably likable central character—the protagonist and person solving the mystery—and ensure your other characters have life.  They mustn’t be flat or wooden, or sound/seem the same.  I haven’t said this in a while, but variety is the spice of life . . . and stories.

Something else I’ve not stated in some time: show, don’t tell.  Weave the aforementioned conflict and tension between dialogue and activities/adventures.  Neither need be there continually, but certainly often enough to keep the reader on the edge of his/her seat, yearning to read on and discover what transpires!

Give thought to the crime.  If you’re stumped as to what the crime should be, search the internet for real-life ones and adopt/adapt one.  Imagine yours in every detail—how it was committed, what happened before and after, why it took place, and who did the dastardly deed.  Think about clues that the central character might stumble upon and follow.  Toss in a red herring or two.

WPgiphyGive thought as to why your character would be inclined to solve this mystery.  A professional reason perhaps?  He/she is a private investigator or detective, or works in some sort of legal or medical capacity, as examples.  An amateur sleuth may stumble upon a crime or murder and aspire to determine what transpired—but how did said amateur sleuth happen to be there?  Visiting a relative?  Attending a conference?  Moreover, might there be a personal reason the character wants to solve the mystery?  Add a few layers, but don’t stifle your character or reader (which translates into zzzzzz).

Who are your suspects?  You should have a few to keep your readers intrigued, guessing [detecting] along with the central character, and wanting to discover who the culprit is!  Try to surprise your reader, but don’t make the outcome outlandish or implausible.  On the flip side, don’t make your outcome too predictable or easily “reader solvable”.

Assemble your concept, characters, clues and suspects like the pieces of a jigsaw puzzle to create a complete picture.  Outline/chart how your protagonist [eventually] solves the mystifying crime.  Consider scenes and events.  And don’t forget your setting, either.  Make it come as alive as your character(s), dialogue, and actions.

Happy writing.

Mystery Writing 101 . . . or . . . What the do I Know about Writing a Mystery?

As a writer of mysteries (The Triple Threat Investigation Agency series), it’s no secret that I’m also a lover of the genre.  Which would go without saying, of course.  But I just did.  <ROTFL>

Nancy Drew, as often stated, was [still is] my heroine.  I first read her when I was eight and was hooked, big-time.  Solving mysteries with her and George and Bess was fun.

It’s still fun, although these days I keep company with more heavyweights.  Having that challenge—just who is the killer?—sends a shiver of anticipation along the spine with every novel cracked open (I like the feel of a real book, sorry Kindle).

So, you’re considering writing one?  That’s good, very good indeed.  But you’re uncertain where to start.  Well, acquainting yourself with the genre should come first, but I’m assuming you’ve got an idea of what the world of whodunits entails.

Let’s consider a few “musts”.

You must introduce your main character(s), the sleuth(s), as soon as possible.  The villain should be presented fairly early on, as well; readers must have an opportunity to pull the baddie(s) into their musings (as they endeavor to solve the mystery).

Make the major crime evident within a reasonable period, such as the first three or four chapters, as you want to create—and prolong—tension and suspense/excitement.  With mysteries, what’s that major crime?  Yup, you got it: murder.

Give the murder careful thought and plausibility.  Maybe there’s only one body, maybe a few.  If there are numerous ones, have the “surge” sound logical.  Sure, there could be a serial killer, a whacko, maybe even more than one killer.  Who doesn’t enjoy the roller-coaster ride of a thrilling serial killer case?  If you intend to write one, ensure that it’s compelling and believable, given the characters and circumstances.

Keep your story twisting and turning, but don’t drag it on forever.  And don’t make the killer(s) obvious.  You want readers to keep solving your challenging mystery, not yawning and heading off to do something more exciting, like garbage disposal or counter cleaning.

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As I always say, do your due diligence.  When you’re writing—creating—make sure to include facts.  This could include details about the murder (perhaps from a forensic or law enforcement angle), description about the state of the body (if you’re writing a cozy, you may want to sugar-coat it and keep intense details/facts to a minimum), states of mind, and so forth.  Present a sense of realism.

Consider writing a mystery like a paint-by-number kit.  You’re completing it in a painstaking manner: every little piece should uniformly connect (“bind”).

Now that you have some food for thought, I’ll let you digest.

We’ll look at how to develop your detective next post.  In the meanwhile, slap on that sleuthing cap and pursue that ever-winding writing/solving trail.

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