Wednesday, August 19, 2015

The most important rule in mystery writing....


In my humble opinion, the most important rule to follow in mystery/suspense writing is to give the reader a sporting chance! I've written plenty of novels, and the most successful ones have been those where the reader had a few plausible guesses about "who done it!" Personally, I rarely guess the ending of a mystery/suspense novel and if I do, I’m kind of disappointed. I want that author to stump me with a clue I didn’t notice or a twist I couldn’t see the significance of at the time. It’s a game I don’t want to win, but I do want the author to play by the rules and that means, sprinkling in those clues along the way. Bury them in backstory, dribble them in dialogue, subvert them in setting, but readers need to have the chance to solve the mystery themselves. The key is to sprinkle, not dump! The great Agatha Christie said she was “always wary of putting too many false clues into the plot, because with so many things to unravel the book would be not only difficult to solve but also difficult to read.” And there must be herrings, red ones! Just as the fish could be dragged across the trail to confuse the hounds, a red herring is a false clue dropped into the story to confuse the reader and perhaps the protagonist as well.


Do you usually solve the mystery before the end of the book? Does that leave you satisfied or disappointed? 

6 comments:

  1. This comment has been removed by the author.

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  2. Darned autocorrect--let me try again.
    Dana, having been there, I pity the poor writer who has to sprinkle in a few clues, drag a red herring or two across the path, and at the end not only reveal who the bad guy is, but also tie everything up neatly. Yet, that's what readers want and writers want to give them. When I'm reading, I try to solve the mystery. Of course, when I'm writing I often don't know who the villain will be until I get near the end of the book. Donald Westlake calls this "push writing," and says, "If I don't know how it's going to end, the reader can't, either." Thanks for sharing.

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  3. I like that Westlake quote. There's nothing worse than having a reader say, "I knew who the bad guy was from page one!" :)

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  4. I love Agatha Christie, but can count on one hand the number of times I've solved the mystery before the big reveal... and still have five fingers left!

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  5. I'm disappointed if I figure it out too soon. But, I am also really happy when I find out I'm wrong in the last chapter! That's a good book :)

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