“I have been in love with story all my life,” says Gayle Roper, the award winning author of more than forty-five books. “Give me a story with strong characters and a captivating plot, and I’m one happy reader. Or writer.”
She lives in southeastern Pennsylvania. She enjoys reading, spending time at the family’s Canadian cottage, gardening, and eating out every time she can manage it.
FIVE RULES OF FAIR PLAY
Did you know that the murderer in what is considered the first modern mystery was an orangutan? In Poe’s Murders in the Rue Morgue it wasn’t the butler; it was a large primate.
Obviously today we could consider such a solution a major failure to the need for a satisfying ending. Over the years as mystery and suspense became sophisticated works of both literature and puzzle-solving, five rules or expectations evolved. Today we assume these five rules will be observed in any title we read.
1. The author will play fair.
The author won’t spring any orangutans on us. He will treat us as intelligent. She will offer a work without overly easy or unrealistic solutions.
2. There will be a significant crime to solve.
Usually in an adult crime novel this means murder. It is the ultimate offense, the one that takes from people that which is most valuable, life itself. Finding the culprit and seeing justice done comes to mean as much to the reader as to the characters.
3. The guilty party is among the characters.
In other words the guilty party can’t be pulled out of a hat at the last page. He is an obvious player throughout the book though his means of committing the crime or his motive or opportunity may be hidden until the end. The bigger the surprise, the happier the reader.
4. There must be detection.
Not only do readers like to figure out who the perpetrator is; they like to figure out why and how. It’s up to our hero or heroine to take the lead in the detecting necessary to resolve the unknowns, but our readers want to be at least keeping step in this process if not running ahead. Beating the lead character to the solution is one of suspense and mystery readers’ favorite pastimes.
5. All surprises must come from the universe of the story.
No matter how big the surprise, the reader has to be able to look back and say, “I can see that now. It was all there.” Everything that transpires in the last couple of chapters has to have be built on a foundation laid long before the great reveal. In other words, no unknown bad guys popping up.
I’d like to offer another rule to make a modern suspense or mystery engaging, and it’s give your characters personal problems both interior and external that make them worthy of our time and concern.
Ed McBain brought people back to the 87th Precinct because of his detectives and their personal stories as much as because of the cases they solved. J.D. Robb keeps us reading her Death mysteries because of the complex lives of Dallas and Rourke. We follow Evanovich’s Stephanie Plum because of the humorous chaos of her life and those of her friends.
Follow these six rules, and you will turn out a book that will keep your readers with you until that final page where they will sigh with a combination of satisfaction over a good read and sadness that the ride is over.