Tuesday, April 27, 2021

What Makes a Good Mystery? (Volume 1)


I love a good mystery, but what is it that makes a mystery good? Is it the plot – the whodunnit with twists and turns? Is it the characters that fill in the gaps and the detective – amateur or not – whose shrewd observations reveal the truth? Maybe it’s the conflict between good and evil?

I have a growing list of the elements that I like to see in a mystery/suspense story—way too many to put down in just one article. I’ll share them with you a little at a time, though. Here’s the first one.

Intensity

While the story doesn’t have to be a full-fledged suspense for me to enjoy it, there has to be at least one scene full of foreboding where the creepy music enters my mind. A moment when the hero realizes what’s going on and puts a target on his or her back.

This is the moment that, in novelist vernacular, is called MEP – at least in my notations. The explanation of which is full of abstracts and higher-level cognition . . . okay, okay. It stands for Most Exciting Part. Really cultured and professional, huh! LOL! But if this piece of the story isn’t intense, then it’s a meh MEP for me. Entirely forgetful.

On the other hand, if the hero is suddenly and unexpectedly (well, at least the hero doesn’t expect it) thrust into danger, painted into a corner where I can see no escape, I’m up all night making sure that there is indeed escape, and justice is done!

As I read exceptional mysteries and suspense, I have some things that are a must for me to feel that ahhhhhhh at the end of the story. I bet you have some of those as well. 

Share your idea of the most important element of a great mystery/suspense in the comments, and you might just be the winner of a $10 Amazon gift card and a super-sleuth lighted magnifying glass.   

57 comments:

  1. It has to get my heart pounding and maybe looking over my shoulder at least once. Thank you for sharing. Blessings

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    1. That is definitely the type of intensity that I'm talking about!

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  2. The most important element in a good mystery is the unexpected! Thank you for the opportunity to enter a contest. Have a wonderful day and take care!
    traceyboehm1@aol.com

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  3. I want a mystery to be edge of your seat, heart pumping mystery that keeps you guess to the very end. It's when you have to engage your own mind to trying to figure out how the clues all fit into the puzzle that makes you turn the pages faster for more clues and then to see if you were right at the reveal. Love it when you're like well it could be this, but it also the clues would fit in this solution as well. Like I already said - I don't want the answers too soon and when you get them you go "why didn't I see that before" because the murky water all at once becomes crystal clear.
    2clowns at arkansas dot net

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    1. Totally agree! I love it when I'm second-guessing myself all through the book!

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  4. I guess the most important element is the suspense and the "not knowing" what is going to happen next! I have to keep reading to find out what happens!!

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    1. I'm with you. I love seeing the clever ways that authors do it.

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  5. I love when the suspense grabs me from the very beginning and keeps me guessing until the end!
    lhanberry1 at gmail dot com

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  6. I love the twists and turns, I love mysteries, also when the unexpected suddenly shows up! Have a Great weekend and stay safe. aliciabhaney(at)sbcglobal(dot)net

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    1. Yep those twists and turns are taking center stage in my next article!

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  7. I like when an author weaves pieces of the puzzle into a larger whole. I usually can't figure it out until the reveal. It is usually very surprising. racheltirzah(at)gmail(dot)com

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    1. Woohoo! Rachel, you are my winner. Congratulations! I'll be emailing you!

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  8. I love your MEP explanation. lol But it's true. Great post. Looking forward to the next one.

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    1. Yeah, I'm sure I could come up with something more clever, but the MEP is too firmly in my memory to make a substitute. lol!

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  9. keeps you guessing
    bn100candg at hotmail dot com

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  10. Plot twist is the most important element in a mystery.
    psalm103and138atgmaildotcom

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  11. The best to me is a culprit that seems unlikely and is not revealed until the very end. Those that I would have never guessed....

    tumcsec(at)gmail(dot)com

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  12. I enjoy the twists & turns, and just enough hints about the various characters in a story, and then suspect "everyone!" I like endings that I didn't see coming! :) Badawson16 at aol dot com

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  13. I think the plot twists and turns are important--the unexpected. Also, I love engaging characters and a little romance thrown in.
    whthomas13 at yahoo dot com

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  14. LOVE plot twists that come out of nowhere!
    Connie
    chendryx (at) nctv (dot) com

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  15. The unexpected makes for a good suspense, but I also want some scenes that make me jump out of my skin and make me not want to stop reading. I love the twists and turns that you just don't see coming. Also, the way the characters respond to stress is important as well. I have to like the characters and really feel what they are feeling.

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  16. oh email - clhutson1016(at)gmail(dot)com

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  17. It's best when I'm completely invested in the characters and story. It has to be exciting enough to keep me on the edge of my seat without being so over the top that it's unbelievable.

    amybradsher at gmail dot com

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  18. The most important element of a great mystery/suspense is a gripping plot with intriguing characters and plenty of twists that keeps me flipping pages, sitting on the edge of my seat waiting to find out what happens next!

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    1. Oops! My email is: nj(dot)bossman(at)gmail(dot)com

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    2. There's a rhythm to really great suspense. Enough slow down to let the reader catch a breath, but not enough to let breathing return to normal. Right?

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  19. The 'villain' is all important. Add in plot twists and I'm happy.

    marypres(AT)gmail(DOT)com

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  20. The most critical element in a good mystery is for the story to flow well. Keep the amount of character names to a minimum; too many clouds things and creates confusion for the reader.

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  21. the most important element is the suspense and the "not knowing" what is going to happen next! I have to keep reading to find out what happens!

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  22. I love a good mystery, suspense or thriller that has lots of twists and turns, that keeps me guessing and turning pages because the story is that enthralling.

    I have both a criminal justice and a psychology degree so its hard to stump me, I just love when an author can keep me stumped on who the killer is for at least half of the book, that is if the person is supposed to be a secret until revealed. I'm usually profiling, diagnosing or gathering suspects while I'm reading, just all into whatever book I'm reading at the time. I am the same way with my TV shows.

    I read cozies and to my granddaughters to balance it all out.

    My father thinks that I am nuts because I watch so many violent shows and read the books that I do.

    msredk at aol dot com

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    1. I'm with you! I love/hate getting stumped - love it because it doesn't happen very often. Hate it because . . . stumped! LOL!

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  23. The unexpected, intensity, intrigue, touch of romance, description of places traveled, and a thread of faith. Thanks for the opportunity to enter a giveaway! Would love to win! Lual Krautter Email: krautter62520AToutlookDOTcom

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  24. A good mystery story should keep the reader guessing to the very last page. Suspense with a little romance makes for a really good story. If I figure out who done it too soon the author did not do his or her job. Thank you for having this giveaway and allowing me the opportunity to participate.

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  25. One of the most important elements for mystery/suspense books is character development. I want a story with both likable and unlikable people; heroes and villains. What really sets a book apart is when you are not totally sure which is which.

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    1. Deep characters, both good and bad, are essential for all genres. And yes, it's so satisfying when the antagonists blend in with all the others.

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  26. I think a great mystery needs to keep you guessing without giving away the ending.

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  27. I have to be surprised and be kept guessing. I don't like figuring it out in the first few chapters. I also have to have a connection felt with the characters, their chemistry. The best is when I'm reading and have to stop to say... oh wow, I never would have thought that was coming next or that was going to happen.

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  28. Oh I love characters that have great chemistry - easy banter is so much fun! And yes, a great mystery needs to remain a MYSTERY! At least for a little while!

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  29. An intriguing plot with interesting main characters that show a developmental arc as they sleuth, along with a quirky supporting cast of characters is inviting in a good mystery. Some twists and turns in that plot to keep me guessing is key in any mystery I read; if a little romance and/or suspense is thrown in, all the better for bookish binging!!!!!

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