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VRanger

Staff member
Administrator
So now that Darren, PiP and Cindy, through no fault of their own, created a monster, VRanger has created a new Forum with very little warning to my esteemed and no doubt, now shocked, colleagues.

At the moment, this sub-Forum is entirely superfluous, as I have seen NO discussion on WF concerning writing mysteries. I've written four chapters of one as a WIP. As far as I can tell, that makes me the resident expert on writing mysteries. Brag? No. Alarming truth? Yes.

However, I do have the desire to draw mystery writers to WF, and if you don't put out honey, you can't draw flies. Anyone who starts replying with other substances which will draw flies risks an immediate permaban, as I will NOT be amused.

On the other hand, any members who DO want some discussion of writing mysteries, dive right in! We may have untapped talent already on board, and I'd do my best, as I spent all summer researching crafting mystery stories.
 
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VRanger

Staff member
Administrator
@JBF !!

You get involved here, buddy! I KNOW you can write mystery, or at least you teased one. Remember the down fenceposts? You still owe us the rest of that story. ;-) And ....... It's a mystery.
 

JBF

Staff member
Global Moderator
Well...that was probably a drunk.

Now the long overdue Halloween story currently spiraling out of control...that one might have some mystery.
 

VRanger

Staff member
Administrator
Well...that was probably a drunk.

Now the long overdue Halloween story currently spiraling out of control...that one might have some mystery.
I know you have horses in stories. So, a Halloween story? Headless horseman trope? Bring it on! Just don't overdo it to the point I have to flee the forum.
 
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VRanger

Staff member
Administrator
Could be aliens. Could be 19th century Polish and/or Cherokee vampires. Could be a devil-cult. .

Could be a lot of things, really. :p
Alien Polish/Cherokee vampires. Just do it.

And if you think I can't, just ask @PiP about a multiple-choice idea she shot me that I incorporated EVERY element of.

Writers. Challenge us at your peril.
 
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JBF

Staff member
Global Moderator
Devil cult did it on behalf of the vampires. Aliens are the cover story.

Nobody saw anything.

-frantic handwaving-
 

Megan Pearson

Senior Member
Well, while I don't like to be likened as a fly to the honey, I do enjoy a good mystery. Tony Hillerman fan here. Although, I kind of think writing a mystery is a bit out of my typical area of interest, though, but perhaps someone could tell me why they're so popular to write? (Ah-ha, a mystery in the mystery!) (Incidentally, and this is purely an aside, this month's Great Courses catalogue features a 'how to write mysteries' course--not romance or SF, just mysteries. So the timing of this from a marketing perspective is perfect.)

I should explain something about why I wonder why they're so popular to write. My concern has to do with the believability of some of those series. Granted, from my very limited point of view, I have never actually heard of anybody who wanted to go on a ride-along with their local public safety or fire department, even though our department always offered it to the public. (I'm kicking myself now--that would have been really fun). And a friend who was an X-ray tech would always complain about the props: "would you believe, last night's show said this about the x-rays but I saw those dentals and what they said was not on the prop!" So, I'm thinking the mystery writer has to be strong on story, if not actual details. Am I right?

Anyway, please accept this as a meager attempt to talk about something I really don't know very much about... :)
 

VRanger

Staff member
Administrator
First ... simple answer to your first question ... writers love to write mysteries because they sell. While I wasn't particularly fond of what many consider to be the first mystery novel (The Moonstone), by the time Sherlock Holmes arrived the mystery story arrived.

I've always been a fan of mystery both on the page and on the TV. That experience leads me to categorize mysteries in two ways: Treasure Hunt Mysteries and Puzzle Mysteries.

Treasure Hunt Mysteries are where one clue leads to the next clue, and so on, until the last clue solves the mystery. They are often quite fun, but I consider them to be "mystery light", since the plotting is not complex.

Puzzle Mysteries are like those written by Agatha Christie and Erle Stanley Gardner. Clues are sprinkled throughout the story, and it is up to the reader to recognize the clues and put them together. It's a competition. Can the reader figure it out from the clues before the investigator's reveal?

Puzzle Mysteries also have a distinguishing feature, the "Fair Mystery". In the Fair Mystery, the clues are ALL present in the story, and the reader has a fair chance to complete the solve. Some Puzzle Mysteries are so structured, but the author drops a bombshell at the end that the reader never got a "fair chance" at. These are puzzle mysteries in name only. They are really adventure stories with the appearance of a mystery.

In "Part-Time Pagan God", I wanted a Puzzle Mystery, but I wound up with only a Treasure Hunt Mystery. That's OK. It's still a fun read. However, being intent on REALLY writing a Puzzle Mystery, I dedicated myself to getting it right in my WIP "Moods". And so I started an intense study of writing mysteries. NONE of it helped me at all. LOL I had to come up with my own method of plotting a puzzle mystery, and it took me three months to get the framework in place. I can probably do that more efficiently with experience, but I had to start somewhere.

And yes, the mystery author needs to get their details rights. I've had a tab up on Thallium poisoning since mid-July. LOL
 

Foxee

Patron
Patron
So now that Darren, PiP and Cindy, through no fault of their own, created a monster, VRanger has created a new Forum with very little warning to my esteemed and no doubt, now shocked, colleagues.
If you aren't shocking your colleagues occasionally then I question the efficacy of your efforts!
At the moment, this sub-Forum is entirely superfluous, as I have seen NO discussion on WF concerning writing mysteries. I've written four chapters of one as a WIP. As far as I can tell, that makes me the resident expert on writing mysteries. Brag? No. Alarming truth? Yes.
Well, I'm suitably alarmed, anyway. 👍And that woke me up so, yes! Mystery.

Considering that the mystery genre requires the ability to plant clues and not tip your hand too soon as the reader moves through the story, it's a really good forum to have. Plenty of other genres benefit from the skills learned from writing mystery. At least this is what I hear from Mr. Dean Koontz who recommended (I think it was in "Writing Popular Fiction') writing a mystery as a first novel attempt in order to learn how to handle these elements.

I haven't attempted a mystery, though most of my writing is mysterious (sometimes I even mean for that to happen the rest of the time it's something I sigh over and go back and fix). I would like to tackle writing an actual mystery.

While I enjoy a good whodunnit, I have to admit I prefer my mystery to be a lot the same way as romance...mixed with other things. So while I do enjoy an Agatha Christie novel, I also love mystery+comedy (Stephanie Plum series), mystery+comedy+fantasy (Discworld), mystery+suspense+paranormal/sci fi (Almost any Dean Koontz), mystery+adventure+modern western (CJ Box).

So I am happy to see this forum, mystery has some really foundational skills to teach and I look forward to the discussions. :)
 

VRanger

Staff member
Administrator
Considering that the mystery genre requires the ability to plant clues and not tip your hand too soon as the reader moves through the story, it's a really good forum to have.
The method which finally came to me as an epiphany one night was to go ahead and define the characters, including their relationships and who plays what role in the mystery, then write the plot, THEN go back and drop in the clues.

I had a real problem trying to decide how I'd organize the clues during the initial process of plotting. Once I figured out I didn't HAVE to drop the clues while I plotted, it suddenly freed me up to get started.

What still concerns me is the "mastermind" is not a likeable character, so readers may root for him to be the bad guy no matter what I do with clues. However, the murderer is often a character who appears very sympathetic through a mystery, which can be just a big a tip off. I decided I'll simply have to throw plenty of suspicion around so the reader has suspects spinning in orbit around their head as they read on, and hope that works.

By the way, I had a method of solving the murders on Murder She Wrote that worked about 80% of the time: determine which guest star had no other good reason to be cast in the episode. That's the murderer.
 

Foxee

Patron
Patron
I agree with Robert McKee's assessment that a character does not have to be sympathetic ("likeable") so much as empathetic ("like me") so that the reader can imagine being that character, making those decisions. Unfortunately it seems easier to tackle likeability than the matter of empatheticability (I think I just made up a word) and I think that's why so much emphasis is put on whether one's characters are likeable.

My story for the last GFC was downgraded by one of the judges due to the lack of likeability of the character. I agree that she was unlikeable though that didn't bother me, I was attempting to make her a difficult person whose motivations were easy for the readers to empathize with...but I do believe I missed that goal. Not the last try I'll make at it, though! Riddick is a good example of a character who isn't really likeable (well...except for a few of us weirdos) but has a refreshing way of cutting through the BS of the moment and making decisions that work. He's admirable and understandable even if you know for sure he'd be a jerk to hang out with most of the time.

Anyway, back to the mystery at hand...yeah, Murder She Wrote wasn't exactly a closed book. Once you've got the beats of mystery figured out as a reader you get harder to fool. A few of my recent reads that kept me guessing used subplots set at different points of time. Twisty mysteries are best!

Your method for this sounds good and I like the fact that you could push the clue-seeding for after the story was figured out. Good plan.
 
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VRanger

Staff member
Administrator
Your method for this sounds good and I like the fact that you could push the clue-seeding for after the story was figured out. Good plan.
The one piece of valuable advice I read in my "write a mystery" research was to work the story backwards, which didn't come as much of a revelation to me, but it could for someone who thinks they are going to pants a mystery. We need to know all the details of why the crime was committed and how. Clues are mistakes the culprit makes. So once all the actions leading to and away from the crime are known, THEN I can figure out where the culprit could have left a piece of evidence, or made a revealing statement, or whatever. And of course, there is always the motive, which has to be disguised unless all of the suspects might have that motive.
 
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