"I LOVE A MYSTERY", these
words are a mystery buffís "sweet tooth" for
enjoyment and pleasure. The trick is how to
feed the huge mystery reading market with delightful
morsels so appetizing that they want to return
to your candy store of words over and over again.
Ha, if I could give you the answer to that
statement, Iíd be a famous author sunbathing
on a tropical island sipping flowered decorated
drinks. But, that doesnít mean you canít answer
Not all of us are cut out to be famous authors;
just a few are gifted with that God given talent
of being able to spin a story naturally. Oh,
it can be achieved by working very diligently
at the craft of being a wordsmith. It takes
a stubborn nature, dedication, perseverance,
research, thought and above all the love of
what youíre doing.
Iím grateful that all writers donít possess
that talent, because if they did, no one would
standout as being exalted, such as: Poe, Dante,
Shakespeare and those akin. Now, enough of my
philosophy of literature. Letís get to the matter
at hand, Mystery Writing.
There are five basic categories of mysteries,
which also have sub-categories:
- The Straight Mystery
- The Quest or Hunt Mystery
- The Puzzle Mystery
- The Whodunit
- The Hard-Boiled Mystery
The Straight Mystery is an action plot that
usually evolves murder and is solved by a very
strong protagonist (male or female). It is sometimes
referred to as a character driven story where
the main crime solver is often used in sequels.
The works of Sue Grafton and Sara Paretsky are
excellent examples in this line of mysteries.
The Puzzle Mystery generally is a writer maze
of tricks and clues, which sometimes defies
the reader to solve the crime before the writer
invokes it in the ending. I guess one could
call it a writerís "cat and mouse" game. Once
a reader gets caught up in one of these authorís
mazes, they invariably want to read more of
the authorís work. A perfect example in this
category is S.S. Van Dine, a pseudonym for Willard
Huntington Wright, the creator of detective
The Hard-Boiled Mystery is a rough and tough
story around a crime of murder with plenty of
action and intrigue, sometimes with a few hot
sexy exploits of the protagonist. The main character
can be either a male or female. A good example
in this category is Mickey Spillaneís Mike Hammer
The Quest or Hunt Mystery in most cases is
about espionage and it steers the reader inward
to the plot, instead of the reader following
the main character throughout the story. Terror,
foreign affairs, fugitives, supernatural, wartime
and Armageddon are the usual topics. One would
think Shawn Lloyd McCarthyís thrillers featuring
Johnny Fedora (a British Secret Agent) are a
great fit for this category. McCathy wrote 16
novels under the pseudonym of Desmond Cory (1951-1984).
Oh, as a note of interest, McCarthy preceded
author Ian Flemingís 14 novels of the James
Bond series (1953-1966).
The Whodunit is a character driven story where
the reader is completely surprised at the storyís
ending. The protagonistís actions and tribulations
lead the reader down many avenues of clues giving
the reader a chance to figure out the antagonist
or the type of crime. There are many sub-plots
such as: The Cozy, Romance, Western, Police
Procedural, Private Eye, The Period or Era categories
plus a few more. If one would like a good example
of a "Whodunit" try the column writerís book
The most popular novels are Romance Novels,
which also tend to follow a certain formula.
Readers of this category desire and want a fairy
tale way of participating in the experiences
of the story, thusly, allowing them a vacation
from the world around them.
In romance novels, there must be a hero and
heroine in a story sprinkled with endearment
coupled with dangerous intimacy. It can be spiced
with humor, but must have a specific conflict
that involves the hero and heroine. And, last
but not least, they kiss and the ride off into
the sunset to live forever in blissful love.
In mystery novels there are twelve typical
footprints in its formula:
- The writer must create a mystifying crime of extraordinary and
imaginary circumstances. In the case of murder, be sure to give
the reader a reason for the killer(s) to be caught. Hatred of
the antagonist(s) is a good hook.
Motive is not completely necessary in the beginning, but clues
that send the main character(s) in a direction are important,
whether the direction is the right course to the killer(s) or
A formal introduction to the main character or protagonist
is necessary at this time. But, donít expose their entire persona.
Deal it out slowly and let the reader build this character in
their mind. Toss in a flaw of character, a little imperfection
goes a long way for a readerís association.
Set your story in time and a place that the reader can associate
with. If you can, give them something that will serve as a metaphor
such as, a piece of clothing, sign or object that can be tied
in at the end to give the reader a feel of completeness.
Alfred Hitchcockís style of dialogue at the beginning of his
works serves up a good way to grab the readerís attention. Another
way is to put someone in "harm's way" to make the readerís juices
start to flow.
- Now is the time to get the main character into motion, even
if you put him or them on a "merry-go-around". In fact, it actually
can thicken the plot. In other words, add some misdirection into
- Toss another murder, robbery or intrigue into the main plot
to throw off the reader. It could be a mishap to the main character
that causes a crisis in their life. Just be sure to solve or correct
it before the ending. Donít leave it hanging.
- Begin to eliminate suspects and start to deal out a few more
clues. Stress the need to finalize the crime. Naturally, thatís
impossible at this time.
- In some cases, it becomes necessary to have the main character
hurt or temporarily out of commission and allow a sub-character
to enter the story. This sometimes picks up a sagging reader's
interest. There are some writers who think that now is the time
to redirect the story.
- Most writers at this point would bring doubt into the story
about its solution, so that the main character finds himself or
herself at their "witís end". Of course, the secondary character
comes to their rescue and explains what has to be done. Thusly,
the main character forges on and finds a new clue to carry him
or her in another direction.
- Here, the secondary character carries the story for a chapter,
giving the main character a well-deserved rest.
- The main character now finds the error of his or her ways and
almost has the name of the villain(s) or mystery figured out.
- Now, it's time to find a solution to the murder or mystery by
giving the main character the necessary proof to collar the murderer
or solve the mystery. All he or she has to do is spell it out
in a convincing manner to the authorities.
- Aah, at last the prelude to the climax. This can be written
in an explosive manner whereas the main character is at deathís
door or his sub-character is killed.
- At this point, the story can get a bit tender and have retroactive
scenes to pull at the heart of the reader.
- The end. The good guys always win and if there is a female the
final scene is warm and tender or leaves the reader quite satisfied
having read the book.
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