Friday, December 19, 2014

Building Mysteries

I'm not much of a mystery writer.  My stories contain mysteries, but they're not classic "whodunits" or something similar.  That said, mysteries are appealing to me, and I do enjoy a good one once in a while.  I often try to guess the next move of many comics, some rather successfully, others, not so much.  Still, there is a right way to do a mystery and a wrong way, so today I'll go over a few guidelines to help make more good mysteries in the world.

1.)  There must be a solution.  An answer to the mystery, a final solution to the puzzle, one that the entire story is working toward.  Without a solution, there's no way to effectively build the mystery, and you're left with The X-Files Problem.  The answer can be just about anything, but as long as there is one, that will help control the direction of the story.

2.)  The clues must make sense.  I'll talk about red herrings in a moment, but the actual clues, the true ones, should make sense.  Logic should connect each clue together and make everything work together.  If logic fails between any two clues, then the entire thing falls apart and it wasn't worth the effort.

3.)  Don't be afraid of red herrings.  The idea is to distract or misdirect the characters in the story and the reader from the truth.  Don't leave them out simply to satisfy number 2, but decide early on which ones are red herrings and leave them that way.  Don't decide they're suddenly relevant after being false for so long.

4.)  Don't add revelations that can't be concluded from the piece.  Long way to say, don't pull something out your ass.  Any revelation, fact or clue MUST be concludable from the story itself, not suddenly revealed with no set up.  This is very annoying and likely will cause the entire mystery to fall apart.

5.)  Don't assume your readers are dumb.  The characters should come to conclusions at about the same time as the reader, so keep up.  If the characters are behind, there should be a reason, like a red herring or some misread clue, one that the reader can figure out.  That said, don't let the character stay behind, once it's obvious, let the character catch on.

6.)  Read more mysteries.  The best way to get better at them is to read them.  If you don't, how else will you create your own?

How mysterious that I would have such an article.  I wonder what's next week (HINT:  no clues have been left, sorry).  Until then kiddies.

Seriously, I didn't leave you any clues, I'm not a mystery writer.

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