Monday, September 24, 2012

The Challenge of Writing Mysteries

I recently finished the fifth book in my Kendra Clayton series and have realized that although I still love writing mysteries, it’s getting harder and harder to do. It might be because I’ve chosen to write a series and am feeling the pressure to keep my characters fresh. And it’s even more difficult since I write a series featuring an amateur sleuth. I have to constantly come up with reasons for her to get involved in the investigation. Or maybe it’s because writing mysteries is difficult, period. You see it’s not enough to have a murderer and a victim in a mystery novel.

You have to have motivation and suspects. The victim has to have a reason for being a victim. The suspects have to have plausible reasons why they are suspects. The motives and the deception of the suspects has to be revealed in increasingly inventive ways to not only keep the pace of the book moving forward, but to sustain the interest of the readers.

Then there are the red herrings. Red herrings are thrown in to throw the fictional sleuth—and the readers—off and lead them in the wrong direction. The red herrings have to be well placed, and if well done, should ultimately get the sleuth headed back in the right direction. Poorly handled red herrings can take the plot so far off track it can alienate the readers and ruin the book.

There’s are also subplots, the other storylines that are running parallel to the main plot. These storylines usually include some kind of romantic complication, or job/family/health issues, or all of the above, for the main character—or persons close to the main character. Sometimes the subplots can tie into the main plot, sometimes not. However they are handled, they are a necessary part of the book as a whole and can even be developed into main plots for the following book.

I think the biggest challenge of writing a mystery is laying out all the clues so in the end the reader will realize the answer was there in front of them all along. I never want readers to feel I’ve cheated them by pulling the culprit out of thin air in the last few pages of the book. I want them to be able to follow all the evidence and figure it out. So, in retrospect, I guess it’s not hard at all to see why it’s getting harder and harder to do with each book. But when I hold that new book in my hands, I almost forget all about the challenges. Until, I have to do it again.

 Angela ; )

5 comments:

Marcelle Dubé said...

I know what you mean, Angela, but in the last mystery I wrote (Backli's Ford, under my pen name Emma Faraday), I had a different problem. I honestly didn't know who the bad guy was until I was very near the end. I had a number of likely suspects but it was only as I neared the end that the guilty party finally announced himself to me. A little nerve-wracking.

Rita said...

Foreshadowing is so very difficult. One reason I write thriller. You know who the bad guy is and the H&H have only to take them down. I hate it when an author pulls a villain out of the hat in the last chapter. I think the mystery/suspense genre is getting more difficult to write in general. Add technology to the fact the readers are more savvy and it gets darn hard. Hats off to those of you who do it so very well.

Angela Henry said...

Hi Marcelle,

The villain is usually the first thing I figure out before I start writing. I always know who dunnit, how, and why. Then I layer everything else on top. But man figuring out where to insert all those clues is hard! LOL.

And Rita I totally get why you write thrillers! I had a blast writing The Paris Secret. In terms of plotting, I thought it was much easier to know who the villain was up front. I plan to write more thrillers ; ).

Anne Marie Becker said...

I think those tough challenges are why I like to write romantic suspense - but I'm with Rita. I tend toward thrillers because I like to develop my villain (and include his/her POV) in the story. Since I want to delve into their psyche, it helps to have their POV. ;)

Elise Warner said...

In my first book, the villain changed. I had too much fun with him to have him do the dastardly deeds. It's happening again--I think my villain will change before I finish the first draft.