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Knowledge of our past is our inheritance. What we do with that knowledge will shape our destinies...

Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Writing Great Mysteries, Part 3

This is the second in a series called Writing Great Mysteries. I'm going to go over the story structure of mysteries, revealing clues bit by bit, and a few other things. While this is about writing crime or mystery, it can actually apply to any genre. Often in other genres you have minor mysteries you want to reveal gradually, like who betrayed your main characters or what someone's surprise motivations are. In other words, these posts can be adapted to any mystery or slow-reveal in any genre you may happen to be writing. As such, I'll call my villains perps or killers, because that's what is usually the case in mystery/crime, but again you can adapt this to any antagonist.

So we've talked about what kind of reveal you want (Part 1) and how to reveal clues to your ending piece by piece (Part 2) so the only thing left to cover are the stakes. I'm big on high stakes stories, but it always depends on what your mystery is.

Make sure your stakes are high enough to be worthy of the story. All too often, the "big reveals" are somewhat disappointing to the reader. 

Tip #1: Make sure your shocker ending is worthy of your clues throughout the story. Having epic twists and turns, only to learn at the end that the MC's father is Guy A instead of Guy B is going to prove a bit of a disappointment. It may still be interesting, but you don't want the read to be like, "meh." How to make sure you aren't falling into this trap? This is where beta readers or critique groups come in very handy. If they're more shocked by the twists than the ending, you may need to revise a bit.

Tip #2: Make sure your twists are worthy of your ending, but don't reveal too much too soon. Even if you have fallen into the literary trap described in tip #1, all may not be lost. Maybe you just did too much too soon. The smaller the twists are, the more shocking the big ending will be. On the flip side, make sure your twists are significant enough in the reader's mind to lead them toward the big reveal. If you're too subtle and then out of nowhere hit the reader with this major twist, it may throw them through a loop.

In other words, you've got to have the exact, perfect balance. No pressure, right? Again, critique groups are invaluable here. There's no umbrella rule for each and every story. It will vary based on your writing, your characters, and the mystery you're trying to reveal.

Tip #3: Make sure your reader cares. This is just general good writing. Make us care about the characters enough to take the journey with them. Make the stakes high enough that the reader really cares. There are literally thousands of murder mysteries written every year. Ever wonder why the audience for stories like that never goes away? Every wonder why the serial killers constantly get more twisted and psychopathic? It's because the audience for mysteries have seen it all. Writers need to bring them something new, worse, and worth rooting for. Do this for every mystery reveal in any genre you may write, and you'll keep the audience interested and coming back for more.

P.S. Totally didn't mean to use two Star Wars pictures, but let's face it: there were some pretty classic reveals in that story!!! ;D

What do YOU do to make sure your stakes are high enough for the reader or what have you observed authors you reading doing?

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