1. bossfearless
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    bossfearless Active Member

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    Mystery Any advice on creating a mystery?

    Discussion in 'By the Genre' started by bossfearless, Mar 25, 2015.

    I kind of feel like writing a detective story. That being said, I'm at a loss for how to effectively write one. Best I can figure is you start with a dead body or something like in Law and Order and then you waddle your way through bad cop cliches and over-dramatic one-liners until a criminal confesses for no good reason. I'm sure I could populate the setting with some fun characters, but I have no idea how to write a "case".

    Second problem. I usually write in fantasy and scifi genres, which is partly because I suck at real life (no, for the last time, I don't know who that pop star or basketball player is and I couldn't care less what brand of shoe or cologne or whatever he's associated with). I often find that I don't understand people all that well, at least not in the day to day context, but give me a bunch of elves and goblins and crap, or anything without the normal rules of our modern society and I can go for days. So the idea of writing a story set in the present day with no aliens or future tech or magic or any built-in rule-breaking plot devices just makes me cringe.
     
  2. Link the Writer
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    Link the Writer Flipping Out For A Good Story. Contributor

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    Yeah, let's try to avoid the bad police procedural clich├ęs and the criminals that only act as per plot, not of their own volition. :D

    From what I understand, you write a mystery by first looking at it from the perspective of the criminal. After all, their action(s) started this whole thing in the first place. Why did they do this? What was their reason? How do they go about hiding the evidence of their misdeed and form an alibi? Are they working with a group? What is their reason? Do they try to throw off the detective by setting up red herring clues? After all, they're trying to save their own ass, so framing an innocent dude isn't going to keep them up at night wondering why they did it (unless you wanted them to be that conflicted).

    Figure out how the criminal tries to get away with it, then turn around and have your detective attempt to get them.
     
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  3. Shadowfax
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    Shadowfax Contributing Member Contributor

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    Try reading any of Ellis Peters' Brother Cadfael mysteries...OK, it's not elves and goblin, it's set in 12th Century Shrewsbury, so there's no DNA swabs or fingerprinting or modern-day rules. Also, try Caves of Steel by Isaac Asimov...set on an Earth which has sent colonists to the stars, so the rules that apply are, again, not modern-day.

    However, I think that you really need to have some sort of idea of the crime that your MC will set about solving.
     
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  4. Link the Writer
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    Link the Writer Flipping Out For A Good Story. Contributor

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    ^ Oh yeah, I forgot about that.

    OP, you can always write historical mysteries so you can avoid all the modern-day trappings. It's what I like to do as my detectives are usually, ah, self-appointed curious citizens who have at least an understanding with the local law enforcers of their town/village. :D Plus, I like history so that's a bonus.
     
  5. bossfearless
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    bossfearless Active Member

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    Eh. I feel like if it's historical that's basically the same thing as fantasy, and I kind of want to get away from that and try to learn to write a story set in the real world. Which honestly sounds silly to me, like it's almost a waste of imagination. Which is probably why I need to learn to spin a real world story sooner or later so that I don't eventually let my real-world sense atrophy into a shriveled little ball in the back room of my psyche.
     
  6. Link the Writer
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    Link the Writer Flipping Out For A Good Story. Contributor

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    o__O

    Um...historical is set in the real world, just a long time ago. Your characters may be fictional, but the setting is real. Unless you have aliens visiting Shakespeare or a band of elves joining Lincoln's and Davis's army during the American Civil War, it's historical fiction. The fiction is your characters and what they are going through.

    Let me offer you an example:

    1598- A real year.
    England- A real place.
    Queen Elizabeth I- A real person.
    Your characters having dinner with her- Fictional.

    So unless Queen Elizabeth I reveals she has a space ship, or can shape-shift/shoot fire out of her hands, unless it's something that's clearly fantasy/sci-fi, something that clearly would not have existed in her time period, or in any historical time period in our world, it's historical fiction.
     
    Last edited: Mar 25, 2015
  7. stevesh
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    stevesh Banned Contributor

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    You seem to have some contempt for stories written in present-day reality. Given that, maybe you should stick to your elves and such. I can't think of a reason you couldn't set a mystery in that sort of fantasy world, thus avoiding the waste of imagination. A good mystery would be the only thing I can think of that would get me to read that stuff. There is at least one author who writes mysteries (police procedurals) that take place thirty-five years in the future. Maybe something like that would be more up your alley.
     
  8. Link the Writer
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    Link the Writer Flipping Out For A Good Story. Contributor

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    Or just simply write a detective story set in a fantasy/sci-fi world. Maybe one of your elves is an inspector in the town of Harmilon and he/she must solve a potential hate crime when a fellow elf stands accused of murdering a goblin child? There, I've given you a potential mystery for your elf to solve, so get going!
     
  9. bossfearless
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    bossfearless Active Member

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    Well, yes, these are real people. But because there's no one alive today who could tell you what Elizabeth I was really like, you could portray her any way you like. She could be running around in naught but her garters and setting the shrubberies on fire while her ministers and a public relations team printed out thousands of pamphlets extolling her as their virtuous virgin queen. You don't need aliens visiting Shakespeare (like that Doctor Who episode) to write a historically non-compliant version of history. Only the real history buffs are going to be turned off by totally unrealistic historical settings, whereas just about everyone will catch on to your characters not being right in modern times.

    And a fantasy mysteries would degenerate very quickly into:

    He uses magic to solve the crime.
    A convenient plot device is stopping magic from solving the crime.
    He uses another fantasy cliche to solve the crime.
    Another equally convenient plot device stops his other fantasy cliche from working.
    He asks a psychic, because psychics are real now.
    The psychic gets blocked by yet another plot device.
    Screw it, the other elf probably did murder that goblin, this is too hard and I haven't seen a good hanging in a while. Heh...look at him twitch!
     
  10. Link the Writer
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    Link the Writer Flipping Out For A Good Story. Contributor

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    ...Fairly certain if I wrote a piece where Elizabeth I ran around naked burning shrubberies, I would get a lot of backlash from historians and be discredited as a historical fiction writer. Same if I had Robert E. Lee shooting fire from his crotch, or Rommel suddenly being able to fly and brawls with Montgomery and Patton mid-air Dragonball Z style.

    I'm just astounded that you think that historical fiction is on par with fantasy such as elves and goblins. It's not! Historical fiction is, yes, a fictional portrayal of real-life historical events, but you have to do the research to understand the period. So Ulysses S. Grant isn't about to take out an iPhone and text Lincoln, because quite simply iPhones wouldn't exist for another two centuries thereabout.

    Historical fiction simply means you make up fictional characters within that historical period and you write about them within the confines of history. So no iPhones, fireball-crotch cannons or Dragonball Z-style fighting in 1600s England.

    EDIT: Well, then it's your job as the writer to make sure that magic doesn't become the end-all answer to everything. Make it have limits, make it only work in certain circumstances. Or maybe this elf was born with a 'disability' in that he/she can't do magic. You're the writer here, man! You can figure this out.
     
    Last edited: Mar 25, 2015
  11. Shadowfax
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    Shadowfax Contributing Member Contributor

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    Elizabeth was, actually, renowned for the amount of cleavage she displayed for most of her life...yes, in public - and she expected others to follow her lead.

    The "Virgin Queen" is generally accepted as being a bit of a PR bit, given that she never married, but was rather fond of Robert Dudley.

    So, your version of history isn't that far from the truth!

    You fantasy buffs, thinking that anything that you can do will outdo real life!

    Incidentally, GRRMartin wrote a foreword to a serious history of the Plantagenets where he described them as "the real Game of Thrones".
     
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  12. Shadowfax
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    Shadowfax Contributing Member Contributor

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    In Caves of Steel, Asimov propounds the three laws of robotics, and they constrain any "magic" that his hero can do.
     
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  13. Uisdean
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    Uisdean Member

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    Were you in a foul funk when you wrote this? Of course that's not what would happen. The criminal would operate within the magic, so he would be prepared for any magic that might be used to detect him. Classic criminals erase their fingerprints. Magic criminals erase their magic 'prints'. Classic criminals set up their alibi. Magic criminals do likewise. Imagine a UFO capturing Sherlock Holmes and taking him to the Star Wars universe. They do this because they need his skills in logic to solve their mystery. We learn how that world works because Holmes has to learn how it works. Then we enjoy him untangle the web of deceit the criminal has spun. Conan Doyle meets George Lucas.

    So, did you make an honest attempt to write a crime/mystery story?
    I had not thought of this before. Thanks for the idea.
     
  14. ChickenFreak
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    ChickenFreak Contributing Member Contributor

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    Why do you feel like writing something for which you obviously have utter contempt?
     
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  15. Cave Troll
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    Cave Troll Bite the bullet, do your own thing. Contributor

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    You can write a mystery, just utilize the genre you feel most comfortable writing within. You don't need to make it in 'contemporary' context for it to be done well. So what if the MC uses magic to help them solve crimes. I don't care if you have a half soused alien get all his clues from the graffiti in the bathrooms at sleazy night clubs.:D Though that would be more fun to try and explain how that works. :p The key to a good mystery is in the not knowing, red herrings, and misleading information. I have faith you can write a good Mystery story, but you first have to believe in yourself. And by the way, it will be good no matter what genre it ties into. So have some fun with it, the stuff set in modern times is kinda over done. :p
     
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  16. tonguetied
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    tonguetied Contributing Member Contributor

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    A mystery doesn't have to be a who-done-it or involve any particular crime. There was a news story a few months back about some town, I think it might have been in Oregon, where there is a loud humming noise at night they could not find the source of. I don't know if they ever figured it out and if you want to write a fictional piece you could make up your own reason for the sound, as an example. There are half a dozen news stories every day that could lead to a decent mystery, most involve a crime but there are plenty of others, such as the streak of light in the sky over California a day or so ago, they said space junk but you and I know better, it was a secret military test that went wrong!

    Hey grammarticians would that last comma be better as a colon or semicolon? Good writing seems to be a mystery for me.
     
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