1. Chinspinner
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    Chinspinner Contributing Member Contributor

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    The murderer is always the one you least suspect...

    Discussion in 'Plot Development' started by Chinspinner, Jan 20, 2015.

    Here is my issue. Whenever I watch a modern crime drama the same thing always happens: -

    The murderer is always the person you would least suspect, which means that without fail it is the nice copper or the husband of the main female character. Always, without fail. I can walk in the room while one of these by-the-numbers TV crime dramas is on, look at the screen for a few moments and point out that the murderer is that nice male copper, and lo and behold, 5 episodes later, it is.

    Now, if this weren't such a tired formula there is obviously a huge emotional pay-off to get from making the murderer a likeable, trusted character. But how do you do this without erecting a neon "murderer" sign over their head?
     
  2. obsidian_cicatrix
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    obsidian_cicatrix I ink, therefore I am. Contributor

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    That's a difficult one. @jannert and I were discussing Joe Abercrombie's Half a King recently. Our two reading experiences were wildly different. I had it figured from the off, her suspicions grew. Weird thing? Jan is generally much more observant and analytical than I am. On this occasion, I felt he signposted.

    When I don't want to reveal something until a certain given time, I leave a trail of clue crumbs, starting subtlety, getting stronger, the last clincher—the reveal—often thrown in as an afterthought. Works for misdirection too. Personally, I enjoy feeling the slow burn of suspicion growing in my gut. What I don't enjoy is so many red herrings that the story becomes ridiculously convoluted.

    I think this is one of those cases where Betas are invaluable.
     
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  3. jannert
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    jannert Contributing Member Supporter Contributor

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    Yep, I just fell straight into his trap. Guess we all have our 'off' days, but in this case, my lack of suspicion made my reading experience, and the payoff, SO enjoyable. I guess the question that got answered in that story wasn't the one I was asking myself during the read.

    Maybe it's because I don't normally read stories with a 'mystery' element in them—thrillers, whodunnits, etc—so I tend to take things at face value. I love a wee surprise, but I'm not always looking for one.
     
  4. GingerCoffee
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    GingerCoffee Web Surfer Girl Contributor

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    I can't find a good web page that discusses Ann Cleeves' crime stories (they mostly discuss the settings she uses), but I've been watching the TV series, "Vera" and the thing that stood out the most for me was the misdirection. Everyone is the most likely killer rather than only one person and in the end it is someone else with a motive Vera uncovers that wasn't revealed during all the misdirection.
     
  5. Shadowfax
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    Shadowfax Contributing Member Contributor

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    Rather Deus ex machina.
     
  6. Lancie
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    Lancie Contributing Member

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    Depends whether you want the reader to know who the killer is, or whether you find out along with the rest of the characters.
    I watched Fargo last year. I'm not into crime drama but that was an amazing series, and the killers are known right from the beginning but it's more about how the other characters go about tracking them down and they're quite unlikely killers.

    It sounds that you'd rather have the killers identity hidden, though.

    Tiny little clues I suppose are the way to go, things that could potentially point at a number of suspects or appear irrelevant at the time. Maybe don't have the killer appear for a while so when they do make an appearance the readers attention is focused elsewhere.
     
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  7. GingerCoffee
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    GingerCoffee Web Surfer Girl Contributor

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    Not really. The criminal's motive is well woven into the story fabric.


    On a separate note, I searched for 'Vera' last night on Google and this morning EBay sent me a spam message advertising Vera Bradley fashions. Guess my income doesn't warrant Vera Wang. :rolleyes:
     
  8. kfmiller
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    kfmiller Active Member

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    Have you seen Broadchurch? It's on Netflix streaming. Normally I can guess the killer straight-away or fairly soon, but that reveal threw me for a loop. For me, that was good storytelling that had a huge pay-off, and then I went back through the episodes looking for the breadcrumbs.
     
  9. Chinspinner
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    Chinspinner Contributing Member Contributor

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    I never saw it and I can't remember why, I think I was out of the country at the time. But having seen the start of the second series the big reveal is somewhat ruined.
     
    Last edited: Jan 21, 2015
  10. Chinspinner
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    Chinspinner Contributing Member Contributor

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    Yes, Columbo is one of the few crime dramas I will actually make an effort to watch; most others I can take or leave depending on what else I'm doing.

    For my purposes the killer needs to remain hidden. My problem is that it has become such a trope lately (and I am talking about recent crime dramas, not Agatha Christy) that I now watch crime dramas (and I am sure other people do as well) with the pre-conception that the killer will be one of the main male characters, and then from these I pick the one who has the strongest emotional attachment to the main female character. Invariably this person is the killer.

    Or maybe I am just imagining that this is a trope and it is not as widespread as I think it is?

    Anyway, how do you have a mystery where the killer is emotionally attached to the MC without this trope becoming overwhelmingly apparent to everyone reading? I suppose that is my question.
     
    Last edited: Jan 21, 2015
  11. Link the Writer
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    Link the Writer Flipping Out For A Good Story. Contributor

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    What show did you watch? The ones I (used) to watch, the criminal is almost always the seediest one. Some of the worst ones actually show the murderer at the beginning, leaving me dumbfounded at how they expect to tell a story now that they've spoiled everything.

    But yes, this is the difficult for me as well as a mystery writer. I don't want to make it patently obvious, yet I don't want it to be so obscure that the readers still don't see how this one person could've done it. The only thing I could think up of so far is to imagine the whole story from the actual villain's POV. Remember, he/she doesn't want to get caught, so how would he/she cover up his/her crime? They don't think in terms of 'I'm a seedy bartender'/'a good copper'/'relative of that lady over there'. They think of 'what are my goals', 'how do I want to go about doing it?', 'how do I get away with it?'
     
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  12. Chinspinner
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    Chinspinner Contributing Member Contributor

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    Part in bold- What? Crime and Punishment and Columbo disagree with you.

    But yeah, I think this is a good angle to approach it from.
     
  13. Link the Writer
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    Link the Writer Flipping Out For A Good Story. Contributor

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    But why? Why would you spoil the culprit in the beginning? It makes no sense! Then again, I probably don't really get that angle of story-telling.
     
  14. Chinspinner
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    Because it is about the cat and mouse game that follows. The way that Columbo (or that inspector in C&P whose name I forget) uses their superior intellect to weave a web in which they can trap the perpetrator (both of these character's come across as slightly bumbling and inept and draw their victims into a false sense of security). That actually takes a hell of a lot more skill to write than withholding information from the reader until a big reveal at the end.
     
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  15. TheOneKnownAsMe
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    TheOneKnownAsMe New Member

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    Precisely. It would, in my opinion, take far more skill to craft an interesting, engaging story when you know who the villain is the entire time. Rather than getting strung along by a trail of cliche and soggy breadcrumbs, you could instead have the reader constantly asking, "How does he get away with it? What is he going to do to get away with it? How are they going to catch him?" That, to me, is far more interesting than endlessly asking the same question, "Whodunnit?"
     
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  16. kfmiller
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    kfmiller Active Member

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    This is the premise behind a tv show called Motive, and actually I think it works pretty well. At the beginning of the show you are shown pertinent scenes for two characters, and then one is revealed to be the victim and one the murderer. The rest of the show the audience figures out the Why of the crime while the cops figure out the Who.
     
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  17. GingerCoffee
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    GingerCoffee Web Surfer Girl Contributor

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    You should try an episode of "Vera". I think you might like it.
     
  18. Chinspinner
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    Chinspinner Contributing Member Contributor

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    I think I saw some adverts for Vera; it was basically introduced as the usual troubled detective with 101 problems to handle and a troubled personal life and blah blah blah. I don't know because I never watched it, but why can't there just be one modern detective who is actually quite happy and stable and treats their job like, well, a job.

    However, if it is particularly good I'll give it a go.
     
  19. GingerCoffee
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    GingerCoffee Web Surfer Girl Contributor

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    It's more detective story than personal struggles of the detective. Sounds like you read a review that focused on minor backstory.
     
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  20. A.M.P.
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    I think murder stories are kinda tired.
    Just because we have so many of them on TV so we've kinda seen it all.
    The most popular trick is giving the least amount of airtime to the murderer so when the big reveal happens the audience is like "Oh, yeah! Totally forgot about him."

    I think the trick nowadays, to differentiate yourself, is to make it more complex and involved so it stands out and keeps the brain running rather than easily figuring out who it is.
     
  21. obsidian_cicatrix
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    obsidian_cicatrix I ink, therefore I am. Contributor

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    That would bug the living daylights out of me. I'd feel cheated. Realistically some mysteries are solved too late, or never solved at all, but when the writer goes out of their way to make me believe I'm in with a chance of figuring it out before the big reveal, then throws me a curve ball, I feel like it's been a wasted read/viewing.

    Trails of clues don't have to be soggy as an hour old bowl of Rice Krispies, and I don't believe for moment that this approach takes any less skill to pull off than a Columbo-esque storyline. The focus of the storytelling and unraveling is simply different.

    I can still watch episodes of Columbo even through tropes abound. That's more than I can say for modern crime dramas. Most are so derivative by this stage of their popularity that they hold no attraction for me. I haven't managed to make it through a single episode of Motive despite trying on several occasions. Vera, I'll keep an eye out for.

    Even here we can see something of a disparity in what we each look for in a mystery. Me, I'm a fan of the classic whodunnit, but it takes clever, subtle writing to keep me hooked. Or, alternatively, a completely different take on how the story is told so as to really force my brain cells to do a bit of work.

    My idea of a masterpiece in modern mystery storytelling is the script for Memento. Take a mystery concept, throw in some retrograde amnesia, mess about with the chronology, and viola. (If only it were that easy. ;))
     
  22. theoriginalmonsterman
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    theoriginalmonsterman Pickle Contest Administrator Contributor

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    Have a scenario like in the movie "Clue" where everyone seems like they could be the murderer, but not really.
     
  23. HelloImRex
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    Make all the murders performed by different characters then reveal at the end that everyone is the murderer. Then they all agree not to tell anyone else and they live happily ever after.
     
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