1. EstherMayRose

    EstherMayRose Contributor Contributor

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    It was the Husband

    Discussion in 'Plot Development' started by EstherMayRose, Feb 11, 2019.

    So I've been working on a mystery novel set at a fictional court in the eighteenth century, and the heroine is a sixteen-year-old princess, incredibly sheltered and naïve. A guest is murdered by her husband after a past affair (on her part) threatens to become public knowledge. The princess gazes upon the husband, so distraught by his wife's death, and knows that surely he could never wish his beloved wife harm.

    Except it was him. And I did not realise when I decided this that everyone suspects the husband first. He has an alibi (he gives her a poison that takes five hours to kill her and had been with the heroine's parents at the time of her death), but I feel like the readers, nowhere near as naïve as our young heroine, will know instantly that the alibi will collapse and he will be revealed to be the killer, especially when his wife's infidelity is uncovered.

    So how can I throw the readers off the husband and not have them be disappointed when he's exposed ("OK, so it's probably the husband, oh, so it's not the husband, oh, turns out it was the husband, which way am I supposed to be looking?"), or should I just make someone else the killer? I had someone who was blackmailing her who has just lost her advantage, but I wanted to use her as a red herring. I'm very confused and I can't continue with my notes until I know where I'm going.

    Sorry if this seems a bit incomprehensible or I forgot to mention something important, it's very late at night. Thanks for your help.
     
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  2. matwoolf

    matwoolf Contributor Contributor

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    Make it the princess, and go back and insert a couple of clues.
     
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  3. jannert

    jannert Member Supporter Contributor

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    I'm not a writer of mystery type fiction, but I used to read it when I was young. I think the trick is to develop LOTS of possibilities. You need many many subplots. Some of which look plausible. It's the old idea of distracting the reader from what's actually happening, without concealing it.

    The Brother Cadfael mysteries are good ones to look at, for this sort of thing. (So is the Shardlake series, by CJ Sansom.) I've read all of those, not because I'm interested in solving mysteries, but because of the sense of time and place that the authors created. But I did figure out the authors' strategy, when it comes to presenting the mystery.

    Trotting out the infidelity at the last moment will cheat the reader, so you need to bring it in early. You could distract the reader by making it 'clear' that the husband totally forgave his wife for that infidelity long ago, because he truly loved her, etc. And if lots of other subplots are popping up as well, the reader will begin to look for other possibilities.

    Another trick is to make the guilty party a very strong suspect, but the REASON for their guilt is something nobody can see. In other words, the infidelity, which everybody knows about, is a strong motive for the husband to murder his wife—but maybe he actually murdered her for some other reason we don't know about till much later in the story.

    For example, the husband might be an early suspect because he stands to inherit lots of land or titles when she dies, so that's why he is a suspect, initially. However, that reason gets dumped (for some logical reason) and suspicion moves on to other characters. But it turns out that he did murder her, but not because of an inheritance. Instead, he murdered her because she'd had a secret infidelity that only comes to light near the end of the story.
     
    Last edited: Feb 11, 2019
  4. EstherMayRose

    EstherMayRose Contributor Contributor

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    I'm confused. Do I bring the infidelity in to avoid leaving the reader feeling cheated, or do I use a red herring and reveal the infidelity towards the end? Can you clarify, please? (I know you're giving me different options, but I'm interpreting them as contradictory, which I know can't be right.)

    I want the affair to be a shock to the protagonist as well, since her lover was someone the protagonist knows and respects. I was wondering if maybe the affair could become public knowledge at the start of the novel but the identity of the lover (who was also attacked, but not fatally) kept secret until later.
     
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  5. SolZephyr

    SolZephyr Member Supporter

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    My interpretation of his suggestion was to either:

    a) Have the infidelity be revealed early on but not be his motive for killing her
    b) Give him a different motive that's revealed early on, keep the infidelity secret at first, show that the first motive is invalid (i.e. he's already well off and doesn't gain much from inheritance), and then at the end reveal her infidelity as the reason he killed her.
     
  6. J.D. Ray

    J.D. Ray Member Supporter

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    Reveal the infidelity early on. Maybe there’s a scene where they fight about it, he storms off, then comes back later and tells her she’s forgiven. He loves her; can’t live without her, etc. etc. He bides his time, waits maybe months. Fancy poison is hard to come by, you know. They’re seen in public together, he dotes in her. Then she dies suddenly, while he’s talking to the parents. OMG, who could it be?

    This is where you introduce other nefarious-seeming characters. If she cheated on him, she’s done other people wrong too. Tease out a couple of those things. Maybe an associate dies suddenly, totally unrelated, but people make up connections. The whole of court is up in arms. It could be a serial killer! Cultists!

    Finally you reveal it was the husband. Leave the other murder unsolved.
     
  7. EstherMayRose

    EstherMayRose Contributor Contributor

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    I feel like leaving another murder unsolved would be kind of an unsatisfying ending. One thing I forgot to mention is that it's in first person from the princess's perspective, and another is that it was a forced marriage, and they never loved each other. Their children, who the protagonist befriends, would have known that, so if their father was suddenly being all affectionate with their mother, it would raise some red flags.

    The servant bribed to poison her vanishes suddenly. I'm going to put in an excuse he made so that the servants are not too alarmed by his disappearance but a little digging proves his reason to be a lie.
     
  8. jannert

    jannert Member Supporter Contributor

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    Yes, that last thing you mentioned would certainly work.
    I see how my advice looked contradictory (about revealing the infidelity, I presume.) Sorry about that. I think what I was trying to say was that you need lots of possibilities if you want to throw your reader off-track. And all these possibilities need to appear to have equal importance in the story, otherwise your intentions will be too plain.

    If I understand you correctly, the purpose of your story isn't a genre mystery. What you're wanting to do is make your princess character not look foolish for having believed the husband wasn't the guilty party in his wife's murder? That's going to be very hard to do if it's plain to the reader that he IS the guilty party, and she's the only one who believes him. So the trick will be to make him look innocent to the reader as well. And that's where mystery writer tricks can help.

    What is the prevalent theory about the murder, among the princess's other acquaintances? Who do THEY think is the guilty party? And why? You could work with that one. And what kind of input does the lover (who survived the attack) have? Surely he must have a clue who attacked them? So why is he keeping quiet about it?

    I think the only 'easy' way to make the reader believe the princess isn't foolish is to make a very strong case for somebody else to have done the murder. So that means you'll need to dig into your story a bit harder and maybe bring in other characters and subplots to spread the suspicion a bit.

    What else was the murdered woman involved with? Who else was she important to? Did the attack look like a random attack by a stranger? (In other words, was there a massive hunt for the killer ...maybe some innocent stranger seen earlier, hanging around. Who turns out to be perfectly innocent, etc? Or otherwise ...somebody hired by the husband to actually do the murder?)

    ................
    edited: sorry, I just saw the rest of the thread, and realise that the murder was done by poison. That makes it easier, actually ...because there was no physical attack for anybody (like the lover) to remember.

    Maybe you could have somebody else die from the poison too, and the suspicion will be that the other person was the target? Which could bring up a whole slew of other potential murderers to throw readers off the track.

    What if the husband also pretended to have eaten the poisoned food/drink, but recovered? (Or maybe he did actually eat some, but not enough to actually die from it? That would make his symptoms believable, and would let him off the hook as a suspect.)

    Again, it's the same principle, though. Create enough red herrings that the real murderer is masked by them.

    As for revealing the affair ...hmmm. If it's known that the wife didn't love her husband and was having an affair, but that he didn't really love her either, why would he murder her and make himself a target for prosecution? He could simply accuse her of infidelity and cast her aside. Why go to the dangerous (to him) bother of murdering her?
     
    Last edited: Feb 12, 2019 at 6:20 AM
  9. Scoobyslippers

    Scoobyslippers New Member

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    Some great advice here which also helped me in thinking about my own plot development. The most crucial element mentioned (at least for me) is to weave multiple and parallel plots into the tale to take the reader on a journey rather than a more linear approach. Best of luck
     
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  10. Maggie May

    Maggie May Member

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    the princess is 16, she's naïve but has an affair, gets married (not in that order) and the boy friend gets killed? Wait it's the boy friends wife that is killed? I love a good mystery, not sure I would buy the 16 year old heroine. Unless, the husband has the affair with an important person's wife. Kills her to get rid of her (blackmail), marries the princess (gain power/money) she believes that he really loves her but becomes suspicious because of other things that happen. You could weave a lot of drama into the story as the princess comes to realize what a dog he is.
     
  11. EstherMayRose

    EstherMayRose Contributor Contributor

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    Thanks for your advice, @jannert. The thing is, the affair isn't public. It's just known that they don't love each other. The issue is, now they're visiting the court - where the victim grew up and began a relationship with her lover (which continued after the marriage) - she says she will go back to her lover and he is worried that the affair will now become public.

    I'm not entirely sure if it is a genre mystery or not. I just don't want the answer in plain sight all along, which I felt was the case, and of course no-one wants a stupid detective.

    I think I still need to do some thinking about other subplots. At the moment I only have a couple. Evidence points to the Crown Prince, the heroine's older brother, but no-one believes him capable of murder, so she has to clear his name. The husband is a French diplomat, so if the King of France thinks a foreign prince murdered the wife, they could lose their alliance. I was wondering about her being suspicious of her sister-in-law, who is the victim's daughter, who sent her coffee about an hour before she was found dead. She really doesn't want to suspect her, so there's a dimension there. Also dodgy is the governess hired by the victim, who is her lover's new girlfriend and was told about the affair, and she has been blackmailing her, but has just lost her advantage. Because of this, she is behaving suspiciously. I'm sure the heroine's friends and fellow detectives will all have their own opinions on who did it.

    And the lover, after being poisoned, is in no fit state to talk to anyone for a couple of days. I did have to think about that, so thanks for pointing that out to me.

    @Maggie May, I realise now that my original post may have been confusing - there were a lot of hes and shes. The princess isn't the one having the affair, it's the guest. Right, I'm just going to use names. Marie, the victim, has been cheating on her husband, Jean-Richard, with her childhood sweetheart, Giovanni. The princess, Henrietta, is not married (although, being a princess, she is engaged), and only gets involved with this when she discovers Marie's body. They are visiting the court of Henrietta's country, Cavallia, so she has not met them before but wants to help their children, who she has recently befriended, get closure. Giovanni is a kind of mentor figure to her, so it comes as a shock to discover that he was in a relationship with a married woman.
     
  12. Accelerator231

    Accelerator231 New Member

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    Make the wife so horrible, that pretty much everyone in the castle wants her dead for some reason or another.

    There. Readers thrown off
     

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