1. deadrats

    deadrats Contributor Contributor

    Jul 7, 2016
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    Discussion in 'Plot Development' started by deadrats, Dec 3, 2019.

    I recently finished my murder mystery novel and now I'm going back through it. It needs more clues and suspects. The thing is I'm worried the outcome is predictable. Maybe that's because I've been living with this story for so long. Or maybe I'm worried because I pantsed it and wrote an ending that made sense with the story. The question is does it make too much sense?

    I do think it needs more clues for the mystery to be solved this way, but how do I do such without making it too obvious too early on who the real killer is? Now, that I know how the story ends, it's hard to throw my crime solver off the track. I mean it took writing a whole novel for me to figure it out. But them the obvious ending came to me. Then I scratched that and came up with the next obvious ending. I think I'm happy with it for a rough draft, but am I really going to be able to fatten this story up without giving it all away? I don't want readers to get to the end and think it's stupid.

    This might be something unique to mystery writers. And this is my first stab at writing a mystery. I've never really worried about an ending potentially ruining everything. But I feel like the ending of a mystery is extremely important. You've kept readers going to that point waiting to see how it all turns out. I don't want to disappoint. How do I not disappoint?
  2. marshipan

    marshipan Contributor Contributor

    Jul 29, 2013
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    Congratulations. :)

    I'm no expert but from how I understand it, you don't really make it less obvious to the reader, you just distract them with other possibilities and the victim's life secrets being revealed. Fatten the plot with distractions that are interesting. Such as discovering the victim was in a secret society and the secret society was doing illegal things. However in the end it was simply because someone wanted his money and had nothing to do with the society. You give the reader the right clues, hidden with extra information.
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  3. Dogberry's Watch

    Dogberry's Watch Contributor Contributor

    Nov 26, 2019
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    This! The last mystery I read, the author gave clues the entire time and once the killer was named, I knew who it was, but only because we got there together. I was still a bit surprised, but then once the conclusion happened--the detectives go home, have a whiskey, etc--it was obvious the entire time. The clues were subtle, but direct. Surrounded by filler.
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  4. Some Guy

    Some Guy Manguage Langler Supporter Contributor

    May 2, 2018
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    The kingdom of scrambled portmanteaus
    How many words is it?
  5. jannert

    jannert Retired Mod Supporter Contributor

    Mar 7, 2013
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    Back in the day when I used to read some mysteries, often the writers provided a number of suspects, all with equal opportunity and motive. The author followed each of these threads with equal diligence.

    So, following that model, the way to keep the reader guessing is to make lots of plausible suspects, and develop each thread as if that suspect really might be the killer. In the end, of course, there is usually only one killer (sometimes more, though—sometimes they are working together.) And there is usually a connection between 'clues' that doesn't get made until quite late on. But it's cheating if the detective/author keeps actual information back from the reader. It's the connection between bits of information that makes the detective finally figure it out. So misdirection, via emotional prejudice, while cleverly disguising the connection will usually put the readers off solving the mystery. That's why, in the hands of an experienced mystery writer, the detective always seems to be the smartest person in the room. (Agatha Christie used this model.)

    However, there are other kinds of mysteries. Some where the detective has an instinct about who is the killer, and the story is about the detective finally putting enough information together to finally catch that person. Sometimes this is done while others are pursuing a different suspect, or the case seems stacked against an innocent person. This one is not as tricky to pull off as the 'puzzle' scenario, and it offers more scope to develop the characters. It's not so much figuring out 'whodunnit,' it's catching them at it ...usually in time to prevent another death from happening. If I was writing a mystery, I'd probably choose this variety. (Mary Stewart used this model ...for The Moonspinners, Thunder on the Right, etc.)

    Some mysteries focus more on psychological and personality development—both of the suspects and the detective—which almost makes the story seem to be something other than a 'mystery.' Readers become really interested in these characters. There are usually many factors in their lives that don't directly impact on the mystery itself, but makes them very interesting people. Sometimes the detective has personal connections with the suspects, other detectives, or personal issues that dominate the procedings. We readers get (deliberately) sidetracked by all the other factors in the story. Then the conclusion brings us back to earth with a thump, and we go ...oh, WAIT, there's been a murder ...I almost forgot.... Something like Presumed Innocent, or Girl on a Train, or Nina Todd Has Gone, etc.
    Last edited: Dec 6, 2019
  6. StoryForest

    StoryForest Banned

    Jul 2, 2019
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    If you are worried that it is because you are too close to it, do you have anyone you can share the novel with to get some feedback?

    It's not easy to trick readers these days, but a novel is often worth the read because of the journey rather than a twist in the ending. If you feel the events that lead up to the ending are strong and enticing then you may not need a big reveal. If not, consider whether the build-up is leading you to the right conclusion.
  7. NobodySpecial

    NobodySpecial Contributor Contributor

    Oct 2, 2015
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    As far as the suspects, you really don’t need many. The guilty party and maybe three or four other possibles, with one looking so guilty it has to be the guy. Giving the reader too many to choose from is worse than too few.

    Likewise with the clues- the better option is to go with clues better of quality than quantity. The companion to the clue is the distraction or red herring. Mysteries are all about slight-of-hand style trickery.

    I don't think the problem with mysteries is making it too simple, that’s actually the point. To have the reader asking ‘how did I not see that coming? It was right in front of me.’

    I have a good book on mystery writing; if you’d like kindle will let me loan it to you for two weeks (they’ll only let me loan it to you once, after that you’ll have to buy your own copy)
    Last edited: Dec 11, 2019
    Some Guy likes this.
  8. Tralala

    Tralala Active Member

    Aug 26, 2019
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    Hi. My just-finished (but yet again being tweaked) YA novel is part thriller. It took many attempts to get the ending right. It's true that most people want a good ending, when they've been teased for so long.

    The main thing I realised (whether I've pulled it off or not is another matter) is that I wanted the big reveal to be at the last possible minute. That's quite hard to do, and really focuses the mind.

    Secondly, I wanted all the important characters to be present in the closing chapters (but without a Poirot-type climax, where one of characters exposes the wrong-doer).

    And no wordy explanations of any kind! It all had to be somehow turned into action.

    There isn't actually a murderer in mine, so it's slightly different.

    But I think that, if you keep working on the ending and get that right, you need very few clues.

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