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  1. Silver Random

    Silver Random Senior Member

    Jul 26, 2008
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    Writing Mystery

    Discussion in 'General Writing' started by Silver Random, Jul 30, 2008.

    Not sure if there is a more specific area than General Writing for this so appologies if im in the wrong forum.

    I was wondering what people's view were on what makes for a good "mystery" in a novel. The easiest way i can think of to say what i mean is to use an example.

    Anna, Bob and Claire are a room for a night, with no windows, one door which is locked, and a cookie sitting on a table in the middle of the room. They all go to sleep, and when they wake up in the cookie is gone :eek: . Its then down to detective Jim to find out whether Anna, Bob or Claire ate the cookie.

    Do do you think it is better (in general) to write something where the reader:

    To work out fairly early that it was really Anna, and then pretend to be surprised at the end when Jim puts it all together?

    To realise a couple of chapters before the author spells it out that it was Bob all along?

    To have no idea one way or the other until Jim says "It was you Claire!"

    Or, is it okay to find out at the end that it was really Dave, who picked the lock, ate the cookie, then snuck out while they were all asleep?

    Though obviously that type of thing has most significance in Crime, it can be included in almost any genre of fiction - i personally am including something like it in a Fantasy that i am writing. I was inspired to ask this because i am a little worried that if i put in too many hints, it will end up like the Anna scenario above, but if i dont throw in enough / any, then readers will feel cheated that it was impossible to guess. I have never successfully written a mystery so i dont know whether or not to be heavy-handed with the clues. Is that an issue for any of you when writing / reading anything with an this type of element in it?

    Personally, my favourite "mysteries" in general are ones where i can work it out a couple of chapters or pages before it is officially revealed. I have read many books Crime fiction or other books which include a mystery in them, where it turns out it was the person i most suspected since halfway through, and i feel that it can sometimes spoil the book.

    My favourite one of all time funnily enough was probably Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire :D (though it did have a hint of the "Dave scenario" from above).
  2. Scribe Rewan

    Scribe Rewan Contributing Member

    May 22, 2008
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    Personally, I'd want to spend loads of time going 'what the hell is going on?' So I wouldn't choose this one, but that's just me.

    I think that if you aim for one of these two, the other will invariably happen as well. There will always be some real clever people work it out, but some people who wont.

    This is fine, as long as it makes sense. If you dropped a few hints, no matter how tiny, so that the reader is vaguely aware that it didn;t have to be someone in the room, then this is ok, but you've got to be careful that it's not to ridiculous...

    Overall I think it depends on the context of the story.
  3. Lucy E.

    Lucy E. Contributing Member

    May 25, 2008
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    I like mysteries in which the reader is tricked into thinking that it's Bob, for example, but work out a chapter or two before it's revealed that the culprit is in fact Anna. But that's just personal preference.
  4. mammamaia

    mammamaia nit-picker-in-chief Contributor

    Nov 21, 2006
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    Coquille, Oregon
    the trick to writing good mysteries is to build suspense and keep the reader guessing as long as possible... the masters of the genre can still surprise you right up the the ending, without any fakery such as a deus ex machina bailout...
  5. tehuti88

    tehuti88 Contributing Member

    May 13, 2008
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    I'm not really a mystery fan, but I like it when you think you've got it figured out, only to realize you were wrong, and the ending seems like a total surprise until you stop to think about everything that led up to this point and only then do you realize, "Oh yeah, now it makes sense! Duh!"

    In short, dropping clues so the ending makes sense when you think about it, but not so many clues that the reader would figure it out that easily--and perhaps the reader would get it all wrong before it's revealed (AKA, the "twist ending"). But you've already mentioned this technique, and it's a difficult thing to pull off. (Why I don't write mysteries, because I suck at solving them! :D )
  6. Cogito

    Cogito Former Mod, Retired Supporter Contributor

    May 19, 2007
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    Massachusetts, USA
    One thing I have found in common among good mysteries is the collection of odd characters, and the depth with which characters are examined by the author. The investigative nature of the story provides an ideal opportunity for that kind of exploration. The lead character gets to philosophise about human nature much less obtrusively than in many other forms of writing.
  7. topper

    topper Member

    May 3, 2008
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    I definetly prefer the kind where the ending surprises me, but when I go back, I can find clues that have pointed to it all along. Or if I can figure it out just before it's revealed.
    (Personally, I find the last scenario extremely annoying! Here I was trying to piece together all the clues, and it's this Dave person I've never heard of? But that's just me. :) )

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