It’s been quite a while since my last post, and I apologize for the radio silence. The beginning of this year had me at a running start, and I’m just catching my breath!
Anyway, you all know about my undying love of all things fantasy, but I wanted to chat a bit about mysteries today. I love a good mystery, and in every genre, there is bound to be a puzzle to solve somewhere in the plot. It keeps the reader guessing and the pages turning. But what makes a mystery less intriguing and actually tempts the reader to put the book down? Here are some things NOT to do:
Tell all the secrets.
Even if you’re writing from a first-person point of view, there is no need to divulge every thought or line of reasoning to the reader. Merely recognizing an “aha” moment is enough to make the reader sit up and take note before the story continues on with the action. Remember, “show and not tell” keeps the reader engaged and the pace from dragging. Having to listen to or read an internal monologue is a fine excuse to go search for a snack and thus, put the book down. Now, there are certainly times where a character’s internal ruminations are needed and help with character building and moving the story forward, but frequent and lengthy cogitations can wear down the reader. Of course, I am only speaking to fiction writing, and fantasy and science fiction in particular, since that genre tends to have action-filled story lines.
Spell everything out.
I don’t know about you, but I read mysteries for the challenge of solving a puzzle. I like looking for clues and get jump-up-and-down excited when I find the missing piece. What I don’t like is for someone to lay everything out in front of me and walk me through, step by step. Where’s the fun in that? Less hand holding, more clue dropping, please.
Connect random dots.
There is definitely something to be said for an end-picture that answers all the burning questions. However, when you start turning random characters into culprits just to force a picture, you’ll have readers raising their eyebrows. It’s one thing to catch your reader off guard. It’s quite another to test the limits of one’s imagination. To prevent such randomness, flesh out your characters. Make something about them tug on our heartstrings or bring out our snarkiness. Anything, so that they leave an impression. Or else they become just another expendable Red Shirt destined for obscurity.
Whether you’re writing a whodunit or a mysterious character in an epic fantasy, keeping your readers intrigued can be a challenge. Just don’t forget the fun in keeping some secrets, sprinkling clues, and creating characters we love (or love to hate).