Hello everyone! How are you all? Today as a part of the Sunday Street Team I am featuring Danika Stone! The topic is The Challenge of Writing a Mystery. Enjoy her post!
The Challenge of Writing a Mystery
I love well-written mysteries, especially those that include unexpected twists and turns along the way. (Tana French has a special place on my bookshelf.) But having an idea and bringing it to fruition are two different things and there are some very specific challenges to the mystery genre. These are the ones that post unique challenges to writing.
1. Your setting is MORE than a setting. Having spent much of my childhood in Waterton, I know the landscape inside and out. It’s gorgeous, but eerily remote. When I started thinking about writing a mystery, it became the obvious location for The Dark Divide. Your mystery setting needs to invoke mood. It needs to provide challenges. (Waterton has dubious cell phone coverage, and there are plenty of areas where even an experienced hiker can be lost.) By considering setting, a writer creates a mood that pervades a novel.
2. You need to trick your readers. One of the things that many other genres DON’T require is a specific plan to confuse and confound your audience. Mystery novels do! To create this, the writer must follow a careful approach to laying out the pieces of the plot. Scene by scene they must dole out enough information to weave a realistic story, all the while providing enough out-of-context clues that lead, like a maze, to dead ends. The best way to do this? Have a good mystery editor to help you on the way. My editor, Dinah Forbes, spent her entire career at McClelland & Stewart, editing (you guessed it) mysteries. She gave me the insights on how to tweak the plot so it was both confusing AND satisfying to readers.
3. You need to spread the blame around. One way to keep your readers guessing is to include enough characters and to make each one of them seem somewhat guilty. This way, the readers don’t know and can’t guess (right away) who the killer is. For me, this complex planning was the biggest difference between writing a mystery and other genres. The Dark Divide has a character list at the beginning so that people who’ve jumped into book 2 (and have not read Edge of Wild) can keep up with all the different people in the story.
4. Your readers have to CARE. The level of tension you must build in a mystery novel is unique to the genre. They must be invested in what happens to the characters, and they need to want to know they’ll be okay. To do this, the plot must unravel at exactly the right pace. You also have to keep the stakes high! One trick to doing this is to list all the terrible things you intend to do to your protagonist, then organize them in order from least troublesome (losing a job) to most serious (death). It keeps your plot moving, too!
5. The plot must move like a well-oiled machine. I’m admittedly better at writing first drafts than at editing. (And that’s why it’s good I’ve worked with excellent editors!) Writing a mystery requires a very careful approach to laying out the pieces of the plot and including enough red herrings to confuse the reader. Each edit requires a recalibrating of ALL the other parts. Where a regular YA novel usually takes me a couple rounds of edits to get “right”, a mystery takes twice that. For me, this complex planning is by far the biggest challenge between writing a mystery and other genres, but I wouldn’t have it any other way!