Monday 17 February 2020

The Trials Of A Crime Writer: Retaining The Mystery


When I was a kid, one thing that drew me to crime books was that there was always this hint of mystery around them. There were always clues in the text, but a lot of the time, it wasn't something you picked up on until you knew the whole story. They needed the right context to make you jump to that conclusion. Having almost written thirty books, with a lot of them staying in the crime/mystery genre, it something that I've prided myself on being able to do well.

But how do you do that? How do you know if you've foreshadowing enough, and not just dumping huge clues that's going to have people aware of the villain way before you're ready for them to? I'm glad you asked, because I'm gonna give you my tips on how to retain the mystery when it comes to writing crime novels.

It doesn't have to be a killer, can just be a garden variety bad guy, but with mystery books, it's usually a killer. I'm not someone who really plans out my books, as you'll have heard me talk about, I'm a planster in that I do minimal planning and will, mostly, fly by the seat of my pants when it comes to that first draft. However, I do, generally, have some idea who the bad guy is gonna be, why they're committing the crime and how they plan to go about making sure that no one catches them. I do this because it helps to them be able to drop in little clues when it comes to foreshadowing. You want to know, if you can, in advance, because it's easier then to know what to say when writing scenes with that character or just with the main people investigating.

I want to empathise the small here. You can't be having a stalker who is the only one who has access to the main character, because that's pretty damn obvious, and while you can write it that way if the main character takes a while to work it out, they do seem pretty oblivious if they don't make the connection, given that the stalker is the only one able to do these things. You want to sprinkle rather than dump, because this way you can have little clues here and there, and know that the majority of the time, the reader won't think anything of it until they have the full story and the context within it.

These basically refer to having someone else seem like they're the baddie and then it all turning out to be someone else entirely. This can be done well. You can have readers thinking they're sure it's so-and-so and having all these reasons why, but then when the big reveal comes, they're completely surprised. I did this a lot in my novels, where I've had people set up to completely be obviously the bad guy and then they're actually just not, and it's a great way to build the suspense, especially if we're following the main character as they try to solve this crime.

I left this one until last because like I said above, I'm not a huge planner, but I am someone who likes to edit as I go, meaning that if something massive changes and I'm not solid on how the foreshadowing and clues are going, I will go back through my draft and change things here and there to make sure it all flows to the right person, along with the scapegoat I've slipped in there along the way.

Now if you do plan, then that's something that you can do in the planning stages. It means that you can make sure that your book follows the right structure, that you've hit all the beats along the way and that it will all come nicely together in a cohesive way. I do want to add a caveat here, if it doesn't work out, there's always revisions and the plus side of those is that you know the story backwards and forwards now, so you know what needs to be where. So don't lose hope if you're not a planner, or someone who's not managed to get it right in that first draft, revisions save you every time.

So there we have it, my four tips on retaining the mystery when it comes to writing a crime or mystery novel. I would love to hear your thoughts on any tips you might have, and please do let me know in the comments! It's always good to get new tips along the way, no matter where you are on your writing journey!

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