Saturday, March 12, 2022

Keeping Myself in Suspense - #Mystery #Suspense #NewRelease


Image by Alexandr Ivanov from Pixabay

I've always loved a good who-done-it, ever since I was a kid scarfing up every Nancy Drew title available. More recently, I’ve become a fan of Sara Paretsky, P.D. James and Henning Mankell.  

Now that I'm an author myself, I appreciate more than ever how difficult it is to pen an effective mystery.

Mystery presents the same challenges as any genre: how to create engaging, realistic characters; how to develop conflicts that will make readers care; how to bring the fictional milieu within which your protagonists move to life. But a mystery author also faces the onerous task of constructing a complex plot that is plausible without being transparent. Part of the pleasure in reading mysteries is figuring out the identity and modus operandi of the bad guys. If this is too easy, you'll earn the reader's scorn. On the other hand, a resolution that's too labored, too far-fetched or unexpected, will also annoy your readers. It's a delicate balance. Readers want to be surprised by the truth, while retaining the feeling that they could have predicted the ending if only they'd been a little smarter or more observant.

To accomplish this almost impossible feat, the author must judiciously distribute both valid clues and deliberate misdirection throughout the book. This in turn requires that the author know, at the outset, how the story will end. Otherwise, she can't tell what details to reveal and which to conceal.

That's where I run into trouble. Once I have worked out the denouement of my thriller, it becomes tough for me to hide that from my readers. I've never written a full-fledged mystery, but I have two titles, Exposure and Bangkok Noir, that I'd call “erotic suspense” or “erotic noir”. In both cases, the novels began as short stories with endings that asked more questions than they answered. When I sat down to expand them, I had to work out exactly who perpetrated the crimes, and why. At that point, however, there was no more suspense – at least not for me. I was constantly tripping up on the gap between what I knew, as the author, and what the reader is supposed to know at a particular point in the story.

I'd love to know how seasoned mystery writers handle this problem. I've tried deliberately avoiding a decision about the conclusion, but that runs the risk that the resolution ultimately won't make sense – or I'll have to go back and fix up a mess of details in order to make the plot consistent.

As authors, we experience our books differently than our readers. That makes it hard to evaluate whether our narrative choices will really “work”. Because in truth, it's pretty much impossible to keep yourself in suspense.

I have a new edition of Exposure coming out next Monday. It’s available for pre-order now... for only 99 cents!

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Larry Archer said...

I've got mine!

Blogger 2021 said...

Love this!! Great work again! ;-)

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