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What makes a good (murder) mystery?


Robert Rex

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12 minutes ago, Robert Rex said:

I recently read an article for writers that basically said a good murder mystery has a surprise "killer" and/or surprise situation--one that was virtually unpredictable from casual reading of the tale. Or perhaps a very small thread of previously un-followed up clues.

Do you agree? Do you prefer a killer that may be unpredictable? Predictable upon very close reading?  Or a plot line that confirms you'd known the killer all along?

True confession here:  I'm working on a new tale and it appears to be moving towards a combination of murder with ESP used to solve it. (And for those who'd read "Lions' Lair" and "Landfall", you'll see many of those same characters again.)

Thanks for the comments!

 

Nice to see you back, Rex.  i hope you're well.   I've read stories where you know up front who it is, or where you're told at the end but you keep guessing until that moment. They can all be effective. You're a good writer and i think it's a fairly safe bet, the story however you choose to write it, will be a good one.

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First, nice to see you back on GA, Rex. :) 

Second, I like both scenarios, though I guess not knowing the identity of the killer is a bit more fun. The reader isn’t just waiting to see how the killer is caught, but has to look for any or and all clues that allude to the identity of the killer. The reader is more engaged in the story this way, I think.

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19 hours ago, Robert Rex said:

I recently read an article for writers that basically said a good murder mystery has a surprise "killer" and/or surprise situation--one that was virtually unpredictable from casual reading of the tale. Or perhaps a very small thread of previously un-followed up clues.

Do you agree? Do you prefer a killer that may be unpredictable? Predictable upon very close reading?  Or a plot line that confirms you'd known the killer all along?

True confession here:  I'm working on a new tale and it appears to be moving towards a combination of murder with ESP used to solve it. (And for those who'd read "Lions' Lair" and "Landfall", you'll see many of those same characters again.)

Thanks for the comments!

 


Columbo did this brilliantly - 'Oh, just one more thing...’  :P

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This might be a derail, and my apologies if that's the case (I'll take a DM!), but do you mind if I hear from you all what mystery books you've considered well done and why? Could be on GA or published elsewhere. I've yet to read any mystery writing authors that I've enjoyed and would return to (with the exception of Crime and Punishment by Fyodor Dostoevsky!)

I've also wanted to try my hand at writing a mystery novel sometime! I attempted one back in middle school without knowing what makes a good mystery and would love to hear your thoughts.

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On 9/30/2020 at 1:31 AM, Robert Rex said:

I'm working on a new tale and it appears to be moving towards a combination of murder with ESP used to solve it.

Murder mystery is a unique genre which thinking about it, you should probably write it backwards. It's logical really and easier to start with the end. Search - how to write a good murder mystery - and you get loads of tips and advice, including starting with the end.

To answer your specific point about ESP, I found this:

One method which can help you to avoid a revelatory ending is having your detective arrive at the answer through logic accessible to the reader. The Detection Club, a 1930s group made up of prominent British mystery writers such as Agatha Christie and G.K. Chesterton, codified this in their oath:

Do you promise that your detectives shall well and truly detect the crimes presented to them using those wits which it may please you to bestow upon them and not placing reliance on nor making use of Divine Revelation, Feminine Intuition, Mumbo Jumbo, Jiggery-Pokery, Coincidence, or Act of God?

What this means is that the detective should arrive at the mystery’s solution through a process that feels accessible to the reader. This doesn’t mean that you can’t have a clairvoyant detective interrogate ghosts, just that the reader needs to hear everything the spirits have to say.

https://www.standoutbooks.com/essentials-writing-murder-mystery/ if you want to know more.

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6 hours ago, Talo Segura said:

Murder mystery is a unique genre which thinking about it, you should probably write it backwards. It's logical really and easier to start with the end. Search - how to write a good murder mystery - and you get loads of tips and advice, including starting with the end.


It seems the earliest example of detective fiction is Islamic from the first millennium (The Three Apples, from One Thousand And One Nights), and it used reverse narrative storytelling.

I assume all detective mystery writers must start with the end and work backwards in order to get the plot and structure right before the actual writing is done in “forward time” (with maybe flashbacks), so retaining the reverse chronology should work well with a good writer. But I think it could become tiresome if done too often... :P

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19 hours ago, BDANR said:

This might be a derail, and my apologies if that's the case (I'll take a DM!), but do you mind if I hear from you all what mystery books you've considered well done and why? Could be on GA or published elsewhere. I've yet to read any mystery writing authors that I've enjoyed and would return to (with the exception of Crime and Punishment by Fyodor Dostoevsky!)

I've also wanted to try my hand at writing a mystery novel sometime! I attempted one back in middle school without knowing what makes a good mystery and would love to hear your thoughts.

Cole Matthews wrote a GREAT story here at GA years ago, "Barbed Wire Heart".  His writing kept me entranced, and his ending of the tale caught me, and several others here totally off guard.  Cole is now a Signature Author here;  his work is in the premium section.

Not on GA, but years ago I got to work with Erica Spindler when I lived in Dallas as she did research for her (then new) book "See Jane Die".  A nice combo of romance and murder, i never recognized the killer up until the last few pages of the book.  You may be able to find that online, or in libraries, since it's several years old.

Beyond that, life has gotten in my way and I've not been able to read like I'd have liked.  But, I'm back, and as I find interesting stories, I'll be glad to pass 'em along to you if you'd like.....just let me know.

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If you’re wanting recommendations for interesting online mystery detective stories I enjoyed Horatio Nimier’s “Two Divisions” series very much - a dozen or more individual story chapters if I remember right - with an ongoing gay romance story arch across them all. They’re so good they could / should have been published but the writer was happy just with the reward of feedback :)

 

 

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Thank you for those recommendations! I'm eager to check them out once I finish a book I borrowed from a friend :P.

To answer your post @Robert Rex, I enjoy each scenario! However, I've found it thrilling watching a protagonist go after a perpetrator whom they already identified, and the creative road blocks the perp uses to prevent being detected and caught. I wish I could think of a better example for this, but the best I could come up with is a few of the mysteries I've watched of this anime Case Closed :gikkle:.

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I find myself watching Perry Mason now and then. Of course its dated but, it does a good job with its 5 act structure and presentation of a great murder mystery: character, motive, method, opportunity. You can change those elements and move them around but, they have to be there or the whole structure collapses. Some of the best ones are quite old

 

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