Saturday, January 30, 2010


I’m beginning to see a light at the end of the tunnel with my new book.  I’ve finally determined on a route to an end that pleases me, and I’ve come up with a couple of twists that I like.  Now all I have to do is persevere.  It’s grunt work, now.  Sit and type it out, choose the best way to say this or that, watch the repetition, find the right word, the right sentence.  

One technical detail every mystery writer has to deal with is how to dole out the clues. You want to lead your reader on, like scattering bread crumbs through the forest.  You want to play fair with your reader, and give her all the information she needs in order to be able to solve the mystery along with the sleuth.  Yet, you want to keep her guessing, as well.  It’s a bit of a problem, and it takes some skill to know just how much information is enough without being too much.

It’s easy enough to determine how often you should drop in a clue.  Be sparing with clues early in the story, then as you get near the end, they clues should come faster.  But which piece of information to reveal, and in what order?  Start out with general discoveries, and become more and more specific as the story goes on.  This seems logical.  When do we reveal that the killer had to have entered through the basement window, therefore Suspect A is far too large?  How soon should the reader know that the victim had had a clandestine affair with Suspect B’s wife 25 years earlier?  When have you dropped that final bit of information that makes it not only possible but likely that your reader can solve the mystery?   

How do I lead the reader astray while giving him all the right clues?  He’s learned by reading many mystery novels that the killer is seldom the most likely suspect, nor is the killer often a recurring character in a series.  Should I therefore have my killer be the most likely suspect or a series regular? 

Regular readers of mystery novels are extremely savvy.  They know all the common mystery writer tricks. The good mystery writer knows that they know.  I quite enjoy trying to anticipate what the reader is going to think, and to write in little twists and turns that play with the reader’s mind, Whether I can pull it off or not is another matter.  But if I can, it’s quite a rush.


Jill Edmondson said...

I agree that it is very tough to know when to drop clues and how many to drop. It's also a fine line between being fair to the reader and holding back some info until the right moment.

And the dance between obvious suspects/recurring characters is a trick too, it could be neat to try one of those since perhaps they are unexpected... Hmmm, pause for thought...


Vicki Delany said...

I read a couple of books recently, series I like, and one of the cops was the killer. A minor series character before, just there to follow the detective and do the job. It worked well in both cases. Came as quite a shocking reveal.

Ann Elle Altman said...

Giving too many clues too early or giving to little too late is never a good combo. HOwever, it's difficult to find the balance to please the readers.


Donis Casey said...

I recently read the latest in a well known series in which one of the recurring characters was the murderer, and I must admit that I could hardly believe the author did that. It was a total surprise, but I was a little dismayed, because I liked that character. I'll read the author's next book for sure, though, to see if something develops.

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