Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Studying the Mystery versus Having Fun with the Mystery

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I am unique to the staff of contributing writers on this blog in that I have never published a mystery novel. I just love the genre, and am pretty darn well read in it. My main genre of choice is spiritual/inspirational with a bent towards humor and mischief. Kind of a cross-over guy. I plan on releasing a novel this year titled, Detective Snoop – a comedic whodunit detective story with some underlying spiritual messages. And it has several elements in it that are essential in a good mystery book. I also plan on writing a true mystery one day. But that requires more learning on my part.

Like any good student of the art he or she is pursuing, I do my studying. Even with a “cross-over” pseudo-mystery like Detective Snoop, I have to be able to include some mystery book elements. Like “clues,” the all important “crucial clue,” and maybe toss in a couple “red herrings” for good measure.

The crucial clue. The one clue that the protagonist finally “gets it” and solves the case. It could be something that points straight at the perpetrator. Like let’s say one character, call him Billy Joe, claims he got a bizarre visitor at his door at seven o'clock in the evening on a certain day. Later on, the detective (or cop, or protagonist, whatever – main character) gets full information about where all the suspects were at that time. He thinks back to what Billy Joe said about the strange visitor at that time, and now he knows that couldn't have taken place. Gotcha.

And the red herring. A bit of information an author throws out there to mislead the reader into thinking someone who is actually innocent is probably the guilty one. These are fun elements in a good mystery and make the case harder to solve. They can also add punch to the beloved “twist” in a well written mystery.

See? I’m learning about this writing a good mystery book stuff.

Funny, the more you study and work at an art, the less you can be just a casual lover of the craft. I am an accomplished musician. Have been ever since high school. I cannot listen to music like most people. I am constantly analyzing it. Wonder why the artist chose that instrumentation? Interesting bass line. Ooops, the vocalist had a bit of slippage between registers on that passage. I don’t think I would have put the bridge in for a third time in that arrangement. Things like that.

When I undertook becoming a writer, a serious writer, pursuing a career with it, I lost the ability to simply relax and enjoy a good book. Now I am constantly analyzing the writing. Why did she switch from “telling” the story to “showing” it for this scene? Interesting shift in tense – not sure if I like it all that much. Oh no, way too many adjectives for my tastes. Wow – great one-liner – wish I’d thought of that! See what I mean?

And now that I’m endeavoring to learn how to write a good mystery, I’m losing the ability to enjoy reading one without taking it apart and dissecting it for analysis! Help!

It’s all about balance. I need a new hobby. Music and literature are both classroom activities for me anymore. I’ll have to take up synchronized swimming or something for my “fun only” times.

Has anybody else experienced what I'm going through? Oh and I need a partner for my synchronized swimming class. Any comers?


F. M. Meredith, author said...

Think you've got it!

Marilyn aka F.M. Meredith

Morgan Mandel said...

I know what you mean. As soon as I learned a few things about writing, I noticed all kinds of stuff in books that turned me off. Now I only enjoy the good books and don't finish the other ones. It takes a really good story line and story teller for me to forgive writing errors.

Morgan Mandel

Mark Troy said...

I think that increased awareness adds to the enjoyment of books. Oh, and good luck with the new "fun only" activities. The people I know who are driven to excel in one endeavor are driven to excel in all others.

Betty said...

I love a good red herring. :D I'll die if I stop enjoying books. Hope you can overcome this hiccup.

Anonymous said...

Thanks for the comments, guys. Mark you're probably right. Everything I get into, I'm so competitive, not just with the competition but with myself, I turn it into a challenge to see how far I can take it. Oh well, and everyone - please understand - I DO still love and enjoy reading, it's just that it's hard to separate the analytical and critical part of the process out of the mix and "simply" enjoy.

Heath said...

I know what you mean about analyzing every genre novel you read. Fortunately, I enjoy the analysing process!
Best of luck with Detective Snoop (good title), I hope it takes off!

Earl Staggs said...

I have the same affliction, Marvin. Not only with books, but TV shows and movies. I can't simply read or watch. Instead, I'm thinking about how well or how poorly the author did something or how I might have done it differently. Being a writer certainly changes our perspective on entertainment, but I don't think it makes us bad people. It's part of the learning process, I suppose, and we should never stop learning. See you at the pool.

Dana Fredsti said...

I've found myself less critical since I got published, possibly because I'm no longer suffering from 'publishing envy.' Actually writing film scripts and working in the film industry ruined the pure enjoyment of watching movies for me. I'm constantly looking for plot holes and story problems instead of just going along for the ride. Not so much in books.