Monday, January 24, 2011
Life's A Mystery
I suppose there are some people in the world who do not like to read a good mystery. I just don’t know any, and when you’ve lived as long as I have, you know lots of people.
There’s something about trying to figure out things for ourselves that fascinates people. Look at crossword puzzles, jigsaw puzzles, Sudoku, Rubik Cubes, crime shows, home decorating…
Wait! You don’t think home decorating creates a mystery? Then you don’t live in my house! What will look good where is a question I ask frequently—to the chagrin of my husband. What accent color should I use with my stuff. How can my living room improve with the benefit of Feng Shui?
A mystery causes brainwork. It makes me think. Some puzzles (read mysteries) are complicated while others are not. Readers want a mystery that challenges their thinking, yet is not so off-the-wall they won’t be able to figure it out, or at least come close to it.
What readers don’t like is when the author hasn’t given the reader all the information known by the protagonist. We want a fair chance to solve the puzzle before the end of the book. Of course, we also like to be surprised. It’s a catch-22. We want to figure it out before the end of the story, AND we want to be surprised as to who did it. Not an easy trick to pull off.
A mystery author must perfect the use of conflict, plot, foreshadowing, red herrings, and other clues. Readers also love for the story to take twists and turns that keep them just a little off balance. Bottom line, we like an intellectual challenge, but we also want to feel smart.
I read mystery, in contrast to other genres, because I love a challenge. I don’t want a story just laid out before me. Let me work on it and try to figure it out for myself. Come to think of it, I guess that’s why I write mystery! I want to be involved in the story. I want to know there will be a puzzle to be solved and that there will be twist and turns along the way that make me think, reason and try to figure out.
With a non-mystery fiction, I tend to identify with the characters rather than examine them. I don't usually question their motives unless the main character does. Essentially, I get caught up in the story, but with the mystery, I am trying to outsmart the characters.
Suffice it to say, I like a challenge.
How about you? What do you like about reading and writing mysteries?