Wednesday, January 17, 2018

Why We Write Mysteries

by Janis Patterson

Someone once asked me if I had ever seen a psychiatrist. When I could close my mouth again, I said of course not, and asked why he would ask me such a question. He replied that I spent a great deal of time planning how to kill people, and wasn't that a sign of homicidal pathology?

Well, I didn't say or do what I really wanted to, but I did start thinking. As part of the front credit crawl on the old TV show Castle a voice over states "...there are two kinds of people who spend their days plotting murder - psychopaths and mystery writers." (Quoted from memory, and not guaranteed to be absolutely accurate, but it's pretty close.)

Accurate or not, it's true. It really shocked me exactly how much time I do spend thinking about ways to do away with my fellow men. I remember once stopping a dinner party absolutely dead (no pun intended) when I chortled with glee after a scientific friend told me how to weaponize simple table salt! (It's complicated and requires special circumstances, but it can be done. Tee-hee!) The Husband can always tell when something (usually murderous) has ticked over in my brain, because according to him I "get this really weird look on my face, and then I smile with satisfaction..." His words, not mine. I hate to think I had such an obvious tell. Anyway, my friends, even the ones who aren't mystery writers, have apparently become accustomed to this phenomenon.

So what does this have to do with why we write mysteries? I think it's because of a need deep within us. A need of what? Well, that varies with the writer. Some of us are dedicated to promulgating the idea that justice will prevail and evil-doers will be punished. Others like the solve-the-puzzle aspect, and murder usually presents the highest stakes. Still others are fascinated with the workings of the criminal and the detective mind. I'm sure there are other reasons, probably as many as there are mystery readers.


I do know that for one mystery writer (me) it's an exercise in mental health and obeying the law. You see, every villain and/or murderer that I have dragged to justice has been at least partially inspired by someone who has at one time or another angered me. It's really quite healthy for everyone - I can off anyone I want in the nastiest ways possible and if the first time doesn't work, I can do it again; no one gets hurt; and I get paid for doing it. Win-Win-Win!

7 comments:

Sandy Cody said...

I had to laugh at your first line. People are sometimes shocked when they discover I write mysteries. For some reason, they expect me to write children's books (maybe it's the grey hair). Actually, I'm not sure I'm smart to write children's books. The best of those are truly works of genius as are the best of mysteries. Why do I lean toward mystery? For me, it's a way to bring some sort of order and justice to an often disorderly and unjust world. Nice post, BTW.

Susan Oleksiw said...

Good post, Janis. I'm not sure why I write mysteries except that I love writing fiction of all kinds. But I do know that I like to explore how people react to crime and how they interpret justice for specific crimes and individuals. And I love discovering odd ways to kill someone. Our world is a dangerous place.

Jacqueline Seewald said...

I agree that writing mystery fiction is a way of ordering the world, creating order from chaos. The bad people are punished for their crimes. Justice prevails. This is not always true in the real world unfortunately.

Bonnie Cehovet said...

I never think about how to kill someone in my mysteries. I think about how my characters are going to act/react, within the story line. My endings may not always be cut and dried, and probably will have a good deal of esotericism in them.

Marilyn Meredith a.k.a. F. M. Meredith said...

In my case, people are always giving me new ways to kill someone. A pediatrician in my writing group has given me two great ideas. Once I went on Facebook asking for a specific way to kill and got over a hundred suggestions.

Linda Thorne said...

Enjoyed your post. Mysteries having an affect on the order of the world sounds correct. I also murder people in the way I think my character(s) would. It comes from them rather than from the author.

Morgan Mandel said...

Your post reminds me of what I do after looking up something questionable on Google. I go to the history right away to clear it. lol