So you know whodunit. Now prove it.
When it comes to solving murder mysteries, dedicated fans of the genre have developed an innate sleuthing ability that seems to improve with every additional book they read. True to their passion, they join groups of like-minded readers where they exchange comments about the books they’ve enjoyed—or not. They contribute to the community by posting book reviews, ratings and recommendations on Goodreads and online retailer sites.
In other words, the perception of whodunit readers presents a formidable challenge to mystery writers like me.
As any author of the genre will tell you, writing a mystery novel is not an easy task. It demands the creation of a complex plotline and a logical unfolding of events so that all things come together at the end. It entails choosing a cast of characters, including potential suspects, and ensuring that the real perpetrator isn’t too obvious.
A writer is well aware that readers expect nothing less than a genuine challenge when it comes to solving murder mysteries, but what happens if a reader guesses who the real culprit is before the end of the story? Should a writer feel less competent? Not really. The true test in trying to solve a mystery is not only in guessing who did it but also in proving how and why the crime was committed.
Let’s look at a real-life murder investigation as an example. Crime investigators might interview several suspects and have a gut feeling about one of them, but unless they can prove guilt, their assumptions are useless. Without viable witnesses or valid clues to help bring the perpetrators to justice, these offenders will continue to roam free. The pile of unsolved cases in law enforcement offices supports the fact that the how and why aspects are fundamental criteria in solving murders.
Part of a mystery writer’s task is to present the clues in a way that makes each potential suspect in the story look guilty. Attention to specifics regarding motive, means and opportunity is essential. A writer needs to be fair and open in planting the information, offering it in doses here and there, and in a manner that can’t be construed as hiding the facts from readers. A writer can use red herrings, but these false clues should be details pertinent to the story—details that can be open to misinterpretation and that readers will need to figure out. Connecting the dots to get to the truth is an important part of the reader’s journey and one that a mystery writer needs to test run beforehand to ensure it works.
Yes, readers are a clever bunch. To stay a step ahead, a writer needs to devise a plot that will outwit fans of the genre and leave them wanting more. If a writer has done a good job of it, readers will be scratching their heads, wondering how and why the crime could have been carried out, until the story’s resolution is presented in the last few pages.
And that is a reader’s true challenge in solving a murder mystery.
About the Author:
SANDRA NIKOLAI graduated from McGill University in Montreal and worked in sales, finance and high tech before devoting her days to writing. She is a member of Crime Writers of Canada and has published a string of short stories, garnering awards along the way.
False Impressions, Fatal Whispers and Icy Silence are the first three novels in a mystery series featuring ghostwriter Megan Scott and investigative reporter Michael Elliott. When not plotting mysteries, Sandra shares her thoughts and experiences about the writing world on her blog and has been a frequent guest writer on other websites. She lives with her husband near Ottawa and is currently at work on her next mystery novel in the series.
Social Media Links:
Website and blog: www.sandranikolai.com (Sign up for Sandra’s exclusive newsletter!)
About the Book:
A millionaire’s beautiful young wife.
A homeless woman.
A parish priest.
Three baffling deaths within days. No sign of foul play. No police leads. Even medical authorities can’t explain the cause of death. An unprecedented occurrence in Portland, Maine.
Ghostwriter Megan Scott and investigative reporter Michael Elliott look for answers when their trip to this alluring New England town coincides with the mysterious deaths. As they probe deeper, they discover ominous secrets buried decades ago and ruthless killers who won’t let anyone get in the way of revenge.
Apple iBooks UK: https://itunes.apple.com/gb/book/false-impressions/id957443950?mt=11