Mystery/suspense writing tip #2: Give the reader a sporting chance!

Personally, I rarely guess the ending of a mystery/suspense novel and if I do, I’m kind of disappointed. I want that author to stump me with a clue I didn’t notice or a twist I couldn’t see the significance of at the time. It’s a game I don’t want to win, but I do want the author to play by the rules and that means, sprinkling in those clues along the way. Bury them in back story, dribble them in dialogue, subvert them in setting, but readers need to have the chance to solve the mystery themselves. So clues are sprinkled, not dumped. The great Agatha Christie said she was “always wary of putting too many false clues into the plot, because with so many things to unravel the book would be not only difficult to solve but also difficult to read.”

And there must be herrings, red ones! Just as the fish could be dragged across the trail to confuse the hounds, a red herring is a false clue dropped into the story to confuse the reader and perhaps the protagonist as well.
http://www.christiemystery.co.uk/method.html

Do you usually solve the mystery before the end of the book? Does that leave you satisfied or disappointed? All posts get you entered in the June drawing for a Starbuck’s card. sherlock

8 responses to this post.

  1. I love mysteries, especially Golden Age of the Mystery stories (1920s-1940s). I read cozies, but not because of the mystery. The “greats” of the mystery genre (Ellery Queen, Agatha Christie, Margery Allingham) I can rarely figure them out, but enjoy trying Cozies I nearly always know, but if I like the story and the characters, I still like reading (and even re-reading) the books.

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    • Me too, Lora. The “classics” are the best. Have you found any modern cozy series you like? I haven’t found any that really catch me lately. Thanks for the comment!

      Dana Mentink

      Christian Fiction Author ACFW Book of the Year finalist Betrayal in the Badlands, a RT Reviewer’s Choice Winner http://www.danamentink.com

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  2. I like a cozy now and again too, Kathryn. ☺

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  3. I must confess that I rarely ever solve the mystery before the end of the book. Maybe I read too fast or don’t want to take a chance committing myself to thinking I know where the book is going and then it turns out I’ve been off base. I usually enjoy how the author ties it all together.

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  4. Posted by Susan Fryman on June 7, 2013 at 5:59 pm

    I used to figure it out and wasn’t disapoointed. Actually excited that I got it right. Now it seems the authors are better with those red herrings. I usually have it figured out but am not quite as certain as I once was. Really love suspense novels. Blessings, Susan Fryman susanngarrylee@yahoo.com

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  5. I usually figure it out. But if it’s a good book, I still enjoy the ride.

    Cozy’s are the easiest to figure out because some are formulamatic. But I still enjoy the quick reads and most have great secondary characters you won’t find in a genre mystery.

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