Lately, as I’ve wrestled with my Nell Letterly mystery series, I’ve been thinking a lot about some of the special challenges of writing a mystery. Here are a few ideas I’ve come up with:
Writing mysteries is like…
…writing an extra-long short story, where every word matters. Extraneous details become smoking guns or red herrings or clues, and all need to be tied up and accounted for in the end. Short stories done well require great craft, and the same is true for mysteries.
…working a cross-word puzzle. Means, motivation, and method all have to match up with suspects and clues and then fit together in the exact spot, in the right order. Anything out of order, and it all falls apart.
…writing a math formula and then solving it creatively. You have to write the same, using logical pieces that add up to a whole, and yet you have to be different.
…playing bridge, where you have to count your clues (er, cards) and figure out who’s holding what and in what order your cast of characters will play them. Will you take control of the game, or will you be left vulnerable?
…working a jigsaw puzzle without the picture to guide you. You hope that the bits of images that you place around a blank board will ultimately fit together into a sensible, overall vision.
…training to become half a dozen professionals, all rolled into one: psychoanalysis, forensics, logic, criminology, ballistics, medical treatment, as well as language skills and whatever other special topic your theme covers.
This is just the beginning. I’m sure there are many others!