Writing Mysteries Is Like…

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!

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10 thoughts on “Writing Mysteries Is Like…”

  1. So true!

    Since we just cleaned out our attic this weekend, it’s like having about a billion dollars worth of Lego sets that are all intermingled. Unless you want to build a Star Wars/Pirates/Who Knows What Else Mash-Up, you have to sort them all out.

  2. LOL! I love that, Lev! How about adding this: on an English country road in a car with opposite orientation (or the reverse comparison for English drivers).

    Absolutely, Joyce! Yikes! Mysteries can feel impossible!

  3. Lev, that’s great. Joyce, love the Lego analogy.

    Writing mysteries is like sorting through my daughter’s clothes. Everything is on the floor, all jumbled together, and you have to examine each item to see what fits and what doesn’t.

  4. Wonderful. Was it Aristotle who said you have to end a story with something the audience knew all along, but you have to completely surprise them? Whoever said it was right.

  5. I especially love the math one. So many creatives naturally think they’re bad at math but it’s very similar to the thought process for solving a mystery!

  6. Ha! Mary, it’s tough watching those piles grow on your daughter’s floor. Great comparison! Thanks, everyone! Aristotle was very wise.

  7. This was such fun! Sue, you really got us all thinking. I might have to print and post this over my desk for inspiration. I would add, writing mysteries is like trying to navigate one’s way out of the woods, in the dark, blindfolded. . .and barefoot.

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