Mistakes Don’t Mean Murder

Apologies for a short post today! We’ll make this part one of a two-parter.

A young woman takes a wrong turn while driving through an unfamiliar neighborhood in bad weather. A child chases his ball into the neighbor’s yard, only to see something he shouldn’t. An older couple misses their stop, and gets off the subway at a deserted stop.

Do any of these sound like part of a great story? Mistakes create such wonderful opportunities for writers to put characters into risky, challenging, or otherwise interesting situations. Bad decisions, accidents, and mistakes of all kinds can build suspense by increase pace or increasing tension (or both). Mistakes can act as a red herring, leading the reader to draw false conclusions while also allowing the writer to maintain their “contract” with the reader (following the general tropes and rules of the genre and explaining deviations at some point).

Mistakes provide possibilities for the writer to create authenticity in what might otherwise be a very unreal kind of tale. By creating authenticity, the writer brings the reader closer to the story; who hasn’t taken a wrong turn or missed a stop? Well-crafted mistakes, used judiciously, can wrench a visceral reaction from the reader, particularly a reader who has become attached to a character, drawing the reader ever closer to the story and keeping them engaged right to the last word.

How do you like your suspense? Do mistakes work for you as a reader?

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Author: Pamela A. Oberg

Pamela is a portfolio manager at an educational assessment company by day, writer by night. Founder of Writers on Words (a discussion and critique group), Pamela enjoys spinning tales of murder and mayhem, with an occasional foray into the world of the paranormal.

9 thoughts on “Mistakes Don’t Mean Murder”

  1. Mistakes happen to all of us, some of them pretty dire. I’ve gotten off the bus or train in a sketchy neighborhood on a gloomy day before. If they fit naturally into the character’s life (the ball, the bus), they can be a great way to start a suspenseful story rolling.

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  2. In amateur sleuth mysteries, mistakes are definitely a part of the overall plot. Sure, we sometimes arrive at a conclusion before the sleuth does, but no character is perfect, and mistakes are like the bumpers in a bowling alley, they steer the investigation back on track.

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