I’m pleased to host Lois Brown on my blog today to give us her take on what keeps mystery readers coming back for more. Thank you Lois for joining us.
Mystery Mayhem: Make readers crave more
Every story is a mystery in its own right. If there is no mystery, readers won’t invest the time. They want answers.
Will the girl fall for the right guy? Will the alien kill the human? Will the idiot teenager work through her pubescent angst? Will the protagonist find the murderer before she herself is killed.
I just released Robbed of Soul, an adult mystery that combines a modern-day murder with the 150-year-old legend of Montezuma’s treasure in Utah. While this is the fifth novel I’ve published, before writing it I boned up on some elements of writing an effective mystery. Here are six of
- Point #1: A mystery is really a collection of smaller mysteries with one “biggie” that carries through the entire book. For example, there may be a murder investigation going on, but don’t forget about the unsigned note, the threatening phone call, an unidentified skeleton, a missing person, etc.
- Point #2: Once you know your plot, make a list of clues you can use in your story.And don’t forget the one “crucial clue” carefully hidden so readers will remember it only when the reveal is finally given.
- Point #3: You have to have red herrings—bits of information designed to mislead readers. If you don’t, your reader may figure out the mystery mid book. The is the kiss of death to any novel.
- Point #4: Motive, motive, motive. For Robbed of Soul, I interviewed a veteran police investigator. He said in real life there are only a handful of reason people commit crime (besides mental illness). These are: revenge, jealousy, self-protection, personal gain, and love (or hate).
- Point #5: Have the “right” number of suspects. Some say no more than six or seven serious suspects. Any more than that and you lose your reader.
- Point #6: Unlike an “action” story, mysteries must contain promises to reveal more information. These “promises” are what make your reader turn the page. Not the car chase or the fist fight. Don’t forget that once you make a promise of information, you must deliver or incur the wrath of your reader and collect bad reviews.
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Rescued but psychologically damaged from a failed mission, ex-CIA officer Maria Branson takes the job of police chief in the quiet town of Kanab, Utah. Rest and relaxation are the doctor’s orders. She gets neither. Instead, a missing mayor, the spirit of a dead Aztec warrior, and the over-confident-yet-attractive head of Search and Rescue await her in a town whose past has almost as many secrets as her own. As Maria investigates a modern-day murder, she disturbs a world of ancient legends and deadly curses. Yet most lethal of all is Maria’s fear someone will discover just how empty her soul really is.