Let’s take a closer look into what makes a mystery work. We all need a little help from our friends, so I’ve asked the bubbly, hilarious, and crafty sisterly duo of Lisa and Laura Roecker to chime in with their two cents. With their knock-out debut of LIAR SOCIETY, their forthcoming sequel THE LIES THAT BIND (Sourcebooks Fire, November 2012), and THE HUSH FUND (Soho Teen, July 2013) under their glittering pink belts, who better to share their insights on writing a mystery? Lisa and Laura Roecker can be found blogging here, or on Facebook and Twitter.
Tip #1: Create a setting that’s like a character. SO much about a good mystery is in the setting. Make it WORK. Books like Gretchen McNeil’s TEN are awesome because the creeptastic setting adds to the suspense and the mystery.
Tip #2: Don’t write a damsel in distress. This is a personal pet peeve of ours. It’s no fun to read about a protag who’s always being rescued.
Tip #3: Do not fall prey to the Scooby Doo ending. In the first draft of Liar Society, Kate figures out a huge chunk of the mystery via a long and detailed email from Liam. Um…no. Just no. Let things unfold organically. Do not fall into the trap of letting the bad guy explain the mystery to the reader. If you did it right, you shouldn’t have to explain!
Tip #4: We like to divide our mysteries up into three separate sections with a different suspect or red herring in each section. It helped give us some structure when we wrote the first book.
Thanks, Lisa and Laura! We’ve dug up a few additional considerations—
- Keep the pace moving. Mysteries need tension to thrive and nothing diffuses it like too much narrative or a slowly-moving scene.
- Piggybacking on Lisa and Laura’s tips above, your protagonist needs to take initiative but also still experience highs and lows. A super-star sleuth without faults or disappointments will fall flat.
- Manipulate the hands of time to generate suspense. Creating deadlines or a sense of a timeline helps amp up the tension.
- Create page turns. At the end of each chapter, building suspenseful transitions into the next chapter is crucial to maintaining tension and fluid pacing.
Can you think of other considerations when crafting a mystery? What are some of your favorite mystery books and what makes them work? What annoys you when reading a mystery? Please share to comments!