Nothing Mysterious About It

Unfortunately. Since it’s supposed to be a Murder Mystery.

I mean it’s right there in the title. “Murder in the Rigel Brigade.” Plain as day.

So . . . Nobody getting killed until Chapter Ten is probably not a good idea. And then all sorts of getting ready for a cross-dimensional invasion, with a few minor scenes involving the murder investigation. And then the cross-dimensional invasion that they manage to squash with only a few blocks of the city in ruins . . . 

And finally arrest the most obvious person . . .

Oh. Dear.

Now, I’ve sort of written accidental mysteries before. “Dancer” for instance. But there really wasn’t a whole lot of detecting going on. My main character just sort of bounced around annoying everyone (especially the cops) until the Bad Guy tried to murder her.

But pantsing has not worked for this particular mystery.

I am going to have to Plot.

Worse! I’m going to have to learn how to Write a Mystery. Merely having read millions of them isn’t sufficient to get me through this one.

I’ve been looking into the matter, and reading lots of mysteries is one of the top recommendations. But also . . .

  • Open with Intrigue.
  • Multiple layers of secrecy—which can be anything from secret identities, unknown motivations, secrets not related to the crime, but making people look suspicious as they are clearly not being open and honest with the investigator.
  • Elements of suspense—foreshadowing and using the setting to create a mood.
  • Multiple suspects—List are useful, yes, in the narrative. Just lay it right out there in plain sight, and let the investigator think out how to eliminate some, and how to find evidence.
  • Clues—got to have them. Give the reader a chance to try and figure it out themselves. But don’t give too much away. Red herrings—misleading both the investigator and the readers is apparently not just allowed, but highly recommended.
  • Give the detective a strong motivation to solve the crime.
  • Oh, yes. There has to be something to investigate. Usually a crime, frequently a murder. Could just be a puzzle, but that’s tough to make important to solve.
  • Some of these weird experts even think the writer ought to know every detail of the crime! Ahead of writing the detective discovering everything! Unbelievable, really.  

All this, of course, with the usual writing advice of strong characters, character development, satisfying conclusions, etc.

I . . . am going to have to rewrite a lot of this manuscript. Or at least very heavily edit it while adding a whole lot to it. And make it into an actual mystery.

Eep!

And my first, deliberate attempt to write a mystery—in my SF/F multiverse, of course:

12 comments

  1. Insufficient Coffee, but– could you move chapter 10 to the start?

    It’s not unusual to show the crime, then go back and show the set-up.

    While you’re fixing that, maybe you’ll be able to strengthen the drama around solving it?

    1. That was the way “Columbo” worked. We saw the crime first, and then we watched Columbo slowly connect all the loose ends and figure it out.

      1. That’s pretty much the way I did the first two. Detective Inspector Smirnov gets sent out to investigate the death of this person. This one? *sigh* The problem with series is that they complicate the next book.

        1. I think I need to reread, btw. I enjoy your work, but I tend to gulp it down and lose details… like… important details… to the point that I am now being haunted by the suspicion that the novels about Smirnov are in-universe fiction by one of your other characters.

    1. Basically, you ask yourself whether you’re trying to write a whodunnit or a howcatchum. Do you want the audience to be just as in the dark as the detectives, and give them the clues they need to solve it themselves, Christie-style? Or do you want the audience have a God’s-eye view of the plotters plotting in the dark room, and the thing they don’t know is how the detective is going to unravel the twisty plot, and how many blind alleys he’ll go down before he realizes they’re blind alleys?

      Or perhaps this one should be a thriller? One where the bad guys are always just about to catch up to the detective, and the tension is not “how will he prove it” but “will he manage to keep the vital evidence from being destroyed / keep the key witness alive / keep his skin intact as he proves his boss is corrupt?” That could work well in the DMB setting: there’s plenty of corruption to go around in the DMB, so the bad guys will have plenty of favors to call in to threaten the detective’s life or his key evidence/witness.

      I suspect that switching to a thriller plot instead of a whodunit plot might solve your block here.

  2. Mystery needs plotting even in the general sense of characters have to figure something out.

  3. I’ve enjoyed what you’ve posted of the story. It is engaging, the characters are fun, pacing mostly feels fine, etc. But IMHO, yeah, weak on the mystery front, and the big build up leads to a very short fight that seems like only a little payoff. Maybe a second, unexpected battle, like what Weber and Ringo did in “March to the Stars,” with the solving of the mystery in between?

  4. The basic fact of a mystery story is that there are two plots: the 9ne that you show the reader and the real one. (Okay, this excludes Dr. Thorndyke and Colombo.) What you do with the difference? Orthodox or unorthodox. For the latter, see Ellery Queen, =The Door Between=; John Dickson Carr, =The Burning Court= and =The Case of the Constant Suicides=. There are others.

  5. Nobody getting killed until Chapter Ten is probably not a good idea.

    Eh, debatable. I mean, if the book is twelve chapters long, then yeah, that probably won’t work. However, there’s a variety of opinions of just how long the start-to-corpse time should be. Agatha Christie, to name an obscure and uninfluential mystery writer, believed that a murder mystery was just as much the story of all the people and events that led up to the murder as it was the detective’s attempt to figure out whodoneit. Of all of Christie’s stories, I think Towards Zero is my favorite, the one where no one dies until the halfway mark, and the “real” murder isn’t scheduled to take place until the end.

  6. I suppose the other question is, do it have to be a mystery story, or does it work better as a different type of story with the mystery just being an instigator or the main plot?

    If it is supposed to be a mystery, I ran into an interesting thing that argued that in crime stories the real conflict between the detective and the criminal is about what people believe is true. Maybe looking at what the villain wants people to believe is true, and what they’re doing to convince people to believe it would help? I have not tried it myself, so I don’t know if it will work, but it might be a thought.

  7. Agatha Christie admitted that she would just write the story, with all kinds of suspicious people with various motives in it doing suspicious or nasty or emotional things, and then decide who was the least suspicious/most shocking murderer.

    And then she would go back and put in all the clues and misdirection as needed, and write the ending.

    So yup, it’s okay to rewrite… or rather, to plan for the clues to be inserted in the second draft.

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