Author Topic: Murder Mystery Authors - How do you fool your audience?  (Read 1883 times)  

Offline ShaneJeffery

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Murder Mystery Authors - How do you fool your audience?
« on: February 07, 2018, 01:04:07 AM »
If you write murder mysteries and attempt twist endings, how do you pull it off on a consistent basis? It's all been done before in a way, right?

- It was her boyfriend
- It was the main suspect who had an 100 percent proof alibi
- It was the dead guy
- It was the person you thought the murderer was trying to kill
- It was two people
- It was two people who were supposed to be enemies
- It was the narrator
- It was the Detective's friend
- It was just some random character
- It was everyone
- It was the victim who plotted their own death

I've got a few tricks up my sleeve but I have no idea how I'm going to come up with new twists for the next 30 years or whatever. I want this to be a long term thing.

If you've been around the block in this genre or are fairly new, give us your perspective :)

Offline Herefortheride

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Re: Murder Mystery Authors - How do you fool your audience?
« Reply #1 on: February 07, 2018, 01:15:26 AM »
If you write murder mysteries and attempt twist endings, how do you pull it off on a consistent basis? It's all been done before in a way, right?

- It was her boyfriend
- It was the main suspect who had an 100 percent proof alibi
- It was the dead guy
- It was the person you thought the murderer was trying to kill
- It was two people
- It was two people who were supposed to be enemies
- It was the narrator
- It was the Detective's friend
- It was just some random character
- It was everyone
- It was the victim who plotted their own death

I've got a few tricks up my sleeve but I have no idea how I'm going to come up with new twists for the next 30 years or whatever. I want this to be a long term thing.

If you've been around the block in this genre or are fairly new, give us your perspective :)

I'm halfway through my first murder mystery and my killer is someone with a connection and clues that you can look back on. We don't know who it is until the investigator stumbles upon the crucial connection but I'm trying to write it in a way that when you look back you can feel the clues were there.
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Offline ShaneJeffery

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Re: Murder Mystery Authors - How do you fool your audience?
« Reply #2 on: February 07, 2018, 01:27:47 AM »
I'm halfway through my first murder mystery and my killer is someone with a connection and clues that you can look back on. We don't know who it is until the investigator stumbles upon the crucial connection but I'm trying to write it in a way that when you look back you can feel the clues were there.

Sounds like you're on the right path! The thing is it will perhaps work for one book, but what will you do once readers figure out your system? These are the things I'm contemplating.

Offline Lydniz

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Re: Murder Mystery Authors - How do you fool your audience?
« Reply #3 on: February 07, 2018, 01:37:09 AM »
I'm not very good at this even though I write murder mystery myself. However, I'm finding with practice that the more quietly you can drop the clues the better. A good way to do this is to drop your real clue together with a big red herring clue. For example, you can have a scene where the detective interviews a witness who says something like "I was coming out of the gym the other day when I saw [obvious suspect you've been pointing major clues at] leaving the building clutching a knife dripping with blood." So the reader's attention is drawn to the obvious suspect and the dripping knife, when actually it's the fact that the witness was coming out of the gym that's the real clue, because earlier on you've mentioned in passing that the witness hates exercise and wouldn't go near a gym, so what was he doing there at the time of the murder? Clearly you'd do it less blatantly than that, but that's one technique.

Offline ShaneJeffery

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Re: Murder Mystery Authors - How do you fool your audience?
« Reply #4 on: February 07, 2018, 02:17:12 AM »
I'm not very good at this even though I write murder mystery myself. However, I'm finding with practice that the more quietly you can drop the clues the better. A good way to do this is to drop your real clue together with a big red herring clue. For example, you can have a scene where the detective interviews a witness who says something like "I was coming out of the gym the other day when I saw [obvious suspect you've been pointing major clues at] leaving the building clutching a knife dripping with blood." So the reader's attention is drawn to the obvious suspect and the dripping knife, when actually it's the fact that the witness was coming out of the gym that's the real clue, because earlier on you've mentioned in passing that the witness hates exercise and wouldn't go near a gym, so what was he doing there at the time of the murder? Clearly you'd do it less blatantly than that, but that's one technique.

This is excellent advice. I was actually watching this video the other day that was all about this. I'll link it, it has the same message I think.

<a href="http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=D_Y0NFHNhgg" target="_blank">http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=D_Y0NFHNhgg</a>

Offline Herefortheride

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Re: Murder Mystery Authors - How do you fool your audience?
« Reply #5 on: February 07, 2018, 02:23:02 AM »
Sounds like you're on the right path! The thing is it will perhaps work for one book, but what will you do once readers figure out your system? These are the things I'm contemplating.

I think most mystery readers expect the main suspects to never be the suspect. The art is in writing the story in a way where the reader is living through the detective. The detective is thinking about the main suspects. you will naturally follow with them.

Also, I don't think a mystery has to have a crazy twist or be a complete surprise. I've enjoyed many mysteries where I knew who the killer was really easily but still wanted to see the detective get out of danger and bring the investigation full circle.

I'm not looking for shock value. If the reader is surprised that's even better but the plot, characters, and themes need to be strong enough to support a story on their own. (I think)
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Offline SND

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Re: Murder Mystery Authors - How do you fool your audience?
« Reply #6 on: February 07, 2018, 02:39:19 AM »
A mystery is essentially two novels. First, the novel we read and experience. But beneath that that is the secondary or 'off-screen' novel where all the happenings and events which inform the primary novel take place. The secret, if you can call it that, is to write that secondary 'off-screen' novel first and have it stand as a viable and compelling story in it's own right (it doesn't need to be literally written in full, but fleshed out to the point of 'fullness').

Offline ShaneJeffery

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Re: Murder Mystery Authors - How do you fool your audience?
« Reply #7 on: February 07, 2018, 02:42:02 AM »
I think most mystery readers expect the main suspects to never be the suspect. The art is in writing the story in a way where the reader is living through the detective. The detective is thinking about the main suspects. you will naturally follow with them.

Also, I don't think a mystery has to have a crazy twist or be a complete surprise. I've enjoyed many mysteries where I knew who the killer was really easily but still wanted to see the detective get out of danger and bring the investigation full circle.

I'm not looking for shock value. If the reader is surprised that's even better but the plot, characters, and themes need to be strong enough to support a story on their own. (I think)

I agree with you, it doesn't have to have a 'twist'.

Stories where this worked have included: Se7en, Silence of the Lambs, Darkly Dreaming Dexter.

However, I'm a big fan of Agatha Chrisitie and want to bring some of her tactics to the serial killer genre. Not her EXACT tactics of course, I just want twist endings that actually work.

Although the sequels are inconceivable garbage, the original SAW film is probably the exact story I'm shooting for via books. Obviously I won't be there with every book, but I would definitely love to be able to churn out books that resonate with people the same way that film resonates with me.

Offline The Bass Bagwhan

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Re: Murder Mystery Authors - How do you fool your audience?
« Reply #8 on: February 07, 2018, 02:42:52 AM »
I don't think a lot of murder mysteries these days are written with the intention that a reader might solve the puzzle before the last page. It's all about the main character having some kind of incredibly complex, difficult life filled with tortured angst and ... by the way... they have to solve a murder.
But for the record, writing such mysteries, I create a crime and a killer, and a motive, then work backwards with my plotting. Figure out a complicated motive and opportunity, then plot a story that makes it feasible.
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Offline ShaneJeffery

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Re: Murder Mystery Authors - How do you fool your audience?
« Reply #9 on: February 07, 2018, 02:44:20 AM »
I don't think a lot of murder mysteries these days are written with the intention that a reader might solve the puzzle before the last page. It's all about the main character having some kind of incredibly complex, difficult life filled with tortured angst and ... by the way... they have to solve a murder.
But for the record, writing such mysteries, I create a crime and a killer, and a motive, then work backwards with my plotting. Figure out a complicated motive and opportunity, then plot a story that makes it feasible.

That is serviceable, but how do you fool readers? How do you get the WOW moment? (and again, and again)

Offline Paul Huxley

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Re: Murder Mystery Authors - How do you fool your audience?
« Reply #10 on: February 07, 2018, 02:46:40 AM »
You need to have at least two highly plausible solutions to the mystery and focus on the one that isn't the real one. Let the reader believe that they've second guessed you only to reveal that it was the alternative all along. I find that having double twist helps, like revealing the killer and concluding the story only to find out that some secondary character was also involved and poses one final threat. The skill of mystery writing lies with the red herrings.

And remember there are no original twists, only the way that they are delivered changes.

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Offline Herefortheride

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Re: Murder Mystery Authors - How do you fool your audience?
« Reply #11 on: February 07, 2018, 02:53:14 AM »
That is serviceable, but how do you fool readers? How do you get the WOW moment? (and again, and again)

I would think the wow moment isn't all that difficult because you are creating the outline before hand on what "actually happened". But the MC is operating with an information deficit. You clip out a couple of links from the killer to the victim and then let the MC find the connection in a cool way.

It seems Wow because you've been reading along all the way and you finally get to see the connection (in an interesting way).

Not to give away too much (and perhaps mine will suck) but I have clues like the character was referred to by someone as little raven and then much later on there is a black-bird carving on a store front, the murder was done in a room that you have to pass through a hall where the family dogs sleep the Steward mentions he hates going down the hall because the dogs bark like crazy unless the kids are around, and a couple of other clues that add up to a childhood friend of the victim who we meet pretty early on.

I'll be having it beta read to see if others think it holds up well. But it's fun to write! 
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Offline RobMartin

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Re: Murder Mystery Authors - How do you fool your audience?
« Reply #12 on: February 07, 2018, 02:59:26 AM »
I've always had a soft spot for murder mysteries where the reader knows who the killer is on page one. The tension that gets built is a killer if done right. Granted, I don't write murder mysteries, but it's an idea.

Offline ShaneJeffery

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Re: Murder Mystery Authors - How do you fool your audience?
« Reply #13 on: February 07, 2018, 03:01:34 AM »
You need to have at least two highly plausible solutions to the mystery and focus on the one that isn't the real one. Let the reader believe that they've second guessed you only to reveal that it was the alternative all along. I find that having double twist helps, like revealing the killer and concluding the story only to find out that some secondary character was also involved and poses one final threat. The skill of mystery writing lies with the red herrings.

And remember there are no original twists, only the way that they are delivered changes.

I like this. Really good advice.

Though I would dispute there are NO original twists (only rehashes). I just it is really, really hard to think of something original.

Offline ShaneJeffery

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Re: Murder Mystery Authors - How do you fool your audience?
« Reply #14 on: February 07, 2018, 03:05:29 AM »
I would think the wow moment isn't all that difficult because you are creating the outline before hand on what "actually happened". But the MC is operating with an information deficit. You clip out a couple of links from the killer to the victim and then let the MC find the connection in a cool way.

It seems Wow because you've been reading along all the way and you finally get to see the connection (in an interesting way).

Not to give away too much (and perhaps mine will suck) but I have clues like the character was referred to by someone as little raven and then much later on there is a black-bird carving on a store front, the murder was done in a room that you have to pass through a hall where the family dogs sleep the Steward mentions he hates going down the hall because the dogs bark like crazy unless the kids are around, and a couple of other clues that add up to a childhood friend of the victim who we meet pretty early on.

I'll be having it beta read to see if others think it holds up well. But it's fun to write! 

I think the difficulty in finding a good twist starts at the outlining stage, of course. Your tactics to elude the reader may work in individual books, but I suspect the surprise isn't that jaw dropping - really- and can't be replicated without decreasing the surprise. Just my thinking

Offline ShaneJeffery

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Re: Murder Mystery Authors - How do you fool your audience?
« Reply #15 on: February 07, 2018, 03:07:05 AM »
I've always had a soft spot for murder mysteries where the reader knows who the killer is on page one. The tension that gets built is a killer if done right. Granted, I don't write murder mysteries, but it's an idea.

To be honest, as effective as that might be, you can still do that with a story that has a twist only the alternative story has what you have, plus the twist. I'm a reader / movie-goer who loves twists.

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Re: Murder Mystery Authors - How do you fool your audience?
« Reply #16 on: February 07, 2018, 03:14:45 AM »
As a reader of murder mysteries, I don't mind at all whether I spot the killer or not. If I do - clever me! If I don't - clever author! I'm happy either way. The only exception is if the killer is one you couldn't possibly guess from the clues. I also get annoyed when the detective has his moment of revelation, but the reader doesn't get to find out for another two or three chapters. That's super-irritating.

As someone writing my very first murder mystery - yeah, it's hard.  :(
 

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Offline Lydniz

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Re: Murder Mystery Authors - How do you fool your audience?
« Reply #17 on: February 07, 2018, 03:23:10 AM »
I've found that a lot of readers don't mind at all if they guess the murderer, as long as they're enjoying the story enough. They like to pursue it to the end to check they were right. To be perfectly honest, I think most twists and surprise endings have been done now, so you have to be a particularly devious and clever writer these days to really fool the reader, because let's face it, we've read it all before. Since I can't fool anyone to save my life I concentrate on making the journey as pleasant as possible, and it seems to work.

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Re: Murder Mystery Authors - How do you fool your audience?
« Reply #18 on: February 07, 2018, 03:26:00 AM »
I write science fiction and fantasy mysteries, sometimes involving murder or some other crime.

I make sure the story has a number of plot threads. One is straight down the line about resolving the crime, but others could be about many things: the MC's personal life, a secondary job, a political situation, some issue about the setting that impinges on the story, you name it.

The resolution to the crime very seldom gets delivered by the straight-down-the-line plot thread, yet it is the one that receives the most focus. Therefore the reader thinks the rest is just scenery until: voila! There is the main clue.

You have to remember about criminals that they almost always get caught when they make a mistake. A smart criminal (like the ones we love writing about) seldom makes a mistake in the main crime setting. But maybe his love for messenger pigeons leads to his undoing.

Offline Lydniz

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Re: Murder Mystery Authors - How do you fool your audience?
« Reply #19 on: February 07, 2018, 03:27:14 AM »
But maybe his love for messenger pigeons leads to his undoing.

*adds idea to list*

Offline ShaneJeffery

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Re: Murder Mystery Authors - How do you fool your audience?
« Reply #20 on: February 07, 2018, 03:38:48 AM »
As a reader of murder mysteries, I don't mind at all whether I spot the killer or not. If I do - clever me! If I don't - clever author! I'm happy either way. The only exception is if the killer is one you couldn't possibly guess from the clues. I also get annoyed when the detective has his moment of revelation, but the reader doesn't get to find out for another two or three chapters. That's super-irritating.

As someone writing my very first murder mystery - yeah, it's hard.  :(

Yeah, I feel the author has to outsmart me if they're trying to. There are of course instances where they're not trying to, so it's not in the same category. In the instances that I guess correctly, the mystery gets judged about as much as if I had no idea and wasn't affected by the reveal. The special ones are the ones that you're trying to guess, but the author outsmarts you. I recently watched the adaptation of Christie's Crooked House and the film completely beat the hell out of me. Massive respect to that one.

Offline SueSeabury

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Re: Murder Mystery Authors - How do you fool your audience?
« Reply #21 on: February 07, 2018, 05:14:52 AM »
I'm working on a cozy mystery, which is a little easier (or so I tell myself), and the thing is to have multiple plausible suspects. As others have said, it's all been done before, so learn from the masters. Agatha Christie has tons of books. Lots of great stuff there for mining.


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Offline Paul Huxley

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Re: Murder Mystery Authors - How do you fool your audience?
« Reply #22 on: February 07, 2018, 05:27:12 AM »
I write science fiction and fantasy mysteries, sometimes involving murder or some other crime.

I make sure the story has a number of plot threads. One is straight down the line about resolving the crime, but others could be about many things: the MC's personal life, a secondary job, a political situation, some issue about the setting that impinges on the story, you name it.

The resolution to the crime very seldom gets delivered by the straight-down-the-line plot thread, yet it is the one that receives the most focus. Therefore the reader thinks the rest is just scenery until: voila! There is the main clue.

You have to remember about criminals that they almost always get caught when they make a mistake. A smart criminal (like the ones we love writing about) seldom makes a mistake in the main crime setting. But maybe his love for messenger pigeons leads to his undoing.

This is spot on too. It's always the sub-plots which don't seem to initially have anything to do with the main through-line that ultimately end up revealing the truth. Peter Straub does this brilliantly in 'Throat'. It also serves to give depth to the characters without detracting from the plot.

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Offline ShaneJeffery

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Re: Murder Mystery Authors - How do you fool your audience?
« Reply #23 on: February 07, 2018, 05:42:10 AM »
A lesson I've learned just recently, is that you shouldn't tell your readers that there's a twist at the end of your book. If your reader is willing to read your book not expecting a 'reveal', it is going to floor them that much harder when it actually happens.

Offline amy_wokz

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Re: Murder Mystery Authors - How do you fool your audience?
« Reply #24 on: February 07, 2018, 07:55:11 AM »
A mystery is essentially two novels. First, the novel we read and experience. But beneath that that is the secondary or 'off-screen' novel where all the happenings and events which inform the primary novel take place. The secret, if you can call it that, is to write that secondary 'off-screen' novel first and have it stand as a viable and compelling story in it's own right (it doesn't need to be literally written in full, but fleshed out to the point of 'fullness').

James N. Frey explains this well in his "How To Write A Damn Good Mystery," especially in the chapter called "The Plot Within the Plot."
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