Author Topic: Murder Mystery Authors - How do you fool your audience?  (Read 2236 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.

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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.

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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 Rob Martin

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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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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.

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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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Offline Herefortheride

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Re: Murder Mystery Authors - How do you fool your audience?
« Reply #25 on: February 07, 2018, 07:58:29 AM »
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."

It's on my list! ;D
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Offline joyceharmon

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Re: Murder Mystery Authors - How do you fool your audience?
« Reply #26 on: February 07, 2018, 11:19:32 AM »
I'm more a reader than a writer of murder mysteries, and frankly, the puzzle is secondary. You can have the greatest and most baffling crime in the world, and the most unexpected twist ever - but if the sleuth and the sleuth's supporting cast of characters aren't interesting, the book isn't interesting and I might not even stick around to get to the unexpected twist. But with interesting characters in interesting situations, I'll reread a mystery even knowing the solution to the puzzle. A lot of cozy mysteries are pretty much chick lit with a murder, and readers buy the next book more because they want to know how the amateur sleuth bake shop owner is getting along with that hunky sheriff's deputy than because they're intrigued by the crime puzzle.


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Re: Murder Mystery Authors - How do you fool your audience?
« Reply #27 on: February 07, 2018, 11:49:29 AM »
Read a lot of mysteries, watch a lot of mysteries...decide what you like best about those stories.

I like to have several suspects. :) 

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Offline cecilia_writer

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Re: Murder Mystery Authors - How do you fool your audience?
« Reply #28 on: February 07, 2018, 12:52:04 PM »
I have to have a Wow moment myself before I can give the reader this. What I do is to write somewhere between 80% and (in one case) 95% of the novel thinking that one character is the murderer and then realise that it was really a different one.
Having said that, I have a long-running so-called mystery series and the most usual comments made by my regular readers are along the lines of 'I laughed all the way through' and 'Great to see what the gang did next' so they obviously aren't too bothered about the puzzle element anyway.

Offline BGArcher

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Re: Murder Mystery Authors - How do you fool your audience?
« Reply #29 on: February 07, 2018, 12:57:34 PM »
A lot of great ideas in this thread. I love reading murder mysteries, and my main pen (this name,) are all thriller/murder mysteries/Cozy's. I break it down into three categories.

1. Thriller/mystery. You may know who the killer is, but that just makes the reader more invested, because the story is more about the journey of the protagonist. I have a main series of books that has a serial killer loose for multiple books, always hunting, and the main characters are solving other murders while the continue to hunt the main big bad (think the Mentalist and Silence of the Lambs meets Harry Potter style year at a time mysteries, but you know, with no magic) I have a book in the pipeline that you don't actually find out who the original killer was by the end of the book, since it doesn't matter. (a lot more people die along the way as our hero investigates the crime, and solving those becomes more important, but in the following book the killer is revealed).

2.) Mystery. I'll give hints about who it could be, but I won't give the crucial piece until the end when the protagonist figures it out, and (the reader either figures it out at the same time or a page or two before).

3.) Cozy/Mystery. I'll make it obvious who the killer is, or who it could be out of say 5 people, but then it's more the game of catching that person. This is more the category of caring way more about the characters than just the mystery. This works especially well with Cozy's I think, or having it be clearly one of two people until the end.

Offline ShayneRutherford

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Re: Murder Mystery Authors - How do you fool your audience?
« Reply #30 on: February 07, 2018, 02:12:42 PM »
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.

The thing with Saw, for me at least, is that I've always felt the entire movie was engineered around that twist at the end. Like, Leigh Whannell was sitting there one day and thought, 'wouldn't it be cool if there were two guys stuck in a room being tortured by some unknown evil dude, and that dude was actually [fill in the spoiler]'. But I don't think all twists would work as well as that one did.

For my money, I think it's harder and harder to come up with a twist that a) hasn't been seen before, and b) isn't so ridiculously over the top that it ruins the reader's willing suspension of disbelief.
     

Online Lorri Moulton

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Re: Murder Mystery Authors - How do you fool your audience?
« Reply #31 on: February 07, 2018, 02:19:52 PM »
A lot of great ideas in this thread. I love reading murder mysteries, and my main pen (this name,) are all thriller/murder mysteries/Cozy's. I break it down into three categories.

1. Thriller/mystery. You may know who the killer is, but that just makes the reader more invested, because the story is more about the journey of the protagonist. I have a main series of books that has a serial killer loose for multiple books, always hunting, and the main characters are solving other murders while the continue to hunt the main big bad (think the Mentalist and Silence of the Lambs meets Harry Potter style year at a time mysteries, but you know, with no magic) I have a book in the pipeline that you don't actually find out who the original killer was by the end of the book, since it doesn't matter. (a lot more people die along the way as our hero investigates the crime, and solving those becomes more important, but in the following book the killer is revealed).

2.) Mystery. I'll give hints about who it could be, but I won't give the crucial piece until the end when the protagonist figures it out, and (the reader either figures it out at the same time or a page or two before).

3.) Cozy/Mystery. I'll make it obvious who the killer is, or who it could be out of say 5 people, but then it's more the game of catching that person. This is more the category of caring way more about the characters than just the mystery. This works especially well with Cozy's I think, or having it be clearly one of two people until the end.

I agree.  I've written a murder mystery and I'm working on a thriller/mystery for the sequel.  Later this year, I hope to start a cozy series.  What's your favorite...or do you have one? :)

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Offline Decon

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Re: Murder Mystery Authors - How do you fool your audience?
« Reply #32 on: February 07, 2018, 03:23:53 PM »
That is serviceable, but how do you fool readers? How do you get the WOW moment? (and again, and again)

You have a list of suspects that you can work out the odds of someone getting it right. It could be any one of them, so not all will guess who it is. Only the ones who don't guess it right will think "Wow... didn't see that coming" One thing you don't do is to fool your audience. The clues have to be there, together with any plausible misdirection and red herrings.
« Last Edit: February 07, 2018, 03:27:18 PM by Decon »


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Offline Vishal Reddy

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Re: Murder Mystery Authors - How do you fool your audience?
« Reply #33 on: February 07, 2018, 03:31:01 PM »
I give each suspect a clear and believable motive for wanting the victim dead. Then I toss in red herrings along the way to sow further doubt before revealing the twist.

The two books in my series have a unique concept: each chapter alternating between (and counting down) the first 48 hours of a murder investigation and the last 48 hours of the victim's life. This way, clues presented in one chapter on the detectives' side is referenced or given importance by something that happens on the victim's side, or vice versa. I think it's worked out well so far. :)


Offline Maia Sepp

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Re: Murder Mystery Authors - How do you fool your audience?
« Reply #34 on: February 07, 2018, 04:01:24 PM »
But maybe his love for messenger pigeons leads to his undoing.

Ha!!

Offline David Chill

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Re: Murder Mystery Authors - How do you fool your audience?
« Reply #35 on: February 07, 2018, 04:14:34 PM »
Having written 10 mystery novels I'll weigh in here. The best mysteries IMHO are ones where, at the end of the story, the reader goes "Of course! Why didn't think of that!" Simple to put out there, very hard to pull off well.

Mystery readers read this genre for the enjoyment of the story -- but also to try and figure out the puzzle the writer has created for them. A mystery that's not solved with a believable ending will leave the reader disappointed (e.g. -- coming up with a culprit that not even the most astute reader could guess). 

It's a reason mysteries often require a lot of detailed plotting before typing a single word -- or the author has a willingness to go back and do a lot of re-writing. You see more plotters than pantsers in the mystery genre.



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Offline ShaneJeffery

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Re: Murder Mystery Authors - How do you fool your audience?
« Reply #36 on: February 07, 2018, 04:23:05 PM »
The thing with Saw, for me at least, is that I've always felt the entire movie was engineered around that twist at the end. Like, Leigh Whannell was sitting there one day and thought, 'wouldn't it be cool if there were two guys stuck in a room being tortured by some unknown evil dude, and that dude was actually [fill in the spoiler]'. But I don't think all twists would work as well as that one did.

For my money, I think it's harder and harder to come up with a twist that a) hasn't been seen before, and b) isn't so ridiculously over the top that it ruins the reader's willing suspension of disbelief.

Actually if you watch the short film Saw (2003) then you can see he actually came up with the lady wearing the trap device on her head first, so the twist came later.

Definitely believe it is harder to come up with new twists, but also believe it's a job worth doing ;)

Offline ShaneJeffery

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Re: Murder Mystery Authors - How do you fool your audience?
« Reply #37 on: February 07, 2018, 04:27:37 PM »
Having written 10 mystery novels I'll weigh in here. The best mysteries IMHO are ones where, at the end of the story, the reader goes "Of course! Why didn't think of that!" Simple to put out there, very hard to pull off well.

Mystery readers read this genre for the enjoyment of the story -- but also to try and figure out the puzzle the writer has created for them. A mystery that's not solved with a believable ending will leave the reader disappointed (e.g. -- coming up with a culprit that not even the most astute reader could guess). 

It's a reason mysteries often require a lot of detailed plotting before typing a single word -- or the author has a willingness to go back and do a lot of re-writing. You see more plotters than pantsers in the mystery genre.


Sage advice.

I've been a pantser for the last 10 years, but now that I'm tackling this genre, I've soon realized everything now needs to be plotted out. I've tried writing mysteries without knowing who the killer is before I start writing them and it worked a couple of times, but then there were others where I was up to the final scene and had virtually made it impossible for each suspect to be the murderer. Doh!

Offline RightHoJeeves

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Re: Murder Mystery Authors - How do you fool your audience?
« Reply #38 on: February 07, 2018, 06:34:05 PM »
I'm just about to start my first crime novel (I'll also be outlining in detail, mainly because it's a far smaller world than I'm used to and I can't necessarily solve problems through a flight of fancy).

I think whatever makes a twist go "wow" isn't how "original" it is (like, say, ghosts did it), but it plays off against what you know about the character who did the crime. It's not shocking because he was the butler, it's shocking because the reader has been lead to believe that the butler was devoted to the Duke, and there was no way he'd ever harm him. But because of XYZ reason, he does.

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Offline BGArcher

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Re: Murder Mystery Authors - How do you fool your audience?
« Reply #39 on: February 07, 2018, 06:55:45 PM »
I agree.  I've written a murder mystery and I'm working on a thriller/mystery for the sequel.  Later this year, I hope to start a cozy series.  What's your favorite...or do you have one? :)

I like/love writing all three. Cozy's are shorter, but I do love my main series and watching my main characters grow each book. (First one the main character is a freshman in college, and then get's older each book). I like having my hand in a lot of different baskets I guess  :)

Offline amy_wokz

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Re: Murder Mystery Authors - How do you fool your audience?
« Reply #40 on: February 07, 2018, 08:22:15 PM »
Here are two writers whose work you may wish to study. I copied this from Wiki:

"O. Henry's stories frequently have surprise endings. In his day he was called the American answer to Guy de Maupassant. While both authors wrote plot twist endings, O. Henrys stories were considerably more playful, and are also known for their witty narration."

Plus, there may be studies of how they did what they did (i.e. twist endings).
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Offline JRTomlin

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Re: Murder Mystery Authors - How do you fool your audience?
« Reply #41 on: February 07, 2018, 08:27:16 PM »
I try to have a number of suspects and just generally a lot of details so the important ones get lost in the shuffle.

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Offline Keith Ward

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Re: Murder Mystery Authors - How do you fool your audience?
« Reply #42 on: February 07, 2018, 08:40:59 PM »
Could have been her two dead boyfriends who were also the narrators who had alibis.  :D

Offline kw3000

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Re: Murder Mystery Authors - How do you fool your audience?
« Reply #43 on: February 07, 2018, 10:54:49 PM »
Quote
"Every great magic trick consists of three parts or acts. The magician shows you something ordinary: a deck of cards, a bird or a man. He shows you this object. Perhaps he asks you to inspect it to see if it is indeed real, unaltered, normal. But of course... it probably isn't.

The magician takes the ordinary something and makes it do something extraordinary. Now you're looking for the secret... but you won't find it, because of course you're not really looking. You don't really want to know. You want to be fooled."

 ;)

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Re: Murder Mystery Authors - How do you fool your audience?
« Reply #44 on: February 08, 2018, 08:44:35 AM »
It's a reason mysteries often require a lot of detailed plotting before typing a single word -- or the author has a willingness to go back and do a lot of re-writing. You see more plotters than pantsers in the mystery genre.

Yes. I'm a pantser to my core, but I've written an outline for my first bash at a murder mystery.
   

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Offline juliatheswede

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Re: Murder Mystery Authors - How do you fool your audience?
« Reply #45 on: February 08, 2018, 12:27:55 PM »
I fool my audience by making the solution super complicated to figure out. Seems I'm getting better at it, based on customer reviews. I have never understood how one can sit down and plot out a great twist right from scratch, but I guess it's possible, just not for me. I'm a pantser with direction. I have a general idea who the murderer/bad guy is from the beginning when I write a new mystery/thriller, and of course the premise of the story. I almost always come up with a far more interesting solution to the mystery by the time I'm getting to the middle of the story, though. Basically, I have to write myself into a corner before that happens (coming up with a better twist). I can't see how this is possible without having written a lot of the story already, as my brain uses this new information to figure out a better twist. Adding lots of details is crucial. My approach requires very minor rewrites, but can be very painful and give you headaches, at least me.
« Last Edit: February 08, 2018, 12:30:03 PM by juliatheswede »

Offline cecilia_writer

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Re: Murder Mystery Authors - How do you fool your audience?
« Reply #46 on: February 08, 2018, 01:12:05 PM »
Julia, this more or less how I work too  - somehow the tighter the corner, the better the plot! I think it's something to do with putting yourself under pressure and having to activate some secret part of your brain.

Offline juliatheswede

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Re: Murder Mystery Authors - How do you fool your audience?
« Reply #47 on: February 08, 2018, 02:26:19 PM »
Julia, this more or less how I work too  - somehow the tighter the corner, the better the plot! I think it's something to do with putting yourself under pressure and having to activate some secret part of your brain.
Yes, definitely. Something in your brain eventually sees ways to connect the dots of the story that it couldn't have done had you not written it in the first place. It's strange and frustrating, but typically delivers great twists in the end.

Offline jdcore

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Re: Murder Mystery Authors - How do you fool your audience?
« Reply #48 on: February 09, 2018, 08:10:43 AM »
I haven't read all of the responses, so some of this may have been covered.

There are other ways to "fool" the reader aside from whodunnit. There's why and how. There's also how is the protag going to figure it out.

By leaving the motive as a mystery, it becomes harder to determine which suspect is the killer. Similarly, if it's difficult to determine how a poison was administered, or how any of the suspects could have faked their alibi and been there to administer the fatal blow, then who did it can also be tricky. And even if the detective is certain who the culprit is, but there seems to be no evidence and no chance of a confession, then it can be satisfying to see the hero set a clever trap.

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Re: Murder Mystery Authors - How do you fool your audience?
« Reply #49 on: February 09, 2018, 10:00:02 AM »
(Snip)  By leaving the motive as a mystery, it becomes harder to determine which suspect is the killer.

I agree.

Sometimes, there are multiple motives for murder.  Other times, the reason is not so clear. 

I think this works especially well with more than one victim.  Why were these people targeted?  Is it personal?  Or wrong place/wrong time?  And is there a connection between them...or is there really only one target and the others were killed to make it appear random? 

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Offline she-la-ti-da

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Re: Murder Mystery Authors - How do you fool your audience?
« Reply #50 on: February 09, 2018, 03:18:53 PM »
I watch enough Discovery ID I should be able to write a great murder mystery. But I'm always, "Why, people. Why? Just get a dang divorce!". :D
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