Author Topic: Murder Mystery Authors - How do you fool your audience?  (Read 2116 times)  

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."

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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.

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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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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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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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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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