Fulfilling the Promise
Last time we talked about making promises to the reader with our book cover and opening chapters. Now we must fulfill their expectations. Many mystery writers start their creative process by first conceiving the end of their story. That makes sense, a mystery writer needs to know who the murderer is and how did they do it. I also like to ask myself, how did they get away with it for so long? What went wrong for them, or how did they get caught? With any good mystery, the reader must believe that the villain would have gotten away with it if it wasn’t for the hero’s intervention.
A great mystery always has to have a terrific ending. The reader must close the book and say, “I see it now. The clues were all there, and I should have put them together.” Readers get frustrated when the killer is the bartender from chapter 2, and there were no clues laid out for them, so they had no chance of solving it. I get equally annoyed when the hero stumbles upon the truth as opposed to solving it.
So now we have our beginnings and our end; all that’s left is the middle. The remaining eighty percent is often the most challenging part to write. How does the hero go from point A to B? What additional obstacles must they overcome? How will you layout the clues so that no one clue is too obvious? How to bury them so that our hero has a realistic chance of uncovering them. The keyword there is realistic. We build up our heroes, and they must overcome many hardships but shouldn’t be superheroes. It isn’t reasonable when they get shot five times and then win a fistfight during their final battle. Nor should they solve a crime by a type of insect near the body unless your hero is an entomologist. In which case, they shouldn’t also speak five languages, have a blackbelt in martial arts, and pilot a helicopter. They can’t all be James Bond.
I would argue that writing the middle is the most enjoyable part of the writing process. We need to plot out a believable story, create characters that are more than just vehicles for the hero to progress and (most importantly) we have to entertain our reader. Be honest, have you ever started a good mystery, got bored in the middle and jumped to the end? A great book is entertaining from cover to cover. A writer has many tools at their disposal to be entertaining, but we’ll talk about them another day.