I often say that when writing, you should focus on your target demographic and give them what they want. Many mystery readers enjoy our books because they offer the escapism offered from a good book. Mystery novels are often described as puzzle solvers. It’s a race between the reader and the protagonist to solve the riddle. The clues and the misdirections are tools we use to engage our audience. But has mystery novels become too formulaic? But perhaps more importantly, would our audience abandon us if we broke from the formula?
There are only so many plot structures that every story can pull from. Cristopher Booker in his book: The Seven Basic Plots: Why We Tell Stories, says there are seven plot structures:
- Overcoming the monster
- Rags to riches
- The quest
- Voyage and return
Many mystery writers would say that our genre only utilizes two of those seven. Mysteries novels are quests. The protagonist is on a quest to uncover the truth. A thriller uses an overcoming the monster plot, as the lead and the antagonist are in a battle for survival.
There’s also an adage that there are only 3 possible motives for our villain to commit crime: love, money or power.
This doesn’t leave a new writer very much wiggle room to write something groundbreaking.
Murder in the Rue Morgue is considered by many as the first mystery story. It was published 180 years ago. Since then, there have been giants in our field, Agatha Christie, Sir Author Conan Doyle, P.D. James…the list can go on. Each brought their twists and turns to our cherished genre.
A modern mystery writer stands on their backs. We must grab the baton and run with it. Mystery literature will be stagnant if we aren’t willing to take a few chances. Suburban Noire and the unreliable narrators are new concepts and prevalent today. Gillian Flynn tried something new when she wrote Gone Girl. She took a calculated risk and pushed the genres forward. I highly encourage you to do the same.