DISSECTING THE WELL WRITTEN MYSTERY

A few days ago I was attempting  to  add a little juice to a story I was writing, and plagued by an overwhelming lack of direction. Instead of calling it writer’s block, I usually say my word bank is temporarily inaccessible due to inclement weather, and the weather here in Santa Fe has been off the charts. We’re either bundled up like an Eskimo or walking around in a light jacket. Apparently it was also affecting my mood. So I did the next best thing and drove downtown to Collected Works, my favorite book store. I browsed for a while in the mystery section, and picked up a book that looked interesting. I took it home and plumped up the pillows on my bed, grabbed a hot cup of green tea, and proceeded to spend the rest of the day chillin’. It was a good read, and I finished it off the next morning. The writer made me sit up and take notice of her particular way of presenting a story, and since I’m always sliding around the learning curve, I managed to absorb a few things. Here’s how the plot was laid out:

In the introduction you start to believe the wife is first missing and then dead.
From the way the husband reacts, you think he killed her.

Then the pedophile down the street is introduced – you start thinking he’s probably the murderer. How could he not be, he lives just a few houses away.

The detectives interview the couple’s four year old and she technically implicates the father by repeating what she heard in the hallway right before her mother went missing.

We find out that the missing woman is a teacher and she’s been spending a lot of time with one of her students,  a computer whiz, learning about how she can break into her husband’s laptop, suspecting he might be visiting porn sites. The kid is only thirteen, but you start to wonder if there’s a possibility that he might be responsible for her disappearance, since once in a while you see a news story where a twelve year-old killed off his entire family.

Then we meet the computer kid’s uncle, who is much better at helping her crack into her husband’s computer because he works for the cops and that’s what he does for a living. So we get the idea she’s starting to fall for him while the computer kid looks on. Perhaps he’s a little jealous of his uncle?

About the time the author has convinced us we’re on the right track to solving this mystery, the missing woman’s father finagles his way into the story. He wants custody of the little girl, a child he never even knew existed until he read about his missing daughter in the newspapers.

So it continues to appear as though the husband isn’t quite telling the truth, so the cops  interview the child a second time. The grandfather obtains a court order to see his granddaughter, and while the husband is processing this in his beleaguered mind, the old man shows up inside their house and tries to kill the husband.

Now the story starts moving forward at a rapid pace. The missing wife shows up in the house just in time to shoot her father while he’s trying to do away with her husband. They have a sit-down and she tells him the whole story – in a nutshell she was afraid of the computer kid’s uncle’s reaction when she tried to break their affair off so decided to run off to keep him from harming her husband and child.

But we’re not finished. The computer uncle is killed by a bomb in his car at the same time the grandfather is trying to kill the father, and bomb components are found in the grandfathers hotel room tying him to that crime. The husband then discovers that years ago the old guy had killed his wife in front of the daughter, and then continued to molest her. He divulges his own childhood secrets to her.

So the detectives close the file, the couple is back together, they’re having another baby, and we find out later the wife set up her father by putting the bomb stuff in his room after she killed the computer uncle. And everyone lives happily ever after.

I won’t divulge the author or the title of the book, but clearly I can see why this writer is always on the best-selling lists. The story moves along at a rapid pace and there are so many red herrings that the book starts to smell like a fish hatchery, but it keeps you turning the pages. I have spoken to several mystery writers in the past, and I’m amazed at how differently everyone approaches their writing. One fellow surely has A.D.D. as he indicates that before he even sits down at the computer, he already has the entire story in his mind so he just starts writing. That’s a skill I’d sure like to have in my box of tricks. Another writes down his story line on 3×5 cards and then begins to expand from there. Yet another author creates an entire story board on a large piece of newsprint, breaking out the entire story like a cartoon before sitting down to write. Other writers fill in character and story line sheets, so they don’t repeat the same incident in the next book and they always know what their characters have done in the past. The character sheets contain the name of the character, along with their physical description, where they work, what they do, and how that character has been developed in previous stories.

In my own writing, as a novice mystery writer, I tend to create a skeleton sketch of a story in a notebook which might just be one idea, and then sit down at my desktop. I usually start with a prologue and a first chapter if there’s something that will start the action moving forward. But the rest is a crap shoot. Sometimes I’ll write the last chapter and then go back and fill in the story as I go along. Once in a while it does seem like rocket science.

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