Here is the first of five articles taken from my lecture series, "Subtle Writing Techniques Used in Creating a Successful Mystery Novel." This series is designed to explain the working methods of the mystery/suspense writer, offering insight and understanding into the technical process of writing.
Reading a good mystery novel is a lot like horseback riding. At times you’re cautiously slow walking; sometimes you’re head-bobbling-wobbling trotting; while other times you’re whooshing along on a take-your-breath-away gallop. This variety of pace is a key element that contributes to the thrill and excitement of the ride. Another is fear. (What if I fall off the damn horse?)
In keeping with this same image, mystery writing becomes somewhat like laying out a course for the rider. The author must include an array of terrains to make the ride interesting and somewhat challenging. There has to be grassy hills to climb and soft, sloping landscapes to descend. There must be twists and turns and tree laden paths as well as long, smooth straight-aways for blazing gallops.
To accomplish all this, writers use an assortment of subtle and not-so-subtle techniques that will enhance their story-telling and add the necessary oomph required for a successful mystery/suspense yarn. From the many subtle techniques available, I consider these five to be amongst the highest on the importance scale.
1) Characters Speak to the Reader: This is easy when the story is written in the first person, but what about novels written in the third person? Can a protagonist speak directly to the reader if the tale is narrated? You bet they can. How? By using what I call, peripheral speech.
In the same way as it’s possible for us to see objects within a 90 degree radius when staring straight ahead, so too can a character in a novel speak to the reader while speaking to other characters. Let me illustrate. In Dying For Deception, my protagonist, Detective William Gillette, heads up a task force assigned to thwart a serial killer who’s been murdering women with red hair. On page 23, he addresses a group of officers on his team who he’s meeting for the first time. Pay special attention to the technique I’ve just described.
“You don’t know me—not yet anyway— but I expect we’ll get to know each other pretty well while this investigation is going on. For starters, I’d like to let you in on a little secret and tell you a little something about myself. You see, I’m a persistent bastard when it comes to murderers. I won’t let this guy continue for very long. In fact, I’m prepared to do just about anything to bring him in. Anything! I will not rest, I will not compromise and I will not concede until our end has been accomplished.”
I hope, with this small illustration, you can get a sense of what I mean. Gillette is talking to his team, but he’s also revealing himself to you, the reader, so that you’ll want to follow him and help solve the crime. There are other examples of this technique employed in Dying For Deception. Why not try looking for them.