Mystery readers are puzzle solvers. They love trying to spot the clues and the red herrings in well-crafted stories with engaging settings, populated by intriguing characters.
Our job as the writer is to assemble all the necessary parts of a whodunit so the reader keeps turning the pages. That means giving away information so that the trail of clues can be followed, throwing in some misdirection to make it challenging, and compelling the reader to try and solve the crime.
Authors need to play fair. We can’t alienate our readers by sending them down too many paths that lead nowhere, or withholding vital information so we can surprise them at the end of the book with the killer’s identity. More than likely, it will be the last one of our books that reader buys—after she tells all her friends how angry we’d made her.
Here are some things sure to annoy your readers:
If you’ve seen an amateur sleuth on a TV movie who is confronted by the killer but won’t call for help and if you’ve been annoyed by it, chances are your reader would react the same way.
None of us wants our readers to put our book down thinking, “What an idiot.” So it’s important to keep your characters’ actions and re-actions real. If your character absolutely must act otherwise, be sure you give a compelling reason.
Relying on coincidence:
Of course, zillions of things happen simultaneously around the world. It’s a fact. But who said sticking to this kind of fact makes for good fiction?
Everything that happens in the fiction universe you create in your book must feel plausible to the reader. They’re willing to stretch to accommodate your plot, or sometimes even suspend belief for a while, but the truth is a reader can indulge a book’s coincidental plotting for only so long. After that, your reader is likely to put your book down and move on to another one.
If you’re relying on a coincidence to make your story work, you should probably go back and make revisions.
Being stingy with clues:
Mystery readers are smart. They love to solve the crime alongside the sleuth, which means the author absolutely must reveal information to the reader at the same time the sleuth discovers it.
Don’t hold back a crucial clue with the intention of springing it on the readers at a grand reveal in the last chapter. They’ll feel cheated—and more than likely, they’ll also feel disinclined to buy your next book.
Don’t make these mistakes in your mysteries. Readers have high standards. It’s our job as writers to live up to them. We must do the right thing if we want our readers to come back for more.
TOTE BAGS AND TOE TAGS
Haley Randolph's new job at a major corporation suits her like classic Chanel—as long as no one finds out her only degree is from bartending school.
On Haley's first day on the job, she finds the chief of security—who was performing Haley's background check—murdered in her office.
When the police peg Haley as their prime suspect, she shops around for the killer—and soon learns that some of the corporations’ employees have a lot to hide.
But that’s not the end of Haley’s problems. Boyfriend Ty Cameron has moved in, the family housekeeper has gone missing, Haley is being stalked by a shadowy figure in a yellow VW, and she needs hot private detective Jack Bishop’s expertise to solve the murder—but at what cost?
Haley must find a killer co-worker—and the totally awesome Temptress tote—before she becomes the season’s hottest victim.
Dorothy Howell currently writes for two major New York publishing houses, in two genres, under two names. She’s sold 30 novels. Her books have been translated into a dozen languages, with sales approaching 4 million copies worldwide.
Dorothy writes the hilarious Haley Randolph mystery series. Her current release is TOTE BAGS AND TOE TAGS, available in hardcover from Kensington Books.
She also writes historical romance novels for Harlequin Silhouette under the pen name Judith Stacy. Her next release is a novella in ALL A COWBOY WANTS FOR CHRISTMAS, coming in September.
Dorothy is a member of the Mystery Writers of America, Sisters in Crime, and Romance Writers of America.
Visit her Web sites at www.DorothyHowellNovels.com and www.JudithStacy.com.
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Visit her Happy You, Happy Life Blog http://www.dorothyhowell.blogspot.com/