Imagine this. You find a fantastic looking book, selling itself as a mystery. You read the blurb and it sounds like your kind of thing. You are twenty pages in and there is the dead body of the Duchess of Roths lying on the stairs and six suspects standing around it. The police burst through the doors and you think, ‘right, now this is going to get interesting’, and as you turn the page, the butler comes out from the shadows and says, ‘Sorry, it was me. I socked her with this hammer because I love her and my love is totally unrequited’.
As far as any plot line goes, this would just about suck for a mystery novel. It would just about suck for any novel. As writers we all know the beginning is easy. We start chapter one with all the gusto and enthusiasm of a freshly fuelled steam engine, all cogs racing and coals burning. But then we get to the first real challenge, the big middle chunk when it simply feels like hard work and where the coal pile looks to be running a bit low. We may not hit it at page twenty like in the sample above, but I know when I got to thirty thousand words of my last novel I certainly hit the point where I considered typing something like the above just so it would all be over. Through the wilderness of the middle, the scary no-man’s-land with no directions, no map, and sometime as a writer, no idea, it is easy to get lost. So how is it that we keep the suspense and the tension rolling?
There are certain tools that as writer we can utilise in order to keep up the pace and keep the reader engaged. The most important rule, which the writer of the above piece had clearly forgotten is to hold something back. Holding back the identity of the killer is obvious, but what about holding something of the other characters back as well? Keep their motives a secret, and make the reader curious about what comes next. Give them snippets of information that makes them suspect something about a character, but keep the real truth hidden. This can be delivered fantastically as back story, and is the most effective tool as a writer that you have to give explanations for characters' present day behaviour. This can also help you tocreate unanswered questions, but for the characters not just for the reader. Play those characters off against each other and let the reader in on the secrets, but keep the other characters in the dark. It can be devastating to let a character travel down an unsuspecting and incorrect path when as the reader you know from your elevated viewpoint that he is making a terrible mistake.
You also need to make the story mean something. If the character doesn’t care what happens why would he even get involved? Add in danger, but this doesn’t have to be end of the world apocalypse danger. Maybe the world won’t end, but his life, at least as he knows it should be in doubt. Make it believable. We have all seen the horror movie and all rolled our eyes when the blonde woman runs up the stairs instead of out of the door to safety whilst being chased by an axe wielding maniac. Make your characters real people with real brains. You do not want the reader to roll his eyes at your story or characters. Lastly, but by no means conclusively, make sure you write a kick ass plot. Make the story something that the readers cannot put down. Yes, prose is important. But could you really read two hundred pages of poetic prose about a person going to get the bus? No, I think is the answer.
If the author of ‘Murder in Roths’ had come up with some of these ideas, he could have written himself a pretty good who-done-it mystery novel. Only you can know what works for your plot line, and rules in writing are certainly not for me. However, if you keep some of these ideas in mind, you’ll have your readers drooling into page two hundred and fifty before you can say case solved.
Anyone who leaves a comment here will receive a free book token for my first book, The Loss of Deference.
About the Author:
Will Moreton and Daniel Fox have been best friends for almost their entire lives. Bound by a childhood secret, Will believes that he knows everything about his friend, until one winter's day when a devastating discovery leads him into a dark and terrifying conspiracy, where everybody has something to hide. The fight for survival has begun, but whom if anyone's life will be the same at the end. A journey of trust and betrayal, the reader is compelled to experience the limits of true friendship through a web of disturbing lies and truths.
The Loss of Deference is a gripping novel, where the writer carries the audience to an atmospheric climax, and where hope is found not only in the strongest of human bonds, but also the darkest corners of life.