Building Suspense as a Mystery Writer or How to Carry Around a Bomb in your Lunch Pail

Crime Scene PhotoA cardinal rule for mystery novels is that the reader must know everything the sleuth knows and the reader and sleuth must realize who the culprit is at the same time. Cheat the readers and they will dig under the fence like a new puppy and never come back. Yet, telling all without telling too much, like a lot of things is easier said than done.

So, the author must continually juggle escalating tension while judiciously parceling out of a plethora of clues – all of them forming a bridge to the villain, but not doing so, until the last page when all the other nefarious suspects have been eliminated, maybe even literally.

As for this avalanche of evidence, is this yellow brick road of threads paved by clues hidden innocuously in a to-do list found at the scene, or on a movie ticket found in the victim’s pocket, or awash in an office aquarium filled with piranhas that have not been fed?

The phrase, pick your poison, could not be more apropos. Simply put, the possibilities for an author to include something that at first glance appears quite ordinary to Susie Sleuth, but which later blooms into a crucial piece of evidence, are as endless and as varied as fish under the sea and not formulaic in the least.

Also, how the murder is perpetrated, and the where can create tension for the reader and reveal clues about both the victim and the perpetrator. Perhaps the murder occurred in an ice plant where a hard icicle was driven into the victim’s brain through the eardrum and the weapon subsequently melted. Perhaps the body of the victim, a member of the jet set, polo crowd, was found splayed like a macabre double-jointed acrobat in a seedy alley strewn with skinny two and four-legged cats and smelling of foul living and gutters leading straight to Hell.

And perhaps most important to the reader is the reason why Susie Sleuth cares about solving a murder of someone she has never met. Maybe the victim was the town’s most hated citizen and one that few will miss, but Susie has a gut feeling (which never fails her) that the killing will not stop with this one bloodletting, that her new lover is next in line and that she (Susie) is the only one who can stop the carnage.

Happy Writing! Until Next Time.

R.R. Harris, author of Double Take, an Island Travel Mystery of Lively Romance and Deadly Betrayal and which is available for Free Kindle download on May 6-8, 2014.

Double Take, a mystery thriller set on the Big Island of Hawaii is loosely defined by a love triangle that devolves wickedly into a red-hot flow of despair, frustration and anger.

Double Take, a mystery thriller set on the Big Island of Hawaii is loosely defined by a love triangle that devolves wickedly into a red-hot flow of despair, frustration and anger.

 

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