Mystery Writing: The Importance of “Why”

Mystery Writing: The Importance of “Why”


I’ve started Killer Lies (tentative title), the next story in my romantic suspense series. I would like to say that I have this all plotted out and it’s a breeze to write. Ha! My plotting was leading me in circles, so I took the plunge and started to write.

The good news is that the story is moving and I’m feeling the characters. Yes, it’s important to feel the characters, but that’s another blog post.

Writing by the seat of my pants, is not my preferred method of writing. At the minimum, having some sign posts that tell me in which general direction I want to go helps keep me from driving off a cliff or taking a detour through swamps. So as I try to determine what those sign posts are, I’ve come to the conclusion that the “why” behind the story is the key.

Here, I am talking about the “why” at the macro level and at the micro level. What do I mean by that? At the heart of a mystery lies motive. Someone killed someone, stole from someone, kidnapped someone, or [insert crime] to someone for a reason. That agenda on the part of the criminal drives the mystery behind your story (the macro level). At the micro level, every character who walks on the page has an agenda that influences his or her actions.

It’s at the micro level where you can increase the confusion and puzzle pieces as characters initially lie to protect themselves, to protect another, because they are covering up a different crime, and so on. These lies send your detective in a various directions, throwing dust in the readers’ eyes until the detective is able to get at the truth. By working through the “why” of each character and its impact on the main mystery, we slowly strip away the layers to the final truth.

In other words, as secondary characters get their time on the page, understand their actions and reactions based on their motivation. To simply plop the on the page creates cardboard, two-dimensional characters with no substance to them. Avoid that by asking yourself some questions:

  • Why is this character in my story?
  • What does this character have at stake?
  • How does lying to the detective or misdirecting the detective work to this character’s advantage?
  • Does the character involve anyone else in this lie? How will that impact that additional person?
  • Will the character need to do anything to shore up this lie?
  • Will the character use this breathing room to get rid of evidence or contact an accomplice?
  • How does this lie fit in the context of the larger puzzle? Is it simply a distraction or is it a critical piece?
  • That is the task I have in front of me: determining the “why” behind my villain and all the various suspects in this romantic suspense. Wish me luck.

    **Illustration from Creative Commons Zero 1.0 License

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