Novelist and screenwriter Chuck Wendig covers a few things to keep in mind when writing a mystery.
A complete equation is 4 + 5 = 9. It’s simple. Clean. And it’s already resolved. Stories are not simple. They are not clean. And we most certainly don’t want to read stories that have already been resolved. We read stories that evolve and evade as we read them. Their uncertainty feels present — though we know the story will finish by its end, a good story lets us — or demands that we — forget that. A good story traps us in the moment and compels us by its incompleteness. The equation then becomes X + 5 = 9, and we are driven to solve for X. It is the X that haunts us. It is the emptiness of that variable we hope to fill.
This isn’t a list about murder mysteries. This is a list about every story out there. All stories need unanswered questions. All stories demand mysteries to engage our desperate need to know. We flip the little obsessive dipswitches in the circuit boards of our reader’s mind by presenting enigmas and perplexities. Why is our lead character so damaged? What’s in the strange mirrored box? How will they escape the den of ninja grizzlies? Storytelling is in many ways the act of positing questions and then exploring the permutations of that question before finally giving in and providing an answer.
A news story is upfront. Tells the facts. “Woman wins the Moon Lottery.” “Man sodomized by a zoo tapir.” “New Jersey smells like musty tampons, says mayor.” (Musty Tampons was my nickname in an old Steve Winwood cover band.) A journalist is tasked to answer the cardinal questions (the five W’s and the one H): who, what, where, when, why, and how. But your job as a storyteller is to make the audience ask these questions and then bark a sinister laugh as you choose not to answer them all. Oh, you answer some of them. But one or two remain open, empty. Unanswered variables. Incomplete equations.
Terrible Minds | Read the Full Article