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Discovery Dialogue in Your Mystery

Discovery and Your Sleuth

Once a crime is discovered and your sleuth takes on finding the killer, his next step is to unearth possible suspects. As he visits close friends, work colleagues, the coffee shop owner where the victim went each morning, your sleuth begins to 
create a picture of the victim’s world.

The picture your sleuth develops is like the blind men and the elephant. Each person he interviews has their own version of who the victim was and how the victim operated in the world. As a writer, you lead your reader through a maze of conflicting perceptions about the victim.

In a mystery novel, the discovery process occurs in the first half of the middle up to the midpoint. Your sleuth collects evidence and attempts to sort out the victim’s life through interviews with the people attached to the victim, the suspects.

The main way your sleuth interacts with those suspects is through dialogue. This is your opportunity to play.

Dialogue in Discovery

Your sleuth learns about the suspects through their demeanor, dress, and actions. But, dialogue is the most direct way you can set up your mystery. Every suspect has their personal secrets. As your sleuth asks questions, the suspect works to keep the secret a secret. The secret may or may not bear on the victim’s death.

Your sleuth, and your readers, must interpret what each suspect says to discover the truth. Your job as a writer is to make each suspect as suspicious as possible. What they say and how they act toward the sleuth creates the suspicion.

You have several avenues to use in dialogue to heighten the suspicion.

  • Subtext – the unspoken thoughts and motives of characters — what they really think and believe. Subtext is a powerful method to convey a suspect’s prevarication. Subtext leaves what is said
     open to interpretation. It’s up to your sleuth to decide. What he decides in the discovery process can change later when he reviews what he learned from each suspect.
  • Lie – A deliberate lie gives your sleuth the wrong impression. Until he discovers that the suspect told an untruth, your sleuth bases his actions on false information. Plant the lie now to expose it later in the story.
  • Cooperation – The suspect openly answers every question posed by the sleuth without hesitation. It’s up to you to decide if one of those answers is a lie. If you’ve set up your characters in your character bible, each suspect has a secret and a lie they tell to hide the secret.

Enhance your suspect’s dialogue by giving each suspect a unique voice. Social position, craft or occupation, family heritage, and personality influence how they speak. Color the dialogue with the suspect’s unique attributes. Doing so, you will minimize your need to add dialogue tags. The reader will know who is speaking.

A Middle Without A Sag

The discovery process in a mystery sets out the puzzle pieces. In this section of your mystery novel, the sleuth is gathering information, collecting the pieces. He is nowhere near solving the mystery, and neither is your reader.

Each scene with a new suspect is a chance to plant doubt in your reader’s mind. Dialogue with each suspect reveals more of the victim’s world as your sleuth tries to understand the victim and why they were killed
. As you raise questions in the reader’s mind, you build conflict for the sleuth and keep readers turning pages.

Need more help with your mystery? Coaching can help you get to The End. http://bit.ly/MysteryWritingCoach

Zara Altair 

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