The Puzzle Creation Challenge
Mystery readers have an expectation to be challenged. Unlike most reading most novels where readers follow along with the story, mystery readers like the challenge of trying to guess who the villain is.
Along with regular story construction in order for a mystery to satisfy a reader, they want a story where they keep trying to guess the killer until the final reveal. Planning helps you keep the suspension until the end.
Steps to Keep the Puzzle Puzzling
A bit of work before writing will help you plan and sustain the puzzle as you write. Three main planning areas will help you keep the puzzle going.
As you develop your characters, give each suspect reasons to hide secrets from your sleuth. The secret may have nothing to do with the murder, but the suspect has a personal reason to keep information from your sleuth.
Your sleuth must untangle the misrepresentations and lies of all the suspects including the villain. Give your sleuth and your reader opportunities to overlook details or focus on misleading statements.
Use suspect replies to provide a variety of details. Your sleuth and your reader must sort through all the information. Make your sleuth sort through the details and evaluate the reliability of each suspect. Create questions in your sleuth’s mind. These create questions for your reader to consider.
Plot twists in mysteries help keep your reader guessing. Just when a suspect seems the most likely, create a minor reveal that demonstrates that one character could not be the villain. Or, make that suspect the next victim.
Relationships between and among various suspects create opportunities for reversals. One character may reveal the least likely suspect to have powerful motivation.
Use setting to thwart your sleuth. Simple setting details create obstacles that prevent your sleuth from getting to the right place at the right time. Missed opportunities keep your reader in suspense.
Use evidence, clues, and red herrings to create questions around the murder and the suspects. While evidence is factual, not all evidence points to the killer. Clues can be physical items, statements from suspects, and even a change in the weather.
Scatter clues throughout the story. Hide them among other details.
Your aim is to provide information for your sleuth and the reader and yet keep them guessing as to the importance of any one detail.
Keep Your Reader in Mind
As you work on your story keep your reader in mind. While building character background consider what points you will keep from your reader and which points can be red herrings. In the same way, plan twists to surprise your reader to send them in a new direction of thinking. As you plan your clues, consider where you will place them in the story to intrigue readers.
If you plan and write with the reader in mind, your mystery will keep them guessing until the end.