07-21-18 Patricia Sargeant

Tuesday, October 2, 2012

The mystery is: when did I start writing mysteries?

I don't know when it happened. I don't read mysteries, as a rule. Once, in a book club, I had to read a compilation of Father Brown stories by G. K. Chesterton. These obscure classics were written between 1910 and 1936 and published as installments in a periodical. The protagonist is a stubby British priest who solves mysteries by observation and mental acuity.

And also by coincidence which--to be honest--plays a part in the resolution of almost all mystery stories. The problem with those little stories is that some critical bit of information was always withheld from the reader, making it next to impossible for the reader to solve the mystery on their own.

Needless to say, that little omission did not make me happy. In fact, it pissed me off.

As humans, we want to figure things out. We like the challenge of being smarter than the hero--or at least as smart as. We want to share that "A-ha!" moment with the characters we have been walking so closely with through the story.

So when I ended up unexpectedly writing mysteries, I knew I couldn't do the same thing to my readers that Chesterton did to his.

Luckily, I'm a plotter. I write my stories in a straight line. That means I can scatter the clues through the story as I write it. Assuming I know what those clues are, of course.

The funny thing is, once I made the decision to write a crime/suspense/mystery story I realized that all of my previous stories encompassed crimes, suspense, or mysteries. I had been doing this all along.

Huh. Who knew.

Anyway, if I think about it, I guess I can trace this all back to my hatred of math. Algebra, to be specific. (And long division. I always hated long division.) But when we got to geometry and proofs, I was in heaven. I thought that finding the steps from here to there--all small steps in the path to the solution--was so much fun!

This wasn't boring old arithmetic, it was a mystery to solve. A puzzle where pre-described steps had to be laid out in a logical sequence in order for the ending to make sense.


So now I see my mysteries as geometric proofs. Little steps which, when connected in the correct order, lead a path to the resolution. This makes the plotting of the crime detection so much easier to structure. And it explains why I was writing them long before I consciously knew what I was doing.

Now that I'm here, I guess the next mystery question is: why is there a dead body behind the study wall?

I'll let you know as soon as I do.


Judith Ashley said...

I believe that any good fiction book contains a mystery of some sort. Even in a contemporary romance or women's fiction there is the mystery of how the heroine and hero will get to their happily ever after or how the heroine resolves her issues.

Our lives are made up of daily mysteries - some as simple as 'what am I fixing for dinner?' and some more complex 'how am I going to write and get that list of "To Be Done" done.

Judith Ashley said...

Hi Kris, I'm back - I've never thought of geometry as a blueprint for solving a mystery but I'm right there with you on Algebra! Why do I care if A + B = C? I do not but I can see that it is a puzzle...just not one I want to figure out. And, Geometry? I memorized the theorms (I was good at memorizing) so easily passed the class because I just needed to "know" them not actually "use them" outside of parroting back the example in the book.

Be that as it may, what I find intriguing is that you could see the mystery in geometry and can a few years later (I'm smiling as I type that) are using that information in your writing. The reality is, we never know when something we experienced in our life will be useful when we sit down at the keyboard.

Sarah Raplee said...

"I guess I can trace this all back to my hatred of math."

You made me laugh out loud, Kris! I had the same negative reactions to those old mysteries.

Thanks for a thoughtful, entertaining post!

Diana Mcc. said...

Good post!

Kris Tualla said...

Thanks, you two, for chiming in! :)

Laurel Hawkes said...

I didn't like math either, though I enjoyed Geometry. The tiny steps were great and made perfect sense to me. I was stuck when they started combining steps. I also hate it when the mysteries are solved by an obscure clue you didn't know about. I love Agatha Christie's books and the Brother Cadfael mysteries. He's a priest in medieval England. I enjoy the history as much as the mystery. :-) I'm enjoying your mysteries.