This week: Finding and hiding cluesEdited by: Arakun the Twisted Raccoon
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Quote for the week: "We writers, as we work our way deeper into our craft, learn to drop more and more personal clues. Like burglars who secretly wish to be caught, we leave our fingerprints on broken locks, our voiceprints in bugged rooms, our footprints in the wet concrete."
In any mystery story, two main investigations are happening. The first investigation is conducted by the main characters in the story who are trying to find out the truth about whatever situation the author has set up for them. At the same time, the readers try to figure out the solution to the plot as they read the story. As authors, we need to consider both investigations when we set up our stories. We need to give both the main characters and the readers a challenging situation and the resources to solve it in a realistic way. Both investigations will depend on the clues we place in the story.
The readers and the characters will not always be given the same set of clues, or may not always get them at the same time. Depending on your story, you might choose to let the readers see a little bit more than the main character sees. A story written as an omniscient narration or a third person limited narration with different chapters as seen by different characters will allow the readers an advantage the main character does not have. You can even write some chapters from the perspective of the villain without giving away their identity.
If your story is written as a first person narrative from the perspective of the main character, you can still work in clues that character does not appear to notice. For example, if your main character interviews a witness, a stray word in the witness's account of events may be placed as a clue to arouse the reader's suspicions without the detective making a comment on it.
Different perspectives work for different stories. Decide which character you want to be "holding the camera" as you plan your story. If it is too difficult to provide the necessary clues using a first person narrator, for example, try switching to a third person limited or omniscient narrator.
If you do give your readers a little extra information, it is important not to make it too easy for them. You can also use scenes that the detectives do not see to misdirect the readers, either through red herrings or some action that does not mean what it seems to mean.
Be careful about giving your detective or other main character too much information that the readers do not share. Detectives can keep information from other characters, but not from the readers.The readers should be given all information that the detectives have, even though the meaning or relationship between clues may not be immediately apparent.
Occasionally, genius detectives like Sherlock Holmes can seem to pull a solution "out of the air," but if you read carefully, all the information the readers need to solve the case is provided in these stories as well. The difference lies in the obscurity of the clues, the ways the solutions are presented, and the speed at which the detective reaches the conclusion.
In a good mystery story, all the clues should build on each other. Initially, clues may point to several solutions, while clues discovered later might at least appear to eliminate some of them. Sometimes, the clues will not fit together to make a logical solution until one important clue is discovered near the end.
Something to try: Write a mystery story where two different characters are given different sets of clues and see which one solves it first.
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