This week: Reviewing the Mystery Edited by: Carol St. Ann, Quills Staffer
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|Mystery writing is intricate. It must be properly engineered. When you review a mystery, you’ve got to get into the down-n-dirty nitty-gritty. Let’s talk about it.|
|Mystery writing is different from any other kind of writing. And, yes, I would have to say the thriller as well as the police procedural fall into this reviewing type, too. |
What do I mean by this?
Well, sometimes the writing you review doesn’t necessarily require dwelling on such issues as spelling and punctuation and character flaws and continuity. You do not need to know if someone has an eye twitch, or someone has a telling habit of biting their fingernails or twirling their hair. But in a mystery, the tiniest little thing can mean the difference between success and failure, between a good story and a bad one, between a plot that works and a plot that does not. The mystery writer needs to know from his or her reviewer, whether or not the little things are being noticed or picked up on. The mystery writer needs to know if it works. Did they fool you? Did their little deceptive trick fool enthrall you or did it make you angry? The red herring work? Sometimes when you review a mystery, especially if it’s a longer work, and there are chapters, you might get to a point where you say “Wait a minute. Why would this character do this now? or Why would this character behave this way?” These questions let the mystery writer know they’ve got you right where they want you. (Or they’re completely missing the mark.) This is valuable information. Think about it; in a mystery, a character may do something odd or quirky. Sometimes the character will lie. Or it will seem like they’re lying. This may be confusing to the reader. Mention it.
Can you see how something that might look like a typo or a slip the author will spot on a proofread? I said this is valuable information because you were letting your writer know they’ve got the readers where s/he wants them. Alternatively, in some cases, you’re uncovering a mistake that could save the writer hours and hours of editing time a few chapters ahead when the puzzle pieces don’t come together.
I may have mentioned this before, in one of my newsletters, but I’ll mention it again because it it was such a stunning moment for me. In one of my stories’ opening chapter, I had the POV character overhearing a conversation between two other characters he had not yet met. Inadvertently, I referred to one of the unknown speakers by name. I never saw this mistake. Well, why would I? I certainly knew her name. It did not stand out to me at all that I have done this. Five people reviewed that chapter before the sixth one asked “how does he know her name?” And it was followed up with an LOL, but I can assure you when I read that review my eyes bugged out. I knew that that would have cost me some trouble down the line when some reader is waiting and waiting for the moment when the character reveals how he knew her name at the beginning when he supposedly had not met her yet. Holy epic-fail, Batman.
My guess is the first five reviewers likely spotted the faux pas, and thought it was an honest to goodness clue, but one savvy reviewer thought he’d better check with the author to be sure. That reviewer is a hero!
In conclusion, when you’re reviewing a fellow mystery writer please, I beg you, do it with sharp, eagle eye precision, and never do it apologetically. The novel or short story you save could be a best seller.
Thank you for reading!
One Last Thing!
Remember to nominate great mysteries!
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