This week: Effective Clue DroppingEdited by: Lonewolf
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A mystery is a puzzle - the answer is there if the reader thinks about it in the right way. It is the author's job to give the reader the puzzle pieces (clues) that point to the answer, then mix things up by adding in clues that have nothing to do with the answer at all .
In one's whodunnit, it can be murder to try and leave a clue which is oh-so-covert but still overt enough to be picked up by the unassuming reader. The obvious remedy to this is a plot twist. How can one weave clever clues into the tapestry of a mystery without them sticking out like a sore thumb?
Readers won’t accept the sudden appearance of a villain who's never been seen or mentioned before. They want the killer masquerading as an innocent party to show up early in the book, and appear at least a few times during the story. Readers want to know what the protagonist knows, and they expect the writer to provide enough clues to allow readers to either solve the crime along with the sleuth or look back over the story and say,
"Ah, now I understand what this and that was."
A clue is anything that points to the killer or thieves identity. Clues come in many guises and, are far from making a story formulaic, they can be used to create original mysteries though that keep readers enthralled to the end of your story. Clues can be planted by the killer to make an innocent person look guilty and prevent the police from finding the real culprit. Misdirection can be accomplished by burying a clue in a scene, letting it come from an untrustworthy source, or distracting the protagonist(s) immediately after the clue is revealed, so that its meaning is overlooked.
In addition to genuine clues, you need red herrings, false clues, and misdirection.
Red herrings -- It originated from a news story by English journalist William Cobbett, c. 1805, in which he claimed that as a boy he used a red herring (a cured and salted herring) to mislead hounds following a trail; the story served as an extended metaphor for the London press, which had earned Cobbett's ire by publishing false news accounts regarding Napoleon. If you’re like me and watched Scooby Doo and the Gang, you’ll have seen many episodes dealing with Red Herrings tricking the gang sending them in the wrong direction, and accusing the wrong party for whatever crime they were trying to solve.
False clues - can be planted by the killer to make an innocent person look guilty and prevent the police from finding the real culprit.
Misdirection can be accomplished by burying a clue in a scene, letting it come from an untrustworthy source, or distracting the sleuth immediately after the clue is revealed, so that its meaning is overlooked. Placing a clue in plain sight can make it so obvious that both detective and reader will dismiss it.
Take your time, think your story through to the end, and be sure your plot, your clues, and your ending work logically.
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