"I cannot live without books: but fewer will suffice where amusement, and not use, is the only future object." -- Thomas Jefferson

Thursday, August 7, 2014

Answers to Mystery Writer, Jenny Crusie's Questions on Mystery Stories

Jenny Crusie's website Argh Link came up in a Google Alert on Mystery Writers. I enjoyed her August 5, 2014 post, Howdunit: Writing Mysteries, about her personal experiences trying to write a mystery.

She’s funny…using mental duct tape to patch holes in her story really captures her struggles with her story. I could empathize.

I was surprised when she talked about her TV binge of watching mystery shows. Yet, her details about the writing, characterization, mood, and setting illustrate the structure of good mystery writing.

Jenny knows of what she speaks, her master’s thesis was on women’s roles in early mystery fiction.

While her blog is chock full of useful info, it was the questions she asked her readers at the end that captured my attention. Below are my responses to her questions


What are some mystery titles–books and film–that you think are stellar?

Sadly, I have a poor memory so I can’t immediately recall from the mass of movies and books I have consumed which ones stand out.

But Mary Stewart (Madam Will You Talk) and Dorothy L. Sayers (The Unpleasantness at the Bellona Club) are my favorite mystery writers because of the quality of their writing that includes excellent plotting and characterization. Mary Stewart subtly injected poetry, history, geology, and more into her stories which piqued my interest and stimulated my life-long love of learning. It was Sayers’ sentence structure that spurred me to want to write.

Based on some recent viewings, I like BBC’s 2005  State of Play. I have watched it probably 30 times. It is such a lesson in writing a “mystery/action adventure.” I was amazed at the use of foreshadowing in the dialogue where little bits about the character are revealed and later played a role in the plot. The acting was great. Watching the characters evolve from lack of information and preconceived notions about the crime into persistence, to deception, to disbelief, and to revelation.

Another reason I liked BBC’s State of Play was that every character was well acted and added to the story. For example, the mother and brother of the young man who was killed may not be in many scenes but when they are on screen, they have a huge screen presence. They add energy and realism to the story in very human ways.

I have gobbled up tons books and movies, mysteries, science-fiction and more. There are many other excellent stories. But, one in particular that stands out is Who Rides a Tiger? by Doris Miles Disney. For some reason, the way she cast the story and characters made the story believable and surprising. I guess because the twist held a final irony is what made it memorable.

What annoys the hell out of you about some mysteries?

I do not think I have ever figured out “who done it” in any mystery. When I reread the mysteries looking for the clues, I can see where I missed the clue but sometimes I think authors get a little too “fancy” trying to hide a unique or obscure clue.

Plus, sometimes, the plot seems to get convoluted just to make it confusing not because it adds to the story.

Are there any unbreakable rules to mystery writing?

Again, while I have never solved a mystery, I do think that upon rereading the story, the reader should be able to see all the clues.

Most of all, what makes a good mystery?

Besides the obvious, plotting and characterizations, for me, what makes a good mystery is not the crime but the mystery of the characters involved, the mystery of human nature and how it is expressed. Also, I have to have sympathy for key characters.

Another reason I like Dorothy L. Sayers is that intertwined in her stories is also the story of British culture and history, and her settings as well as her characters embody or reflect these elements.

Subtle humor and descriptive settings also add a great deal to stories.


To find Jenny Crusie's website Argh Link go to: http://www.arghink.com/2014/08/05/howdunit-writing-mysteries/

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