Write a Mystery?  Sure, No Problem.

Famous last words, no problem.  Setting out to write a mystery, I knew I had to determine, before even starting to write the story, the who, when, where, why, and, most important, whodunit.  Even though my writing instructor cautions against writing outlines first…  No, let me qualify that.  She says, “Don’t do an outline!”  Well, that doesn’t work very well with this type of story.  At least for me.

So, off I went, planning ahead.  Ha!  Good idea, bad execution.  No problem writing the “spine” of the mystery, but then I had only a bare bones story of maybe 50 pages.  Yikes!  Of course, a reader would have no idea what the characters looked like, because I neglected to write descriptions.  Okay, fine.  Go back and add.  No problem.  Right?

But there was no dialogue!  So, return to keyboard and, as Mark Twain said, “Show, don’t tell.”  That meant letting these people talk.  And talk they did.  I realized I had to build in the personality traits that would make one of them a murderer. But it was so much more fun to give them all something that would make each one a potential murderer.  That meant telling more than just the story of where they were at the location of the murder.  So…

Go back again and add in their backstories.  Who were these people?  Where did they come from?  How did they get to where they were all together, so one of them could be killed?  Yikes, again!  But it was interesting to create a life for each of them before they got to where they were.  Somewhere in there, I needed to drop a few facts that would lead the reader…astray…or not.

Of course, it turned out that the setting was important, so I went back yet again and ratcheted up the locale and what was going on outdoors too.  Too much?  Believable or not?  Adjust, adjust, adjust.  The setting was based on a real place, but I had to change some things to make it all work.  So, that meant research.  Luckily, I love to do research.  But then, my focused search turns into a wandering into tangents.  I could spend hours, which I try not to do, interesting as it can be.  But I want stuff I can incorporate into the story, not add something like how to repave potholes in New York City in the 1940s, intriguing as it might be.  Yet more re-writing…  You see where this is going?

After well beyond 100 pages, I started to see inconsistencies.  Wait!  Didn’t I put that character coming from…?  How did the killer get from Point A to Point B?  Oops!  I put the killer in two different places at the same time.  And where’s the victim?  I forgot to put them in the accessible spot.  Go back…  Oh, no!  Too many hints far too early.  Go back and take some out.  Well, sometimes I took out too many, and that meant, of course, going back again to move, rather than delete.  Luckily, over the years I have gotten more writing savvy.  Never ever ever totally delete anything!  It’s like cleaning drawers and closets.  Once it’s gone, about a month later, if it even takes that long, you’ll discover you need that very item that has already disappeared from Goodwill’s shelves, as someone else grabbed it, seeing the value you yourself missed.  So.  NEVER delete anything.  Copy and paste it somewhere else, perhaps in a Delete Folder, so you can retrieve when you realize the story can’t go anywhere without that tidbit.

The motives were the hardest.  I can’t tell you how many times I went back and forth, adding, moving, changing entirely. Of course, I can’t tell you another thing, because…  I was going to say that it would give too much away.  But, then again, maybe it wouldn’t give enough away.  Oh, the trials and tribulations of writing a mystery!

Would readers guess the murderer?  Or, if they did, would it be too soon?  How about all that description?  Too much? But it solidified the settings!  I don’t want to take that out!  The locale was very complex, so I went around and around, writing and re-writing, so readers could form a picture in their heads.  Would they see what I wanted them to see?

Finally, I shut off the voice in my head and just sent it off to a friend who’s a discerning mystery reader.  She’d tell me if it was believable, if it held her interest, if she guessed…  Well, you get the idea.  I attached the manuscript to the email, hit Send, and said to myself, “Never again!”

She got back to me, and fulfilled my wildest hopes.  She guessed…wrong!  Hooray!  But by the end, she could narrow it down to one of two, maybe both.  Perfect!  No, she loved the backstories, she loved the descriptions, she adored the mystery.  She could even figure out what that complex setting looked like…well, at least enough to go with the flow.  “I want you to write another one!” she crowed.  This first one still needed to be pitched to a publisher!

Really?  Another one?  Well…maybe I could start a tale in Europe, with a chase, and…