Wednesday, May 18, 2016
How To Create Intrigue In Fiction
Sometimes I rework stories.
I wrote one while I was in the UK and later rewrote it to set the story in Adelaide - where I now live.
I thought it might be a fun thing to do.
What struck me when I read the original through was how clever it was.
Don't take that the wrong way.
I'm not bragging or anything.
I don't mean that it's a superb piece of writing - and I'm just brilliant!
But just that I'd forgotten how cleverly I'd introduced the characters.
Being a murder mystery, it was important to set up hooks and false clues at the beginning of the story, so that the reader wouldn't quite know what was going on.
I introduced one character, Patrick, a musician, as he's injecting himself.
You're supposed to think he's a drug addict.
It's only later you realize he's a diabetic.
Another character I introduce as an apparent male predator, only to reveal later that he is, in fact, gay.
I then introduce the bad guy, who's first action is to call his mother...
I realized as I was reading the story that this was perhaps how all writers can create a sense of intrigue in their fiction.
By deliberately misleading a reader, especially in a murder mystery, the story remains compelling because the reader is having to do some of the work - mentally juggling the facts to arrive at solutions the author is leading them to - only to find they've been sometimes duped.
I know that most mystery readers really hate guessing the outcome.
They like to be presented with all the facts and clues but - if they decide early on who the killer is, they can feel let down at the end when they guessed right!
I love novels by Sue Grafton and Jennifer Rowe.
Actually lots of crime writers!
I get really involved in their stories, making predictions about the identity of the killer or killers as I'm reading.
And guess what?
I'm usually always wrong!
To me this is a sign of real talent - even genius - to be able to divert attention away from the real murderer, even though they're often right under your nose all the time.
You might like to try writing a short mystery to stretch your skills as a writer.
They're good practice because they usually take a lot of planning - right down to a minute by minute foreknowledge of how a crime or murder took place.
The mystery comes directly from the plot - it's usually about exactly where characters are - and where they say they are - when the crime was committed.
Traditionally, the story is told from the point of view of the investigator trying to sift through the evidence and the clues - although this is by no means exclusively the case.
Sometimes it can be fun to tell the story from the point of view of a prime suspect - what's called the "unreliable witness" in literary circles.
Or, as is also so common, the story is told from the point of view of the omniscient viewpoint - the God perspective - where everybody is a suspect.
Mystery writers say there is one story all writers should try at least once.
It's the 'locked door' murder scenario.
You've probably read several - and seen some on TV - not realizing it's considered a genre piece.
Here are the rules:
1. A person is murdered in a room locked from the inside.
2. The victim is found alone with little or no evidence there was a murderer with him.
3. There can be no secret passage.
And by the way, the old 'knocking the key out of the lock onto a piece of paper on to the floor and pulling it under the door' trick is not allowed.
Apart from that, it's completely up to you to decide how the victim died - and who was the murderer.
It's a fun scenario - deliberately baffling - and requires much skill and dexterity from the writer to pull off a convincing solution to the mystery.
And not a little inspiration!
Why not have a go?
Any questions, ideas for articles, let me know!