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Mysteries backward and forward: Editor's Notes #294
August 21, 2019

At least half the mystery novels published violate the law that the solution, once revealed, must seem to be inevitable.
—Raymond Chandler Raymon

In this issue:

1. Mysteries backward and forward
2. Tickled my funny bone
3. Interesting Web site
4. Writing prompt

1. Mysteries backward and forward
When you understand that a murder mystery is really at least two stories in one, you are well on your way to crafting a mystery that satisfies your readers. The first story is the story of the murder itself, especially, it is the story of the murderer. This is the story it’s best to create backwards.

Before you write any text, collect the bones you need for the skeleton of the mystery. Who died? Who is the killer? What is the weapon? Where and when did the murder happen? Why did the murder happen? Who knows about the murder? Who witnessed the murder? How does the killer try to hide the crime? Each question needs only a word or a paragraph answer at this point. This is the end of the story. If you aren’t clear about this part, it will be very difficult to manage the beginning and the middle.

The second story is the story of the detective, the person who solves the mystery. Who is the detective? List strengths and weaknesses and any special skills the detective has.

When you know the victim, the killer, and the detective, it’s time to decide how they connect with each other. Are they already known to each other? What puts the detective on the path toward the real killer? What throws the detective off the scent? What draws the detective back to the killer?

Now create a series of plot points that lead to the ending you already have in mind. This is the part where you write forward.

In reality, you may write back and forth as you puzzle your way through the story you are creating. As long as when you are done everything makes perfect sense, it doesn’t matter how you come to the final text.

Do you have a mystery already started and found yourself stuck? Don’t throw it all away. Stop where you are. Decide on the ending if you haven’t already done that. Then go back to what you’ve already written forward. Keep what works with the ending you have envisioned. Put everything else into another file. You never know when a piece of the mystery you are stuck on may become the start of something else wonderful.

A special note about this issue: I don’t often run into subscribers in a restaurant, but I did just that a few weeks ago during a working lunch to produce an issue of Editor’s Notes. When I asked my subscriber what he wished I’d write about, he told me he wanted to know how to craft a murder mystery. And this is my answer.

What do you wish I’d write about? I’m always open to ideas, and I’d love to hear your questions or concerns.

2.Tickled my funny bone
A will is a dead giveaway.

3. Interesting Web site
Did you know you can read back issues of Editor’s Notes online? Maybe there is already an issue that answers your question.

4. Writing prompt
Here’s an ending. What’s your beginning?
Victim: Lucy, a track and field star.
Killer: Tracy, her coach
Where and when: In a laundromat
Weapon: a smoothie
Who witnesses the murder: two young boys collecting cans and bottles for money
How does the killer hide the crime: throws the smoothie container into the washing machine

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