Monday, June 6, 2016

June's Challege: MYSTERY!!!!!!!


I am so sorry guys, time really got away from me.  I was finishing school, and now I have a trip coming up that I have to prepare for.  Add that to historical re-enacting, and I've basically just been frantically busy.

Anyway, here I am, and better late then never, right?

Just nod and smile, okay?  Nod and smile.

As for writing, well, I have been writing, but not on any of the short stories.  Speaking of short stories, it's time for this month's project!


Yes, my friends, it is the final problem.  It is the who-don-it.  It is the puzzle of puzzles.  And it was Lady Scarlet, in the bathroom, with the lead pipe.  Now I shall attempt to offer some advice to help you in your mystery writing, while I wibble-wobble over my own short story and finish the month with a very good idea of what to write, but without any of it actually written.  

1. The Antagonist
Yes, you need a villain.  Now, he (or it can be a girl, but I'm saying he) doesn't have to be an obvious villain from the start, although in a short story you don't usually have time to develop that kind of a plot twist, but at some point he must be clearly evil.  This can come out in more than one way.  For example, you can have a character that your audience absolutely loathes.  He is disgusting and despicable, and defiles all he touches.  Picture the White Orc from The Hobbit, or President Snow from The Hunger Games.  These are the characters that you can't wait to kill, and you wince to think of.  However you could also have a villain who is evil, yes, but also really cool.  Picture Loki from The Avengers, Jim Moriarty from BBC's Sherlock, and Sauron from The Lord of the Rings.  These are the guys that you know should be killed, and will be eventually, but you really...well...they're, probably have a crush.  Both of these villains can be equally powerful, and they aren't even the only two types out there.  Anyway, the guilty party needs to commit a crime.  I'll come back to this more later, I just got a little carried away with the whole villain thing. 

2. The Protagonist
This is the jolly good chap who brings it all to justice, and solves everybody's problems.  The sad part is, he usually has half the character depth of any given antagonist on any given day.  Heroes are people too!  Give your protagonist struggles and hardships.  Make him (or her....whatever) question his beliefs!  His faith in humanity!  His love!  His passions!  Okay and I suppose he has to solve a mystery at some point.  Right.  He has to be smart enough to figure things out.  Now there are many different ways you can do this.  In the seventies, a TV show called Colombo aired.  I suggest you at least watch the first few, because the detective who solves the murders is very intelligent, but also very interesting, because it doesn't seem like he's smart at all.  In fact, to the people he's questioning, he's an ignorant bother.  After a few episodes things begin to homogenize, but try it out!  It's on Netflix (or it was...).  On the opposite end of the spectrum is Sherlock Holmes.  Really any version, I believe, but my favorite is BBC's modern rendition.  He knows what's going on, and he's not the idiot -- everybody else is.  Basically my point is, give your protagonist some way to figure out the who, what, where, when, why, and how.  

3. The Mystery!
Aaaaah yes.  Now we come to the heart of the matter.  You need a mystery.  You could, of course, stick with a good old-fashioned murder, but remember that while the majority of mystery stories revolve around someone dying, and most people imagine a murder scene when you bring up the genre, it doesn't have to always be that way.  In fact, this might be one of the cases ("cases"....haha....moving on....) where you want to mix up the soup a little and keep everyone alive, or at least make something besides a murder be the central focus of the story.  A murder is all fine and well (if you're not a writer please don't arrest me), but rather boring, unless it has an unusual twist.  Something like, I don't know, the detective figuring it out being the one who actually committed the crime?  Or whatever.  Something different, basically.  Make sure it has a good motive, though, and can be wrapped up sensibly.  If you must leave a plot hole, don't leave it gaping in the middle of the sidewalk where everyone can trip over it.  

4. More About Villains
Now I rambled on for quite a while on the first point, and as I was rambling, I forgot something rather important.  The guilty party in your short story does not have to be the same kind of bad guy that other genres (action/adventure, etc.) include.  In fact, he could be the most normal bloke on the street.  But he must have a history, he must have a motive, and more importantly, he must, at some point, be so clearly evil that you could never doubt him to be otherwise.  A mystery short story is sort of a one-shot wonder (omg these puns are killing me...hahahaha...killing wonder.....I'm going back to bed), where unless you're planning on a series, you probably won't ever see that bad guy again.  If he's the sort of person who commits a crime and then moves on, you still have a villain, and you still can give him motives and a background.  He also doesn't have to be sane.  He also needs to have some kind of power.  He needs to have some kind of key.  Because remember:

5. And Last but not Least....RED (oh wait there's a unicorn over there...) HERRINGS!!!!
A red herring or two, if done well, will really spice up your short story.  In the shortest way that I can think to describe this, a red herring is a distraction from the main point.  These funny little fishies pop up in mysteries in one very common form, which I will attempt to explain, but they also take little twists and turns in other disguises.  Generally, though, a red herring is a person or piece of evidence that distracts you from the track of one suspect or conclusion, and puts you on the track of another.  This red herring will probably never leave you with a resolved crime if you keep following it, but it does give the real villain time to get his act together and skedaddle.  These fish are usually most effective when you use them to distract the reader, but not necessarily the protagonist.  He might look like he's following the red herring's trail, but he was really gathering evidence for the conviction of the real criminal.  When properly pulled off, you can give your characters that "ooOOOOoooH" moment, where it all clicks, and they have a conclusion to their murder.  Or break-in.  Or kidnapping.  Or...whatever.  

Well now that you've read all those and hopefully gleaned something from them, I will leave you to your writing.  Faith and I will also try to post our next post on a Sunday, we're really sorry about this one.  

~ Grace Weiser

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