Mystery Deja vu

by Vijay Kumar

Dear Glen,

Once again, Thank You for your novel planning book. I'm writing my ninth novel with its help, the fifth in mystery.

While writing my mystery stories, I am starting to feel a sense of Deja vu as far as the structure and the execution (interviews, suspects, motivations) are concerned. I want to feel something new while writing mysteries, but finding it monotonous even though the settings, resolution and motivations are different in each of the stories.
I'm a fan of Agatha Christie novels and I consider 'Murder on the Orient Express' as my role model to structure my novels. Christie uses different kinds of POV (first person, omniscient etc) to instill difference in her stories. but in my case, the private investigator is the main POV character and I'm feeling Deja vu across my mystery projects.

Do you suggest how I can make the projects look different while keeping the PI as the third person limited POV?

Answer:: Yes, mysteries can start to feel formulaic after a while, which is why the great writers like Agatha Christie are the ones who make each book different. Obviously, she looked for different motivations and solutions to each mystery.

Sometimes also she played with point of view in the sense of telling the story through the eyes of a different main character. For instance, her books "The Moving Finger" and "The Murder of Roger Ackroyd" are not written from Poirot's point of view, even though he is the detective. (In the case of Roger Ackroyd, she manages to make the murderer the main character.)

And her settings become more exotic over time (probably also due to her being able to afford to travel more).

In addition to such devices, some writers make the detective's personal life a bigger focus in the
book. This can mean making the stories closely tied to the detective's journey through different stages of life and/or his career. Sometimes the detective's inner conflict and growth are more predominant. The story is as much about how the detective's beliefs and assumptions are challenged, how he matures in the course of the investigations, as they are about solving the crimes.

Along those lines, you may include subplots concerning the detective's love life, family, or friends. In such mysteries, readers come back to find out what's next for the detective's life as much as to enjoy another puzzle to solve. Sometimes you can use these subplots to explore the same theme as in the murder plot, but from a different angle. Sometimes what happens in the personal plot gives the detective an idea that helps him solve the murder.

You can create a different kind of mystery by bringing in elements of different subgenres of mystery (e.g. cozy, hard-boiled, police procedural, locked-room, noir) or other genres (thriller, suspense, romantic suspense, psychological suspense, capers, adventure, romance).

Sometimes you may give your detective a slightly different kind of plot, while still staying within the mystery genre. For instance, you can do what seems like a horror story, but with an ending in which solving the mystery brings the story back into the real world.

Another possibility is to tell a story in a non-chronological order. Usually when working on a plot, it helps to figure out the events chronologically, how each one leads to the next. But you don't have to tell the story in that order. Sometimes it's interesting to start near the end of the story (especially if it's an interesting situation) and then flashback to tell the events leading up to that moment.

Hope that gives you some possibilities to think about.

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