Obligatory scenes for Low Fantasy and Mystery Genres

by Karen
(Georgia, USA)

Question: Love your site!

Could you please list the obligatory scenes for Low Fantasy and also for Mysteries (two separate lists).

My current WIP is a serial killer-type Mystery with magical elements, and is set in a present-day, small Southern town. It's written in First Person.

Any help would be most appreciated.

Answer: Well...

Low fantasy is not really defined by plot (or by extension, obligatory scenes) but by the fact that the story world will have some element of magic or the supernatural. With that element in place, the actual story that takes place in that world may be an adventure, thriller, mystery, romantic suspense, or any other type of plot.

However, the easiest approach to structuring the plot for any story is to use the W-Plot...


Assuming you are writing a mystery within the fantasy world, I would suggest you start by defining the 5 drivers. Some guidelines as follows.

Driver 1: The event without which the rest of the story would not happen. In some mysteries, this is the first murder. In other mysteries, it is an event that seems innocuous at the time but actually causes the first murder to happen.
Driver 2: A change in direction. In mysteries of the second type, this is the first murder. In others, it may be the discovery that the death is a murder, or some other event that changes or complicates the situation.
Driver 3: Another change in direction, usually one that shows the detective has been on the wrong track. It might be the discovery of a second body or that the prime suspect is innocent.
Driver 4 (Crisis): The detective hits a dead end but then has a flash of inspiration or a revelation that points to the solution.
Driver 5 (Resolution): This is the moment when the killer's identity is revealed.

Remember that in mysteries, one plotline is often hidden (that of the villain's actions). The detective may see the results of those actions, but not what is going on behind the scene.

For a more detailed classic approach to mystery writing, you might also check out...


Best of luck.

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Thank you
by: Karen

Thanks for your reply, Glen. After reading it, I had a 'Duh' moment. You had covered those points mentioned in articles on your site and I just hadn't put it together.

Thank you, thank you again.

Old thread but ...
by: Beau L'Amour

I would argue that there are obligatory scenes for Low Fantasy, Magical Realism, and the like.

An obligatory scene is not so simple a concept that it is only locked to a particular genre. The obligatory scene is obligatory because it pays off a fundamental of the story. At best it pays off a fundamental of the story in a complete and satisfying manner. So yes, a mystery requires a crime to begin with and a poignant commentary on justice to end with. And an action story may require the hero, or a loved one, at the mercy of the villain. In some situations the loved one may actually put the hero MORE at the mercy of the villain ... and that's what you want, to take the jeopardy or whatever elements you are working with to the the expected limit for your story and sometimes a bit beyond. The main thing is to fulfill the reader's expectations as completely as possible and to be as entertaining as possible. That is the actual "rule." It's true for the expectation of the genre but that's probably a minimum.

So, a fantasy element, especially one added to a story that does not exist in a fantasy setting, needs to pay off in a complete and satisfying way. It can't just lay there. A perfect example is Raiders of the Lost Ark. All that talk about how special the ark is, well ... in the end it has to BE special or you take stolen your audience's money. Another example: You have a story about a priest who is losing his faith. To get to the end of the story that must mean something. Depending on how you write even the slightest glimmer of him finding or seeing the "power of god" fulfills the "fantasy" element.

Ultimately, you choose a genre to tell a certain kind of story and a reader picks a certain genre to enjoy a certain kind of story. You can mix genres and then you have to deal with the conventions, expectations or obligatory scenes of BOTH like in a Western Mystery, or a Fantasy Detective story. In the best of all worlds the conventions of one genre will pay off the conventions of the other in an interesting way. Imagine a Sheriff investigating, and slowly exposing the self righteousness of, a traditional Western's vengeance seeking loner. Here you have a hero of each genre Detective and Western, as antagonists to one another and, as long as you completely pay off BOTH elements (the obligatory scene), you have a good story.

It's also likely that the concept of an obligatory scene need not be a single scene as long as it does it's job of "paying off." However, a writer would have to be crazy to diffuse the punch of a single scene pay off unless there was no other option.

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