Character Revealing

by Kayla
(Cape Town)

Question: Does the Resolution have to be that the detective finds the killer? Or can the reader find out who the killer is by the 4th driver so that the final act can focus on potentially finding the killers whereabouts and stopping the murderer from committing another murder?


Answer: The answer rather depends on what genre you're writing in.

In a murder mystery, the revelation of the killer's identity is usually the final or 5th driver. The reason is that the goal of the story is to discover "who done it." Once that discovery is made, the story is over, except perhaps for showing the aftermath (outcome, judgement).

On the other hand, suspense stories have a goal of escaping from a trap (which the villain sets for the main character). The villain's identity will be hidden for much of the story while he/she lays the trap. The 4th driver will be when the main character realizes the trap is set and who set it, so that the last act becomes a chase as the main character frantically tries to escape. The final driver is the moment when the villain is stopped and the main character decisively escapes.

Thrillers work in a similar way, except that it can be the villain who is trying to escape the main character in the last act. Naturally, the villain usually fails.

So you have to know what genre you are writing and who your audience is.

Are they...

* People who like an intellectual puzzle (mystery)?
* People who like the anxiety of a slowly building threat (suspense)?
* People who like the adrenaline rush of nonstop action, physical conflict, and a battle of minds (thriller)?

Best of luck

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Murder Mysteries

by Kayla
(Cape Town)

Question: Does the main character(s) in a murder mystery, more specifically the narrator, need to be a detective? Can it be someone who is in a completely different occupation but has as good as a chance as an actual detective of finding out who the murderer is? And would do it be too confusing to add a detective in the book who has his own insight on the case, but who isn’t working with the narrator?


The non-professional or amateur detective is an established figure in murder mysteries. Once upon a time, most female sleuths had to be amateurs, since there were so few women in the police. Some well known examples are Agatha Christie's Miss Marple, Kerry Greenwood's Miss Fisher, and of course Nancy Drew. Some of them are true amateurs, others are private detectives.

And there are plenty of male amateur detectives too such as Father Brown, Brother Cadfael, Lord Peter Whimsey, and the Hardy Boys.

Sometimes amateur detectives compete with the police detective to solve the crime. In some of the Miss Marple adaptations, the police start out annoyed with Marple's "interference" in their cases, until they realize she is brilliant and has specialized knowledge (an insight into psychology derived from a lifetime studying people in her village).

In fact, specialized knowledge is often the key to a good amateur detective. The police have their formal methodology and access to forensics, but they cannot know everything, and sometimes an amateur detective can gain specialized knowledge through their jobs or hobbies. Or they may have privileged access to circles where the police are less trusted. People may tell an amateur things they wouldn't tell the police. Amateur detectives are popular because some readers love seeing a layman out-think the professional detective.

Worth noting... amateur detectives are common in "cozy" mysteries -- stories that are less disturbing, less violent, but good fun nonetheless.

I will say that it is generally better for the main character to solve the mystery -- whether they are amateur or professional. This follows the general principle in fiction that the main character's choices must determine the outcome of the story in order to make it meaningful. So if your amateur detective is the main character, then he/she should be the one to solve the case, and the police detective should be either a rival or ally.

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Mystery Romance

by Kayla


I'm writing a novel in which the protagonist starts to become suspicious of her mother's involvement in a hospital scandal that has to do with the protagonist's love interest. The novel continues in a pattern of acquiring clues to eventually come to the reason for her mother's suspicious activities.

I don't have any other suspects which makes me worry that this book isn't very surprising. I'm worried that the events that happen won't totally surprise the reader since it's expected that her mother has something to do with the incident. Does this count as being a mystery?

Thank you

Answer: It sounds to me like you might actually be writing Romantic Suspense.

Romantic suspense involves two elements.

1. Suspense. There is a trap being set for the main character, or possibly she is being stalked by a villain. The reader senses the danger approaching and worries if she will escape in time (which she does).

2. Romance. Key to her escape is a romantic plot in which she must learn to trust her potential lover. There should be a sort of dance in which sometimes he seems trustworthy and at other times there is reason to suspect him of being a villain. Of course, he will turn out to be a good guy, but the mystery is generally kept up until near the end. (In some romantic suspenses, the heroine has the choice of two potential lovers, one of whom is the villain and the other is trustworthy, and she has to make the right choice.)

As you can see, these are different from mysteries, which are generally about solving a murder. In romantic suspense, the crime has not happened yet, but will if the heroine doesn't put the pieces together at the crisis.

The truth only comes out at the crisis, when the trap springs. This is usually followed by a chase that ends with the heroine escaping and the villain caught or killed. These days, it's common for the heroine to defeat the villain herself, but sometimes police or other allies can help.

Hope that helps.

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