M is for Mystery

I love reading mystery books but I rarely consciously try to figure out whodunnit. Obviously my brain starts to try to put it together because my brain works just like everyone else’s – trying to find meaning wherever it can. But it’s not like I stop and puzzle it out, I like to travel along with the characters in the book and just enjoy the journey.

A friend of mine hates when she figures out the murderer in the first part of a book, it usually puts her off so much that she can’t actually finish the book. That never happens to me. There have been lots of books that I haven’t finished* but I don’t think I have ever stopped reading because a book has been too obvious. Perhaps I naturally gravitate toward ones that don’t have automatic guessing built in.

I have tried to write mystery novels before, and I love the idea of writing one, but I am not sure that my outlining and plotting skills are up to it yet. I kind of like writing the kind of stuff that has you in on the plot from the very beginning.

Hmm, maybe I need to write something from the criminal’s point of view then. Never really thought about that before even though I have written many a monologue from the bad dame’s point of view.** Anyway, I don’t know if I have the pacing ready to set up the slow reveal that works so well for the books that I enjoy.

Although, I do murder mystery game parties with a group of improv friends (and I could write one for you to do with your friends – I have reasonable rates. ;))and I have no trouble creating a plot and set of clues for that stuff. I wonder if I could translate that into writing for a mystery story or novels? It seems like the skills would be transferable, doesn’t it? A three act structure, back stories, clues that must be revealed. This is painfully obvious now that I am writing about it.

This was the most mysterious photo I could find.  The real mystery is why my scarf matched the couch at the museum so closely.  photocredit: Deborah O'Rielly, Supreme Ruler

This was the most mysterious photo I could find. Is like a nature challenge but inside: Can you spot the lady in this photo?                  The real mystery is why my scarf matched the couch at the museum so closely. 
photocredit: Deborah O’Rielly, Supreme Ruler

You know, speaking about mysteries, I love the ‘mysterious’ process that happens to me when I write out issues that are bothering me. When I can’t figure something out, I often just need to write about it because somehow I tap into my subconscious and drag out stuff I already know but I hadn’t applied in that way before. Yet, if you had asked me about it in the first place, I wouldn’t have been able to give you that answer.

This entry is a case in point. I have been working for ages on my challenges with outlining, I only just realized as I wrote that I already know how to outline – I just need to figure out how to transfer the skill.

My writing work and my mystery game work are two different areas of my work life so I hadn’t thought of the underlying skill as being the same. And, since the writing seems to come from a different part of my brain, I hadn’t thought of accessing the organizing skills I use for mystery game structure for the writing process.

This, of course, is ridiculous, because what other damn part would you use for creating a structure? The content of the structure may be creative, the structure itself is clearly an organizational issue. I feel a bit like this fact is smacking me in the head right now. No wonder I was having trouble – I was looking in the wrong toolbox!

Sidenote: My struggle with outlining is obviously also tied into the fact that I hate to prepare to do work. Even though I now know that preparing to work counts as work, it is taking me a long time to get that fact into my subconscious.

*Makes me think of that review by Dorothy Parker – ‘This is not a book to be tossed aside lightly, it should be thrown with great force.’

**Note: Never trust my self-righteous monologue deliverers, they have a skewed worldview.

10 thoughts on “M is for Mystery

  1. I loved reading your stream of consciousness – thank you for posting it rather than editing it out. Its great when the counsellor/coach in us gets to work inwards rather than outwards.
    Also really like you calling the differing parts of the brain a toolbox. I’m filing that picture away to use myself!

  2. As beds said, love the stream of consciousness. I do that myself from time to time! I can relate to the not outlining, something I haven’t been able to do either. The crazy thing is I will write some crazy stuff which makes no sense to me, and I’ll think I should have outlined, but my subconscious always comes through with an answer. Makes me think of Shakespeare In Love:

    Philip Henslowe:
    Mr. Fennyman, allow me to explain about the theatre business. The natural condition is one of insurmountable obstacles on the road to imminent disaster.

    Hugh Fennyman:
    So what do we do?

    Philip Henslowe:
    Nothing. Strangely enough, it all turns out well.

    Hugh Fennyman:

    Philip Henslowe:
    I don’t know. It’s a mystery.

    Always makes me laugh, because I think much of life is very much like that. Now on to (or back to) the subject of mysteries. It’s strange in that when I watch a TV show or movie with even the hint of a mystery to it, my mind is instantly trying to puzzle it out, but when I read I don’t think about it too much. I also think that sometimes it isn’t about the mystery itself but the journey. I’ve read several ‘cozy mysteries’ (written several too) where the ‘who done it’ isn’t as important as the how or the why. And sometimes not even that is all that important. Of course I know some people who claim the cozy mystery isn’t a true mystery genre genre so they really count.

    But I discount that. I read for pleasure, so if I am entertained that is all that matters, right? Did I actually respond to anything here, or has this just been my own stream of consciousness? I guess I’m saying, go ahead and try to write a mystery if you want. And go ahead and try to do it without outlining. After all, you can always go back and edit, right?

  3. Helen Holshouser says:

    I loved reading your post, and the comments from Debs and KL Phelps almost as much! LOL I too loved your post, say “go for it”, you obviously have the talent.

    Your realization that you were not using the toolbox you already had, reminded me of my own “aha” moment like that! As a Mom of small children, married, grandparent living in, professional and volunteer, I was too busy to organize my life, and had issues like everyone. One day, my own therapist, and I was a therapist, said to me, “Helen, do you ever put your therapist hat on at home?” It was like a light bulb going off! I feel so stupid admititng it, but it was like, “oh yes, I could do that!” I had actually tried very hard not to use my psychology skills at home, ’cause who wants a Mom saying, “So yu’re really happy aobut that, right?” LOL but in some situations it is helpful, I had the skills, I had just not used them when I could, should, or when it would have helped! LOL Here’s to your first mystery novel! I’ll buy it!

  4. Yeah, I know that not everyone needs to outline, but I am one of those people who thrives on a good outline. I just find them so challenging!

    A writing slump is no fun. Do you need some help working through it?

  5. Thanks, Helen! 🙂

    It’s weird how we have a skill in one area and yet we forget that it is transferable, hey? I’ll keep you in the loop when I get that book written!

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