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The Mystery of Mystery Writing

How does a writer create the unpredictability that’s needed for a mystery to be mysterious? If the reader guesses where the clues are leading there’s no mystery. I’ve just read this blurb for a writing workshop on plotting: Time spent planning and designing a story before sitting down to write the first sentence can help prevent a stalled or flawed work. Lack of planning can result in laboured plots, lame characters, clichéd dialogue and derivative style. In my experience exactly the opposite is true — plotting kills the freshness of an evolving story, especially a mystery. A blueprint is static and time-bound. Goodbye unpredictability. Any ideas the writer has at the beginning need to evolve in unexpected ways WITH the writing, not limit the writing. This is how I wrote “The First Lie”, with no idea what was around each corner.  The resulting mystery is something I could never have plotted. If the writer is on the edge of their seat wondering what the hell is going to happen next and why, so is the reader.

My process is to write a scene, letting it create itself, then allow my subconscious to play with it (usually while I’m asleep).  Most mornings I’m scribbling my overnight thoughts — connections I didn’t know were there, snippets of dialogue that give me new insights into characters, tangents and twists that might work, links to experiences I’ve had or things I’ve overheard. I play with these ideas in yesterday’s scene, writing new bits and cutting out bits that are clichéd or laboured.  It’s the difference between control and judgement. I don’t control what I write, but I come back and use my judgement when I redraft it. I’m now writing Book Two in this same way and it’s a mystery!