American Journalist and Biographer Gene Fowler once said, “Writing is easy: All you do is sit staring at a blank sheet of paper until drops of blood form on your forehead.”
Yeah, right. Try writing murder mysteries. Not only will drops of blood be forming on your forehead, but it will be dripping out of your eyeballs as well.
I’m sure any author of any genre will claim that theirs is the most difficult to write.
Take romance, for example. Girl meets boy. Boy meets girl. They fight. They realize their hatred for each other is really sexual tension. They give into “the urge.” They fight again. They discover they can’t live without each other. They get married. The End.
For a twist, let’s do romantic-suspense. Girl meets Boy. Boy meets Girl. One of them is a secret agent or hit man working for the government or undercover cop—whatever—one of them is in a dangerous line of work that puts the other in the line of fire. They are running for their lives and both look really hot while bullets are whizzing over their heads. They find a moment of peace to do the deed. Bad guys get the jump on the couple. One of them is taken hostage. The other saves him/her. The bad guys are killed and the couple lives happily ever after. The End.
Admittedly, it is tough for writers of these genres because putting the twist to the general plotline to keep things fresh for their readers is a real challenge. How many ways can you kiss? How many ways can you describe a kiss?
As a mystery writer, I claim that writing murder is the tougher game, especially for writers, like me, who prefer to keep their books character driven and to have their protagonist solve the case with his brilliant intellect.
Some readers, and writers, have found that the reality of technology and the justice system has thrown a monkey wrench into the general murder mystery premise:
Someone gets killed. Detective surveys the scene. Questions all of the witnesses. Tracks down suspects. Cunning Killer lies. Detective is stumped. Cunning Killer slips up. Brilliant Hero detects the Killer’s mistake. Traps Killer. Killer confesses and goes off to prison.
Anyone fourth grader knows that such is not the case in real life.
Between technology: “Oh, you say you were never in that room? Well, we found your DNA from where you sneezed on the victim’s baloney sandwich right before you slit his throat with the butter knife.”
And justice system: “Is that all you got? A car filled with nuns saw your suspect running out of the house with a bloody knife in his hand at the time of the murder? His defense attorney is going to claim that they are conspiring to railroad him into jail because he’s Jewish. Come back with something more and I’ll get you a search warrant for the bloody knife.”
Some mystery writers see this as a killjoy. What fun is there in having a dull computer database spit out the name of the killer, especially when it’s someone who wasn’t even on the protagonist’s radar? Then, many readers, myself included, get frustrated when the mystery turns from a whodunit, but how-are-we-gonna-catch-‘em?
This is where the rubber hits the road. In reality, these hurdles add to the fun for the author. It doesn’t take away from the protagonist. Real detectives, true-life protagonists, deal with these real issues every day.
Sure, the computer database, devoid of personality, may spit out the pieces of the puzzle, just like the collection of witnesses may lay out their pieces of the puzzle. A clever defense lawyer may throw up legal hurdles to protect the killer—but hasn’t that always been the case?
Today’s real detectives come up against different types of hurdles than the investigators of fifty years ago, which were different from the hurdles fifty years before that.
While the murder investigation game may be different than it was in the days of Hercule Poirot and Perry Mason, it hasn’t become any less thrilling.
One thing that has not changed: Murder has been around since the days of Cain and Abel. As long as there are motives for murder, it will never go away. Also, protagonists will always have to be on their toes to anticipate and find their way over hurdles thrown up by their antagonists.
The game of writing murder mysteries is always changing—and never dull.
About the Author:
Lauren Carr is the international best-selling author of the Mac Faraday, Lovers in Crime, and Thorny Rose Mysteries. The eleventh installment in the Mac Faraday Mystery series, Cancelled Vows is scheduled for release on January 28, 2016 and available for pre-order on Amazon.
Lauren is a popular speaker who has made appearances at schools, youth groups, and on author panels at conventions. She lives with her husband, son, and four dogs (including the real Gnarly) on a mountain in Harpers Ferry, WV.
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