Hi there! Welcome to today's stop for the blog tour for Angela Misri's Thrice Burned, the second in the Portia Adams Adventures trilogy. If you like mysteries and historical fiction, and clever heroines who are keen on problem-solving, then look this series up. Thanks so much to Fierce Ink Press for the blog tour and thanks so much to Angela for answering my rambling question. :)
One of the things you notice, or that I notice, when reading a mystery is how the author weaves in all the clues. They're left like breadcrumbs for the reader to snatch up and piece back together to form an entire loaf for bread. But you still have to keep an eye out for red herrings. The author can't make it too easy or else the reader is left unsatisfied. They also can't make it too hard and leave the reader frustrated. How difficult is it to write a mystery that reveals just enough as the detective investigates? Do you go in knowing how it will all end? Or can you piece it together along the way? Apologies if I'm asking you to reveal any mystery writer trade secrets. ;)
A good question! I don't know how other mystery writers construct their stories, but I start with the crime and work outwards from there. So if I decide my crime is a series of arsons (like in Thrice Burned) then I pull out from there to who would benefit from lighting fires and who would suffer. That helps me identify my victims and perpetrators. From there I come up with the evidence left behind at this particular crime - so in the case of arson, the burned remnants of the victim, perhaps hints of an accelerant, that kind of thing. Then the key part - I decide which of these pieces of evidence are obvious (these are found by the police and revealed to the reader), and which are only discovered by my detective. Only then do I wrap my story around the mystery.
I made a video about my process: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Cm93_Cjmylc
But this isn't a foolproof process. That's why you need beta readers and editors to read through your story before it goes out to the public. Often the clues seem obvious to me as the writer, but someone else reading it is able to actually tell me if I've given them enough. In my writing I find that I seem to err on the side of not making it easy enough, so I usually have to bring more clues onto the page. I don't think I've ever written a mystery where a reader comes back complaining that I’d made it too easy. Trust me, if I make it easy, I mean it to be and that wasn't the real mystery in my story. A good example is Mrs. Jones in Jewel of the Thames. That she was actually Irene Adler from the original canon was not a mystery I was trying to keep from my readers, I wanted them to figure that out as soon as they could. It was a mystery for Portia because she isn't a Sherlock Holmes aficionado - she's just an orphaned girl who has been handed the keys to 221 Baker Street. The real mysteries in Jewel were who was stealing the jewels, and why Elaine Ridley had become a recluse, and where the missing girl on the train went. Irene Adler/Jones and her big reveal is a story-arc that reverses the norm: where my reader actually knows more than my detective.
Thanks again to Angela. Go check out Jewel of the Thames and Thrice Burned! :)