Twists and clues are most common in mystery novels, although we see them in other genres such as romance, sci-fi, Westerns, YA novels. Actually, twists and clues work in almost every sort of story you can think of.
They intrigue the reader…challenge them and keep those pages turning.
The important word here is “CLUE.” Without the clues, when the twist is revealed, the reader will become angry that something was just dropped on them out of the blue.
First we’ll talk about the various devices, then twists and clues.
The reader must try to figure out WHO committed the crime. Whodunits are the most commonly used device.
• They center around crime…usually murder. But if it’s a romance, it can involve a chance meeting or a seemingly cruel breakup. In sci-fi, maybe something strange happens when landing on a mysterious planet. In all cases, however, something goes wrong.
• Sometimes the author knows what the twist will be right from the beginning. In other cases, it doesn’t present itself until we’re far into the novel.
• In the cases of my Silver Sisters mysteries, “A Corpse in the Soup,” and “Seven Deadly Samovars,” as my sister and I were writing them, we didn’t devise the final twists until way after the fact. The manuscripts were actually at our publisher when this major epiphany slapped us in the face. Fortunately, we were able to add the last twist and a few well placed clues, before they went to print.
• In the WHODUNIT, The reader tries to solve the crime as they read through clues and revelations
WHYDUNITS and HOWCATCHEMS
Lesser used techniques are the “Whydunit” or “Howcatchem”
• The reader knows who killed John Forester, but WHY? Or, they know beautiful Laura Malone has suddenly been dumped by her entrepreneur fiancé without explanation, but why? The strange purple beings on this new planet seem friendly, but why have none of the previous space explorers ever come back?
• Take many of the Lord Peter Wimsey novels, for example. In “Unnatural Death” and “Strong Poison”, from the start, there is only one real suspect, whose guilt is more or less taken for granted by the middle of the book. And, no big surprise, that person does turn out to be the murderer.
The mystery to be solved is “why did this person have any motive to commit this murder” and “how did he or she do it.” We’ve used double twists in our Silver Sisters mysteries, to create even a little more fun. Who was the unexpected REAL criminal, whodunit, and for heaven sakes, why did they do it? In both cases, the answers are a real hoot, and the clues were there, but very subtle.
The term “Howcatchem” was coined by TV Guide in the 1970s when this format was popularized by the television series Columbo. Many of the stories in Diagnosis Murder, Monk (watch free episodes) and Law and Order are also in this format.
“Howdunits” usually begin with the reader “witnessing” the murder, or the hysterical breakup or the aliens greeting the space explorers,
The plot revolves around how the perpetrator or villian will be caught or punished. Sometimes, in the spirit of a twist, poetic justice works.
In Devil’s Dance, one of my novels written as Arliss Adams to be released in August, a client of a brothel, addicted to violent sex, almost kills a teen who has been kidnapped and sold into the house of ill repute. Thinking she’s dead, her body is dumped in a vacant lot. Does he get away with it? He’s powerful and is able to shut down the investigation when he discovers she survived. Well, suffice to say he is dealt with through poetic justice in one of the worst possible ways. A definite twist.
In Part II we’ll take a brief look at how these miscarriages that create the twist are solved.
Morgan St. James and her appearance schedule. Morgan is co-author of the comical crime capers, Silver Sisters Mysteries.
In addition to being the Las Vegas Writing Examiner, Morgan is a dynamic speaker and presents workshops for published and not-published-yet writers at conferences and events, as well as talks for all types of organizations. To contact Morgan with Spotlight suggestions, interesting news or request information, click here.
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