Part I presented some scenarios and how they could play out in different types of stories. Now we will explore them further.
Various devices are used to solve the crimes or situations, depending upon how it is structured in the first place.
A SAMPLING OF DEVICES USED IN SOLUTIONS:
In mystery novels, procedurals generally concentrate on the howdunit aspect and use professional practices to solve the crime. But, maybe the dumped Laura is a newspaper reporter and uses her contacts to investigate her lost love, or one of the space jockeys also has studied behavioral science and picks up on strange actions that put him on the alert.
Police procedurals generally feature a professional detective using police practices to solve the crime. However, we can find professional parallels in other genres. All we have to do is look for them.
- Tony Hillerman’s Joe Leaphorn and Jim Chee, James Patterson’s Alex Cross, P.D. James’ Adam Dalgliesh, and Martha Grimes’ Richard Jury are all good examples of police procedurals.
- A courtroom procedural emphasizes the professional lawyer trying to prove the suspect as guilty or innocent. Think Perry Mason.
Again, the other genres have protagonists with professional knowledge that might come into play. Or, maybe it’s just plain dumb luck that leads to the final answer. In any case, it’s the author’s choice. Baffle, entertain and then give the reader satisfaction.
Whatever the genre, the author has to structure the novel so that the puzzle is difficult, but not impossible to solve. If it is too obvious, playing detective or second guessing loses its appeal. If the twist or solution is too difficult, and there aren’t enough clues, the reader might lose interest or even get angry at the author, close the novel and not open it again. It is a delicate balance. Imagine Hansel and Gretel trying to find their way back home after the birds have eaten the crumb trail.
CONSIDERING POSSIBLE SOLUTIONS:
So let’s assume what the solutions could be in the above scenarios. In the mystery, maybe the person who appeared to be the eye witness was actually lying, and it wasn’t even murder but an accident. The witness was a media junkie and wanted the coverage.
Laura’s boyfriend dumped her because he’d discovered he had a terminal disease (tug at the heartstrings, bring out the handkerchiefs) and didn’t want to put her through it.
As for the purple people on Planet X, they were actually friendly. As the space travelers become sick, one after the other, it’s revealed that it was something in the atmosphere that killed the previous travelers and is also killing off the indigenous population. That’s why the aliens are trying to scare them into leaving.
Clues also offer a wide range of possibilities. They can be subtle, but lead to the real twist, or they can be “red herrings” inserted for the sole purpose of misdirection. Red herrings must sound plausible, however, or they don’t work.
Maybe the clues are “in your face” and point the finger at the real solution loud and clear. So loud and clear, in fact, that it seems like it must be a red herring.
WHY IS A MISDIRECTION CALLED A “RED HERRING?”
Why are these misleading clues called red herrings? Well, one explanation, cited in The Word Detective explains that the curing process turned the herring a red color and lent it a distinctive smell. The smelly fish was tied to a string and dragged through the woods to teach hunting dogs to follow a trail. Later, red herrings may also have been used to confuse the hounds in order to prolong a foxhunt or to test their ability to stay with a scent.
Hot on the wrong trail—thus, red herring!
One of my all-time favorite examples is the film “The Usual Suspects.” It has it all, and of course, the character of Verbal, played masterfully by Kevin Spacey, had the viewer fully convinced in the wrong direction.
Nothing was as it seemed to be, and the twist left viewers with their mouths open. It is classic use of clues, misdirection, and a diabolical twist ending.
TWISTS AND CLUES ARE POWERFUL IN FICTION OF ANY KIND
If you are a writer, regardless of your genre, consider employing the power of twists and clues. If you’re a reader, have fun solving the puzzles.
For more information about Morgan St. James visit her website www.morganstjames-author.com or the website for the Silver Sisters Mysteries she writes with her sister Phyllice Bradner www.silversistersmysteries.com.
Morgan presents interactive workshops to writers groups, conferences, fraternal organization meetings and more. Crafting Twists and Dropping Clues is one of her favorites. Click here to contact Morgan.
Every Tuesday: Spotlight In depth interviews with authors, publishers, organizations and events
Every Thursday: Writers: Tricks of the trade features tips, techniques and tricks.
Watch for special weekday columns – news or special interest items as they happen. Click here for A complete listing of past columns.
Recent Tricks of the Trade: Crafting Twists and Dropping Clues – Part I; Three common mistakes new authors make, Keep readers rivited to your story, How to keep the creative spirit alive Part I, Part II