The first draft of The Expendable Man was completed in June 2010. It took a while for me to get it edited and decide how to publish it, but since early March it has been available in both print and digital format. In between, I started working alternately on two mystery novels. I don’t have titles for them yet; so I’ll call them “Jake” and “Karen” for the names of the protagonists.
The Expendable Man is a suspense story. Suspense is probably the easiest form of fiction to write. The author creates a problem, dumps the main character into the middle of that problem and then mut help him (or her) work his way out of it.
Mysteries are much harder to do well. The problem in a mystery is very different from the problem in a suspense. In a mystery, there is a protagonist – a detective, police officer or whomever the author designates as the protagonist – who sets out to solve the mystery, whether it be a murder or other crime. The problem he faces is to discover the truth of what happened.
In most cases, the detective is not personally involved in the problem. It is either his job or occasionally, if the protagonist is not an officer of the law, he is driven to solve the mystery for some distinct reason, such as to save a person he believes is innocent. Occasionally the detective is personally involved and must solve the mystery in order to save himself, a family member or someone else, but that doesn’t change the structural difference between a suspense story and a mystery.
In mysteries, the detective must find out who the killer/bad guy is; he must gather evidence and come to the right conclusions. Presenting this process in a way that keeps the reader’s interest is not easy. There’s a danger of pulling rabbits out of one’s hat – a cheap way of solving a case which your reader won’t appreciate; there’s also the danger of making things so obtuse that the reader loses interest or doesn’t buy the solution.
In “Jake,” the novel I am hoping to finish in 2011, we learn right away who the bad guy is. So the problem facing the detective is not “who did it,” but rather how to prove that X committed a murder when everyone else thinks the death was an accident.
I’ll post the initial chapters on the web when I’ve gotten further along with the story, and I’ll have more to say about the process of writing a mystery in this blog in the weeks to come.