Mystery, suspense, they go hand in hand. The great sleuth Sherlock Holmes is enjoying a resurgance in both America (Elementary), and Britain (Sherlock), who have revamped the characters for a modern audience. I have seen the BBC’s Sherlock through, and I noticed something in action that I’d read about a few years ago regarding detective stories. However, this tip will fit any story.
Make sure the audience, the reader, has a way to solve the puzzle, or at least aspects of it. Reveal hints and clues enough to keep the reader a hair ahead of your main character.
“Won’t that detract from the story?”
Ok, ok, I’ll give an example. In “A Study in Pink”, episode one season one of Sherlock, Sherlock poses a question that reveals the nature of the killer, that he is unable to answer until late in the episode. When he first asked the question, I’m pretty sure I yelled the answer at my video. When he figured it out, and I was right, I was elated.
Every time I solved a puzzle, my enjoyment grew.
Then, when the major cliffhanger came for season two, I wasn’t upset at all at not knowing the trick. I didn’t feel any kind of cheat. It’s made waiting for season three that much more salivating.
When a question is only a question because your protagonist isn’t looking for common sense answers, (whatever common sense in your world is), it cheapens the narrative. Don’t over rely on deus ex to propel the plot to the end, and don’t save the plot with a deus ex.
Your protag doesn’t have to be a genius like me or Sherlock to know that some questions are more important to ask than others.
1) Don’t withhold information that would unravel your plot early, that the protag should have found out.
2) Don’t deus ex the ending.
Do you agree or disagree? Would you add any rules?