Sunday, September 2, 2012

Anatomy of a Mystery by Jannine Gallant

I write in multiple genres - contemporary, western, historical - but they all have one thing in common, an element of suspense. Suspense is fun. It keeps the reader guessing. Or at least I hope it does… Which brings me to my topic. How does one write a mystery?
I currently have two published novels that fall into the “who dunnit” category. There’s plenty of romance, but the plot revolves around discovering the bad guy before he ramps up his reign of terror. If the author chooses not to let the reader in on the villain’s identity, she has to play by a few rules.
1)      The villain cannot come out of nowhere to be a complete surprise.

2)      Clues must be left along the way.

3)      The reader should be able to figure out the bad guy’s identity, but not until the end of the book.
So, how hard can it be? Actually, it isn’t as difficult it may seem. I pick a cast of possible suspects and give them all opportunity. Each has to have a few issues to be believable bad guys, which leads to motive. Sometimes I keep myself guessing until I’m absolutely positive I know who the real culprit is. The key is to keep all possible suspects in play in the beginning. As the book progresses, the author narrows down the field. By the end, there should only be a couple of strong contenders left. You want your reader to have that ah ha moment when they know they’ve figured out the villain’s identity. If your reader is completely shocked and surprised, you haven’t done your job of laying a trail of clues.
One catch – it’s easy to fall into a habit of creating similar bad guys. I used to read a famous mystery writer who shall remain nameless. After reading a few of her books, it became a game to determine the villain based on the book blurb. I was nearly always right. So, get creative. Invent new and unique personalities for each bad guy. Most importantly, have fun and readers will too!

A Deadly Love

In the heart of the redwoods, a madman waits...

Recovering from a broken engagement and determined to start over, Brooke Wakefield flees to her grandmother's home deep in the redwood forest. Discovering her teenage crush lives next door is a less than auspicious beginning. The last thing she needs is another man to break her heart, but every time Dillon glances her way, her heat level soars.

Dillon Tremayne isn't looking for a relationship. With a young son, an eccentric grandfather, and a logging company running him ragged, he can't afford any romantic entanglements. But Brooke's humor and strength are hard to resist.

When a woman from his past is brutally murdered and another disappears, Dillon is heartsick--and terrified the killer will target Brooke next. Can Brooke and Dillon find love in the heart of the forest? Or will a madman's twisted dream destroy their chance at happiness?


Victim of Desire

Ex-soap star, Rachel Carpenter, is a single mom coping with the daily problems of raising three daughters and operating her bookstore in the Napa Valley wine country. Kane Lafferty is a burned out police detective struggling with his own demons. The attraction between the two is immediate, though they both have reasons to avoid a relationship. At a wilderness camp in the High Sierra, their passion grows. But someone is watching. A man obsessed with Rachel since her soap star days is determined to have her at any cost. Danger mounts as the stalker’s reign of terror escalates. Kane risks his life to protect Rachel and her daughters, but can he uncover the predator’s identity in time? Or will Rachel have to sacrifice herself and her relationship with Kane to save her family?

Today I’m giving away a PDF copy of one of my romantic suspense books – winner’s choice. Please leave a comment or email me at jannine @ janninegallant.com to be eligible to win. Who are some of your favorite suspense authors? If you’ve read mine, did I do my job and keep you guessing?

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21 comments:

Margo Hoornstra said...

Great insight. Have to tell you V o D kept me guessing. When I get to it D L will do the same. BTW I loved the romance. Kane was something' else!

Jannine Gallant said...

Thanks, Margo. It's always nice to hear figuring out the villain wasn't too easy!

Jerri Hines said...

Jannine,

Love your books. So you must be doing something right!

Jannine Gallant said...

Thanks, Jerri, I hope so!

Jessica Subject said...

Great insight into creating a mystery story! All the best!

Laura Breck said...

Wow, lots of things to add into your plot. Thanks for the inside workings of a mystery.

VK Lynch-Doran said...

everything you said is so very true. From experience, it does help to know who the bad guy is going to be. In my first pubbed novel I planned to have the loveable curmudgeon town doctor be the killer--until my crit partner said she'd never speak to me again if I carried through on that idea. I made it someone else.
best of luck with this one, kid!
Kat and Veronica

Jannine Gallant said...

Jessica, thanks for stopping by and the good wishes.

Jannine Gallant said...

Laura, mystery plots can get complicated trying to keep everything straight!

Jannine Gallant said...

Kat, I love it when the villain is someone unexpected. As long as he (or she) is believable as the guilty party. A lovable town doctor sounds like a great bad guy. Thanks for visiting.

Leah St. James said...

Suspense/mystery is my favorite genre, too. I probably first fell in love with suspense way back with Gothic novels, but as far as modern novelists, Nora Roberts and Linda Howard are favorites of mine. Both of yours sound like great stories, and they're going in my TBR stash. :-)

Regina Duke said...

Congratulations on your great cover! It looks so spooky! I just bought mine, and can't wait to read it. :-)
Great blog today!

Jannine Gallant said...

Leah, I'm also a Nora and Linda fan. They both create excellent suspense. Thanks for stopping by.

Jannine Gallant said...

Regina, my cover definitely has a chilling quality to it! I was really pleased when I saw it. Hope you enjoy the book!

Vonnie Davis said...

Your post is so timely for me. I'm struggling with the last book of a romantic suspense tilogy. Now's the time to reveal the true head of the Red Hand Terrorist group. I'm struggling with setting it all up. And as I struggle, I avoid working on it, so much so that I've written and submitted a novella and two short stories. But I must...I must finish this. My agent is breathing down my neck and my editor is hinting she can't wait to read it...and my muse is in the corner, shivering and shuddering with "Oh, Lawd, Miz Vonnie, I haven't got a clue..."

LisaRayns said...

I haven't read yours yet but Colleen Thompson is one of my favorite romantic suspense authors!
lisarayns(at)gmail.com

Katherine said...

Great post, Jannine. I wrote a mystery earlier this year. I had a friend read it and she called me after the 5th chapter and said who she thought the killer was and was she right. She was! Guess I didn't layer in those clues well enough without giving the killer away or maybe because I'd talked about the book to her, that's how she figured it out -- At least that's what I'm telling myself. LOL. Right now, it's on the closet shelf but I plan on revising it some day soon.

I love reading books by Sandra Brown, Karen Robards, Linda Howard and others. After reading your blurbs, I'll definitely be adding you to the list.

Katherine
Katherineg425@yahoo.com

Jannine Gallant said...

Keep plugging away at it, Vonnie. Pull out your cast of suspects and throw them all into the mix. I have complete faith in you!

Jannine Gallant said...

Lisa, I haven't read Colleen Thompson. Thanks for the suggestion and for stopping by!

Jannine Gallant said...

Katherine, I love all three of those authors. As for your mystery, your friend probably knows how you think too well. My daughter guessed my bad guy, but so far other readers haven't. Let someone who isn't so familiar with your work read it and see how they react before you go through massive edits.

Jannine Gallant said...

And the winner is - Lisa Wells! Lisa emailed me a comment so I'll be contacting her to see which book she prefers. Thanks to everyone who left comments. Check back all month for more giveaways by all our authors. I'll have another one posted on the 18th.