Mystery Books continue to be one of the most popular genres in publishing. Have you ever wondered what makes mystery books so popular and different from other novels? In order to answer this question let’s start by looking at the elements all good books have in common.
Plot is technically how a story is organized. The organization might use chronological events, a series of stories, flashbacks or different voices. However, plot is really about the events that move the story forward to the conclusion. The events and how they intertwine with the other elements keeps the reader engaged.
Characters need to be believable and that means they are well rounded. While we love our heroes, they are not perfect and have flaws. And villains are not all bad and have redeeming elements to their personality.
We need to identify with the characters. Have we been in the same circumstance, have we faced the same decisions or at the very least can we understand the character’s situation? And we like our characters to have something unique about their personalities. We all know Miss Marple knits, Jim Qwilleran drinks Squunk water, Kinsey Millhone likes peanut butter and pickle sandwiches and Sherlock keeps his tobacco in a slipper.
Dialogue helps the story in two ways. First, it gives insight into the personality of the
characters based on what they say and how they say it. Second, dialogue helps to move the story. Dialogue provides answers and insight into what is happening or about to happen.
Setting whether it’s a fictional or a real location needs to be believable. Can the reader
visualize riding or walking through the streets of a particular location? And if it is a real town are the names of the streets accurate and the sites mentioned located in the right spot.
But setting is more than a physical location or backdrop for the story. Setting provides a look into the culture of the characters in the story. What people say and how they respond can be directly related to where they live. Does the banker in a big city react the same way as a fisherman in a small coastal village or the cattleman on a ranch?
Action/Conflict helps to move the plot. Something has to happen to take us from one scene to the next. Is it finding the secret room, a fight between two characters or a struggle to do the right thing? As readers we get involved with the conflict—we insert our desire for how we want the conflict to end and we root for our favorite character to prevail.
What does a mystery book offer that is different from other novels?
It’s the puzzle. Each mystery has a puzzle that must be solved. The puzzle has two essential elements—the crime that is the centerpiece of all mysteries and the clues that guide us and the detective to the solution of this crime.
In a mystery, plot, characters, dialogue, setting and action/conflict are all designed to help the reader gather the puzzle pieces. Then we are asked to put these pieces together in a
logical fashion to form a complete picture and solve the case. It is the challenge of solving the puzzle and figuring out “whodunit” that keeps the mystery reader engaged.
So the next time you want to go to sleep but you can’t put the mystery book down give credit to the puzzle. It’s our wanting to solve the puzzle that keeps us turning the pages. It’s the puzzle that makes mystery books different and exciting. It’s the puzzle that helps them remain a top selling genre.