I love a good mystery. Especially a story with a twisty-turny plot that keeps me up at night and confounds me – but in a good way. But I don’t love mysteries that just confuse me though.
I read a book recently that had potential. It was a pretty decent read with interesting characters and a good premise. If it weren’t for one big mistake I probably would’ve recommended it to friends to read. But here’s the thing that happened. The writer tricked me.
Give the reader a fighting chance
There are certain tricks that writers can pull off:
- Heaping on misdirection
- Planting red herrings
- Creating a mystery within a mystery
- If she’s really good a writer can even make the hero the villain
But the clues have to be there. The reader has to have a fighting chance at connecting the dots and solving the puzzle. Or at the very least, have an aha moment when the killer is revealed.
But what a writer can’t do (no matter how good she is) is pull the villain out of her literary ass at the last second. A writer can’t take a minor character that appears in two or three brief scenes of no consequence and then spring it on the reader that this is the killer at the very end.
And yet that’s exactly what the writer did
Specifically, the writer created a character who was suspect to the reader who even announced he was a killer when first introduced into the story. Of course it was a play on words and not meant literally. And as the story continued, you couldn’t be sure if this character was a good guy or a bad guy. That’s fair. I didn’t know if he was a red herring or the real deal.
However, in the final ten pages our hero is faced with this questionable character. Believing him to be the killer, our hero is panicked and in fear for her life. Just as she is about to be killed by this character (who we are all now certain is the killer), he’s shot and the hero believes she’s been saved.
Phew, that was a close one. Except that it turns that the ‘real killer’ is the one who shot the ‘perceived killer.’
The real killer is a very minor character whose name I didn’t even remember. His motivation was an obsession with the hero. Apparently he went to incredible lengths (murder and mayhem) to get her attention. He didn’t get her attention, but he didn’t get the reader’s attention either. There was no foreshadowing, no clues, no inference that this character was anything but a background player carrying out the basic functions of a minor character. The revelation of this character being the killer was tantamount to a writer revealing that the clerk at the mini mart who sold the hero a diet coke in chapter seven is the villain. What the hell?????
No aha moment for the reader. No scanning back and realizing that yes, the clues were there and I should’ve seen it. No chance that I ever would’ve figured that out. Not because the writer was stealth, clever and fucking awesome at hiding the killer in plain sight. But because the writer flat-out tricked me. All for the sake of shock and plot twist.
Except it didn’t shock me. It pissed me off. It made me put the book in the reject pile. It insulted my intelligence. It made me think the writer didn’t care about me, her reader. Too bad for me and the writer.
Publish no books before their time
In our high-tech modern world, writers have more choices in publishing than ever before. That is potentially great for readers and writers. Indie authors are really making a splash and succeeding at gaining recognition and readership.
However, just because it’s easy to get a book published online via platforms like Amazon and Smashwords, doesn’t mean that an author should rush to publish a book. Whether your book is published through traditional or indie channels a writer still must go through the process of turning out a good book. If you self publish, then you must ensure the book is beta read, edited, proofread, tweaked, and polished til it shines. You must turn out the best book you possibly can. You have to put your readers first and your ambitions second. It’s great to be a published author but if what you publish is an ill-conceived story that turns readers off, what have you really accomplished?
Do yourself and your readers a favor – write a damn good book, make it the best you possibly can and then publish it.
How about you? Has a writer tricked you at the end? Did you love it or hate it? Is all fair in love and genre fiction or not?