A DARK & STORY NIGHT: Mystery Elements in Stories

Mysteries involve a question that has to be answered. Who did this? Why did they do it? Where did it go? All mysteries has some important fact that is kept from the audience or reader and revealed at the conclusion. Along the way clever hints, tricky false leads, or scary moments keep the story moving along. In mysteries, character mood plays a strong role.

One easy way to handle creating a mystery is to come up with the idea, map out or outline action of the story, know the conclusion (who did it and why) and then work backward. What actions would have been needed to have the character arrive at that point. Try this: take a mystery you like and start at the end, identify the clues revealed in the resolution, and then read back from there. Good stories will have an elegant connectivity to them that often becomes apparent in reading it end to front. You will see where the author left clues, tired to lead you astray, or foreshadowed events. As you read note how the setting influences the mood and how the mood then influences the story.

Where a story is set often influences the mood of a story. Establishing the setting, and the mood, then become the first task of a storyteller dipping into the pool of this genre. Consider where you are taken with these opening phrases: “In a galaxy far, far away”, “Once upon a time when fairies danced ”, “In a dark, silent, forest”, “Alone in the mountain cabin”, “When the buffalo covered the hills and the meadowlark sang”. The mood might be one of threat, danger, adventure, sadness, fear, mystery, struggle, exuberance, anger, hopelessness. The setting can be real or used as a symbol or metaphor of deeper human activity.

There is a reason why many shorter mysteries are set in the dark or at night, in isolation, or in a conflict/struggle situation. Immediately a specific mood has been set with an economy of words. Writing mysteries allows one to draw this out a bit more, to begin in the realm of the normal and slowly move toward that inevitable moment when the ordinary is left behind. The moment when something comes out of left field, sideswiping the humdrum existence of the character, and spinning them into the unknown.

No comments: