Test the Integrity of Your Mystery – Part 4

Continued from last week.

This final blog involves the fourth column of your worksheet. You already know from the first three parts where your seen takes place, who’s involved in the scene, and what action takes place in those scenes. Now it’s time for:

Unanswered Questions.

Unanswered questions must be addressed. Remember the old adage about the gun on the mantle? To paraphrase, if the gun is there in ACT I, someone had better shoot something before the end of the story.

At the end of each scene, list the questions raised during the scene.

Let’s say that your slueth discovers a scrap of paper in the victim’s fireplace. The questions this raises in the reader’s mind are “What was written on the paper?” “Who tried to burn the paper?” “Is it relevant to the mystery?” List all three in the Unanswered Questions column.

When all of your columns are complete, scan down the Information column until you find the answer to each of your questions. It helps to place a checkmark next to both the Information and the corresponding Question. By the end of your story, everything in both of these columns should have a checkmark.

If Aunt Gertrude wonders aloud what ever happened to her diary, the reader will carry that question to the end of the story. Left unanswered, it won’t matter that the murderer has been caught and that the sleuth survives to solve his next case. The reader will want to know why no one ever found the diary and what information it contained.

Even if a piece of Information provided is a Red Herring, it will still raise questions. It doesn’t matter if the answer is “Aunt Gertrude’s diary has nothing to do with the murder.” As the author, you need to make sure that the slueth recognizes that the Question asked has been answered. If you leave anything hanging, you risk irritating your reader.

I hope that using this chart will ease the way to a balanced mystery with a tight plot. You should wind up with a story that makes sense and, as a result, satisfied readers.

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