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Although this article on Writers Helping Writers is geared towards the mystery genre, the wisdom that is shared really applies to all types of stories. The best reads are the ones that suck you in and won’t let you out until you find out what happens because you are rooting so desperately for the protagonist.
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The Secret of a Successful Mystery: Making the Reader a Participator
A lot of great stories have a mystery in them. The mystery may not be the primary focus; it might be the secondary, or the mystery might be so minor it lasts only a few chapters. But whatever the case, it should draw readers into your story and keep them turning the pages. That only happens, though, if it’s done right.
As an editor, I see a lot of unpublished work. One of the most common problems I see when an author includes a mystery is that the whole mystery seems to happen on the page. The author plants “clues” of course, but then focuses too much on them, making sure the reader “gets it,” or she has her character wonder for paragraphs upon paragraphs, with speculation that is often vague, uninteresting, or leads to conclusions that are far too predictable.
In cases like this, the reader becomes a spectator.
But just as emotion is more powerful when the reader experiences it himself, mysteries are more powerful when the reader is a participator.
The narrator (which in some cases is the viewpoint character) is the readers’ guide. The narrator draws focus to certain aspects of the story, and leaves others in the background. The narrator offers an emotional tone that helps the reader interpret a scene. The narrator suggests themes and ideas and judgments on the story and characters.