Friday, August 28, 2009

I'm havin' a problem

I'm having a problem with my WIP. It is a mystery this time around. It's fun writing it too. But I'm having a couple of snags that I need YOUR advice on.

Snag #1: Leaving clues. The mysteries I have been reading all leave clues at the RIGHT time and in the RIGHT place. And the clues the authors leave aren't obvious. They aren't tacked on to help you figure out whodunit early on. As a matter of fact, these clues don't even seem like clues at all. They are dropped in, ever so cleverly. You don't even realize they're clues until later on toward the ending when everything is coming together.

My clues were obvious so I took those out. Now the question to my bloggy buddies is this. Should I go on instinct Scott? Will I just figure all of this out? As I read more mysteries, will it just become easier to think of clues to leave?

Or should I worry that this is not the right thing for me to be writing. I haven't had any writers block with this. The words just come. They come fast and furious. It's just this clue leaving business that has me a little stumped.

Snag #2: Can the chapters be short? Some of them have to be. It is a YA this time around for me. I have some chapters that are only 5 typed pages. Can this work? Some chapters are longer, but so far none are over 10 pages. Does this even matter?

I hope some of you can weigh in on this. I need HELP. :) Thanks for reading. :)


  1. Not sure about the "clues". If they are obvious then, no, don't put them in!

    Chapter length, YA or adult, mean nothing to me. I actually like shorter chapters if not for the option of putting the book down sooner! I don't stop between chapters if at all possible. If ending the chapter and making the next chapter flows well then do it. But if it's going to pick up immediately where the other chapter left off....then no. I hate that when it's done.

  2. I've seen plenty of short-chapter YA. I wouldn't worry about chapter length anyway while in first draft. In fact, if you know where this mystery is going, just write and don't worry about the clues, either. I think in second draft you can see if you need to add or detract from that. And you can use that nifty map that Lady Glamis put up, which helps to be sure you've done the foreshadowing. Good luck. It sounds like fun.

  3. I actually laid out a mystery trilogy not too long ago. I listed the necessary clues, and red herrings,and tried to find the best places to sneak them in without being obvious. If you think a clue is important but too obvious, you might try to find another way to drop it in. A secondary character's aside comment, or in the middle of a longer conversation can work. Arguments can be good, since people say all kinds of things and readers don't necessarily pay all that much attention to them. Also, don't feel that you have to put in all the clues, readers like to fill in the blanks themselves. But I hate mysteries that aren't fair and don't tell you everything you needed to know to be able to figure it out. I wouldn't worry if it's harder to write, that may just mean you'll be better at it than others, so keep it up. I loved mysteries, and still do.

  4. I think you should go with your gut as far as the clues. The obvious ones need to be left out or figured in differently, but I think sometimes it's easy to overthink the kind of info you're giving to the reader. The clues might just seem more obvious to you because you already know them and where they are. This is why a critique group or beta readers can help further down the road. They can see it more objectively.

    As far as chapters, I don't think that's a concern at all. Many genres of fiction have short or surprisingly long chapters. Again, go with your gut on this. Do what feels right and what flows. Chapter length is something that can be altered later if it ends up being a big deal (which I doubt it will).

    Have a great weekend!

  5. Chapter length doesn't really matter at all. As for clues, one school of thought is to "seed" them in in threes.

    An awesome book (but, WARNING, it will cause a bunch more work/revision to ms) is Donald Maass' Writing the Breakout Novel.

  6. For mysteries I prefer to work backwards. Before I even start writing I plot out what the antagonist is doing, how the crime was committed, and how they get caught.

    Once I have the crime I can work the narrative around that. It's almost like writing two stories, but only one makes it to the final draft.

    As for chapter length, don't worry about that. If it's an issue you can solve it after the line edits are done. Put what you need in each chapter, no more, no less.

  7. I haven't actually written a mystery, but I have some mysterious elements in my current series. Once I had it in my mind who or what I wanted the mystery to surround, I tried to think of enough things to cloud, throw off, or misdirect the reader from thinking of this person or thing while still giving them enough clues to make them think they are figuring it out.

    It's not easy, but I don't think you should scrap it. Just like you said, the words just come, so dropping the right hints will come to you too. Sometimes if you step back, things will be clear.

    And as for the chapters, I used to worry about this too, but now I'm just like, the chapter is over when it's over whether it's 5 pages or 25 pages.

    Hope that helps--good luck with it. I'm sure it'll work out.

  8. Ugh, I'm having the same problem you're having with clues, only for me it's foreshadowing. I'm wondering if I'm being totally obvious with the foreshadowing.

    As for the length of chapters, I've been reading a ton of YA lately, and most of them have snappy, short chapters. I'm pretty sure you're ok.

  9. Okay, go pick up a Mary Higgins Clark novel. She's the Queen of a) short chapters and b) leaving clues that don't seem like clues. Now, once upon a time, I could never, ever, not in a million years, figure out whodunit! Nope, no way in . . . Now, after years of reading her novels, I can sometimes guess whodunit! Not always.

    Chapter Length - go with what feels natural to you.

    Clues - don't have one! Sorry!

    Best of luck!

  10. BJ: Hey, we're sailing in that same boat. Glad I'm not alone. :) But I'm also glad my chapter length is okay. And I'm being totally obvious with my stupid clues. I have had a lot of advice though. Thanks! :)

    Scott: I will. I was trying to think of the writer that wrote mysteries someone had told me. Thanks, that was the name. I gotta get my head in this game. :) Aw, I thought you might have a clue or two up your sleeve. :)

  11. I'm working on a mystery as well for the same age group. I always second guess whether I've made my clues too obvious or have enough red herrings that point the reader in a different direction. That's why I rely on beta readers--they really help me gauge if I've pulled it off or not.

    One piece of advice that I try to adhere to is to drop the real clues right before or after a significant event, so that the reader's attention is on the action of that event, and they miss/forget the clue. Too, I find a great way to mislead the reader is to have the character pause briefly to think about a 'false clue'. After all, when the author emphasizes something, the reader is trained to pick up on it. You emphasize the red herring and it helps to send the reader in the wrong direction.:-)

    Don't worry about the short chapters. As long as they have meat to them, the shortness will help push the pace up a bit. :-)

  12. Robyn - sorry, all out of clues. : )

    BTW - registered for the Muse Conference.



Leave me a note! :)