Tuesday, December 4, 2012

It's not time to solve the mystery yet

When my husband and I watch medical mystery or detective shows, we quickly pick up on the timing of certain formulaic elements. Usually, the character who is the chief suspect on the detective show 20 minutes in is not the real criminal. The initial diagnosis on the medical show invariably turns out to be wrong, and the patient takes a dramatic turn for the worse about halfway through the episode.

I've noticed that e-reading bothers me in formats where I have no clue how far in I am. Without even realizing it, I have learned to apply certain expectations to the pacing of a story, depending on how many pages there are left to go. I read widely, and my books aren't quite as predictable as some TV series, but it's a general rule that a book's most shattering revelation will not occur 20% of the way through the book. If something big happens at that point, then I know something even bigger must happen later on. And if I'm reading in a format where I don't know how far along I am, I'm not sure whether to invest all my emotional energy in that scene and then relax, or whether I can expect a build to an even bigger discovery.

It's interesting how I've absorbed this sense of pacing without consciously trying. I think that many of the techniques we use as writers are like that: we don't spell them out or even realize we know them.

One more note about the YA for NJ benefit auction: there are still a couple of days left. Arrange the items by price and take a look at how many books are available for less than $20! Such as work by Alissa Grosso, Jordan Sonnenblick, Sarah Mlynowski, Josh Berk, Jon Skovron, Natalie Standiford, Ellen Wittlinger, Jennifer Jabaley, Natasha Friend, Alyssa Sheinmel, Cecil Castellucci, PG Kain, KM Walton, Micol Ostow, Natalie Zaman & Charlotte Bennardo, Laurie Faria Stolarz, Alexa Young, Kimberley Griffiths Little, Michael Northrop, Kate Messner, David Lubar, Megan Kelley Hall, Swati Avasthi, Eric Luper, and yours truly, just to name a few.


  1. I'm not e-reading yet (but will probably get there eventually) but I could see how not knowing exactly how far along you are in a mystery could make the formula you have less convenient to apply. I've read a lot of Agatha Christie books and figured out the culprit on a number of occasions on the basis of my familiarity with her mystery writing style. I agree- the real juicy stuff is rarely revealed at the beginning.

    1. I'm barely e-reading myself. I mostly do it for books that aren't available in hard copy.

      I agree about Agatha Christie--I was so proud of myself for figuring out the killer in SLEEPING MURDER.