Saturday, July 4, 2009

Ramping Up the Conflict

There is an essential need to up the ante in a mystery – your reader expects it. It's part of what you've promised as a writer of a mystery. If there’s a murder, is there the threat of a second or a third? Could the investigator be at risk? Someone near and dear to him or her? If there isn’t the threat of a murder, could it be that the villain will “get away” with his or her plan? What effect will that have on the hero, the investigator or innocent bystanders? You want your readers to keep turning the pages, wanting to know what's going to happen next…and you want them to really be cheering on the hero/heroine. 

The author must increase the conflict and tension to have a satisfying denouement that the reader can believe in and be happy about. We can have conflict between characters if the investigator and the villain come face-to-face. Or the villain and another victim. Or the investigator and authorities, if the detective isn’t law enforcement.

How dark are the woods?
Writers can also increase the tension in a story with setting and atmosphere. A dark, deserted urban setting is much more intimidating than a peaceful country trail on a sunny day with dozens of hikers around. A dwelling with no power versus a homey bed & breakfast with a grandmotherly owner. A storm (whether wind, rain or snow) versus the perfect sunny day with puffy clouds. A cute cuddly kitten is much less tension-inducing than a hungry lion or tiger.

I find it a “fun” part of the process to increase the tension and conflict – maybe because there are so many options.

What makes you keep reading a mystery title?

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