It’s a Mystery

I’ve been chafing under the mystery genre for a while now.  Don’t get me wrong, I love mysteries.  Reading and writing them.  But lately I’ve had a hard time finding new authors because when I read the jacket blurb, they feel too formulaic.  In reading the short blurb I can tell exactly how the story is going to go and no longer feel the need to read the book.  That’s not true of all of course, just many.  It’s almost as if the mysteries out there these days are falling into the ‘Harlequin’ of the mystery genre.  You know, the author looks up the required template, changes the names and the book is written. 

I’m starting to wonder if that chafing feeling means it’s time to stretch as a writer and try something new.  The problem is, I can’t switch to a genre that I don’t read and am not familiar with.  At least that’s the common school of thought.  Plus, I still love mysteries, and anxiously await new ones from my favorite authors.  Which then begs the question, what is it about the formula mysteries that bugs me?

Something awful happens, the woman gets involved, a man shows up to help or hinder, becomes a romantic conflict, there’s a big drama where she almost dies, either saves herself or the guy saves her, and then she solves everything. 

If that’s the basic premise of most mysteries, and the basics are bugging me, then maybe the problem is not switching genres, but figuring out how to take some of those elements and turn them on their head.  Not a unique idea, I know.  Some of the best mystery writers do just that.  The problem for me is figuring out how to accomplish that, without copying someone else, and with still keeping the story uniquely mine. 

And doesn’t that boil down to the basic problem for all writers?  How to create a story that is original, unique, and alive, when there are only so many basic story structures out there?  I’m thinking in particular of the structure of The Hero’s Quest, which is where almost all mysteries get their underlying plot structure. 

Maybe the problem isn’t me getting bored with the mystery books out there.  Maybe it’s actually me getting bored with my writing.  Not with writing, but with my skill level.  Maybe that chafing feeling is actually the need to grow as a writer.

Mystery solved.

4 thoughts on “It’s a Mystery

  1. It’s wonderful to follow your thought process here! I’ve been thinking about these kinds of things myself lately, in that I want to get better, so my stories don’t start sounding alike. I find myself reusing a phrase or something, and trying hard to change it up a bit, then wondering if anybody else notices an odd sameness. Am I being too critical, or not critical enough? I think you’ve sloved my mystery, too!


  2. I know what you mean about reusing phrases. I’ll find myself wanting to use a scrap in a new story, that I used in a past one that I tried marketing and gave up on. And then I find myself caught in a dilemma. Do I want to use this really good phrase here, where the story may not go anywhere, or leave the phrase in its original bed, where it might not go anywhere. If I take that phrase out and put it in a new story then if I ever decide to try marketing the original again, I’ll have to come up with something else to fill that hole. Then that leads to trying to figure out how many stories a certain phrase or character has shown up in. Do I need an Excell spreadsheet to track favorite phrases? And at that point my brain spontaneously combusts.


  3. Oh girls, if it is a really good sentence, then why not use it several times? The one that notice will only be people who read all your books being the will all be published one day and then still I dont think the general person will realize it but only some speacial people. And with that it is either people who criticise you on it and think you made a mistake but you can forget about them because the others, like your friends will see why this sentence was so good and you wanted to use it again and will just smile, knowing they know you.
    I also think it is nice for a reader to pick something like this out, something that is a piece of the author, just like people use certain words over and over and its like their trademark…right? Anyway…

    Without wanting to sound bad about this, I think you two might be overthinking this. But then who am I to tell you two things like that, since I am just a novice at this all.

    Oh and if it was so good, then you really should use it again. Just my opinion.
    Just hope it didnt sound too offensive…


    • I hear what you’re saying, Jenni, and I like the idea of my phrases, my personal way of communicating, being seen as my style. You’ve made me think about why I like certain writers, and how I’m drawn to their specific writing styles. Walter Mosley and Edith Wharton have very different styles (of course!) and because I like them so much, I probably don’t notice whether or not they’ve recycled any phrases! I’m glad that you added your voice to this discussion. 🙂


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