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.