Good Questions, Good Answers
We like things to make sense and we like to know whodunit. We like answers. Finding the answer depends on asking the right question. People often do not say what they mean, nor do they mean what they say. This is evident in questions as well as statements. Mystery-loving readers learn not to assume that something reported or presumed by one character is true, which leaves an open question. We file the good question away and read on, recognizing possibilities and red herrings.
Asking the right person is another part of asking well. In my thriller Orchids and Stone, when Daphne asks the detective why her sister was murdered, she isn’t asking the right question or the right person— she’s expressing grief and frustration.
As some readers and writers of crime fiction know, I was a police sergeant. Asking the right question of the right person was my job. It left a lot to explore. Some of the questions that interested me in crafting this novel were the complexities of bystander syndrome, who intervenes for a stranger and who waits, watches and thinks someone else should do something? The impact of a suspended case on the survivors raises good questions about coping, and I wanted to delve into that aspect with my characters. But here’s something to consider: Does life pose some questions that will never be answered?
Murder mysteries are wonderfully plot-dependent, and great characterization makes the read all the more absorbing. By learning characters’ past pains and motivations, we can anticipate how they will respond in a given situation. A character’s unique response moves the plot forward and makes one story different from the last mystery. So, we love character-driven stories, too.
The whole mystery/suspense/thriller gamut is a wonderful mix. Whether we’re trying to solve who planted the metaphorical (or actual) bomb, biting our nails because the bomb has been planted, or racing to stop the detonation, we face questions. Savvy readers create great questions as they eat up the chapters.
For some readers, everything must be tied up in a neat package at the end of the story. Others can tolerate the mystery of an unanswered question, acknowledging the hope and promise of future exploration, and enjoying the space for thoughtful reflection and discussion. It’s never right or wrong to prefer one kind of story over another. Here’s to recognizing good questions and good answers.