43 Ways to Ruin a Mystery Novel: Part 2 – Scenarios
We are voracious readers, each devouring several mystery books every week. We cheer the protagonists with laudable qualities; we love to tickle our sleuthing abilities in complex whodunnits; and we feel fulfilled by satisfying endings. Murder mysteries are simply the most energizing genre. When done right.
Here are nine scenarios that ruin the plausibility and consistency of your novel. Such situations grind your readers to a halt, focusing on the ridiculousness of what was written. A lazy and cavalier towards the accuracy of details is disrespectful to your readers. Readers won’t appreciate having their intelligence belittled.
- Have a glaring geographical mistake that abruptly captures your attention and removes you from the story; Riviera Maya and the Mexican Riviera sound almost the same, so they must be identical, right? Or plunk an Italian village on the Pacific Ocean. Don’t bother to look at a map; readers don’t care about geography.
- Forget what you wrote in your first novel and change it in the second novel: Coastline Properties (which was repeatedly stressed in the first book, inexplicably became Shoreline Properties in Book 2). If you forgot the name, most likely your readers will, too. No biggie.
- Forget that the man was found dead at the bottom of a cliff at the end of Book 1 and begin Book 2 by relating that that same man is serving a life sentence in prison. That won’t throw off your reader. Either you forgot the ending to your own first book and hoped that your readers forgot, too. Or you resurrected the killer for some unknown reason which you can’t waste pages explaining.
- Don’t research your poison: know nothing about how it’s administered, the dose, telltale signs of its presence, or lingering smells/foaming/etc after death — and make sure that your police and emergency paramedics know nothing about poisons, either, and wouldn’t do any kind of toxicology report on an autopsy.
- Create authorities that don’t know how to do their basic job — dead body found on the porch, but cops never go in the house to check the scene there. Paramedics can’t smell bitter almonds on a newly-poisoned dead man. Sure, your readers will gloss over their ignorance and be grateful that your protagonist at least knows something is amiss. It’s entirely plausible that your protagonist baker/stay-at-home parent/knitter/dogsitter knows more about murder protocols or poisons than the police.
- Overlook that it would be impossible for death to be instantaneous if the victim is found 75 feet away from the poisoned pot of coffee and no coffee cup nearby. And forget that the poison tastes so terrible that you can’t even drink the coffee containing it. Your reader probably won’t notice these glaring oversights.
- Forget simple and believable; no, you must strain credulity. Your protagonists are pursuing the suspect through a boisterous, drunken, New Orleans Mardi Gras crowd that is shooting off fireworks. They just can’t lose sight of the suspect in the crowd — too simple; it doesn’t showcase your writing skills well enough. No, you must cleverly write that a crowd control police horse rears up, hiding the view of the running suspect. Expect that your readers will not know that police horses who are trained in crowd control, especially a New Orleans Mardi Gras crowd, do not rear up at a loud noise and throw the rider off.
- Make sure you know nothing of police protocols in undetermined deaths; if the victim is found dead on a chair on the porch, surely police would not go into the house for any reason and look around for any signs of disturbance — they wouldn’t cordon off any area for investigation. They would just cart off the corpse and assume it was a natural death.
- If a dead body is found on the sidewalk outside a high-rise hotel, have the police immediately conclude it was suicide without bothering to investigate — because that’s what police do.
Join us in our next post where we’ll showcase pitfalls in an incoherent storyline that are sure to irritate your readers and ruin a perfectly good mystery.