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Knowing who the killer is in mystery novels : Conversation question • Writing Forum | WritersDigest.com

Knowing who the killer is in mystery novels

Every month in Writer's Digest's InkWell section, we pose a question related to the writing life. Tell us your thoughts.
The Cormorant
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Knowing who the killer is in mystery novels

Postby The Cormorant » Fri Feb 07, 2014 7:57 am

I have a conundrum.

The novel I'm working on is a Sci Fi with elements of political intrigue and crime.

The crime part is what I struggle with. Is it a rule of thumb that you don't know who the killer is in a mystery novel? can the killer be known but the motive be the mystery? we know what the criminal looks like, we know he's committing a series of crimes, but his pattern seems random, no one knows what his story is and that would be the key knowing his next target and intervening.

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shadowwalker
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Re: Knowing who the killer is in mystery novels

Postby shadowwalker » Fri Feb 07, 2014 8:40 am

It's definitely possible to know who the killer is early on - the tension just comes from a different direction in that case. As to knowing why they killed, at some point you're going to have to explain it. There's always "just a random nut job killer" - but that's over-used and generally unsatisfactory, IMO.
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Re: Knowing who the killer is in mystery novels

Postby MookyMcD » Fri Feb 07, 2014 10:39 am

Although genres are artificial constructs, and I don't lose a lot of sleep over them, I think what you are describing may be more accurately called a thriller than a mystery.

Either way, though, I'd let the story you want to tell drive the bus. You can slap a label on it when it's done.

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Re: Knowing who the killer is in mystery novels

Postby TerryRodgers » Fri Feb 07, 2014 10:56 am

I was thinking the same the Mooky. I don't know if there are really any set in stone rules, but in your case a mystery is more of a who-done-it, which usually means you won't find out who the killer is until late in the novel. A thriller you can know the killer on the very first page if you choose to.

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Re: Knowing who the killer is in mystery novels

Postby James A. Ritchie » Fri Feb 07, 2014 11:20 am

A mystery must have a mystery to solve, but while who the killer is most often fills this role, something else can be teh mystery.

By and large, however, what you're describing is more likely to be labeled a thriller or a suspense novel, depending on how it plays out.

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shadowwalker
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Re: Knowing who the killer is in mystery novels

Postby shadowwalker » Fri Feb 07, 2014 12:05 pm

But the OP stated "The novel I'm working on is a Sci Fi with elements of political intrigue and crime." - so I don't think the 'rules' of mysteries or thrillers really need be hard and fast here.
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Re: Knowing who the killer is in mystery novels

Postby mammamaia » Fri Feb 07, 2014 1:35 pm

there is no rule re when the killer's identity should be revealed... many mystery writers let the perp be known early on and then spend the rest of the novel/film/tv episode dealing with how s/he's tracked down and caught...
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Re: Knowing who the killer is in mystery novels

Postby DrG2 » Fri Feb 07, 2014 4:33 pm


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MookyMcD
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Re: Knowing who the killer is in mystery novels

Postby MookyMcD » Fri Feb 07, 2014 5:08 pm


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Re: Knowing who the killer is in mystery novels

Postby DrG2 » Fri Feb 07, 2014 5:46 pm


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