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Tips For Writing Mysteries
by Laura Backes,
Write4Kids.com—The Children's Writing SuperSite
Mysteries are very popular with middle grade
readers. They are generally fast-paced stories that build self-confidence by
allowing the reader to solve the crime. Simple mysteries for this age group
follow a clear formula where the author lays out clues for the reader in a
predictable fashion, using escapes, setbacks and coincidence. The Nancy Drew
and Hardy Boys books fall into this category.
As readers become adept at solving mysteries, they reach for
books that require careful scrutiny to discern clues.
Goody Hall by Natalie Babbitt and
Mystery of Drear House by Virginia Hamilton are good examples. The
following are tips to keep in mind when writing mysteries for children.
- Unlike other types of children's books, the child
protagonist in a mystery does not go through major character development
during the story. His or her character must be strong at the beginning of
the book, and have qualities the reader will identify with or admire.
However, one of the protagonist's character traits (such as having a
photographic memory) can be used to solve the mystery, as long as the
readers know about it.
- Another difference between mysteries and other types of
fiction is that in mysteries there is little or no underlying theme to the
story (such as loneliness, peer pressure, etc.). The plot drives the story,
and the conflict and tension is derived from what happens to the main
characters from without, rather than what's going on inside themselves.
- The child in the story must be as smart, or smarter, than
the adults. Adults can help in certain situations in order to make the story
believable, but the child must uncover the major clues and solve the case.
- The clues to the crime, as well as the crime itself, must
be accessible to children in real life in order for the story to be
realistic. This also helps the reader solve the mystery. A child would not
know, for example, how someone could alter the brakes on a car, but he or
she could probably figure out how this was done to a bicycle.
- The reader must have access to all the clues available to
the protagonist. It's not fair for the author to withhold information.
- It helps if the author rehashes the entire crime and
rounds up all the clues at the end of the story. Often this is done by the
protagonist summarizing the crime to another character right before solving
the case. This will remind readers of the clues, and give them a better
chance of coming up with the solution on their own.
About the Author:
Laura Backes is the publisher of Children's Book Insider, the Newsletter for
Children's Writers, and co-founder of the
Children's Authors Bootcamp seminars. For more information about writing children's
books, including free articles, market tips, insider secrets and much more,
visit Children's Book Insider's home on the Web at
Copyright 2001, Children's Book
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