On Writing A Mystery That Defies Rationality
crimereads.com – Tuesday January 10, 2023
When I started writing my debut novel, Liar, Dreamer, Thief, I knew two things. First, I wanted a mystery to form the novel’s core. Second, it was important to me that at least some of the main revelations—which, in a mystery, often form touchstones for the character’s internal journey—not be entirely rational.
The urge for this probably came from not being able to relate to the average mystery protagonist: an intellectually brilliant, cool cucumber whose only weakness usually takes one of two forms: a chemical addiction, like House and his pain pills, or a personality too abrasive to form close relationships (save whoever the Watson stand-in is). Either way, a sleuth’s fatal flaws (I mean flaws as written, because both of these issues can actually destroy you as a human being) can’t impair their ability to make rational deductions, because in the mystery novel, reason—of both the deductive and inductive varieties—is king.
And while I’m sure there are real people out there who embody these traits, with my protagonist, I wanted to dig my teeth into someone messy, someone whose logic was flawed and whose emotional world was more important than their intellectual one. I also wanted a plot in which the engine forward sometimes escaped rational explanation—and where the who, what, and how were only part of the reader’s experience.
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