Monday, May 2, 2011

Plot: The Riddle

The A - Z Challenge is over. Congratulations to everyone who made it through. Today is the first Monday in May and the Plot Series is back. We will celebrate by show casing the riddle. The following quote is in the book and is so well spoken that it bears repeating.

The mystery story is really two stories in one: the story of what happened and the story of what appeared to happen. -Mary Roberts Rinehart.

In that quote is the first clue. Okay…I'm not so great with clues and that's why I'm not a mystery writer. Maybe someday I'll tackle this difficult plot but rest assured it will be hidden in a fantasy.

Quote: A riddle is a deliberately enigmatic or ambiguous question. -Ronald B. Tobias, 20 Master Plots and how to build them.

The Riddle plot has been with us since ancient times. It is a part of many fairy tales (in simple form); it dates back to ancient Greece like so many plots. The most famous riddle is: the Sphinx asks Oedipus. "What has one voice and walks on four legs in the morning, on two at midday, and on three legs in the evening?" the Sphinx asks. If you get it wrong the Sphinx will eat you. That's great motivation. Of course Oedipus gets it right and becomes king after the Sphinx falls into depression and commits suicide. The answer is: "A man, who crawls on all fours as a baby, walks on two feet when grown, and leans on a cane when aged."

In this plot, the mind is challenged not the body. The more difficult the riddle the more the reader is tested.

Edgar Allen Poe is credited with the first short story and the first modern mystery which features a detective to solve a crime in; The Purloined Letter.

So, you want to be a mystery writer? Your challenge is to incorporate numerous clues woven into the fabric of your story. They must hint at the identity of the killer, the how, where and why to the crime. The answer is there for the reader to pull out, hidden in plain sight. Readers today want a challenge. I think this type of writing must be more and more difficult as science advances. At the same time, as writers, we can manipulate all those scientific break thoughts to leave legitimate clues and red herrings. If Sherlock Holmes were alive today, he could dust for fingerprints, photograph bloody foot prints, run DNA samples through a computer, so on and so forth. If it is the little old lady who lives next door to Sherlock, she could challenge his logic and confuse him in order to mislead or be the one who solves the crime. Exciting stuff.

Like so many plots, the riddle comes in three phases:
1. There's a murder.
2. There's an investigation with lots of clues and scary adventure.
3. The killer is identified and may or may not be caught, killed, imprisoned…fill in the blank. It's your book not mine.

In the end, your story must satisfy the reader. They must feel challenged and then rewarded by your conclusion. There's nothing worse than having an ending that is obvious in a mystery. Are you up to the challenge?

Next week our master plot is: Rivalry                                                                    

For more plots and a much deeper overview of each plot you can purchase; 20 Master Plots and how to build them, by Ronald B. Tobias. It is worth your money. Amazon link.



mooderino said...

Excellent stuff,looking forward to the rest.

Nas Dean said...

I loved your post on Riddles, and am looking forward to other craft posts! Thanks for the link.

Nas Dean said...

I loved your post on Riddles, and am looking forward to other craft posts! Thanks for the link.

Joanne said...

I love the Rinehart quote, that's what a mystery is all about. I really admire mystery writers, having to weave those two storylines together in building their manuscript. It doesn't seem like an easy task!

N. R. Williams said...

Thank you Mood, Nas and Joan for stopping by and sharing your thoughts. I appreciate each one of you.

Jules said...

Damn, I'm glad things are back to normal and you are once again talking over my head :)
Jules @ Trying To Get Over The Rainbow

The Golden Eagle said...

Great post!

(I haven't seen it, but didn't PBS Masterpiece actually do a modern version of Sherlock Holmes, with all the dusting for fingerprints and DNA and whatnot? :D)

Alex J. Cavanaugh said...

No interest in writing mysteries - I'll leave that for those who feel the call.
Were you posting your thoughts on the Challenge tomorrow?

N. R. Williams said...

Sorry about that Jules, LOL.

I have no idea if PBS did that, Golden. But it sounds like something they would do.

Hey Alex, didn't know I was supposed to post my thoughts on the challenge. I'll add it to my post.

Thank you all for coming by and leaving a comment.

Abby Minard said...

Great stuff Nancy- I don't write mysteries. No desire to. I think Alex is right up there, that it's definitely a calling!

LTM said...

I love love love riddle plots! And how fun they must be to write. Very cool, Nan~ :o) <3

N. R. Williams said...

I agree Abby.

I love them too LTM.

Thank you both for dropping in and leaving a comment.

Holly Ruggiero said...

Hooray for the return of the plots. I like a little mystery woven into any genre. ;)

N. R. Williams said...

Hello Holly, glad to see you here and thanks for the comment.

Michael Di Gesu said...

I am so happy you post these plot scenarios. I learn so much from them...

As much as I enjoyed the challenge, it's nice to get back to normal blogging...

See you tomorrow.


N. R. Williams said...

Thank you Michael.