One of the largest giveaways to an unsatisfactory mystery is an overly complicated story. If the reader finishes your novel with more questions than answers or is unsure if the mystery is settled then you still have some work to do.
Mysteries are, of course, assumed to get us questioning everything that we know about the story’s actors, plot, and setting. Also, there should be lots of questions, and your reader should feel a bit doubtful as they proceed reading. If you end up getting things too complicated, you risk losing your readers.
So how do you keep your readers avidly reading without losing them in the necessary twists and turns?
Keep the mysterious act simple: murder, theft, etc. Build the complexity in your characters, their motivations, the location, and the dialogue. If the reader is trying both to follow the overcomplicated way someone performed murder and also travel the complicated relationships and motivations of the subjects. You won’t have a reader anymore.
Keep the Reader Second Guessing
Part of the excitement of mysteries is their ability to make the reader second-guess. Are we correct? Are we incorrect? Could they solve the mystery themselves? What if the offender goes free? Why did they do it? Was it envy, hatred, or love?
Draw out incorrect answers to your mystery. Let the reader be pulled in the wrong direction for a time. This second-guessing will make your answer even more unexpected.
You also don’t want to leave the readers hanging by picking an answer out of thin air. Veil the hints in amongst diversions to throw the readers off the trace, and so they can glance back and see the answer was there all the time.
Keep Back Stories Clear and Deep
Give the private investigator, a clear and profound past. Every detective has their reason for doing what they do. The motivations of your mystery investigator can add to the story’s depth by creating not only a back story for your puzzle investigator but by adding an extra dimension to your mystery.
Sherlock Holmes has already been recreated enough. From a high-functioning sociopath to an actor doing what the real detective Dr Watson says.
The back story of your offender should also be reasonably deep. Your reader should gradually learn more and more both about your mystery investigator and the crime perpetrator as they read through, with each characters’ motivations, history, and thoughts becoming crystal-clear by the conclusion of the story.
Grant yourself a cast of supporting characters that don’t match stereotypes. The more conventional they are, the more expected your mystery will be.
Endeavor to provide deep back stories for each of your supporting characters as well. Every suspect needs not only the motivation for possibly committing the crime, but it also helps for them to have sufficient back story for the reader to understand or empathise with them.
Pick an odd and unusual location for a regular mystery or a standard place for a unique and new mystery. Keep in mind going back to keeping things simple. Allow the surprise and uncertainty to stem from one part or the other of your novel.
Limit yourself to five or fewer suspects. This makes your story more snug and concise, but it also makes it clearer for the reader to keep track of the clues and the hints.
Create subtle connections to each character to create a union. Your supporting actors are suspects for a reason. Make each one connect to each other in shrewd means. This will join your story together in ways that will leave the reader reeling.
It all comes down to the depth of the mystery that will come either from your characters or the intricacy of your crime. Stick to one or the other, and you’ll have success.