What I'm reading: Mystery, by Jonathan Kellerman
Remember,Ellis Vidler is giving away a book to one commenter, and you have until Friday to leave yours on her post. Scroll down to Tuesday.
There was a very interesting discussion at the Mystery Writers of America Yahoo group about when a dead body should show up in the book.
This puzzled the heck out of me. I know when I started writing romance, people told me I broke the "rules" because the first male character on scene wasn't the hero. Rules? I'd never read a romance, but the mystery I thought I was writing was, according to my daughters, turning into one, so I thought I should start reading them.
At first, looking at the short category romances (I tend to think of them as romance Garanimals because of the color and design coded covers), that seemed to be true. Now, I have no problem accepting conventions and reader expectations. If it's a romance, then there's going to have to be a hero and a heroine, and figuring out who's who is part of the reading experience. And in those very short books, I could understand why you had to get there early on.
Luckily, I had just about finished my first draft of my novel or I might have given up. I expanded my reading horizons and found there were very successful rule breakers out there. Allison Brennan even killed off a character that seemed to be set up as the hero. And Linda Castillo didn't bring her characters together into anything resembling a relationship until well into one of her books.
Another romance "rule" I broke was bringing Randy and Sarah back as the hero and heroine of a second book. I wasn't done with them, and I didn't see why they couldn't continue, especially since I'd broken the "they get married and have children in the epilogue" rule.
Now, if readers are expecting a murder because the book is classified as mystery, then maybe there should be one. However, I don't recall a murder in every single Sherlock Holmes story, and I defy anyone to dispute that Doyle wrote mysteries. I still regard my books as "mysteries with relationships" and rely as much on the structure of a mystery as that of a romance when I write them.
In Finding Sarah's first draft, there was no murder at all. The closest was the death of her husband, which happened well before the book started. When I finished, I did have a murder, but it wasn't on the page and wasn't the focus of the book by a long shot.
Hidden Fire did put a dead body up front, but it was because I needed a logical reason for Randy to abandon Sarah on their first night together after a 3 month separation.
What's in a Name? Another romantic suspense, but the mystery had nothing to do with a dead body. Nowhere to Hide. A body did show up, but well into the book.
When Danger Calls. More of an action adventure, so maybe I'm forgiven for not having a murder in the book. Where Danger Hides. Some deaths, but solving them wasn't the point of the book.
I guess I'm confused. But I'm not stopping the writing. Right now, I'm in chapter 7 of a WIP and there's still no dead body. Stuff is happening, but nobody's died. When I re-read the book for pacing, I might move it up, but …
When I was working on the cozy mystery proposal I discussed here some time back, I turned in the first 3 chapters, with the body discovered, per what the editor seemed to have requested, on about page 6. When she asked for revisions, she wanted me to introduce all the players and hint at motives, and to move the discovery of the body well into chapter 3.
And, when I added my response to why I objected to being told that a murder had to show up in the first pages to the Mystery Writers group, another member sent me this link. I think it's a delightful example of breaking the "rules." (And getting another look at a youthful Redford and Newman doesn't hurt, either.)
Have you read anything recently that defied "convention" but turned out to be a good read anyway?