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Monday, September 14, 2009

Mysteries – What is the attraction?

First, my writing progress on The Society, my suspense novel, for the past week has resulted in aproximately 1200 words written.  My goal for the next week is for 1750 words total.  I managed to get a significant scene written from a character about to be murdered, her last scene actually.  For a first draft I am pleased with how it went and am moving on to write a scene with a charcter whose status as good or bad will be a hidden until later in the book.  This is a rather crucial character so I have been mulling over how best to approach the scene with my main character.  Thank you for holding me accountable in my writing and now to my musings over the mystery genres continued popularity.
Mysteries – What is the attraction?
Eric over at Pimp My Novel ( shared that, “based on 2008 sales data, mystery sales account for almost a quarter of all adult sales (units).” That is a testament to how popular the mystery genre is. I am very tickled about that since I am writing in that genre. Eric believes that escapist fiction is doing well and I surmise that is because folks want to escape the onslaught of bad news from foreclosures and jobless rate to personal financial struggles. But I suspect there is more that just simple escapism in play.

I believe mysteries fulfill different needs for different people. The mystery genre is far reaching and you can find something for most everybody within it. Mysteries range from the gritty detective novel; Legal thrillers, medical murders, the heart pounding suspense story; the comfy cozy book; the romantic mystery romp; the amateur sleuth adventures and the themed tales. Themes relate to us via common interests, everything from hobbies, travel, pets, age, and occupations to the setting being your town or state. With all this variety, how can you not discover a book or series that you can connect with? Not that I am biased here in the least.

One of the great aspects of mystery stories I suspect sustains the genre’s popularity is flirting with danger – safely. It is a vicarious thrill. The reader is behind locked doors snuggled up with a cat sipping tea while following a murderer. For several moments the reader is on the heels of a killer, becoming the main character they feel the adrenaline rush of peril themselves. For so very many of us life is largely about routine, responsibility and yes - financial burdens thus mysteries let us be just a smidge reckless, a dab brave and daring, even a trifle shady.

The next factor in mystery’s enduring status, I think, is mysteries always deliver justice. In a world with AIG, Bear Stearns and Enron pillaging the average person, turning to a fictional world where justice is the goal of the tale is important. No matter how close the “bad guy” was to pulling off the perfect murder, he is exposed and carted away when all is said and done. That is encouraging and renews our faith in karma or fairness. That just feels good and for a few moments the world is functioning properly again. Even the murder victim is typically found to be dishonorable or a guilty person who played with fire in some way – no random and senseless violence.

A common element of mysteries is the main character is instrumental in, or the catalyst for, justice being served. In the world of mysteries one person can and does make a difference. That is one of the mainstays of mysteries. Occasionally it is more than just an individual. But even in the case of a team or a group of friends (I am thinking of the Women’s Murder Club now) it is still the few against the criminal and the one or few are victors. I surmise this keeps hope alive that we can make a difference.

Yet another aspect I believe keeps mysteries so popular is that the main character typically is strong – no victims. Since the reader lives vicariously through this focal character they feel stronger and more in control. Their personal world might be falling down around them, but while reading that mystery they are strong and taking charge of their realm. I would like to think that maybe it inspires them to find that solution or way out of a problem.

Somewhat of an added bonus is that a mystery provides a puzzle to be solved. It allows the reader to match wits with the author in a non-competitive manner. Multitudes of people file into work everyday and perform often-mindless jobs, repetitive or just down right boring work. They look forward to that brainteaser, that conundrum of whodunit and why or how. The extra challenge comes into play when situations and people are not as they might seem on the surface. How exhilarating. Bring it on!

Mysteries lend themselves easily towards a series perhaps more than other genres and that is an advantage. When a reader finds a series with a main character they like, a supporting cast that delights and a writer whose style sparkles for them they have entered reader nirvana. For this person has found friends that they are fond of and look forward to their company. These friends are always there when you need them and they don’t hang around past their welcome. Isn’t that nice?
And there you have it, my musings on why mysteries remain so popular. They provide us much more than mere escapism. Readers probably don’t consciously consider these elements when reading. I just know these elements are part of why I like mysteries – when I stop and consider it. How about you, why do you think mysteries are so popular and enduring?
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Anonymous said...

I agree with your 2nd point mostly, along with the other points you made. I do appreciate that mysteries serve justice and they can be escapist or introduce you to a new world, either a new location or a new business you're not familiar with.

Lyn said...

Indeed, the mystery delivers justice, though not always in the legal sense. Even such as Father Cadfael once in a while let a murderer loose because the victim needed killing. But the restoration of benevolent order after the chaos of killing--well, it's satisfying stuff. And often mysteries do deep and thoughtful character or philosophical work, too.

A.F. Heart said...

Thank you both for those comments. Both well said indeed. Yes the widening of our world is a great aspect of mysteries.

The justice may not be in a legal sense, very true. In Tony Hillerman's Sacred Clowns the tribal officer Jim Chee let's a criminal go so as to restore "balance" rather than cause more heartache. Naturally Hillerman did such a fine job that you could see the logic of it.

Thank you so much for the comments!
AF Heart

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