Kill somebody fast. Maybe even on page one. In mystery novels, at least one character has to die. And it's not until the murder that your story feels dangerous.
Before, your characters might have lived in a quiet, peaceful town. But now, there is a murderer on the loose. Nobody is safe. Now we have suspense. And mystery.
How to Lose the Reader in the First Chapter
Which of these opening scenes would be more likely to get the reader to stick around?
- A long, detailed description of the exterior of Sally Sleutherton's lovely old home. Then, taking the reader inside to find our hero, Sally, sitting at the table with her dear friends, having a cup of tea, casually discussing the new church organist. This goes on and on for a full chapter. The murder does not occur until Chapter Three.
- OR -
- A wealthy gentleman is sitting in his favorite chair, reading a book while the stereo plays softly. Someone slips into the house through an unlocked kitchen window. The intruder quietly opens a drawer and takes out a butcher knife. The gentleman, oblivious to the intruder, takes another sip of his Cognac as he continues to enjoy his book. The intruder slowly sneaks up behind the gentleman and slits his throat. The killer steps around in front of the man to watch him die. The man's last words are, "Why?" The killer smiles.
Give the Reader a Hint or Two
Consider giving the reader hints about who the murderer is. Or perhaps the victim could say something to the killer right before dying. The hint could even be a "red herring"--a fake clue that makes the reader suspect the wrong person. Or it could be a legitimate clue that is not helpful until right before the identity of the murderer is revealed. The reader would want to know the meaning of that clue. And, hopefully, keep reading your book to find it.
Write for Short Attention Spans
These days, people want everything now. Right now. Particularly in genre fiction. You can either deliver or get passed over. Hopefully, I held your attention long enough to finish this article.
Robert Burton Robinson has written several murder mystery books: Bicycle Shop Murder, Hideaway Hospital Murders, Illusion of Luck, Fly the Rain, and Sweet Ginger Poison. His books are available from Amazon.com and other retailers.
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