Mystery Factory


Category: Mystery Writing Advice

Hazardess to Your Health …

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smokingA short time ago I had the great luck to obtain a rare book published in 1899 – The Domestic Cyclopedia: An Instructor on Nursing, Housekeeping and Home Adornments.

That’s quite the combination of topics and it is a fascinating research tool, filled with information otherwise lost to posterity. At that time it was found that cigarettes often contained opium “physicians and chemists were surprised to find how much” or “Havana flavoring … made from the tonka bean, which contains a deadly poison” and that the appropriate wrapping of rice paper was commonly found to be “filthy scrapings of ragpickers bleached white with arsenic”.

Whhhooooooooaaaaaaaaaaaa. Things have ‘come a long way, baby.’

… tells a story

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hotairballoonSome rare sentences are like photographs; revealing a thousand word story in an amazingly brief format. Although I am no where near that accomplished yet, many writers are and I am captured by their skill like an elite addict is captured by an exquisite wine; tasting the flavour over and over; reluctant to move on because this heavenly morsel demands all of my attention.

Just yesterday my husband and I discussed his perceived conception that the difference between literary works and genre works, mysteries for example, is that literary works take longer to get through because one keeps rereading the juicy bits. Well, many mystery novels are literary works then because some sentences just won’t let me go. If the plot wasn’t so compelling I would still be on page one hundred and twenty-nine, following the next victim down the wind swept autumn street, crisp leaves underfoot and old ladies peering through lace curtains.

PD James Excellant Advice

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pdj2“What we expect is a central mysterious death, a closed circle of suspects with motive, means and opportunity for the crime, a detective, either amateur or professional, who comes in like an avenging deity to solve it and by the end of the book a solution which the reader should be able to arrive at by logical deduction from clues inserted in the novel with deceptive cunning but essential fairness.” PD James


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why1There is really only one motive for murder which underlies all other apparent motives.


From this root numerous off shots can grow. For the sake of getting a grip on the mystery we will divide the motive down into three situations even though they all apply, in greater or lesser degrees, to any crime. The three basic motives for murder that we will use are:

Passion, Power and Revenge

The motive is stabilized within the


Desire, Opposition, Conflict, Conflict Resolution.

The Desire, Opposition and Conflict are what makes up the MOTIVE for the crime.

The Resolution is the crime


There are three basic kinds of conflict:

1. Man Against Man

2. Man Against Nature (or Conditions)

3. Man Against Himself.


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Master of the craft, Dame Agatha, has this to say about ‘what one sees’. Good advice for the puzzle mystery writer.

agachrt“What you have to account for is if one person did see something why didn’t that person say so? … Possibility one. The person who saw it didn’t realize what they had seen. That would mean, of course, that it would have to be rather a stupid person. some, let us say, who can use their eyes but not their brain. … It might have been a person whose action in putting something in a glass was natural. It would be quite possible, audacious but possible, for someone to pick up that glass which as soon as it was in his hand or her hand, of course, would be assumed to be his or her own drink and to add whatever was added quite openly. In that case you see, people wouldn’t think twice…it would be a gamble, a risk, but it could happen…Possibility three…Somebody saw what happened and held their tongue deliberately … if so, it’s a very dangerous thing to do. Agatha Christie (Jane Marple)