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Thread: Whodunit or Whydunit?

  1. #1
    practical experience, FTW
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    Whodunit or Whydunit?

    Mysteries and thrillers have two kinds of revelations: who the villain is and the motive of the villain. In my WIP, I am trying to present a few possibilities about who the villain is, but I have no doubt that maybe half of the readers could guess who it is, even if it's just a pure guess without any rationale. I also reveal why this villain is doing the horrible things to my MC. I will be very surprised if the reader could also guess the motive I have written for the villain.

    So which has greater impact? The who or the why? Or are they both equally important?

  2. #2
    Happiness is underrated
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    I think both are important. Though (and this is just my personal opinion), I think that the murderer is more important, however, I think if the motive is unbeliable then it ruins the plausibility of the murderer and the story.

    I also think it depends on who it is and the motive. In mine the murderer is somebody who knew the victim and he murders one person and then others to cover it up. The motive for the first murder, coincides with the finding of the murderer, so the motive is important, but I prefer the unmasking of the killer.

    However, if it's a serial killer that nobody knows and the reader doesn't meet him until he get's caught. then it's the catching of the killer and the motive, that are more important than who the killer actually is.

    It depends on who the book is centered around, the victim? Murderer? Close relative of the victim? Detective? That makes a difference as a close relative will have much more of a personal tone and will care more about reasons than a detective who just wants to lock somebody up.

    I think in order to get the best impact the murderer has to be believeable, unexpected and have
    a surprising, believeable, shocking reason for the killing.
    Last edited by Bayley; 06-13-2008 at 05:19 PM.

  3. #3
    figuring it all out patrick bateman's Avatar
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    A lot of those old fashioned mysteries (the Miss Marple type) were pretty basic in regard to motive (usually to get their hands on the dead person's money). So the real fun was in who the murderer was. As a reader, if I could pretty much guess who the murderer is (which is something that happens to come easily to me alas), I'd hope that the motive is particularly interesting so at least there's some reason for me to continue reading.

  4. #4
    ideas are floating where they will Stlight's Avatar
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    As the writer it is natural that you think that it’s too easy to tell who done it. You won’t really know how hard or easy it is until you get a beta or two to read. I thought mine was horribly obvious, but readers told me that they didn’t guess until the first initial of the villain was revealed and that was when there were still a few pages to think it might be one of two characters with the same initial.

    Just a thought.
    Stlight

  5. #5
    Lost in a plot hole BfloGal's Avatar
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    I think 'who' and 'why' can both be compelling -- so can 'how'. I like a good howdunit when the suspect -- and I KNOW he's guilty -- can't be placed at the scene of the crime, and I can't figure out how he did it.

    But even if you think everyone knows who the killer is, some will decide he's innocent because he appears too guilty.
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  6. #6
    Ne Cede Malis orion_mk3's Avatar
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    You left out an important one: the howcatchem! The murderer and the crime are established from the outset; the tension is in how the criminal is collared (and possibly how they did it too).

    Think Columbo or Crime and Punishment!

  7. #7
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    Quote Originally Posted by orion_mk3 View Post
    You left out an important one: the howcatchem! The murderer and the crime are established from the outset; the tension is in how the criminal is collared (and possibly how they did it too).

    Think Columbo or Crime and Punishment!
    That is so weird, that is an idea I'd just started outlining. The murderer leaves his fingerprints and get's identified, only to find the guy disappeared twenty years ago and has a new identity. Then the murderer 'leads' them to him and there is this big showdown.

    The 'who' isn't that important as guy is a nobody who the detectives didn't know or interviewed (done to show that most killers are average people and could be anyone). Thy reasons 'why' is already announced by a profiler (who is dating the pathologist). The 'how' is already done using the pathologist and the detectives to work out how the crime happened.

    Therefore, the most important point is the 'howcatchem', which I'm not going to disclose because it is the whole point to my book and I have only a small outline for the ending at the moment. But, it is explosive, in every sense of the word.

    I love experimenting with different ideas.I've got a whodunnit, a howcatchem, and another who/why dunnit and one that I'm still debating as to having a howdunnit.

    I still like the 'who' best, but as it is sometimes obvious in my books I need a back-up to keep readers reading even after they guess.

  8. #8
    It's never too late to dream big Bluestone's Avatar
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    The problem I have with a book when the murderer is only revealed at the end, is if we don't have a hope of figuring it out at any time, because there are no clues or foreshadowing. Then I feel as if it wasn't fair, and the author didn't play by the rules.

    In my book, I've made one suspect look so guilty, I've been told, he appears too guilty, therefore innocent, therefore possibly a red herring and actually guilty!

  9. #9
    A dark core to every cloud Clair Dickson's Avatar
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    A good movie that looks at the howcathem is "Fracture" I was blown away by the movie. (And I'm rarely impressed with movies. =)

    I like to know WHY-- to me that is just as important as WHO the killer is. ANd of course, how they did it and how they get brought down can be fun too.




  10. #10
    Pasture-ized slcboston's Avatar
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    I think it depends on what the story is. I read some mysteries without knowing the "who" and fully expecting not to know until the end. (Think most first-person PI books.) The more straight-forward the "mystery" aspect, the more it needs to rely on the "who." On the other hand, I read some fully expecting to know the "who" up front, and then be told the why.

    The latter tend to be more psychological, the former more procedural. So there, too, it helps to decide what your particular strengths are in the genre. (And if it's both, then more power to you!)
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  11. #11
    practical experience, FTW
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    Good input so far. I'm writing my story to have the reader guess the villain, the villain's motive, and how the villain is doing the things happening in the story. So I have a whodunit, whydunit, and howdunit. And my character does go through a somewhat convoluted route before he catches the villain, but that's good enough for a hotcatchem.

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