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Thread: In a murder mystery when do you expect the murder to happen by?

  1. #1

    In a murder mystery when do you expect the murder to happen by?

    For instance I expect a mystery novel to set up for a chapter or two so usually a murder should occur at chapter 2-3 for me. Anyone agree or disagree and why?

  2. #2
    I come in peace Earthling's Avatar
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    I think Chapter 1 is fine, but then I'm a huge Columbo fan.

    And I think than 2/3 is also fine. Murder on the Orient Express, for example, has several chapters of set up IIRC.

    I'd say the first 10% is probably best, to give enough time for twists and turns and a meaty investigation. But I'll happily wait longer if the set up is interesting in itself.

    Good question! Got me thinking.

    Edit: Was curious enough to check a few. Murder otOE - the reader first knows of the murder in Chapter 5, 16%.

    In The Cornish Coast Murder, it's Chapter 1 and 3%.
    Last edited by Earthling; 06-02-2017 at 06:22 PM.

  3. #3
    I got it covered Undercover's Avatar
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    To me it could happen any time in the book. You can have that character missing and turn up dead even towards the end. So you can have it a mystery when the actual murder took place. It all depends on how you write it, IMO.

  4. #4
    Quote Originally Posted by Earthling View Post
    I think Chapter 1 is fine, but then I'm a huge Columbo fan.

    And I think than 2/3 is also fine. Murder on the Orient Express, for example, has several chapters of set up IIRC.

    I'd say the first 10% is probably best, to give enough time for twists and turns and a meaty investigation. But I'll happily wait longer if the set up is interesting in itself.

    Good question! Got me thinking.

    Edit: Was curious enough to check a few. Murder otOE - the reader first knows of the murder in Chapter 5, 16%.

    In The Cornish Coast Murder, it's Chapter 1 and 3%.
    Yeah, I was just curious if people prefer quicker or longer. My current story has the murder happen in CH two because the whole story takes place in about 24 hours and I want it to feel quickly paced.

  5. #5
    Clever title pending. MarkEsq's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by DamienLoveshaft View Post
    Yeah, I was just curious if people prefer quicker or longer. My current story has the murder happen in CH two because the whole story takes place in about 24 hours and I want it to feel quickly paced.
    You're probably fine but I'll mention one mistake I made with my first published novel, caught and corrected in discussions with my agent: sometimes it's important to develop the character who is killed. Not always, but if you want your MC and the reader to really care about the murder, it can sometimes be necessary. Just one more thought to add to the stack...!

  6. #6
    Quote Originally Posted by MarkEsq View Post
    You're probably fine but I'll mention one mistake I made with my first published novel, caught and corrected in discussions with my agent: sometimes it's important to develop the character who is killed. Not always, but if you want your MC and the reader to really care about the murder, it can sometimes be necessary. Just one more thought to add to the stack...!
    Ah, that's what the majority of chapter one and two are, my victim was a romantic interest and old flame of the protagonist so he takes a bit of center stage upon introduction. I should also point maybe out I have mid sized chapters. I can obviously add more scenes and possibly an in between chapter if need be, but that'd be after betas. I just mostly wanted to see if people like that characterization or if they feel it bogs the mystery down.

  7. #7
    practical experience, FTW bombergirl69's Avatar
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    I totally agree (not so helpful) that it really depends on the story. So, in Big Little Lies, we know there's a murder coming - it's massively foreshadowed-- but it doesn't happen until the last...20? pages. BLL isn't a typical "murder mystery" but it's marketed that way (even the TV show which was definitely NOT as good as the book) shows all the foreshadowing so we know something's gonna happen. The "mystery" is pretty much who gets it, people have motives all over the place. And very much agree that if we know/care about the victim (not necessarily like them, but know them) it's a lot more compelling than some guy/girl gets killed.
    The fact that there's a highway to hell and only a stairway to heaven says a lot about anticipated traffic numbers.

  8. #8
    Grumpy writer and editor Absolute Sage Gillhoughly's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by DamienLoveshaft View Post
    For instance I expect a mystery novel to set up for a chapter or two so usually a murder should occur at chapter 2-3 for me. Anyone agree or disagree and why?
    The murder occurs at whatever point in the story is the best spot to push things forward.

    Placement depends on the subgenre, the characters, their drivers, and what gets you excited as a writer. Don't force things to fit a trope, listen to your own best voice.

    I have read cozies and hard boiled noir with the body found on page one or halfway through. Thrillers usually have a higher level of violence, suspense tends to have a more deliberate pace.

    You put the murder in where you want it, where it is needed.

    If you try to fit into some other writer's pattern, your own voice gets smothered.



    I suggest you read a variety of mysteries, enough to get familiar with the tropes. Then you bring something fresh to the genre.

  9. #9
    knows a hawk from a handsaw Shakesbear's Avatar
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    Mostly I agree with Gillhoughly. In some mysteries the murder takes place long before the action in the book starts. The murder starts a chain of events that lead to the murderer being uncovered. One example of this is Oedipus Rex, the play by Sophocles.




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  10. #10
    New year, new avatar. hester's Avatar
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    One of my favorite mysteries of all time is "Death of a Doll" by Hilda Lawrence (written in the forties, now out of print but available on Amazon). In the book the murder doesn't happen until several chapters in, but the tension leading up to it (and the sympathy you have for the victim) make it a standout.

    Which doesn't really answer the question , but for me, I like it when the book doesn't open with a murder, because I'm not yet fully invested in the story.

  11. #11
    Thanks for all the examples. My style leans kind of toward Sherlock Holmes/Case Closed meets Lovecraft so I'll stick with the semi-early to early deaths. I think it works fine.

  12. #12
    practical experience, FTW
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    I read a lot of mystery novels, and I could not care less when the murder occurs. The very idea that there should be a "formula" for such a thing is an immediate turn-off for me, as reader. I want story. That's all. The story should unfold the way it needs to unfold.

    caw
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  13. #13
    Still chasing plot bunnies. GailD's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by blacbird View Post
    I read a lot of mystery novels, and I could not care less when the murder occurs. The very idea that there should be a "formula" for such a thing is an immediate turn-off for me, as reader. I want story. That's all. The story should unfold the way it needs to unfold.

    caw
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  14. #14
    Snarkenfaugister Friendly Frog's Avatar
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    I have no real preference when the murder happens, and don't believe in rules for it. It largely depends on how the writer wants to build their story. Having the murder happen right in the beginning could help the reader connect more with the murder-solving character(s) because the reader, like the detective, has to start with the murder and work his way back or further at the same pace, without previous knowledge.

    Sometimes it will work better to have a slight build-up before the murder so that the murder can be a pivotal point in the story, rather than just a starting point.

    But if the murder is the focal point of the story, rather than just a B-story to the, say romance or coming-of-age A-plot then it should happen sooner rather than later. Put too much story before the murder and the reader may lose interest.

    That said, as a reader my expectations of when the murder will happen in the story can be highly influenced by the blurb on the back. If that one already mentions a murder and the solving of it, and the actual scene only occurs past the half-way-point in the book, I am likely to feel cheated.

    PS: I just realised how often the murder mystery stories I read have a high body count because my first thought was "well, the first murder anyway." As if it's a natural occurance that one dead body breeds more of them.
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  15. #15
    Travelling around the sun cbenoi1's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by DamienLoveshaft View Post
    For instance I expect a mystery novel to set up for a chapter or two so usually a murder should occur at chapter 2-3 for me. Anyone agree or disagree and why?
    It depends how the murder scene is used.

    1) Murder happens before the story. Often the victim is not important, but the murder method is. The Heroine is called to the scene. She is the only one with the abilities to decipher the meanings of the murder - blood splatters, weapon, signs of cruelty, etc. There are two overall objectives: 1) show how bad the Villain really is, and 2) show the audience why the Heroine has the special abilities needed to catch the killer.

    2) Murder happens in early chapters. Here it's the cover-up that is the main element that connect the Heroine to the killer. The Villain is shown planning the murder, its execution, and then the cover-up. The cover-up can be accomplished different ways: hiding the weapon or the body. Changing the timeline (ex: changing the body temperature). Pretending to be somewhere else at the time of the murder (ex: alibis, disguises, helpers, etc). Framing someone else. Etc. Same overall objectives as in 1) except to show how snazzy the killer is.

    3) Murder happens in later chapters. The murder is the Inciting Event rather than the Opening step. It it usually very personal to the Heroine, making the form close to the Thriller form. Early chapters describe what the Heroine stands for and the murder challenges her beliefs. This is the spine of the story. Will she stands firm on those beliefs or go through a character change.

    Hope this helps.

    -cb

  16. #16
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    As long as there is something mysterious going on from the beginning chapter, or chapter 2 at the latest, I don't care when the actual murder happens. One of my favorite examples is the Nero Wolfe story "The League of Frightened Men". The murder occurs at the end of the book, but the story is presented as a murder mystery from the beginning.

  17. #17
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    Within the first 2 -3 chapters, otherwise I begin to get impatient. My going in assumption about murder mysteries is that I'm quickly introduced to the murder, and then the story unfolds/develops taking us to resolution. I lose interest if there's way too much character/plot development before getting to the crux of it (i.e. the murder)
    First time writer. Go ahead, rain on my parade!

  18. #18
    Benefactor Member WeaselFire's Avatar
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    The book starts where the story starts. There really isn't a rule for when things happen, just that they make for a good story. The murder can be the inciting incident, or simply change the course of the book or even begin the hero's journey. Place it where appropriate.

    Jeff

  19. #19
    I come in peace Earthling's Avatar
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    I recently gave up on a cosy mystery 1/4 of the way through and thought of this thread. I gave up on it because there was no mystery, and although the setup was interesting for a few chapters, I was getting very bored of a mystery without a mystery.

    Other reviews complained about the same thing, and one said the murder didn't occur until 50% in.

    Shame, because it was very well written. But good writing wasn't enough to keep me engaged.

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