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SecretScribe
06-27-2007, 05:02 PM
I have posted my query letter on the SYW forum and have had some people mention the fact that I am not including the deep motivation that my MC has for what he is doing. The problem is that he is a cop and he is investigating a murder, because that is what he does. There is obviously a lot of character stuff in the book, but not specific - as in he has to overcome xyz to be able to get to the conclusion. My experience of reading mysteries is that MCs who are cops generally don't have this kind of issue.

Any thoughts from other genre writers?

alleycat
06-27-2007, 05:20 PM
A couple of suggestions . . .

Make sure the crime in question is one that would be very important for the detective to solve (he's emotionally involved for one reason or another, not JUST doing his job), and that the reader would want to know the answer to as well. And, as a side note, make your antagonist clever and resourcefully too; not just someone who's committed a crime and then sits back as a passive onlooker. Have the antagonist misdirect or confuse the protagonist as he tries to solve the crime.

Also, you can up the ante later in the story by having it look like the detective is going to completely fail and the culprit get away, and/or by having some new danger arise. Perhaps someone is killed -- now the detective feels it's his fault for not solving the crime earlier. Or maybe his superiors begin to feel that he's not up to the job. Now it's very personal. It could be that the person in danger, or who's already been injured, is someone the detective has come to have sympathy or feelings for.

Any of these things could affect the detective in some deeply personal way: either his professional pride, his feelings for someone, his sense of justice, or any number of personal choices could be put to the test over the length of the investigation. He could change and grow due to any of the factors surrounding the case he's working on. It could have started out just being "his job", but now it's much more. And the character arc doesn't have to be some huge dramatic thing, it can be something more subtle or internal.

Just some ideas anyway.

SecretScribe
06-27-2007, 06:39 PM
Thank you Alleycat. My book does contain a lot of the things you mention. The problem is that I can't find a way to get them into the query letter. The issues are subtle, so they are not really suited to the very short query format. Don't know how to solve that one!

About the antagonist - I have a problem here. My antagonist stays hidden until right at the end. The problem is that if I have him doing all sorts of things, it will give the plot away. Any ideas on that?

alleycat
06-27-2007, 07:07 PM
I assume you mean he stays hidden from both the detective and the reader until the end.

He can still do things to confuse the detective or escape detection, such as lying, planting false clues, threatening someone else to do something, providing himself with a false alibi, hiding his own secrets, etc. This wouldn't be discovered by the detective until near the end. The astute reader might guess the truth (or might not), and that's part of the fun of a traditional mystery -- trying to guess who the real culprit is. It's considered bad form to not provide enough clues for a reader to make a guess. For example, the real killer can't show up on the next-to-last page and have no relationship to all the clues that have gone before. That's when someone throws the book across the room.

alleycat
06-27-2007, 07:21 PM
Thank you Alleycat. My book does contain a lot of the things you mention. The problem is that I can't find a way to get them into the query letter. The issues are subtle, so they are not really suited to the very short query format. Don't know how to solve that one!
All it would take is a sentence or two explaining why, for the protagonist, solving the mystery is extremely important. Or why the detective takes a personal interest in solving the case. Of course, for a police detective, solving a crime automatically has a personal stake; either for his sense of justice or "doing his job well," but it still should have some high stakes. Solving the mystery of who stole a lawn mower? Yawn. Solving the mystery of who a murderer is and how he managed to pull off the crime before he kills again? Yeah!

Even for a detective like Sherlock Holmes, who was a bit cold-blooded, there was always Holmes' sense of fairness and his pride in being able to solve a case logically and noticing what others did not. "I refer to the curious incident of the dog in the night . . . "

Linda Adams
06-28-2007, 02:27 PM
The arc can be a subplot that indirectly has to do with the mystery. I just finished Earth Colors, a mystery by Sarah Anderson. It's part of a series, and in the last book, a good friend died. In this book, the main character is still struggling to get past the grief and survivor's guilt. What she learns over the course of solving the mystery also gives her a solution to work through her issues.

So you cop could be hoping a promotion comes through, dealing with the furstration of a move and new neighbors who don't like cops, or even have a romance.