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By William G. Tapply

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Extra info for The Elements of Mystery Fiction: Writing the Modern Whodunit

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Readers invest their emotions in characters, not plots. They experience strong feelings—happiness, sadness, anger, worry, fear—because they care about what happens to the characters. In the case of mystery fiction, the character readers care most about is the sleuth. A mystery plot is basically the story of the hero or heroine’s problems. The most compelling problem, of course, is the puzzle, the “whodunit” question. Mystery storylines are driven by the process of detection. The story belongs to the detective.

And if I hadn’t done that, it never would have been published. When I started trying to write mystery fiction, I didn’t know what I was doing. I’d taken no courses, read no how-to books, belonged to no critique groups. What I did have were the echoes of hundreds of wonderful books in my head, the deceptively straightforward prose of Dashiell Hammett and Raymond Chandler and Ross Macdonald and the confident narration of Travis McGee and Dr. Watson and Archie Goodwin, and many, many others. Reading good mysteries taught me everything I knew when I began trying to write them.

Mary Ellen cut off ties with her mother and proceeded to engage in a series of love affairs with older men, many of them married. She became involved with drugs and had a homosexual encounter. After several years she decided to seek psychiatric help. She chose Dr. Warren McAllister, a middle-aged psychoanalyst who reminded her of her father, gradually seduced him, and then threatened to expose him to his wife and his professional associates if he didn’t agree to marry her. I thought hard and long about Mary Ellen Ames and Warren McAllister and his wife.

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