Dec 23, 2009

How to Write the Perfect Mystery

I love the History Channel. Politics (or at least scheming for gain) are woven through historical facts to make clear a point, often fraught with mystery and controversy. Note, O ye writers, these are not the same and are the backbone of your plots.

Dionysius determined Jesus' birth in 753 of the old Roman Calendar, then rewrote the Julian Calendar to begin with the supposed date of Jesus's birth, December 25th, the Celebration of Mithra. How convenient that settling the celebration of the Christ child on the same date would accelerate the overthrow of the Mithra religion. Dionysius thus established the January 1st New Year.

But Dionysius forgot that the stories refer the reign of Herod around 4 BC. Another complication is that Herod and his advisers didn't know of the STAR of Bethlehem. Apparently only the Magi could 'see' them. He called the Magi to him and asked when he could view the Star. Perhaps it was not a comet or nova, but the conjunction of two planets to create temporarily a brighter "star." The visit of the Magi, no matter when or how many there were, no matter that Jesus may have been two years old, seems to have been a pilgrimage from Babylon (Iraq), a nation that once nearly destroyed the wandering tribes of Judea.

Is this not a Best Seller? Mystery, misdirection, vanquished on the run, conquerors on their knees. What more could a good plot need? Of course, there were terrors as when Herod heard the Magi ask about the "King who is born this day" and after murdering his own sons, sent his army to murder all make babies of ages two and under. An angel warns Mary and Joseph and they escape at the 11th hour. Your mystery may or may not have a terror this dramatic, but terror helps.

I am reminded that over and over again in the Bible there are confrontations and escapes. Daniel survived the Lion's Den, Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego walked among flames in the furnace, and the vision of Jesus appearing to Paul saved him from his life as a persecutor of Jews.

When we read and are consciously checking the language, the plot structure, the ebb and flow of energies and conflict, I suggest that we have ignored that which is most important: charisma of the main character and the dangers that befell both him/her and those other characters who are the supporting cast.

Think action, think conflict, think misleading peaceful moments before the roller coaster rises again. Perhaps the Bible, both Testaments, is a bit wordy and tends to include details that we would edit out in the Current Era, but the story is one that grips the heart, endangers the complacent, faces many characters with life and death threats, and in the end, takes from us the main character for whom all have worried, protected, and tried to advise. We would weep if we did not know the story already. And though it seems trite to say, there is the promise of a sequel. We are able to believe that the pivotal character will return, though the event of his death is described in great detail.

So that is how to write a mystery:
1. Find a character intelligent, pure of thought and heart, flawed with indecision and human foibles,
2. Set the unsuspecting hero on a quest for the benefit of others,
3. Throw him screaming into fiery furnaces, teetering from heights, dodging swords, racing from falling buildings, bumping into others who love and assist him, and generally fighting against all odds.
4. Make the breather moments short and the progress toward success or failure clear in each event.

And you'll have it.

Sometimes, the END is the reward of a great effort. END your story and know the joy. Then go back and rejoice all the way through that you have succeeded in your "great effort."

Happy New Year....there are eleven more writing days until the New Work Year takes over our lives again.

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