Gone Girl, The Girl on the Train, Big Little Lies and all the other International Bestselling Novels recently made into movies that have a mystery at the heart of the story, all have one thing in common. They offer a scavenger hunt, a game the reader plays on the journey to guess the ending.
And women LOVE piecing together clues and snippets of information to solve a mystery. The prize at the end can be as simple as why did the couple divorce or how will she get out of this conundrum, or a theme as dark as who is killing women and leaving them in fields.
The game is always the same.
You begin the book with information about the playing pieces, the characters, and as the story line deepens, a good writer will offer clues hidden inside revelations and dialogue for the reader to store as part of the big picture that will eventually include the solved mystery. If the book is a whodunnit, then the reader will start guessing early on based on the nature of the clues given. As more clues are added and red herrings are detected, the readers' guess can change several times before the big reveal.
As an author of suspense, I used to be disappointed when reviewers would write that they guessed the ending back in chapter 3, but lately I've learned to take their bragging as a compliment that shows me they were playing the game and were tickled they won the game early on. When that happens, it's exciting, even if you won't know you're right until the very end.
Guessing early might be the fault of the author to not fool absolutely everyone all the time, or it could simply be a lucky guess. Personally, I love it when my readers are gobsmacked by the ending and didn't see it coming. But, I can't fault a few people for coming to an early conclusion. Especially if they continue reading to see if they are right!
Women enjoy this brain teasing process, this mental game of elimination and puzzle solving. And whether they are surprised by the ending or guess it early on, the journey along the way must be satisfying enough to keep the reader engaged to turn pages until the end.
Writing a mystery adds an extra layer to the story, an additional process of planning that isn't needed for other types of fiction. A mystery needs more plotting, careful leakage of clues, deeper character reveals and much more thought given to the final product to prevent the reader from being dissatisfied with the ending. Of course, the ending is everything in a mystery and it must be tied up sufficiently to give the reader a sense of supreme satisfaction, even if a part of that satisfaction is guessing the ending.
Women love to read mysteries and have always been fascinated by this guessing game. I think it's because as a gender we are problem solvers, wired to sort out the trouble and make sense of it all. While the men go out hunting to bring home dinner, we are left to the do all the mental sorting and planning and organization. And that involves being a good guesser.
As a reader and a writer, I love the game and am thrilled to see that the trend towards this type of novel is on a steep curve upwards and Mystery/Thrillers, Whodunnits, and Suspense/Mysteries are getting movie deals.
Long live the Mystery Novel!
KIM HORNSBY is a Amazon #1 Bestselling Author of Suspense, Mystery and Paranormal Romance who has shared the top 5 lists with Robb, King, Koontz and Evanovich. Her novels can be found on Amazon where her surprise endings will curl your toes.