Killing A Mystery’s Soul – 5 Mortal Sins

You’re a mystery fan and have settled down with a book you’ve begged, bought, or borrowed.

You expect to be at the very least entertained, but–based on past experience–you hope to be transported to a state of entrancement, fascination, and even awe. Books can do that and you know it.

Then, why is that pile of pages you’re plowing through NOT paying off in the way you want?

There are lots of reasons why a mystery fails, why you feel disappointed while reading it. AND–why, even when you use all your determination to push through to the end, you feel cheated and ask yourself: “Why did I bother?”

I’ve boiled down these reasons into five categories–the 5 mortal sins that kill a story’s soul:

— Reading this is WORK!

— I don’t care about the characters.

— This could NEVER happen.

— NOTHING happens.

— The solution is too: easy … or hard.

There they are, ready to ruin your enjoyment. Any one of the above can execute that mystery deader than the corpses scattered through it. Sometimes, you’ll find more than one, and on a rare occasion, you’ll notice ALL of them.

Let’s go over our mystery-murdering reasons one-at-a time:


If you realize you’re reading instead of being transported into the scene, the author is doing a poor job.

Sometimes, it’s just structure: the paragraphs are too long (ever look at a solid, dense page of unbroken text and groan?), or the sentences are too full of punctuation and run on forever (like THIS one almost did).

There’s a difference between “challenging” and work. Challenging means exercise for the brain. It’s hard, but you’ll be better for it at the end; it’s worth the effort. Work, on the other hand, just wears you down and wears you out. You feel bored, tired, and uninspired.

You know work when you read it. If you’re looking to the end of a chapter to see how much more you’ve got to go–you’re working. If you’re riffling the pages to the end of the book and thinking, “I’ve got ALL that!”–you’re working.

Sometimes an author’s style is like learning a new language. You have to stick with it until you’re comfortable. If you don’t get the hang of it after a chapter or two–it’s work.


Reading should put you among friends … and enemies.

You want to LOVE your friends and  soul reading  HATE your enemies. While reading, strong emotions are welcome.

If you don’t even like your friends, or worse, are apathetic–something is wrong. You’re hanging around with the wrong crowd. AND if you DON’T hate or fear your enemies, they’re just acquaintances–extras in your mental movie.

If the main characters don’t make you want to root for them or against them, they’re strangers to you with no emotional value. A “who cares?” response takes you to the question: why am I reading this?

There are a few reasons characters don’t involve you:

They’re boring–Why would you want to read about someone who’s stuck in the same trivia that makes your eyes glaze over in your own life?

They’re ordinary–A good protagonist is someone you’re dying to see deal with challenges, someone you want to be your champion. Anyone who has no special abilities, ambitions, problems, or quirks is someone you’ll soon forget–and want to forget.

They’re unlikable–Ever have the main character do things that make you root for him/her to fail? You know what I’m talking about. When you do, either consciously or unconsciously, the book you’re reading is in serious trouble.


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