The mystery of fiction

There you are, staring at your computer in a dark little space, wondering how to create mystery in the first paragraph. This task will determine your story and to some extent the structure of your novel. To create mystery in fiction you first need to create mystery for yourself by envisioning the world in which your characters live and act. This requires great detail of person, time and place. Creating mystery in story doesn’t mean withholding information; mystery is created by revealing enough information so the reader wants to go on.

Many elements go into creating a world, but if you keep the reader in the forefront by recalling many people read to enter a world in which people like them struggle and prevail over difficulties, you need to reveal. Revelation consists of detail. This doesn’t mean you should reveal everything about the main character up front, but a reader will want to know who a character is, where he is, what’s he doing, and to some extent his purpose in acting the way in which he’s acting. Description is passive; dilemma, conflict, problems are not. Put your characters into difficult situations or give them problems to solve and a reader will follow them anywhere because he’ll want to see how they untangle their thorny lives. Start with character.

A crucial decision is deciding from whose point of view to tell the story. You can tell the story from any point of view you want, first person, third-person limited, multiple points of view, or from the point of view of an object or a bird or animal. You can do whatever you want, as long as the reader begins to identify with the character from whose point of view the story is told, and you establish a pattern of who’s telling the story up front. That is to say, if you’re telling the story from several points of view let the reader know right away. Establish the pattern. That may mean telling one chapter from one person’s point of view and the next from another’s, but if you establish a pattern the reader won’t be jarred away from the story if you change point of view well along into the novel. If you use several points of view interchangeably let the reader know immediately.

Point of view is the most powerful tool to win the reader to your character and will determine not only how you tell the story but the story itself.

In Wolf Hall, the reader doesn’t learn the main character’s first name until many pages into the novel, yet it’s clear who he is because the author has established from the second sentence that this story will be about the man who’s referred to as “he.” Point of view is so skillfully employed that the novel appears as if it’s written from multiple points of view of many characters, yet it’s told from the point of view of one man.

When you build a world give the reader enough information so he’ll ask questions of your main character or characters, so he’ll want to know where they mystery lies.

Give the reader information

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