Everyone loves a good mystery. The feeling of reading something, that feeling of need to know the answer that forces you to keep turning pages even after you promised yourself just one more chapter eight chapters ago.
The bigger the mystery, the better. The ones that seem unsolvable are the best. They make you wonder how it will resolve satisfactorily. Only, so many times they seem unsolvable because they are. Because, as great as that mystery is, the low that comes from a conclusion that is a total letdown is even worse. It was a dream – they were dead all along – it was in someone’s head and a myriad of others make me drop books (and shows and movies) in utter disgus
t, and makes all the good from the first 90% of a story seem bad.
So, dear reader who is also a writer, how do we avoid doing this ourselves? Or, more to the point, to our readers?
In the first place, never bet more than you can afford to lose. What I mean by that is, never raise the stakes beyond what your payoff can be. If your reader is heavily invested every step of the way, and you let them down at the end, your work will not be remembered fondly. BUT, if you give them a solid payoff – even if the mystery itself isn’t as deep – they’ll like it a whole lot more. So if you have this great premise, make sure you have an equally great ending.
Also, don’t go all in at the end (to continue the betting analogy). If you have a super crazy twist that no one will see coming, clue them in a bit. Give your readers some hints that something is coming, or at least some Easter eggs that make sense upon re-reads. Obviously, you don’t want to telegraph what is coming (otherwise it’s not really a twist), but if your story just takes a hard turn out of nowhere, readers will be bewildered, not intrigued.
Finally, know when to fold. Some ideas just don’t work. It’s better to walk away and work on something that does work – and, let’s be real, will sell – than to waste time on something that will ultimately overwhelm. Make a note of the idea, let it stew, and work on other, better projects.
And, for the love of all that is good, please do not let them just be dreaming.