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“You enter the extraordinary by way of the ordinary.” ~Frederick Buechner

Thursday, February 7, 2013

Create With Mystery

Even if we don’t write mystery novels, all novels have a sense of mystery or the lure of what will happen next. And like a mystery novel, if a situation, a question or a particular detail is brought to the reader’s attention it needs to be addressed with a sense of closure. Or we risk losing credibility with a reader. Especially if it has been given a build-up.

In a recent discussion with a sci-fi and fantasy reader over the movie John Carter, I was really surprised at how much he disliked it. But as we talked though what worked and what didn’t it all came down one main criterion: a mystery thread that didn’t get answered. Now perhaps in the book series it was an ongoing thread to carry from one book to another, but in the movie for this one viewer the ball got dropped.

I remembered the scene and yes, I wondered too, but decided perhaps the main purpose was characterization as it showed the determination of the heroine to save her planet and a villain out to sabotage. It annoyed me too, but I was drawn more to the actual overall world building so it didn’t ruin the movie for me. But my reader friend waited the whole movie expecting an answer to why it was so important and instead the closure to that situation was never explained.  

There’s a saying know as Chekhov’s gun that is a reference to a note he wrote in a letter, which is now used as an example of foreshadowing.

"If you say in the first chapter that there is a rifle hanging on the wall, in the second or third chapter it absolutely must go off. If it's not going to be fired, it shouldn't be hanging there." Anton Chekhov (From S. Shchukin, Memoirs. 1911.)

Just so, the movie never explained why Dejah, Princess of Helium, expected the large machine to save her people and city from the Zodanga.

Journal Prompt:

Take a look at your first few chapters and see if there is a prop that could become a foreshadow for a main plot point, or a sub-plot point.

How far could you stretch the highlight before it becomes interference rather than a positive thread?

Share: What is a movie you feel never gave a satisfying closure to mystery threads it began with?

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