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Developing Effective Mystery

The primary goal of any good story is to engage the reader.

You’ve probably heard me say countless times before, “Predictability is the death knell of good fiction.” If your reader knows what happens next, there’s a good chance they won’t continue reading, or if they do manage to press on, they’ll be distanced or otherwise disengaged.

A fundamental method to engage readers in any story, is to lure them with mystery and suspense.

[We’ll tackle suspense in another article]

The clinical definition of mystery is; something difficult or impossible to understand or explain… But this is only half the accurate definition when it comes to writing.

Because in fiction, mundane, irrelevant, superfluous or minor elements all lack mystery, no matter how difficult or impossible to understand you make them.

So while “how the bag of coffee beans got from the bottom shelf to the top shelf, with all the roommates denying moving them,” might be mysterious in real-life, in a story, it’s a distracting waste of time.

To establish mystery in fiction make sure the element is interesting by itself, important & relevant, and contains significant narrative drive.

Also, “impossible…” impossible is a bad word in most instances of establishing mystery. I’ll explain why later, but for now, take my word for it, which leaves us with the following more accurate definition for establishing mystery in comics;

An interesting, highly relevant, difficult to understand or explain element with high narrative drive.

Let’s break it down.

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