Who Done It? When Do We Find Out?
Books, movies, television… the creators of suspenseful stories take widely differing approaches to letting us, the readers and viewers, know “who done it.”
For example, the late Peter Falk played a detective in the American TV drama titled Columbo, a series that ran for three decades, starting around 1970. The formula in those shows called for an elaborately planned murder, carried out in plain view for the TV audience, at the start of each 90-minute episode. In the remaining 80 minutes of each show, viewers watched the detective piece together clues and eventually identify and arrest the perpetrator. Columbo’s incisive brilliance carried the story along.
Contemporary British TV detective dramas take the opposite approach. Viewers watch for 90 minutes and, until the very end, usually have not the slightest idea which character committed the crime. The writers clearly work hard to lead viewers toward first one and then another character, often surprising the audience at the end by revealing that the real murderer was not one of those toward whom they had been leading the audience for an hour and a half.
The fascinating thing to me, as a writer, is how effectively either approach can work, if the story is well written and well acted. In my own stories, the readers become aware of the evil personalities fairly early in the story. The suspense comes not from readers being screened from the identity of the evil characters, but from the fact that the evil characters soon become aware of the identity of my central characters, and, thus, turn their murderous attention to my stories’ protagonists. These are individuals – Rebecca, Joanna, their families – for whom my readers have been led to care a great deal.
In the adult novel on which I am now working, the fifth in the Rebecca Series, one of my main characters – new to the series – has just stolen a document from a wall safe. That document, once it is analyzed, is presumably going to reveal the exact nature and extent of the antagonists’ plans. The suspense will develop, as is usually the case with my stories, both from the readers’ fear that Rebecca and her family and friends will be captured, and from readers’ concern that the evil characters’ plans will, in fact, not be thwarted by Rebecca or by anyone else.
And, as I have discussed in a previous blog post, there is a budding romance in the near background, one that will have its own kind of suspense: not life or death suspense, but happy versus unhappy outcome suspense for the couple. Of course, this would be couple is just as likely to become the target of evil’s plans as are Rebecca, her family, and friends. I very much look forward to finding out how this is going to go.
And no, at this point, I actually don’t know how this is going to go.
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