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Sunday, February 22, 2015

The Formulaic Mystery Template by Elaine Faber

Whether Thriller or Cozy mysteries, avid readers consume multiple books each year. They acquire reading material through book sales, garage sales, the library, borrow from a friend and sometimes,actually purchase from the author! There is a demand for a good story.

Let’s pretend for a minute, we’re an author desirous of launching a new mystery series. After careful analysis of a number of successful series,’ we see a tried and true template.

Our story needs a beautiful, blonde female sleuth. She must have a German Shepard in order to capture the animal lovers. The dog doesn’t have to solve crimes, but it helps. She needs an unusual job or hobby. Her sweetheart must be connected to the inept police department, otherwise how could she access the official information generally withheld from the public?

Other mystery series’ have already snagged off the best jobs or hobbies. We have book store owners, catering services, dog groomers, travel agents, writers, pet sitters, private detectives, etc. We need a career that hasn’t been done to death, but one that gives our sleuth access to plenty of potential murder victims. It is a series, remember?

How about a lady who pumps out septic tanks? She’d be in plenty of back yards spotting nefarious ‘going’s-on’, or how about the door-to door Avon lady selling wrinkle cream? Plenty of opportunities to look beyond the screen door and see someone bound and gagged…Maybe not.

Let’s stick with the lady plumber concept.

So let’s see…to follow the mystery template. The lady plumber and her quirky sidekick (did I forget to mention the quirky friend?) find a body in the pump house. Proceed to red herrings, unrequited love, and suspicious characters, all with alibis. Toss in some plumbing trivia, stopped up toilets, overflowing bathtubs, (a humorous scene or two), and move right on to the climax where our heroine agrees to meet the villain in a toilet warehouse, but doesn’t tell anyone where she’s going. Killer strings her up to the rafters, determined to have his way with her. Death is imminent. Her dog has tracked her scent. Detective boyfriend bursts down the door just in the nick of time. The killer is apprehended, every toilet lid lowered, and the heroine and detective drive the sewer truck off into the sunset. Sounds like a best seller.

To be fair, there are lots of ways to change up the various topics; hobbies, quirky friend, red herrings, suspects, mysterious packages, murder, theft, kidnapping, contraband, illegal alien housekeeper, secret message, identity of villain (always the most unexpected cast member), etc.

This is the formulaic template, with assorted variations, that most mysteries stories follow.
Where are the brave authors willing to break the mold, or at least daring to write a mystery that doesn’t end with the heroine strung up in the barn (figuratively speaking)? Sadly, as long as the public is willing to buy these trite storylines, mystery books continue to follow the same template.

Elaine Faber Bio:

If you are an animal lover and mystery lover, I guarantee you will love Black Cat’s Legacy and Black Cat and the Lethal Lawyer, a cozy mystery that dares not to follow the typical mystery writing template. Available at Amazon in print and e-book.

Read more about my mysteries at

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