Readers–I need your help deciding something

photo credit: The Quest via photopin (license)

photo credit: The Quest via photopin (license)

I’ve been re-reading one of my favorite mystery writers lately–Rex Stout. Stout began writing his 1/7 ton, orchid-loving gourmand genius detective Nero Wolfe in the thirties (just after the end of Prohibition, Wolfe’s first recorded words are, “Where’s the beer?”). But the stories are lively and readable for today’s audiences, thanks to entertaining narrator Archie Goodwin, Wolfe’s feet, eyes and ears on New York–and ours, too.

I admit that I was worried that I wouldn’t enjoy reading Stout as much, since my author training means I see the puppet strings and the puppeteer behind the words.

photo credit: Puppet via photopin (license)

photo credit: Puppet via photopin (license)

But no. I actually enjoy Archie and Nero more, because Stout’s such a freaking great writer. There’s an impact seeing a genius use the tools of writing that a teacher’s telling (even with examples) doesn’t have. Don’t believe me? Think of any occupation where you’ve seen someone who blows you away. For me it’s Brett Favre, whatever you might think about his career. I see anyone throw a football and it’s caught and I think yay, amazing, because frankly I can’t throw a ball a foot to a receiver dressed in two-sided tape. But Favre…when he threw the ball, the receiver didn’t catch it so much as Favre seemed to place the ball directly into the receiver’s hands. Artistry, poetry in motion.

Anyway, the point to all this is that Stout made me reconsider one aspect of writing that has plagued me my whole career. What makes something mysterious? Frankly, I always thought you had to write vague unsettling creepy stuff.

Here’s what I now think is true, and this is what I need you to confirm or not: The way to be mysterious is to be crystal clear about your mystery.

Example: Which is more mysterious?

  • Jen thought she saw a shadowy figure in the dark bushes.
  • Jen saw the bushes stir. Not a cat-size stirring, but man-size.

Or this:

  • The victim wrote something in her own blood before dying.
  • The victim wrote “rache” in her own blood before dying.

So which is more mysterious to you? First or second point in each example? Please let me know!!

About Mary Hughes

Who am I? A lover of stories that crackle with action and love. A mother, a flutist, a binge-TV-watcher of NCIS, Sherlock, and Agents of SHIELD. Most of all, a believer in grand passion. Mary's online and would love to hear from you! Website Blog Group Blog Group Blog Facebook Twitter Newsletter signup
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8 Responses to Readers–I need your help deciding something

  1. Edie Ramer says:

    The second point. And now I know what books I’ll look for on my next trip to the library. I think I’ve read all the Nero Wolfe books in our library, but after so many years, it will be fun to read them again.

    • Mary Hughes says:

      Thanks, Edie! It’s good to know I’m on the right track. I greatly respect your opinion.

      I hope you enjoy rereading Rex Stout! I was surprised how well the books held up from my memories of them. they are just as sparkling, Archie is just as enjoyable, and the writing is a great example of lean, mean prose.

      If you like mysteries, I just found out from Gregg that Miss Fisher’s Murder Mysteries season 3 is now up on Netflix!

  2. Mary, I love Nero Wolfe and Archie! And I loved the TV series, too.

    I think mystery is far more the second than the first. Immediacy and clarity are far more difficult to ignore than fuzziness.
    Michelle Diener`s last blog was …Book Blitz: Dark Horse

    • Mary Hughes says:

      Oh, Michelle, I loved Nero Wolfe on the television too! Tim Hutton did such a great job as Archie, both dapper and the man of action, and Maury Chaykin was a superb Wolfe.

      I was wondering why the second worked better than the first for me. You really hit it with your excellent insight, thank you! Clarity difficult to ignore. That’s it!

  3. Barbara Elness says:

    Definitely the second point in each example! 😀

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