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Author Topic: Why mystry means murder?  (Read 8917 times)

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mohammedderhalli

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Why mystry means murder?
« on: December 11, 2008, 06:14:26 AM »

Hello

I noticed this many times. Mystry novel, for ex., means a murder and one detective tries to solve the crime. Why this?

Take this for example from one of my novels: "The Ambassador was in his car passing the street when a limited earthquake in that street only made a crack in the ground and swallowed the car and the Ambassador. The crack is then closed." Is this a mystry or no?

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Elena

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Re: Why mystry means murder?
« Reply #1 on: December 11, 2008, 10:58:35 AM »

The answer is more historical than 'mysterious'.  The reading public in the late 1800's in England and the US became fans of mysteries. For example, Arthur Conan Doyle with his private detective character Sherlock Holmes wrote many many very popular stories. While some of these included murders, not all did. But, all were mysteries in that it was important to someone to find out the answer, and there was Sherlock Holmes to provide the solution.

As time went on, the "murder mystery" rose in popularity. So much so that most authors of this new genre focused on exactly what you said - a murder and someone to resolve it.  Over time popular usage shortened murder mystery to just mystery. So, it is understood, for instance, that if you go to a Mystery Book Store, what you will find is a store filled with books about murder(s) and the character who does the solving. There are exceptions, but in general this is still what you find.

From the opening sentence you gave us as an example, it would appear that you have written a novel. That is a much broader genre. However, even in a novel there has to be something to be resolved that is life changing for someone. Frequently, figuring out the resolution involves a mystery - but here the word mystery is much more general and without it's "murder mystery's" sidekick - the character whose reason for being in the book is to provide the solution.

Hope this was helpful.
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JIM DOHERTY

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Re: Why mystery means murder?
« Reply #2 on: December 11, 2008, 01:34:01 PM »

Mohammed,

When crime fiction first started to be recognized as a distinct literary genre, "mystery" was a largely religious term used to describe supernatural truths that were beyond rational explanation.

Roughly simultaneously with the rise of crime fiction, a lot of authors used the term "mystery" metaphorically in the titles of their stories, to describe puzzling crimes that seemed to be beyond rational explanation.  Hence, Poe's "The Mystery of Marie Roget," Conan Doyle's "The Boscombe Valley Mystery,"  Anna Katharine Green's The Mill Mystery, Fergus Hume's The Mystery of a Hansom Cab, Wilkie Collins's The Mystery of Mary Grice, to name just a few examples.

As the genre grew in popularity, the word that had been used in so many of those early titles was adopted as an identifier.

That, it seems to me, is the likely reason for the use of  "mystery" as a term understood to be synonomous with crime fiction.

« Last Edit: December 11, 2008, 01:35:41 PM by JIM DOHERTY »
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Re: Why mystry means murder?
« Reply #3 on: December 12, 2008, 11:26:50 AM »

To me, mystery is more about the feeling than the puzzle.  The difference between mystery and crime fiction is like the difference between magic and gymnastics; it's the "aha" moment or "ohhh" moment--the reveal that has a magical effect on the audience, which was expecting one thing and got something unexpected.

In Magic and Showmanship, there's a section contrasting tricks and illusions.  The trick is admittedly a puzzle that the audience feels challenged to solve, to beat the conjurer.  The illusion is presented as real magic and attempts to eliminate the puzzle element.  The same effect could be presented as a trick or an illusion; it's all about the presentation.  This subtle distinction is what--I believe--distinguishes a mystery from a crime novel.

If you present a series of false suspects and eliminate them one-by-one, that's a crime novel.  If you present a series of false suspects and finally reveal that the least suspected was the killer, and if the reveal has a magical effect on the audience, that's a mystery.  It's about misdirection--making the audience focus "out there" while the magical switch is happening under the table.  Or they expect you to make the switch, but the person doing the real magic is your confederate who's posing as a member of the audience.  You know, maybe the killer is really the victim's mother, with whom the reader has sympathized since page one.  It doesn't have to be a huge twist like that, but to some extent the reader has to be taken in by an illusion. [1]

If you begin a mystery with some, seemingly unexplainable, event, and then you focus on how that event might have occurred supernaturally or the fallout from that event, only to reveal later that it was not unexplainable and was in fact murder, that could be a mystery.  Or it could be gothic expliqué with no magical effect.  It depends on the presentation.

The difference between fiction and mystery is like the difference between story and drama.  A story can be just a series of events, but drama evokes emotion and creates the sense of real people with desires in conflict.  Turning a story into drama is the first challenge of a good writer.  Turning drama into mystery, I think, is the next big challenge.

1:  I saw a perfect example of this in an episode of Foyle's War.  A German plane was shot down, the same night a farm owner was killed.  They captured two Germans on foot and found another hanging by his parachute unconscious, his gun missing.  They spend about an hour going over the false suspects and a subplot involving black market meat.  This all develops character; who they were, what they wanted in life, and what the war did to them.  Then the chief suspect says something that gives Foyle a clue and he reveals through rapid investigation that the real killer was the German in the parachute--a man who'd never been a suspect.  Without that illusion and reveal, it would have been straight crime fiction.
« Last Edit: December 26, 2008, 11:27:11 AM by Doctor Allen »
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Re: Why mystry means murder?
« Reply #4 on: December 12, 2008, 12:13:06 PM »

Tangent:  I heard an interview with screenwriter Jose Rivera yesterday, who said that magic has to arise from the emotional needs of the character or it's arbitrary--and magic can never be arbitrary.  This relates to the switch in mystery.  If you reveal the real killer without first establishing why he or she could have been the killer, that's arbitrary, and it's not going to work.  I saw a Samuel L. Jackson movie last month, called The Cleaner, in which the detective's friend is revealed to be the killer, and they established that he wanted a family, and he said that was why he did it; but the guy was 30 years older than the victim's wife and they never appeared in the same scene together--it was totally out of the blue and implausible.  So don't think that I'm saying the switch should be totally unexpected.  The clues have to be there; they just have to be concealed by other clues that point in the other direction.
« Last Edit: December 12, 2008, 12:16:29 PM by Doctor Allen »
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B L McAllister

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Re: Why mystery means murder?
« Reply #5 on: December 12, 2008, 03:35:41 PM »

P.S.: Thanks, Mohammedderhall and everybody else for making today's visit to MWF worthwhile (for a change)!
Byron
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Byron Leon McAllister.
Books by Byron and Kay McAllister can most easily be obtained as e-books or in print from the publisher at http://www.writewordsinc.com/ For "Undercover Nudist," the print version is an improved version of the ebook version. The others are the same in both formats.

mohammedderhalli

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Re: Why mystry means murder?
« Reply #6 on: December 13, 2008, 06:19:00 AM »

Hello

Thanks for your answers.

Things are clear now.

Do you agree that we need a clear definition for the term "mystry"?
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B L McAllister

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Re: Why mystry means murder?
« Reply #7 on: December 13, 2008, 04:50:06 PM »

I suspect that a clear definition of "mystery" would be unique in the world of genre literature, where essentially all definitions of genres are fuzzy around the edges, and many are fuzzy all the way to the center.  For example, in the US at least, we have a genre called "westerns." Although stories involving gunfights on the streets of a small eighteenth century western village clearly belong to the genre (unless the participants are space-aliens), many other stories are called "westerns" by many others.  A love story set in that same locale may not, for some people, at least, require any shooting at all to qualify; it might even get away with containing no violence at all, despite the widespread feeling that westerns are violent.  Meantime, either sort of plot taking place in 2008 (or even 1920) Seattle (or Dodge City) might possibly be called a "western" by quite a few, but perhaps not by quite a few others.  Going back to "mystery," to see that quite a bit of fuzziness may be unavoidable, try coming up with a universally acceptable definition of one of the subgenres"  "Cozy" is especially susceptible to dispute when people try to be "completely clear."  Partial clarity seems to characterize the best descriptions that can find widespread agreement.
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Byron Leon McAllister.
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JIM DOHERTY

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Re: Why mystery means murder?
« Reply #8 on: December 13, 2008, 11:16:41 PM »

Mohammed,

Re your question below:

Hello

Thanks for your answers.

Things are clear now.

Do you agree that we need a clear definition for the term "mystery"?

I think the definition of "mystery" already is pretty clear.  It's a broad, encompassing term, roughly synonomous with  "crime story," describing a piece of fiction in which a crime, or several crimes, is a central part of the story, but which is, in most cases, exclusive of stories dealing with crime that are already associated with other distinct genres.

Hence, the TV series Dragnet, about a dedicated peace officer enforcing the law, is a mystery, but Gunsmoke, also about a dedicated peace officer enforcing the law, is not (at least not usually).  Similarly, Elleston Trevor's The Damocles Sword, a novel about one dedicated man's underground efforts against a bloodthirsty tyrant (Hitler), is a mystery, but Alex Raymond's comic strip Flash Gordon, about one dedicated man's underground efforts against a bloodthirsty tyrant (Ming the Merciless), is not.
« Last Edit: December 13, 2008, 11:19:47 PM by JIM DOHERTY »
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Leon

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Re: Why mystry means murder?
« Reply #9 on: December 31, 2008, 03:49:24 PM »

Mystery!

A narrative hook requires a Protagonist and Antagonist and a Conflict.

Examples.
The day after Ed's new moble home was set in place, someone stole it.

"Fred. Are we actually going to destroy the City Bridge?"
"Yes Emma. During rush hour"

From each of the following lines, develop a narrative hook.

Who was murdered?

Which family is missing.

Brad's wife is missing

Two years old Sue is missing.

Thelma's husband is missing.

My car was stolen.

Until I know his tricks/secrets, it is a mystry to me how a magician walks through a steel wall.

A mystery may not always involve a murder, or other crime.

Leon


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