The Hand on the Wall (Truly Devious #3)
By Maureen Johnson
Release Date: January 21st 2020
New York Times bestselling author Maureen Johnson delivers the witty and pulse-pounding conclusion to the Truly Devious series as Stevie Bell solves the mystery that has haunted Ellingham Academy for over 75 years.
The Art of Writing A Murder
I was on a panel recently answering a very similar question: how do you write a good murder? I went into my explanation, some of which I will give in a moment. The gist of it, though, is that a good murder mystery is a game. The man sitting next to me, who had just written his first book, was shocked and horrified that I said murder was a game and he would never treat it as such. This seemed odd to me, as he had spoken at length about his love of Sherlock Holmes—the same character who said, “The game is afoot!”
Murder is not a game. Murder is terrible and ugly and the rightful object of horror. Murder mystery novels—at least the kind I prefer—are not about any of that. I like them classic. I like a mansion, a locked room, an island, an English village, an amateur detective, and a lot of suspects. This kind of book is a game, a puzzle, and if done well, one that a reader has a chance of solving if they pay attention. The author has to play fair—this means no introducing the murderer so late in the game that the reader doesn’t have a chance to know them. You have to hide many things from the reader, while pushing others just into sight.
This is how I approach it: I start with the general kind of murder I want to write. By this, I mean a type, a setting. For the Truly Devious, I wanted the remote mansion and a cold case. Then I started with why. Why did an event occur? You actually need to know why before you can know who. From there, I build the event out, making sure I understand everything at the center of this mechanism. The murder is like the eye of the hurricane, with winds blowing all around. Those winds blow out the clues, the flotsam and jetsam that lead to the solution. The footprint. The scrap of paper in the fireplace. The broken vase. The bump in the night. We start the story on the outer edge, picking up these weird little objects, trying to make sense of them. As we get closer to the event, we get more and more. The velocity increases.
This is how I picture it anyway. It also involves a lot of charts, notes, and the occasional spreadsheet, because you have to know where everyone was, what they were doing, what they could have seen or heard or found or done. It’s a really good excuse to crack out the sticky notes and fill a wall.
Maureen Johnson is the New York Times and USA Today bestselling author of several YA novels, including 13 Little Blue Envelopes, Suite Scarlett, The Name of the Star, and Truly Devious. She has also done collaborative works, such as Let It Snow (with John Green and Lauren Myracle), and The Bane Chronicles (with Cassandra Clare and Sarah Rees Brennan). Her work has appeared in publications such as The New York Times, Buzzfeed, and The Guardian, and she has also served as a scriptwriter for EA Games. She has an MFA in Writing from Columbia University and lives in New York City.
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