Mysteries and Thrillers have always been popular for their fast pacing, smart dialogue and unexpected plot twists. And as both a writer and a reader, I’d certainly agree those are essential ingredients to any page-turner.
But what about relationships? I’d argue that characters drive plot, and your empathy for the characters, as a reader, is what drives suspense. It’s your relationship with the characters — and their relationships with each other — that makes a mystery work. And it’s the tension in those relationships that keeps you up at night turning the pages.
Think about it. Does the action matter if you don’t care about the people involved? We’ve all been to movies where we’re sitting on the edge of our seat, mouth full of popcorn, knuckles white as cars tear through narrow city streets on the big screen. And yet we’ve also been to movies where a similar car chase nearly puts us to sleep, and even the final explosion as a car tumbles down the cliff only lingers as an after-image inside our drooping eyelids. The only different between those two movies was our empathy — or lack thereof — with the people in the cars.
My latest novel JUMP begins when the city’s most despised landlord plummets twenty stories from the roof of his own apartment building. Was it suicide or did someone help him jump? Well, it turns out that everyone living on the top floor of the building had reason to want him dead. But the murder isn’t the real story in this novel, it’s only the catalyst for uncovering the relationships between an eclectic bunch of strangers who call themselves neighbors. Library Journal referred to the "fast-paced, rollicking humor and characters right out of a 1930s Agatha Christie country house mystery" and ForeWord Magazine said, "This is one hilarious yarn [with] one of the most bizarre collection of tenants since One Flew Over The Cuckoos Nest." Though the literary and film references couldn’t be more different, clearly both reviewers were struck by the characters, which brings me back to relationships and their ability to drive a story.
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