A compelling mystery must engage the reader in solving the mystery, and the best ways to do so are to 1) start the mystery off quick, 2) capture attention with consequential stakes, 3) increase tension, 4) keep the reader guessing, and 5) finish strong.
To find good mentor text for “tension till the bitter end,” I went directly to one of my most beloved authors—Agatha Christie. Yes, I know. She’s not a middle grade author. However, when I was in my middle grade years, I devoured her books. Surely, that counts. Plus, for a mentor text, why not go straight to the Queen of Mystery?
Emma Kress’s debut YA novel, Dangerous Play, has plenty of action and a lot of games. It’s a book about a girls’ field hockey team who uses parkour to supplement their summer training, and puts those skills to use as vigilantes against perpetrators of sexual assault. It takes place over an entire hockey season, and Kress makes smart choices about how to condense the many field hockey games so that each one serves the story, especially by manipulating pacing and creating tension.
With an awesome opening sentence, Marks not only introduces the inciting incident, but creates a storm of wondering questions for the reader,
If you only give your readers one conflict after another without tension in between, you are in danger of exhausting, and maybe even boring them, to the point that they lose interest. Tension turns the page.
Framing your story with a STORY QUESTION that gets answered by the end of the novel works because it adds forward momentum, keeps your reader wanting to turn the page, and–since you delay the final answer to the question until the end–builds tension
Weisfeld envisioned a book series and a brand that encouraged and taught girls to be entrepreneurs through engaging, adventurous stories.
The strongest novels have main characters who not only want something but want something with serious stakes involved. In All the Impossible Things, Red’s stakes are whether she will ever have a home that truly fits.
craft review by Kristi Wright A few months back, while chatting with fellow authors, I proposed that when writing a mystery, it was important to keep the tension going till the bitter end about “whodunit!” I quickly realized that this isn’t a hard and fast rule—we all have beloved mysteries that reveal the identity of […]