A Pirate's Resources

Exercise 15 :: Mystery :: A Whodunnit isn't the only Mystery

We all know that when we read a Sherlock Holmes, Agatha Christy, and PD James novel, the question will be: Whodunnit? These novels are mysteries from the moment we pick up the cover. But did you know that mystery is a valuable element of any story? It is not an essential component; you can write a very compelling story without mystery, but it will make any story more gripping by capturing our attention and keeping us engaged.

As your child continues to learn about the different elements of story, there are some that are essential (you must have an Act of Villainy, for example), while others are purely optional.
Mystery is one of these non-essentials. And mystery doesn’t have to mean that the aim of the plot it to answer whodunnit? Mystery is that intangible (hence, mysterious) something that starts the author wondering and thinking, and then keeps the reader reading on and on, until everything is made clear.

Anything in a story - any of the elements we have learned - can be a source of mystery. Think unexpected. As your student works through this section of the workbook, be especially open to the unexplainable, unexpected, unbelievable ideas with which they come up. This is to be expected, and let them find the crazy mysteries that are inside them as they mindstorm their way through the exercise. Encourage them to think outside the box. It’s okay if they “know” that it wouldn’t work within a real story. They might be right AND they can do that here. This is a space for trying out the mysterious and seeing what sticks and what doesn’t. Give them space, and help them give themselves space to be unexpected here.

Finally, the end of the exercise focuses on revealing the answers and foreshadowing. These are key elements to mystery. Note that in the story chapter prior to this exercise, none of the answers are revealed, but you might sense some foreshadowing. Have your student go back and note what might be foreshadowing (they could even take a stab at guessing
what if foreshadows). Then come back in a few chapters and see if they were right.

In Real Life :: These key elements are also valuable in other areas of storytelling and life, where you might least expect it. My daughter was in a Mock Trial this year, and the ability to take something mysterious (did she do it? Is the witness trustworthy? How did it happen?), find the answers, and present them in a way that is most compelling to the jury (by careful foreshadowing in the opening statement and through questions and the dramatic reveal during questioning, and closing argument) was THE key to the team who won the trial. Story is marvelous this way, something that isn’t just for “creative writing” class or writers, but for many different career paths!

Finding it in the Story :: This is another obvious one in the chapter - who is this mysterious Monkey M? Where are they from? Why are they there? But there are other, slighter mysteries - why does Yogger allow him aboard? Why does he take him on as a Monkey Mate as he does? Is it a good decision?