By Chester Campbell
If you're writing a series, as I do, you have one or two characters you and your readers are well acquainted with. So you have to find a realistic way to get them tangled in the plot. That brings on more challenges. I write PI mysteries, and everybody knows private investigators (except in rare cases like The Marathon Murders) don't get hired to solve murders. So their involvement with the homicide must be a natural outgrowth of some other plot point.
The next big challenge lies in the area of creating characters who might have done it (or whodunit). You need multiple suspects to keep things interesting. And all of them must be capable of committing the crime. If there's a little old lady involved, she'd better be a pistol packin' mama. It takes a bunch of red herrings to make the plot really fishy.
If you're using subplots, and most of us do, the challenge is to invent a scenario that fits into the main story without hijacking it. Sometimes a bit player in a subplot will try to take the spotlight away from the protagonist. When that happens, you have to put him or her back in their proper place as supporting actors. If they're really Oscar material and won't behave properly, pull them out and give them a book of their own.
Now comes the really big challenge, filling up that vast wasteland known as the middle of the book. Unfortunately, we can't accomplish it by throwing in lots of ands and buts and the's and thou's. It must be interesting stuff that moves the plot and draws out the characters, tantalizing details that will keep the reader reading the book rather than doing the old fast pitch against the wall.
Finally, the last, and probably most important, challenge is to pin everything on the bad guy and bring down the curtain with a finale that is both surprising and satisfying, one that grows naturally out of the action and makes the reader think I should have known that all along, how else could it have ended?
That's why I enjoy writing mysteries. Nothing like a bundle of challenges to get your juices flowing. How about you?