I recently watched a video of Rian Johnson explaining how he wrote the screenplay for the film Knives Out. His advice finally put to rest my concerns about the mystery genre – concerns that I have written about here and here.
Johnson explained that a mystery is not exactly a puzzle to unravel. Instead, the reader is given clues that may not mean very much at the time but make sense at the very end. Although the reader may not be given all of the information she needs to identify the killer or the killer’s motives, she should have have an “aha” moment at the end, when she learns from the detective what all the clues meant. In other words, a mystery is successful when the big reveal corresponds with the clues that have been dropped along the way.
Having discovered the “secret” of mystery-writing, I feel more comfortable with the genre. I have always enjoyed the puzzle of reading mysteries, but I will no longer be frustrated that the novel did not mention everything before the big reveal. Thank you Rian Johnson!