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An ex-cop (my husband) said one of the most important things he learned while attending the police academy was to “look up, look down, look all around.” And he’s right. As a mystery writer I need to remind myself of this advice from time to time.
If I were at a crime scene, I wouldn’t want to miss evidence or a clue. I wouldn’t want my protagonist to miss anything, either. You never know where something important might turn up. And, as a writer, I need to remember to leave clues for the readers to follow.
Have you ever lost your car keys? Probably. You looked everywhere, you thought, but they didn’t turn up. Look up, look down, look all around. Sometimes they turn up in the most unexpected places. Do you have small children? If one of them picked up your keys, they could be anywhere. Gotta love those innocent little minds and hands.
We really need to pay attention when confronted with situations. Okay, I’m going to give you a silly example. Over time I’ve mentioned Gertrude from time to time. She was a roadrunner (bird) who came to our yard every day, looking for a handout. We fed her and became accustomed to her. She was so used to us that she’d sit on my patio chair, even while I sat on it. She was an unusual bird and came around for four years. She’d “talk” to me in her bird language. She was very entertaining and imitated the sounds of other birds, which surprised me. She’d eat out of my hand, and with that sharp beak I was really glad she was gentle.
And then she disappeared. I never saw her again.
In her place, another bird starting making the daily visits. I called her Gertrude II. She wasn’t as friendly as Gertrude I, but still, she came every day.
Gertrude II kept taking her food and leaving, which usually means the roadrunner is feeding babies. It turns out something unexpected was going on. Gertrude wasn’t Gertrude. She was actually Larry. (Don’t ask me why we name the roadrunners. I have no clue.) Anyway, when a roadrunner wants to mate they take a “gift” to the female bird and try to entice them into some, uh, lovemaking. Yes, Larry was a horny little male bird. I should have paid more attention to the things he was doing, like the tail feathers swinging back and forth, a sure sign of… Never mind.
The point is, things aren’t always what they seem. I didn’t look all around, or I would have seen Larry offering a female his gift of food while his tail feathers went wild.
Enough of the birds.
In Old Murders Never Die, Sandi and Pete find a clue on the floor of an old cabin over a hundred years after a murder was committed there. How? Pete looked up, down and all around.
When putting a mystery together, let the reader look all around through the eyes of the protagonist. Let the reader feel like they’re right there, on the scene, searching with the character. The reader would like to participate in the story, and this is one way to let them inside the situation.
Even if you’re not a writer, looking everywhere is good advice. Don’t leave anything to chance and don’t assume what you want will be in a specific place. Be aware of your surroundings and the people near you.
If you’d like to leave a Comment and offer some investigating advice of your own, please do. Sometimes our books make investigation sound too simple, and it’s not easy at all. Okay, sometimes in my books…
Until next week, look up, look down, look all around, and see if you can do it without being obvious. It’s good practice.
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