Flesh and Bones

Given today’s title, I’d forgive you if you thought this post was going to be about murder and mayhem in the mystery novel. But no, it’s about the writing of mysteries. Those flesh and bones, you see, are a metaphor.

A host of ingredients are required to make up compelling novel (slipped in another metaphor—and a cooking one this time!): among them, plot and subplot, characters, location, cultural issues, weather, time in history, and time of year. I’m sure you can come up with others, as well.

And I’m sure most of you would agree that of all those ingredients, plot is the most important for a murder mystery. After all, don’t we all want to know whodunit? Isn’t that what keeps us turning the pages of a book?

Leslie reading

Or is it?

So here’s where the flesh and bones come in. I see plot as being the bones of a mystery novel. It forms the structure and holds everything together. Without it, the story would fall into a puddle of mush, and we’d have no coherent mystery to puzzle out.


But bones alone do not make up a complete body. We need flesh and blood, sinews and organs. And that’s what those other elements I listed above bring to the table. (Yep, there’s another one.)

A novel’s setting and its place in time provide the muscle of the story, fleshing it out and giving it realism. And the cultural issues and subplots provide the blood, pumping vitality into and throughout the narrative and giving it meaning.

But it’s the characters who breathe life into any story. Drawn well, with a compelling voice, and they truly animate the novel. They provide its soul.

whole body

So in other words, we need both the flesh and bones of the metaphorical body to best kill off a real (albeit fictional) one.

Readers: What are the most important elements of a story for you? Do you associate them with any parts of the human body?

18 thoughts on “Flesh and Bones

  1. Absolutely. You need the foundation of a good plot, but without the other things, the plot is going to be flat.

    I think that character and plot are equally important. Without characters you care about, you won’t care about the outcome. But without a good plot, you’ll get bored.

    Sadly, I’ve read a few books in the last few months that skimped on the plot and let sub-plots, which are going to be fairly predictable, drive the majority of the book. In some cases, the murder part was good if not great, but there was so little of it that I got bored.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Agreed, Mark. For me, plotting is the hardest part of writing a mystery novel, so I spend weeks–or sometimes months–fleshing it out before I even start to write. (Yes, I’m a big-time plotter, as opposed to pantser.)

      Liked by 1 person

  2. You can have the best, most intriguing, twisty plot in the world, but if it’s being spun by boring characters, it will leave a bad taste in my mouth and I’ll ask to be excused without finishing.

    And I kinda don’t understand books with boring characters because characters are SO MUCH FUN to create! (And so much easier than an intriguing twisty plot!)

    Liked by 2 people

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