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?
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.
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?