Missing Element: The Mystery of ME
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As best-selling crime author Michael Connelly wrote, "The best mysteries are about the mystery of character. Let's start with the basics: what is a mystery? In simplest terms, it's a story about the disruption of the social order. A crime against society is committed: a man is murdered, a bank is robbed, whatever.
We, the viewer, want to know two things: who did it, and why. What do we really want? We want order restored. We want the violator of the social compact - the killer, the thief, the blackmailer - caught, so that things in our world are set right once more. And who do we want to do this? Our surrogate, the smarter, wittier, and more doggedly determined version of ourselves: the detective hero.
Whether a street wise cop like Popeye Doyle in the French Connection , a sloppy homicide detective like TV's Columbo , or a tea-drinking, sweater-knitting old lady like Miss Marple, we want this one thing from our mystery protagonist above all others: we want order restored. But not just social order; the best mysteries, whether on Without A Trace or in Murder On the Orient Express , are also about the exploration and resolution of psychological tension. In other words, how do the characters interact? What do they want? For example, in most mysteries, whether a suspect is guilty of the crime or not, he or she invariably has a secret.
A clandestine relationship, a trauma from the past that haunts them still, perhaps even a connection with the killer or the victim that helps complete an entire mosaic of possible motives, entanglements and intrigue. Henry James famously said: "Plot is characters under stress.
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A further "turn of the screw" results when the murder comes under investigation by an outside agent - the hero or heroine, the cop or private eye - determined to ferret out the truth. Remember what it felt like when some kid broke a window at school and the principal gathered you and all your classmates together? Remember the mounting tension as the principal went down the line, interrogating each of you, sometimes even feigning humor or sympathy, but always with the relentless, eagle-eyed determination of a predator searching for his prey?
Well, do the characters in your mystery or crime story feel that way? How do they show it, to the camera, to each other, and to the detective? Or, perhaps more importantly, how do they attempt to conceal it? In most memorable mysteries, or in the best straight-ahead thrillers, this context of mutual suspicion and misdirection of motives is pivotal. It's what keeps the suspense mounting for the viewer. Moreover, it's the crucial element that keeps the laying-in of necessary clues from seeming like a mere litany of exposition.
Which is exactly what you, the mystery writer, wants most of all. Another important aspect of these types of films, as vital as that of the deceptive nature of the suspects, is the world the story inhabits. All renowned mysteries from Laura to Twin Peaks to Witness for the Prosecution take place in a specific arena of life. The design industry, the rainy Pacific Northwest, the be-wigged world of British courtrooms. If you consider a film like All the President's Men a mystery, and I do, since it meets all the criteria, then the fascinating world of Washington politics is the backdrop.
Recall, too, how the key to success for Columbo was the interaction of our rumpled hero with the nuances of the various worlds into which he ventured, from that of classical music to computer science, from Hollywood studios to military schools. His comfortable, familiar character was our vehicle of entry into the specifics of each of these very particular ways of life.
But what does all the above have to do with you, and the mystery you're writing? Let's see if we can break it down. First, let's look at your protagonist. And here's where many new mystery writers get discouraged, and for a very understandable reason.
When it comes to the hero - whether hard-boiled private eye or spinster librarian, cop-turned-lawyer or criminal-turned-cop - they've all been done. How do you make your sleuth unique?
For me, there's only one answer: ask yourself, what makes you unique? What scares you, interests you, makes you angry? The Nancy Drew of the Girl Detective series drives a hybrid car, uses a mobile phone, and recounts her mysteries in the first person. Many applaud these changes, arguing that Nancy has not really changed at all other than learning to use a cell phone. Some, mostly fans, vociferously lament the changes, seeing Nancy as a silly, air-headed girl whose trivial adventures discovering who squished the zucchini in 's Without a Trace "hold a shallow mirror to a pre-teen's world.
The character is also the heroine of a series of graphic novels , begun in and produced by Papercutz. The graphic novels are written by Stefan Petrucha and illustrated in manga -style artwork by Sho Murase. The character's graphic novel incarnation has been described as "a fun, sassy, modern-day teen who is still hot on the heels of criminals.
When the film was released, a non-canon novelization of the movie was written to look like the older books. A new book was written for each of the Girl Detective and Clue Crew series, both of which deal with a mystery on a movie set. In , the Girl Detective series was re-branded into trilogies with a model on the cover. These mysteries became deeper, with the mystery often spread across three books, and multiple culprits. These trilogies also met with negative fan reception due to Nancy's constant mistakes, shortness of the books, and lack of action.
With the new trilogy format, sales began slipping.
In December , they finally announced that the series was cancelled along with the Hardy Boys Undercover Brothers series. With the sudden cancellation of the Girl Detective series, the Diaries series began in The series is similar to its predecessor, in that the books are narrated in first person, Nancy is still absent-minded and awkward, and references are made to pop culture and technology.
Consistent with other Stratemeyer Syndicate properties, the Nancy Drew novels were written by various writers, all under the pen name Carolyn Keene. The Syndicate was able to enlist the cooperation of libraries in hiding the ghostwriters' names; when Walter Karig , who wrote volumes eight through ten of the original Nancy Drew Mystery Stories , tried to claim rights with the Library of Congress in , the Syndicate instructed the Library of Congress not to reveal the names of any Nancy Drew authors, a move with which the Library of Congress complied.
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The Syndicate's process for creating the Nancy Drew books consisted of creating a detailed plot outline, drafting a manuscript, and editing the manuscript. Edward Stratemeyer and his daughters Harriet Adams and Edna Stratemeyer Squier wrote most of the outlines for the original Nancy Drew series until Usually, other writers wrote the manuscripts.
Most of the early volumes were written by Mildred Wirt Benson. Strong , Iris Vinton,  and Patricia Doll. Edward Stratemeyer edited the first three volumes, and Harriet Adams edited most subsequent volumes until her death in In , the earlier titles were revised, largely by Adams. After Adams' death, series production was overseen by Nancy Axelrad who also wrote several volumes.
Adams filed a countersuit, claiming the case was in poor taste and frivolous, and that, as author of the Nancy Drew series, she retained the rights to her work. Although Adams had written many of the titles after , and edited others, she claimed to be the author of all of the early titles.
In fact, she had rewritten the older titles and was not their original author. When Mildred Benson was called to testify about her work for the Syndicate, Benson's role in writing the manuscripts of early titles was revealed in court with extensive documentation, contradicting Adams' claims to authorship. The court ruled that Grosset had the rights to publish the original series as they were in print in , but did not own characters or trademarks.
Furthermore, any new publishers chosen by Adams were completely within their rights to print new titles. Nancy Drew has been illustrated by many artists over the years, and her look constantly updated. Both the Stratemeyer Syndicate and the books' publishers have exercised control over the way Nancy is depicted.
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Some aspects of Nancy's portrayal have remained relatively constant through the decades. Arguably her most characteristic physical depiction is that she is shown holding a flashlight. Commercial artist Russell H. Tandy was the first artist to illustrate Nancy Drew. Tandy was a fashion artist and infused Nancy with a contemporary fashion sensibility: her early style is that of a flatfoot flapper : heeled Mary Janes accompany her blue flapper skirt suit and cloche hat on three of the first four volume dust jackets.
As styles changed over the next few years, Nancy began to appear in glamorous frocks, with immaculately set hair, pearls, matching hats, gloves, and handbags. Tandy read each text before he began sketching, so his early covers were closely connected to specific scenes in the plots. He also hand-painted the cover lettering and designed the original Nancy Drew logo: a silhouette of Nancy bending slightly and looking at the ground through a quizzing glass.