Of Locks and Keys
During my beta testing session, my amazing beta testers found more glitches and typos than I had hoped. But, more importantly, they had found some plot inconsistencies and had difficulty putting some pieces together. I saw this as a major problem with the mystery aspect, and began to wonder to myself what exactly I was doing wrong.
The main problem was that I hadn't done a "proper" mystery before. In Umineko, the mystery is left unsolved at the end of each gameboard, but conventional detective novels always have the detective solve it instead. I still had yet to write that obligatory scene (known as "the denouement") because I was unsure of how the logic throughout the rest of my novel held up.
Suffice to say, it didn't QUITE, but it was on its way. After getting my wisdom teeth extracted, I was confined to my bed for a few days, which gave me some extra time to contemplate my story. And I came up with what I think is a great metaphor for the mystery-crafting process.
Previously, I was content with having "hinted" at the solution at various points in the story, not exactly knowing what "hinting" really means. Making a slight reference or allusion? No, that isn't enough. Normal mystery novels don't have red text battles at the end (which I'm not entirely sure was entertaining for people to read in my fangames, but I digress). Normal mystery novels have the detective announcing his conclusion, followed by a solid chain of logic.
What is the chain of logic? The way I've thought it up, it consists of locks and keys. You spread out these locks and keys throughout the story, always placing the locks before the keys. Most locks will fall before the murder is found, although that doesn't mean you can't have more locks later on. The point is that you'll place a piece of evidence -- subtle or not -- which will function as a "lock", hiding away some logical conclusion that will be proven by that piece of evidence. Then, later on in the story, another piece of evidence will be found which will function as a "key" -- thereby making sense of its corresponding lock.
However, the (average) reader will not know when they have found Key A to Lock A or Key B to Lock B. The Watson will only observe the evidence, not being smart enough to put it all together -- it is therefore up to the reader to remember all evidence and think of any connections between them. Perhaps I scatter locks ABCD and then keys DCBA in that order. The point is that, at the very end, the detective will have all the locks and all the keys, mentally "unlocks" the logical conclusions, and by putting together the conclusions, flawlessly solves the crime. Thus, the story truly becomes a game between detective and player -- or, on a more meta level, between author and reader.
Can you find all the locks and keys scattered throughout? Can you connect them all together to form the proper conclusions? And can you arrange these conclusions in such a way that you're able to tell me whodunnit, howdunnit, and whydunnit, before the detective spoils your fun?
I have learned a great deal in writing this first episode. I promise that the next episode will be much more of a puzzle for you all to solve, although the first one was specifically designed with beginners in mind. However, that doesn't mean it will be without its own twists and turns! Hopefully this "lock and key" system will be greater played up in future installments, ahaha!