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Getting a clue about clues

April 22, 2013

By Anne Hawkinson

I’m pretty clueless (yes, pun intended).  I’m writing my first middle-grade mystery.  I know for certain you can’t solve a mystery without clues.  Now comes the tricky part.

How many clues do you plant?  Do they all have to lead somewhere, or can you have some that dead end?  How soon in the story do you reveal them to the reader?  Do they have to be obvious, or can they lurk in a dark corner of your story until the time is right?  I wasn’t sure what to do, so I just jumped in.

I’m the writer, so every clue is obvious to me.  The first (and major) clue my readers will encounter is on an item on an old menu.  I’ve called their attention to it (just a little) through conversations between the three major characters and the main character’s mother.  I already know how it’s going to end, but I have to ration my reveal, one tidbit at a time, to avoid having the ending of the story winding up halfway through the book.

Clues need to take the reader on a journey.  My characters will get bored staying in one setting, so they’re going through various rooms in the house and they’re going outside.  They’re also going to get into a heap of trouble along the way.  Some of it is directly related to solving the mystery and some of it is just the normal stuff kids get themselves into.

Some clues will put my characters in serious danger.  I have a hard time doing this, but they need to use their wits to get out of it and learn/grow as a result.  Facing challenges brings out the ability to lead and take charge – and it’s not always the person I figured would step up when trouble steps in.

They’re also going to be reminded that not all adults are nice people.  I’m going to teach them to look beyond their first impression of someone and get a sense of who that person really is, hopefully from a fairly safe vantage point.  They’re surrounded by strangers and they need to figure out who they can trust and who is ready and willing to harm them.

My sister Nancy loved the game “Clue.”  I played only because she wanted to and she always won.  I could never figure out how she knew Miss Scarlett committed the murder with the candlestick in the library.  Maybe that’s why I decided to write a mystery.  This one I’ll be able to solve.

photoAnne Hawkinson was born in Duluth, Minnesota. The world’s largest inland port became her “window to the world” when ships from around the globe crossed under the Aerial Bridge and docked in Lake Superior’s harbor. Years later she’d visit the countries that at one time existed only in her imagination. Bedtime stories read by her father were a nighttime ritual – her favorite was “The Teeny Tiny Woman.” Because they lived near the zoo, she often fell asleep to the sound of roaring African lions. Anne graduated from St. Cloud State University with a Master’s degree and has a daughter, a son, and an endless parade of pets that provide unending inspiration for her children’s stories.


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