Wednesday, November 2, 2016

Sussing Out the Clues

Do our brains crave puzzles? Do we need to be challenged? Is that why we love a good mystery? Or do we love romance more? 

That is the conundrum I found myself in when trying to decide on the main thrust of my next novel. When I wrote Dance the Dream Awake, I was coming from the mystery suspense genre, but with a love interest. (What would life be without love?)

When I started my follow-up novel, I fell in love with the past life (romance) and ended up pulling out that back story as a stand-alone Historical Romance (but still with mystery/suspense interwoven), Haiku Dance.

Now, I’m back at writing that novel I interrupted, Dance the Edge. And I’m stuck trying to figure out which way to bend my story—toward the mystery or the romance. I wonder how many writers with cross over novels go through this? There are so many cross-overs these days and I’m confused as to where I fit—am I romance writer adding mystery, or a mystery writer with a romantic side?

I’ve had this confusion swirling around my brain as I tried to hone in on my story.  So, I started reading the best writers of Romantic Suspense that were recommended to me by a well-read, successful romance author (hoping to clarify where I fit). But the writing was too soft for me. And they were heavy on the romance and light on the mystery.  Not enough challenge.

Then I picked up an adventure/mystery (little romance to be had) and found I was more excited reading a good mystery—but it lacked adequate romance. (Male author—go figure.)

Then I began wondering why I respond to mysteries and why people in general like mysteries. (There’s no big mystery about why we like romance—sexual tension always makes a story stronger)

This past week, while bored with my ineffectual attempts at writing of late, I picked up a medium difficulty level book of Sudoku puzzles to distract myself. I began whipping through the puzzles with 100% accuracy. Last year I had a hard time doing the White belt, easy level—with only about 50-50% accuracy, and now I was in the Green Belt book and it was too easy!?

Just to be sure it wasn't a fluke, I found the Brown Belt, hardest level Sudoku book I had laying around (no Black Belt). It was still easy and I was getting through it pretty fast. What was going on? What had changed from last year to this? 

I thought about all the extracurricular activities I’ve been involved with this past year (I’ll save that subject for my newsletter coming out soon--sign up on this page) and how they must have strengthened that part of my brain that does puzzle solving. 

From Psychology Today, Vol. 15, 1982 (Steinberg and Davidson), I quote, “Solving puzzles entails the ability to compare hidden information in a puzzle with information already in memory . . . and combine that information to form novel (new) information and ideas.” In my-speak: sussing out the clues to get to that aha! moment.

It must be that primitive part of the brain that early man developed to analyze clues to figure out how to find the big game, what food was safe to eat, where the water was, etc. I'm no neuroscientist but maybe I had unwittingly strengthened a part of my brain with all the different 'adventures' I explored this past year (and here I thought my memory was getting worse, but clearly another part of my brain has gotten stronger).

There is a story riddle by Alcuin (c. 735-804) that goes like this: A man had to cross the river with a wolf, a lamb and a head of cabbage. Problem was, he had a boat that would hold himself and only one other item at a time. Conundrum: if left alone together, wolf would eat the lamb, lamb would eat the cabbage. How does he get all of them safely to the other side?

Can you solve this mystery/puzzle before reading the solution?

Solution: He took the lamb across first, leaving him there to go back for the wolf. But when he brought the wolf across, he took the lamb back with him. On the return trip he left the lamb and took the cabbage. His final trip across was to get the lamb. 

See our minds love a puzzle--and it's rewarding when we find the solution.

So—long story short, I sense I need to lean harder into the mystery angle. My mind appears to be strongly motivated to suss out clues. But I will continue to have a strong romantic element to be sure. (C'mon, those sex scenes are fun to write.)

What do you prefer—a good romance or a good mystery? 

Do you like puzzles?


Amy M. Reade said...

Cora, I love puzzles, I love mysteries, and I love the riddle you posed! I need to do more of that type of thinking. Crossword puzzles are great fun and my husband and I like to do them together. I find there's more of a challenge in mysteries than romances, and I like to puzzle my way to the whodunit just as I would another puzzle. Great, thought-provoking post!

Unknown said...

Well, he could have taken both the wolf and the lamb across and left the wolf or the lamb and then gone back for the cabbage. One less trip.

Obviously, I like puzzles and mysteries. But as my tagline on my website says: Romance - best served on a bed of mystery, suspense and ... magic!


Cora said...

Thanks Amy, your comments are much appreciated. Glad you liked the riddle.

Kris, Thanks for commenting. Although you had a little trouble following the riddle, my wording apparently wasn't as clear as it could have been, here is the riddle in visual form that you have to engage in to see how it works (the man is replaced with a cat in this riddle):