Posted by: nancycurteman | August 13, 2010

How Do Conflict and Crisis Differ in a Mystery Novel?

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In writing a mystery novel it is important to include both conflict and crisis. In order to do so, the author must know the difference between these two story elements and how they relate to each other. Here are some points that will help explain those differences and the role each plays in plot.

• Crisis is created by an event or action—murder or a crime of some kind is usually the major crisis of choice in a mystery. Other crises might be an accident or serious illness.
• Conflict relates to the impact the crisis has on story characters, such as difficult moral choices or internal struggles. It forces them to work to make decisions about how to react to the crisis.
• Crisis in a murder mystery is an external event.
• Conflict happens inside the character. He must decide what he will do while considering how it will affect himself and/or others.
• Crisis often engages readers in some kind of exciting suspenseful action or emergency.
• Conflict evokes reader empathy for characters. It involves the reader in the humanity of the character. Think introspection, exploration of values, and the examination of choices. These are the behaviors that may lead to a change in the character.
• A story may have several small crises that bewilder a character’s mind thus leading to the protagonist having to review and reevaluate h/er position more than once during the story. This leads to more conflict.
• The mystery author must take care not to weave in too many conflicts or add too much on crisis.

Perhaps the most important thing to remember about crisis and conflict is that they must both be present or there will be no plot and no change in the characters. Without these two elements the story will not hold the readers’ interest.

Other tips on writing:

How Important is Conflict in a Mystery Story?
How to Create Minor Characters in Your Mystery Novel
Pacing: A Critical Element in the Mystery Novel
What is Literary Style?
What is Theme in Literature?
Developing Characters is No Mystery
Author’s Voice: How to find it?

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Responses

  1. Excellent points.

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  2. Good stuff, Nancy!

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  3. Great definitions and great examples, too.

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  4. Excellent, Nancy

    Crisis = external event, issue, or challenge
    Conflict = how the character relates to the issue

    Thanks!

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  5. Isn’t this interesting. The distinction you make between the internal elements within the character’s mind and what happens externally is right on. I would however reverse the assignment of the names.
    Psychologically, people are generally thought to be
    ‘in crises’ when their internal disposition is seriously affected, and I would attribute conflict to descriptions of external happenings. But the essential thing is you have made an important distinction. Ah! word ascription. Isn’t it interesting.

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    • Whatever you choose to label these elements, they need to be in your novel. Thanks for the info about the psychological term: “in crisis”.

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  6. Thank you for sharing more insight into the elements of a mystery.

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