As a kid growing up in the ‘70’s, I lived to watch Scooby Doo. Little did I know that this first exposure to mystery stories would be a good foundation for trying to write my own. My very first attempt at writing a story was in second grade, and I wrote a homage (that sounds better than rip-off) to Scooby Doo on the front and back of a sheet of notebook paper. The boy I had selected to play the cowardly character like Shaggy took offense and threatened to tell the teacher. Not only was this my first story, but also my first time dealing with an audience and censorship. The Scooby Doo Guide to Mysteries provides 4 basic points to writing a mystery.
Mysteries have a beginning, middle, and end.
- Beginning: The premise of the mystery and the identity of the detective(s) are established. “You kids are new to these parts, so you don’t know the legend of the headless vampire zombie, and how it’s been scarin’ folks out of town.”
- Middle: Detectives can do any of the following to solve the mystery:
- Question witnesses and suspects.
- Examine the site of the crime.
- Analyze Clues.
- Run from the villain – a lot.
- End: Detectives reason from their investigation and reveal identity of villain. “Mayor Smith dressed up as the headless vampire zombie to scare everyone away while he emptied the mine under the town of its gold.”
Characters should be distinct.
Although Fred, Daphne, Velma, and Shaggy weren’t complex, there was no way to confuse them with one another. Fred was usually the brave one with a plan. Daphne was pretty and danger-prone. Velma was smart, Shaggy was scared, and Scooby Doo was a scared dog. Those characteristics influenced how the gang solved the mystery, so plot points developed from character traits.
When the plot needs a boost, put your main characters in danger.
Much of the running time of a Scooby Doo episode was spent doing just that – running. All the fleeing from the villain of the week not only padded the episode, but placing the detectives in danger raised the stakes for reaching a successful resolution to the mystery. And even though for 453 episodes, Scooby and the gang had solved the mystery, when you’re a kid, you worry that the 454th time, things might go horribly wrong.
When the plot needs another boost, add humor.
Shaggy and Scooby’s cowardly personalities added a lot of humor to each mystery. Humor usually makes a character more believable or likable. For most kids, Shaggy and Scooby were their favorite characters. Humor also adds a contrast to tense or scary situations and makes any story just more fun.
What shows or books from your childhood influence your writing today?