Puzzle Stories
Humans have a nearly infinite amount of entertainment at their disposal. Want a basic example? Try thinking up words that end in “y.” Or a long one. Watch every episode of the Simpsons and count the number of times they draw characters with five fingers.
Of course, this blog is about books and writing. Books have been around for a long time and the vast content and styles available range from comics without words to epic tales that span many volumes. However, I wanted to concentrate on one particular category called a “puzzle story.” This is where the author places clues or information thought the plot, and the reader or viewer must mentally put together the “big picture.” Mystery, crime, and some thrillers stories fall into this category.
Video Games sometimes fall into this category of entertainment. A typical video game might start with a backstory, and the player searches for clues or objects to get to the next level. At this stage, more backstory is revealed, and the process repeats itself. Often, the player must go to a former level to obtain clues or information.
Puzzle stories are not for every reader because they do not desire the challenge of deciphering a complex plot. This means they have a limited market, and readers dislike it when the book description fails to inform the reader about the plot type.
Creating a puzzle story is also challenging for writers. First, they begin with a complex “map” of the entire story. This might be an outline, diagram, or 3x5 cards. This last option is actually the most common method, according to an article about writing mystery books I read years ago. An author writes out a basic plot on the cards and then throws them up into the air to mix. Then they can create a story that reveals itself in unexpected ways.
Writers face significant problems when trying to reconcile complex plots. The biggest issue is missing (not fully describing) a key aspect. There might even be one or more apparent alternative solutions. As a result, puzzle stories are challenging to write, debug, and edit. Also, this category of entertainment has limited interest.
Puzzle stories are challenging to turn into successful movies. The best examples begin (like the above video game example) with entertaining backstory and then grind down to a halt as the main character searches for clues. Therefore, moviegoers dislike plots adapted from video games. The same applies to popular mystery books and some thrillers. The result is flat because the filmmaker cannot spend precocious screen time vetting dead ends or searching for clues.
I have never tried to write a mystery or puzzle story because they are too complex. Also, my outline process would probably require a year or more to develop a solid story. But I have thought about adapting my second book into a video game. Unfortunately, I would face the same issue. It’s tough to keep players entertained without frustrating them. Fortunately, I try to keep the mystery out of my blogs. They are hard enough to write without intentionally trying to trick readers.

You’re the best -Bill
July 21, 2022
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