Showing posts with label Bewitched. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Bewitched. Show all posts

19 January 2016

Merging Magic and Mystery

by Barb Goffman

When I was growing up, I soooo wanted to be Samantha on Bewitched. All she had to do was wiggle her nose, and she could do/be/get/go whatever and wherever she wanted. How absolutely cool.

But Samantha would be make a terrible amateur sleuth because with a wiggle of her nose, she could go back in time to when someone was murdered and watch it happen, thus learning who the murderer is and either catching him immediately or preventing the murder from the start. Talk about a short story, and an unsatisfying one at that (except for the dead guy--he'd probably appreciate the help).
Wiggle that nose, baby!

Readers want their amateur sleuths to actually sleuth--find clues, observe things, figure the puzzle out. If your character has unlimited magical powers like Samantha, there won't be much to the story. But I know from experience that it can be fun to write about magical characters. So how do you  merge magic and mystery and still have a satisfying tale? Your sleuth's powers must be limited so that solving the crime is based on deductive skills, not on magic.

In my story "A Year Without Santa Claus?" my main character is a fairy named Annabelle. She's in charge of everything magical that happens in New Jersey. When Santa tells her he's skipping Jersey this year because the state is too dangerous--a murderer is on the loose, killing people who look like magical beings--Annabelle realizes she has to find the murderer to save Christmas. But I couldn't make things too easy for her. What would be the fun in that? So Annabelle's powers are limited. She can "wink," which means she can wiggle her invisible wings (kind of like how Samantha wiggled her nose) and magically appear somewhere else but only in the current time. (This was a helpful skill because it enabled me to move the story along faster without having to worry about Annabelle driving (or flying) from place to place.) Annabelle can also snap her fingers and have items appear. In this case, she snapped up all the police files on the murders, allowing her to quickly get up to speed.

But when it came time to figuring out whodunit? She investigated like any good sleuth. She went to a wake and spoke with friends and family of one of the victims. She talked with the head of her security team about her hunches. (It's always good to have another character to bounce ideas off.) She went to the bookstore where one of the victims worked to chat up his co-workers. Her magical powers made the story more fun, but ultimately she figured out who the murderer was using her powers of deduction, and that made the story satisfying. Combine fun with satisfying and you have a good mystery (at least I hope so). You can decide for yourself. The story is available on my website: http://www.barbgoffman.com/A_Year_Without_Santa_.html.


My friend Donna Andrews used this approach when she wrote a short story called "Normal" a few years ago. Ellery Queen's Mystery Magazine ultimately published this tale about a private eye who came from a magical world, but she had no magical powers herself. She fled her world for earth, where she hoped to fit in. But she found herself surrounded by magical beings here too: trolls, vampires, and more. The unfortunate tutor (a wizard) who discovered--and was blamed for--her lack of magical ability came with her to earth, and when he is murdered, Donna's character is determined to figure out whodunit. But does she tap her friends' powers to get the answers? No, that would be too easy. Donna instead allowed her character to figure out whodunit using her powers of deduction and her understanding of human nature. That's what made the story work. And you don't have to take my word for it. You can listen to Donna read the story herself: http://podbay.fm/show/351202656/e/1349099269?autostart=1.


Do you have any favorite stories that mix magic with mystery? Please share. There's always more room on the To-Be-Read pile.