KBKL Middle Grade Mysteries with: Wendy McLeod MacKnight!

Kick-butt Kidlit Presents_

Our new feature series (Kick-butt Kidlit Spotlight On:) is kicking off this month with a focus on MYSTERY NOVELS! Specifically middle grade mystery because MG is our jam!

Let’s give a big Kick-butt welcome to our guest author for today, Wendy McLeod MacKnight!

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Look Beyond What You Think You See: The Role of Misperception in Mysteries

My latest book, The Frame-Up, set in the real-life Beaverbrook Art Gallery, encourages characters and readers not to be tricked by how artists — and potential ne’er-do-wells — present themselves. In the art world, artists must master perspective, which is the ability to make a painting or drawing look three-dimensional. Once the ability is mastered, the artist is free to “play” with perspective for their own reasons. For example, they might make part of the painting “off-kilter” as a way to force the viewer to focus on a particular part of the painting. By changing the perspective, they manipulate our senses.

In The Frame-Up, when one of the summer campers bemoans their ability to master perspective, the instructor uses it as an opportunity to give a broader lesson:

“But that’s life!” Janice cried, circling the room as if Adam’s comments were rocket fuel. “How often have you thought your perspective on a situation was correct only to discover you were missing a crucial piece of information?”

In the book, the campers are studying art techniques and art history, but they completely missing the truth of the artwork: that the paintings are actually alive.

Mystery writers are the ultimate tricksters, supremely adroit at having readers “look over here”, all while dropping breadcrumbs that might lead us to other, more accurate, assumptions if we weren’t so busy incorrectly building the case that assigns guilt to an innocent party. In the tradition of a good mystery, my book has at least three individuals who “appear” to be up to no good, along with some other characters whose motives, upon further investigation, might also be suspect. But we mystery writers purposefully lead readers away from these other characters, or drop important information so casually that it barely registers, in order to take our readers on delightful and sometimes baffling excursions.

For a mystery to work effectively, the following elements that breed misperception must be included:

  • red herrings – those distracting characters that lure us down paths of investigation that turn out to be useless later on;
  • multiple motives – more than one character, ideally at least three, ought to have a reason for committing the crime, the murder, whatever.
  • A surprising plot twist – if the reader anticipates everything that’s coming, what’s the fun in that? A couple of surprising plot twists? Yes, please!
  • Flawed characters – the best kind of mysteries are those in which our main character(s) have inherent biases that make them unwilling and/or unlikely to recognize what’s really going on.
  • A story that works on multiple levels – not only do we want to solve the mystery, but we want to walk in our main character’s shoes, learning what they need to learn or deciding when it’s time to give up false/limiting beliefs.

The beauty of a wonderful mystery is that we delight in the sleight of hand that leads us away from an easy answer, marvelling in the author’s ability to make us see something that isn’t there and miss completely what’s really going on.

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Wendy is the author of the engaging middle grade mysteries THE FRAME-UP and IT’S A MYSTERY, PIG FACE! Both are available on shelves now!

Add THE FRAME-UP on Goodreads!

Connect with Wendy on Facebook, Twitter, or through her website!

Click here to enter to win a copy of THE FRAME-UP!

The final giveaway will be for EVERY SINGLE book featured in the Kick-butt Kidlit Spotlight On: MYSTERY blog series so make sure you check it out on every post! (New options to enter will be added with each post.) Draw closes on Friday, October 5th at the end of our series.

Tune in on Friday for a guest post from Jennifer Chambliss Bertman!

Kick-butt Kidlit Spotlight On: MYSTERY Previous Posts

KBKL Middle Grade Mysteries with: Lauren Magaziner!


16 thoughts on “KBKL Middle Grade Mysteries with: Wendy McLeod MacKnight!

  1. Great blog post! I read an advanced copy of The Frame Up and loved it. I like the list of mystery elements that make a story work. I’ll be using a version of that list with my student writers this year. Thanks for the great post.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. The Frame Up has been enjoyed by our Book Excursion crew but I have not had my turn to read it yet. It sounds like one I’ll enjoy sharing with my students. This interview was great. My favorite part is the list of elements needed to breed misperception.

    Liked by 1 person

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