Does the author have to know whodunit?

I “read” the classic Hercule Poirot mystery Murder On the Orient Express audiobook this week during my commute to the day job. Poirot and David Rosenfelt’s Andy Carpenter series have been my light “reading” this summer.

I had the advantage over Christie’s famous Belgian detective because I remembered the gist of the solution from memorable adaptations on the big and little screens, but even knowing whodunit, the novel is a lot of fun and shows Christie’s ingenious imagination at its peak.

As a writer it’s interesting to see how she drops the pieces so they tumble into place at just the right moments. I imagine she figured out how the killer did it and worked backwards from there.

In the old “plotters vs. pantser” argument — should you plot out your story before you start writing or fly by the seat of your pants — I suppose mystery writers at the very least need to know whodunit before they begin. Or do they?

I’ve found it helps to have a target. One of the first things I wrote for The Imaginary Bomb was the last paragraph of Chapter 26 (it has 27 chapters), and then I crafted a story aiming for that paragraph. So I think it probably helps a mystery writer to understand what happened, even if you dive in not knowing how the hero can possibly figure it out.

But would it work to just start writing and figure out whodunit as you write along? It might be fun to try.

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