How does this translate to life writing?
While there are true-crime memoirs, they certainly aren't the bulk of the genre, yet mystery has a lot to offer us as well. From a life writing perspective, I can think of at least three ways that mystery translates into common stories:
- The lessons of life--where babies come from, "like liking" someone, understanding what your parents meant by becoming a parent--which tend to be humorous, but not always
- Coping with/Discovering a hard truth--how far money goes, dealing with a problem that is really unsolvable--these tend to be more serious and cognitive, and they are often poignant as well.
- Coming to terms with people who are not what they seem--being dumped, divorced, cheated, betrayed--these tend to be traumatic.
- Mysteries are a search for cause and often blame.
- Mysteries often assume that there is a right answer and that there is justice.
- Many mysteries, though certainly not all, appeal mainly to our logic and the emotions that they evoke tend to be ones that make our hearts race, not break.
- While eventually leading to answers and therefore "sight," much of a mystery is about inscrutability. We never know everything fully--sometimes it is what the protagonist is thinking (take Sherlock Holmes and Agatha Christie), sometimes it is what the antagonist is thinking (take Crime and Punishment), and sometimes it is a realistic or complete view of the environment (Edgar Allan Poe's work), or something else.
- Mysteries are about exploration. If we view a novel as a maze, we never expect to go directly to the center of a mystery. Truth be told, no novel's protagonist should ever go straight where he/she anticipates going, but in a mystery, we readers expect that we won't get it right from the get go whereas we are more "surprised" when things bomb in other types of stories.