Deciding Who Did It
Who Shot JR? If you were living on planet earth in 1980, that question will resonate with you. It’s the advertising catchphrase that CBS created to promote the TV series, Dallas. It refers to the mystery surrounding a murder attempt against the character J.R. Ewing—one of television’s most despicable and hated characters on TV at that time. After eight months, CBS revealed the culprit and an unprecedented 83 million people, 76% of all U.S. viewers, tuned in to find out who shot JR. However, the Who Shot JR episode failed to eclipse the viewership of another epic U.S. mystery—Who murdered Nicole Simpson and Ron Goldman? Ninety-five million Americans watched live television news coverage of the low-speed chase involving O.J. Simpson.
Everyone loves a good mystery, and a lot of mystery buffs pride themselves on being able to figure out who did it before the detective in the novel they’re reading does. As a mystery writer, I take great pains in keeping readers guessing until the very end. Invariably, when I’m a guest author at a book club meeting, I’m asked how and why I selected a particular character as the one who committed the dastardly deed. You may be surprised by my answer, but sometimes I can be three-fourths through the book without having had made a decision as to which of my characters is going to go to prison for life, get the electric chair, or receive a lethal injection. I spend a lot of time vacillating. At various times, certain characters seem like the perfect choice, and then something unfolds in the story, that makes another character appear to be the best selection. And of course, if someone seems too obvious, then I don’t choose them and then I may decide to flip the script and choose the obvious because no one would think it would be the obvious. Actually, rarely if ever, I would do the later.
Ironically, like the readers, I spend a lot of time trying to figure out who did it. Who will make the best candidate? Who will be the one, when revealed, to make the readers stand up and shout, “I never would have guessed him or her!” “I didn’t see that coming?” “OMG, wow, really?” and hopefully “Brilliant ending.”