Writing Comics Guide #6: Whydunnit

Everyone loves a good mystery. When it comes to tv dramas, people watch shows like Law & Order: SVU, CSI, and Criminal Minds religiously. Mystery novels by James Patterson always sell out. Comics, manga, and webcomics are no different. What makes us love these types of stories? It’s not only putting together the puzzle but also learning the evils of WH

Someone committed the crime. Whydunnits come in a variety of flavors. DC Comics published Identity Crisis. Most Batman storylines are whydunnits. There are three components to a whydunnit. A detective, the secret, and a dark turn.

The first component of a whydunnit is the detective. The detective can be an amateur with no law enforcement training but is trying to solve the crime. They can be from law enforcement and assigned to a case. The detective doesn’t change throughout the story. Their reason for taking the case vary, but, they will dedicate their being to solving it.  Batman is one of comics’ greatest detectives. In every story or case, Batman pursues it with, you know, reckless abandon. The detective HAS to care about the case in some capacity.

The secret is another component of a whydunnit. The detective wants, and in essence, needs to figure out the secret. The secret is what grabs the reader and is usually introduced in the very beginning. Murder is usually a crime, but almost anything could be used as a secret. Often, there will be a case within a case. This means that while trying to solve the main case, we learn about something or someone else. In Identity Crisis, someone murdered Sue Dibney. The superhero community tried to find the murderer. The main suspect is Dr. Ligh. In a brilliant “case within a case”, he raped Sue in the past and the Justice League wiped his memory. When revealing the secret, the writer has to be fair when “turning over the cards.” Readers will feel cheated if the secret doesn’t make sense.

The last component of a Whydunnit is the dark turn. While in pursuit of the secret, the detective usually has to commit a dark turn. This can be anything. Breaking an order to stand down by a commanding officer. Sleeping with a suspect. The dark turn is a result of becoming so engrossed in the case, that the detective loses track of themselves.

So, is your story like the manga, Case Closed? Maybe it’s more serious, like Batman? Make sure you have your detective, a secret, and a dark turn that makes your readers want to solve the puzzle. Get out your magnifying glass, call your partner, and get writing your whydunnit!

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