At the beginning of the semester I wrote in my personal information handout that I felt what made the mystery genre stand apart from all other genres was its ability to keep the reader/watcher on the edge of their seat wanting more information. That mysteries are unpredictable, making the reader/watcher stay until the end because they must know the ending. I still feel this way, but my understanding of this concept has certainly evolved and sharpened.
First and foremost, the concept of keeping the audience on the edge of their seat wanting more is driven by epistemic sequencing. This concept, described by Talmy, is the idea of “who knows what when” and is very crucial to the mystery genre and in keeping the audience wanting more (Talmy, 473; PDF 12). We see epistemic sequencing in nearly every mystery story, Talmy describes epistemic structure as a “system by which the author undertakes such narrative actions as setting up a mystery, leaving clues as well as false trails, introducing a succession of seeming explanations that do not prove out, and delaying explanations until the final resolution at the end” (473; PDF 12). This can clearly be seen in the first two episodes of Harper's Island that we have viewed in class. “Who knows what when” is absolutely pivotal to keeping the plot line going and especially to draw the watcher in. As the audience at home we see more than the characters within the show see and this is what keeps us entertained. In the case of Harper's Island, after the first two episodes we know who has been murdered and where, while the characters have no idea. This is incredibly important in the viewer playing detective and keeping us on the edge of our seat. It helps us to think: who will find the body, will they tell, what will they do, how long will it take them and because we can play detective we stay invested in the show, and slowly as the characters begin to find clues (but of course not all of them) we get to see the story play out.
In addition to Talmy's “who knows what when”, Jerome Bruner the author of Making Stories: Law, Literature, Life also points out an important characteristic in the mystery genre that help keep the audience on the edge of their seat. He states in Chapter One, Part Four, “for one thing, we know that narrative in all its forms is a dialectic between what was expected and what came to pass. For there to be a story, something unforeseen must happen” (15). Unforeseen is the key word in this quote by Burner and is crucial to the mystery genre. Within mystery twists and turns occur, red herrings take the audience down the wrong path, and the audience plays detective, but for it to be a true mystery, something unforeseen must occur. This unforeseen occurrence is what keeps the audience on the edge of their seat and coming back for more. It is common knowledge that the detectives cannot find the murderer only 20 minutes into the episode or 50 pages into the book and while the audience...