In Search of "Dunits"

We're all familiar with the term "Whodunit." Classic mysteries and authors like Arthur Conan Doyle, Agatha Christie, and Dorothy L. Sayers set the standard that has endeared the genre to millions of readers throughout the years.

But "Whodunit" represents only one-sixth of the "Dunit" family – a fact I bear in mind when writing a crime novel. Little did I realize that the Journalism 101 elective I took so many years ago provided five "W"s and an "H" as important to a fiction writer as to an investigative reporter. The difference is mystery writers make up the very story they are investigating.

Who, What, When, Where, Why, and How only need the suffix "dunit" attached and you've got a checklist that must be satisfied. The fun lies in leaving missing "dunits" for the detective and reader to solve.

Some stories give the Who and focus on the Where. Poe's
The Purloined Letter is an iconic example. Emphasizing the How led to the locked-room puzzler. The discovery of When can make or break an alibi. Why is the foundation of the villain's story and points directly to Who. Determining What is often the backbone of a thriller as the protagonist races to uncover what assassination or cataclysmic event is about to rock the world.

So, the next time you go into your favorite bookstore or local library, ask "Can you recommend a good "Dunit?" You'll probably receive a curious stare along with the question, "Dun what?" "Yes," you should enthusiastically answer. "And Who, When, Where, Why, and How."