10 Tips for #Plotting a #Mystery by #EvePaludan #MondayBlogs
1. Know how it ends. No, really, that is the first thing. This is the most important thing. It may be that you change the ending, but when writing a mystery, you must know how you are going to solve the mystery.
2. What event will start off your mystery? Will it be the perp and victim at the scene of the crime? Will it be a client coming to your detective’s office (or less effective, a phone call)? Or will your hero or heroine be a witness to a crime?
3. Avoid backstory dumps in the first chapter. For instance, if a person has been murdered or an item has been stolen, if you have a big information dump without action, your mystery is beginning in the wrong place. What do you do with all of those background details? You have them as clues or as part of information-gathering by your hero or heroine who is the crime solver.
4. How do you proceed with keeping your story on track? This is how I do it: Write the beginning chapter or two, or even three, to get a feel for the story. Now, write the ending, not the epilogue, if you use them, but the actual chapter where the crime is solved. Now, connect the dots by writing a sentence or two narrative summary of what happens in each chapter. Now write the rest of the chapters, in order.
5. Remember that each chapter is going to advance the plot toward the ending you have already written. If a chapter doesn’t advance the plot, or it isn’t a red herring, what purpose can it serve?
6. Mysteries are mostly about plot, though character-driven mysteries do exist. However, plot-driven mysteries are going to be fast-paced and the reader will be turning the pages as events turn the story and motivate the characters to do what they do.
7. Remember that backstory you thought you wanted to be chapter one? Along the way, you can develop your characters by inserting their personal backstories, as well as the backstory of the crime that is being investigated. Each chapter should deepen the character by revealing their personal goals and obstacles to solving the crime. In addition, plot gets deeper, too, as all clues begin hurtling towards your climax that you have already written.
8. If you want the reader to be engaged and the story to have a fast pace, try to use a high percentage of dialogue and action to move the story, not narrative internalizations.
9. End every chapter with some kind of a cliffhanger. Example: A shot rang out.
10. Once you have your first draft written, read the book in its entirety and make notes of plot holes. You may need to go back and write a few explanations or events that fill in those plot holes and tie the events together with transitions. Try to show, through action and dialogue and not tell, with narrative. As you review your first draft, you may need to fix continuity issues, such as things that accidentally happened out of order. You don’t want a guy showing up alive when you killed him in a previous chapter.
Bonus tip 1: Keep a spreadsheet of characters with their first and last names and ensure that you’ve kept them straight in your story. I’ve read so many manuscripts where a character’s name changed halfway through the book. Or his relationship to another character changed. Example: He was introduced as a husband and was later referred to as a boyfriend.
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