Author Launch - turn-key sites for authors

Author Topic: Plotting mystery novels - tips?  (Read 4829 times)  

Online Konolly

  • Status: Dr. Seuss
  • *
  • Posts: 20
    • View Profile
Plotting mystery novels - tips?
« on: July 10, 2017, 02:20:34 AM »
I love reading mysteries, and I've had an idea for a series of my own (several, in fact!). I have the setting and cast of characters in mind, but as a dedicated pantser I'm struggling to get a plot down. I thought it would help a lot that I read the genre, and have a feel for the 'rhythm' of a mystery, but when I'm faced with a blank page I just freeze!

I've found Kboards recommendations for a few plotting resources, like Fool Proof Outline & Outlining Your Novel, but I'm not sure if these are suitable for mystery specifically? So, any recommendations for mystery-plotting resources- software, books, articles etc would be gratefully received!
« Last Edit: July 17, 2017, 08:20:32 AM by Konolly »

Offline BeMyBookBaby

  • Status: Jane Austen
  • ***
  • Posts: 425
    • View Profile
Re: Plotting mystery novels - tips, software?
« Reply #1 on: July 10, 2017, 02:47:32 AM »
I recently spoke to a very popular psychological thriller writer and she recommended Libby Hawker's Take Off Your Pants. I find it helpful because much like a mystery, you need to leave clues littered throughout the story, and its just too hard to do that if you're pants-ing, despite the fact that I am a committed pants-er.

It gives you headings so you can plot, but not so detailed that you lose the excitement of creating a story, so it works well for me, though I'd love to hear what others are using too.

Offline notjohn

  • Status: Arthur Conan Doyle
  • ****
  • Posts: 677
    • View Profile
    • Notjohn's Self-Publishing Guide
Re: Plotting mystery novels - tips, software?
« Reply #2 on: July 10, 2017, 03:21:03 AM »
I can't imagine any better "software" than the masters themselves. I admire Philip Kerr, Lee Child, Daniel Silva, and Robert Harris.

Good luck! -- NJ
« Last Edit: July 10, 2017, 06:10:39 AM by Betsy the Quilter »
Notjohn's Guide to E-Book & Print Formatting: http://viewbook.at/notjohn

The blog: http://notjohnkdp.blogspot.com

Offline Word Fan

  • Status: Scheherazade
  • *****
  • Posts: 1308
  • Gender: Female
    • View Profile
Re: Plotting mystery novels - tips, software?
« Reply #3 on: July 10, 2017, 06:02:43 AM »
...as a dedicated pantser I'm struggling to get a [mystery] plot down.

...when I'm faced with a blank page I just freeze!

Then mystery is not your genre. If you have to actively read for your writing project because you do not already have a feel for the genre, there's something wrong.

Mystery stories, especially, need careful plotting. Mystery fans are almost as rabid as romance fans and will quickly skewer an author who comes off as a careless dilettante.

Online antcurious

  • Status: Lewis Carroll
  • **
  • Posts: 136
    • View Profile
    • JK NEVE.COM
Re: Plotting mystery novels - tips, software?
« Reply #4 on: July 10, 2017, 06:05:20 AM »
This might do the trick:

http://www.helpingwritersbecomeauthors.com/big-news-introducing-outlining-novel-workbook-computer-program/

I've not used it myself though...

If that fails, I use a spreadsheet:)

EDIT, sorry just re-read that you know about this software already. I know Joanna Penn in her podcast recently mentioned a book specifically about writing mysteries. It would be rather useful at this point if I could tell you what it's called. Sleep well knowing this resource exists, even if I can't remember what it's called ;D
The Oscillator: 30%

Run: 90%
JK Neve

Offline ADDavies

  • Status: Arthur Conan Doyle
  • ****
  • Posts: 748
  • Gender: Male
  • Staffordshire, UK
    • View Profile
Re: Plotting mystery novels - tips, software?
« Reply #5 on: July 10, 2017, 06:30:38 AM »
If you want to keep plotting simple, check out some of the filim plotting guides out there. Save the Cat is good. It even breaks down several examples. A bit over-simplified as a one-stop IMHO but if you're a pantser you might only want the simple form of an outline of plotpoints and discover the rest as you write.

Gone Girl Beat Sheet (of the film, obvs) http://www.savethecat.com/beat-sheets/gone-girl-beat-sheet

If yours is more of a gritty thriller, try Sicario http://www.savethecat.com/beat-sheets/sicario-beat-sheet

Silence of the Lambs: http://www.savethecat.com/beat-sheets/the-silence-of-the-lambs-beat-sheet

Winter's Bone: http://www.savethecat.com/beat-sheets/the-winters-bone-beat-sheet

All good to get the rhythm and structure, but I find if I stick to this too closely my novel outlines are too simplistic and don't get under the skin of the characters. I use this as a starting point, but as I said, it might be enough if you want to pants out the larger arcs of plot and subplot.
Adam Park #5 : 100%

Offline Word Fan

  • Status: Scheherazade
  • *****
  • Posts: 1308
  • Gender: Female
    • View Profile
Re: Plotting mystery novels - tips, software?
« Reply #6 on: July 10, 2017, 06:32:11 AM »
I know Joanna Penn in her podcast recently mentioned a book specifically about writing mysteries. It would be rather useful at this point if I could tell you what it's called. Sleep well knowing this resource exists, even if I can't remember what it's called ;D

This is it:

https://www.thecreativepenn.com/2017/06/19/how-to-write-a-mystery-rebecca-cantrell-jfpenn/

Offline notjohn

  • Status: Arthur Conan Doyle
  • ****
  • Posts: 677
    • View Profile
    • Notjohn's Self-Publishing Guide
Re: Plotting mystery novels - tips, software?
« Reply #7 on: July 10, 2017, 07:40:25 AM »
Quote
Last Edit: Today at 06:10:39 AM by Betsy the Quilter

Thank you, Betsy!
Notjohn's Guide to E-Book & Print Formatting: http://viewbook.at/notjohn

The blog: http://notjohnkdp.blogspot.com

Online antcurious

  • Status: Lewis Carroll
  • **
  • Posts: 136
    • View Profile
    • JK NEVE.COM
The Oscillator: 30%

Run: 90%
JK Neve

Offline Spin52

  • Status: Jane Austen
  • ***
  • Posts: 382
  • Gender: Female
  • Seattle and Oxfordshire
    • View Profile
    • Amazon author page
Re: Plotting mystery novels - tips, software?
« Reply #9 on: July 10, 2017, 08:19:04 AM »
I can't imagine any better "software" than the masters themselves. I admire Philip Kerr, Lee Child, Daniel Silva, and Robert Harris.

Good luck! -- NJ

All good writers, but I'd call those thrillers or suspense, rather than mysteries. And mysteries aren't easy to write -- I'd been reading everything from Chandler to Christie to PD James for 40+ years before I ever tried to write one and still found it difficult. Rewarding, but difficult.


Tradtional mysteries with a dash of humor -- no cats, no cupcakes
Facebook | Amazon author page

Offline smikeo

  • Status: Jane Austen
  • ***
  • Posts: 269
  • Gender: Male
    • View Profile
    • Happily Writing
Re: Plotting mystery novels - tips, software?
« Reply #10 on: July 10, 2017, 08:25:43 AM »
I live and die by this book: https://www.amazon.com/Write-Killer-Fiction-Carolyn-Wheat-ebook/dp/B004CFBL98

It covers both thrillers and mysteries at length

Online Evenstar

  • Moderator
  • Status: A A Milne
  • *****
  • Posts: 4427
  • Gender: Female
  • South West England
  • YA and PNR
    • View Profile
    • Author Website
Re: Plotting mystery novels - tips, software?
« Reply #11 on: July 10, 2017, 08:33:20 AM »
I would agree that mystery is not a good genre for a pantser.  Definitely get the hang of plotting if you want to write in this genre

Offline jdcore

  • Status: Scheherazade
  • *****
  • Posts: 1478
  • Gender: Male
  • Toronto, Ohio
    • View Profile
    • The Lupa Schwartz Mysteries Blog
Re: Plotting mystery novels - tips, software?
« Reply #12 on: July 10, 2017, 12:29:03 PM »
I write mysteries, and I find it helpful to do the following. First, jot down the red herrings and clues you want to use in the story. Then work backward. The last chapter will probably be a wrap up, so mark it as such. The next to last is probably the denoument. Third from last is probably revelation. The crime(s) happen at what points in the story? Probably first or second chapter. If there is a second crime, it's probably close to the end, i.e. fourth or fifth from last chapter. If multiple crimes, you want to pepper them out but you still want one early and one close to the revelation.

Now it's time to figure out where those red herrings and clues fit.  That's an outline. Maybe all the outline you need.

Online thesmallprint

  • Status: Scheherazade
  • *****
  • Posts: 1201
  • Gender: Male
    • View Profile
Re: Plotting mystery novels - tips, software?
« Reply #13 on: July 10, 2017, 12:55:06 PM »
I write mysteries and rarely do any deep plotting or prep. One of my books, which was later published in the Reader's Digest condensed books series, was written based on one simple question and with no pre-plotting. The toughest job I've had by a million miles is my current WIP which is a complete rewrite - same basic plot, mostly the same characters, but so much tougher to rewrite than to write fresh.

Quite often a mystery only reveals itself (in structure), even to the author, after it has been written. If you have read many mysteries, you might just find you can write them too. Give it a try.


Offline Lorri Moulton

  • Status: Scheherazade
  • *****
  • Posts: 1102
  • Gender: Female
  • Author of Romances, Mysteries, and Fairytales
    • View Profile
    • Lavender Lass Books
Re: Plotting mystery novels - tips, software?
« Reply #14 on: July 10, 2017, 01:28:26 PM »
Watch mysteries, read mysteries, notice that the details make all the difference.

It should be clear in hindsight that the clue was important, but not obvious at the time.  Sprinkle clues throughout the story.  You want to entertain the reader!  Too easy and it's boring...too difficult and it won't make sense.  And my pet peeve....don't leave out a bunch of clues, then try to fit them all into the explanation of how the mystery was solved.  As a reader, I want a level playing field.  We should have all the information necessary to solve the case, but have to really pay attention.  And hopefully, create more than one or two viable suspects.

I'd recommend Sherlock Holmes (the books and BBC with Jeremy Brett) and Agatha Christie.  Her Murder on the Orient Express is my favorite...followed by The Mirror Crack'd from Side to Side

There are a lot of articles on mystery writing.  Many will say start at the end (as already mentioned) and work your way to the beginning.  I plot backwards for the outline, then write dialogue from beginning to end.  While I'm more of a pantser, it's important to know where you're going with a mystery.

ETA:  Remember, you can also combine a mystery with other genres.  I like romance, mystery and suspense all interwoven...which gives the characters more to do than just tracking down the clues.  If you're getting stuck, you might start with a mystery as part of the story. :)

« Last Edit: July 10, 2017, 01:33:14 PM by Lorri Moulton »

Author of Romances, Mysteries, Fairytales and Historical Non-Fiction.
Lorri Moulton | Website | Amazon | Facebook | Twitter

Offline Paranormal Kitty

  • Status: Scheherazade
  • *****
  • Posts: 1039
  • Gender: Female
  • Texas
    • View Profile
Re: Plotting mystery novels - tips, software?
« Reply #15 on: July 10, 2017, 02:03:43 PM »
"Punching Babies: A How-To Guide" (if you can get past that title lol) helped me with outlining plot more than anything. I was pretty stuck for awhile. I had the characters created, a few scenes written, an idea, but I didn't know how to put it all together. I saw this book recommended on several forums and blogs. I worked through the book while I was reading it, and I had a really detailed outline by the end. After that I wrote the book in a couple of weeks. I write paranormal romance/urban fantasy, but I think it would be really good for a mystery too or any genre that has a lot of action.

I didn't know if we could post links, but here is the link: https://www.amazon.com/Punching-Babies-how-Adron-Smitley-ebook/dp/B00R9UJ1A4

It's $2.99 or free on KU. There's also a paperback if you prefer.
« Last Edit: July 10, 2017, 05:20:12 PM by Laura Kelley »

Offline LilyBLily

  • Status: Scheherazade
  • *****
  • Posts: 1634
    • View Profile
Re: Plotting mystery novels - tips, software?
« Reply #16 on: July 10, 2017, 02:16:24 PM »
Nancy J. Cohen has a book Writing the Cozy Mystery (http://amzn.to/2u0SWKM) that pretty much describes that subgenre. John Curran's Agatha Christie's Murder in the Making (http://amzn.to/2ubu2IO) describes her methods. (I used shortened links but you can just look them up on Amazon by title.

Not knowing what you're doing in advance is why I have a murder mystery half written, with a couple of dead bodies--maybe three by now--and still don't know how to get to the denouement (which I already know). Seek all possible assistance.

Offline crow.bar.beer

  • Status: Arthur Conan Doyle
  • ****
  • Posts: 646
    • View Profile
Re: Plotting mystery novels - tips, software?
« Reply #17 on: July 10, 2017, 02:21:04 PM »
Then mystery is not your genre. If you have to actively read for your writing project because you do not already have a feel for the genre, there's something wrong..

She clearly stated she already reads the genre and has a good feel for it. Plotting as a writing technique, however, doesn't come naturally to her because she'd developed an alternate approach until this point. Saying mystery isn't her genre is ludicrous (seriously, you should evaluate why you'd try to cut someone off at the knees like that). Subconsciously, she already groks mystery plots. Consciously, she just needs to develop the technical skill of doing it herself. Which is why it's great that people are contributing actual resources that will help with that one aspect of her repertoire. :)

Offline V.P.

  • Status: Arthur Conan Doyle
  • ****
  • Posts: 644
  • Gender: Female
    • View Profile
Re: Plotting mystery novels - tips, software?
« Reply #18 on: July 10, 2017, 03:30:05 PM »
You might find these articles helpful:

http://robynpaterson.com/?p=3495
http://keepmeinsuspense.blogspot.com/2006/07/plotting-your-cozy-mystery.html

Both of the articles linked to above offer different ways to go about outlining and plotting a mystery story.

Good luck going forward, and please keep us posted!


Offline Word Fan

  • Status: Scheherazade
  • *****
  • Posts: 1308
  • Gender: Female
    • View Profile
Re: Plotting mystery novels - tips, software?
« Reply #19 on: July 10, 2017, 05:20:50 PM »
She clearly stated she already reads the genre and has a good feel for it. Plotting as a writing technique, however, doesn't come naturally to her because she'd developed an alternate approach until this point. Saying mystery isn't her genre is ludicrous (seriously, you should evaluate why you'd try to cut someone off at the knees like that). Subconsciously, she already groks mystery plots. Consciously, she just needs to develop the technical skill of doing it herself. Which is why it's great that people are contributing actual resources that will help with that one aspect of her repertoire. :)

I will stick by what I said and you should re-read what she said: she has settings and characters but, when it comes to plots, freezes when faced with a blank page. To me, that doesn't show an ability to "grok" mystery plots, subconsciously or not.

And I don't need an amateur shrink like you telling me what I need to "evaluate." What I don't think would be helpful would be for her to spend a huge amount of time and effort on a genre that she may not have a feel for. We see too much of that here. If she wants to take my comments as a challenge and prove me wrong, more power to her and truly I wish her luck.

As for actual resources: I'm the one who took the time to look up and post the link to the "how to write a mystery" podcast on Joanna Penn's website, so don't talk to me about being unhelpful. You certainly haven't been.

Online ShayneRutherford

  • Status: Dostoevsky
  • ******
  • Posts: 3246
  • Toronto, Ontario
    • View Profile
    • My Website
Re: Plotting mystery novels - tips, software?
« Reply #20 on: July 10, 2017, 06:10:02 PM »
If you use Scrivener, there's a great mystery template that you can download. If you google 'murder mystery Scrivener template' it should come up at the top.
     

Online ShayneRutherford

  • Status: Dostoevsky
  • ******
  • Posts: 3246
  • Toronto, Ontario
    • View Profile
    • My Website
Re: Plotting mystery novels - tips, software?
« Reply #21 on: July 10, 2017, 06:16:14 PM »
Then mystery is not your genre. If you have to actively read for your writing project because you do not already have a feel for the genre, there's something wrong.

Mystery stories, especially, need careful plotting. Mystery fans are almost as rabid as romance fans and will quickly skewer an author who comes off as a careless dilettante.

I generally freeze when faced with a blank page, too, if I try to make the plot up while I'm sitting in front of a computer. But if I plot while I'm doing something else that keeps my hands busy, I can get the gist of it going in my head, then do the detail work in a notebook, and then sit down and write because I have a roadmap to help me deal with the blank page. It's just a matter of coming at things from a different angle. Not everyone thinks the same way.
     

Offline crow.bar.beer

  • Status: Arthur Conan Doyle
  • ****
  • Posts: 646
    • View Profile
Re: Plotting mystery novels - tips, software?
« Reply #22 on: July 10, 2017, 07:47:05 PM »
I will stick by what I said and you should re-read what she said: she has settings and characters but, when it comes to plots, freezes when faced with a blank page. To me, that doesn't show an ability to "grok" mystery plots, subconsciously or not.

Application and comprehension are separate things. Generating her own plot certainly doesn't mean her mind didn't understand the mystery plots she read. Creating your own requires a different set of skills. You told someone their genre maybe isn't theirs simply because they haven't developed one particular skill yet. That's poisonous (and clearly the result of flawed thinking anyway).

Quote
And I don't need an amateur shrink like you telling me what I need to "evaluate."

That wasn't for you, it was for her, to contextualize both the true nature of your comment and its inappropriateness.

Quote
As for actual resources: I'm the one who took the time to look up and post the link to the "how to write a mystery" podcast on Joanna Penn's website, so don't talk to me about being unhelpful. You certainly haven't been.

Cleaning up someone else's emotional toxicity is very helpful, once one takes a brief moment to consider the emotional impact brazen, insensitive comments like the one you made can have on others.

Offline Tulonsae

  • Status: Jane Austen
  • ***
  • Posts: 380
  • Gender: Female
    • View Profile
Re: Plotting mystery novels - tips, software?
« Reply #23 on: July 10, 2017, 08:03:04 PM »

Offline Paranormal Kitty

  • Status: Scheherazade
  • *****
  • Posts: 1039
  • Gender: Female
  • Texas
    • View Profile
Re: Plotting mystery novels - tips, software?
« Reply #24 on: July 10, 2017, 08:14:10 PM »
Application and comprehension are separate things. Generating her own plot certainly doesn't mean her mind didn't understand the mystery plots she read. Creating your own requires a different set of skills. You told someone their genre maybe isn't theirs simply because they haven't developed one particular skill yet. That's poisonous (and clearly the result of flawed thinking anyway).

This! I didn't realize this until I started trying to put my first novel together. I had tons of scenes written, characters and things I wanted to happen, but the legos just weren't clicking together. I had to study and research before I could create a smooth, coherent plot. I would assume that most people have to learn to do this, but for a select few it probably comes naturally.