Author Topic: Plotting mystery novels - tips?  (Read 7838 times)  

Offline Konolly

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Re: Plotting mystery novels - tips?
« Reply #50 on: July 17, 2017, 08:20:04 am »
I just wanted to give a big, belated thank you to everyone who replied to me - it's been a mad week and I'm just getting a chance to have a good look at this thread now. I've realised the word 'software' in my title was odd so I've taken it out - I think I meant things like Excel spreadsheets, like beat sheets etc :S.

Just for clarification, I do intend to plot my (cozy) mystery rather than pants it but I'm finding the process surprisingly overwhelming. I have my amateur sleuth and the setting figured out fine, it's the actual murder/mystery part that I've been struggling with (if only it were the other way around!). Part of the problem, I think is that I'm used to writing character-led stories rather than anything particularly plot-heavy. But the main issue is that I quickly end up talking myself out of the murder weapon/suspects/clues I come up with - either something is too obvious, too contrived or too 'out there'. It's a confidence issue as much as anything, but it annoyingly puts me off writing the mysteries I actually really want to write!

Anyway, Writing and Selling Your Mystery Novel by Hallie Ephron is winging its way to me now, and I'm going to have another read through this thread and then get back to the drawing board!

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    Offline ceejay13

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    Re: Plotting mystery novels - tips?
    « Reply #51 on: July 17, 2017, 01:14:35 pm »
    Konolly, delighted that you ordered Hallie Ephron's book. I think you'll find it very helpful; I know I did, esp the blueprint, which I recreated in a Word doc. I forgot to add this in my previous post but Elizabeth Spann Craig has a series of short articles about writing cozies on her website, which also may be helpful to you. 

    Offline LifesHumor

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    Re: Plotting mystery novels - tips?
    « Reply #52 on: July 17, 2017, 08:27:59 pm »
    I'm starting to plot a thriller that has cozy elements, but I wouldn't categorize it as a cozy. Thanks for starting this thread. There are some great suggestions.
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    Offline Justawriter

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    Re: Plotting mystery novels - tips?
    « Reply #53 on: August 24, 2017, 08:44:50 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

    I disagree.

    You don't have to plot ahead.....to be a plotter. :)

    Both mysteries that I've written have been 100% pantsed. I had an an idea of the overall premise, but no idea who the killer would be. I let it organically unfold by having several people with motives and possibility and so wrote it as if I was investigating everyone and it was a lot of fun to do it that way.

    But at the same time, I'm very much aware of the plot as I write and how different scenes are contributing to the story as a whole.

    I just read Robert Dugoni's bestselling My Sister's Grave, which seems intricately plotted......and was totally pantsed.  He wrote it, then went back many times through it, fine-tuning and layering.

    Maybe come up with a concept and start writing. See where it takes you.

    Good luck!

    Offline juliatheswede

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    Re: Plotting mystery novels - tips?
    « Reply #54 on: August 24, 2017, 09:04:46 am »
    I disagree.

    You don't have to plot ahead.....to be a plotter. :)

    Both mysteries that I've written have been 100% pantsed. I had an an idea of the overall premise, but no idea who the killer would be. I let it organically unfold by having several people with motives and possibility and so wrote it as if I was investigating everyone and it was a lot of fun to do it that way.

    But at the same time, I'm very much aware of the plot as I write and how different scenes are contributing to the story as a whole.

    I just read Robert Dugoni's bestselling My Sister's Grave, which seems intricately plotted......and was totally pantsed.  He wrote it, then went back many times through it, fine-tuning and layering.

    Maybe come up with a concept and start writing. See where it takes you.

    Good luck!
    Agree one hundred percent. Of course a mystery doesn't HAVE TO be plotted. Seems to me it would be way too easy to figure out the killer if it's plotted in advance.
    I could be wrong, of course. If you pants a mystery, you can always go back and add red herrings/ foreshadowing/hints when you're done, so the killer doesn't come out of nowhere.

    Offline Word Fan

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    Re: Plotting mystery novels - tips?
    « Reply #55 on: August 24, 2017, 09:21:34 am »
    If you pants a mystery, you can always go back and add red herrings/foreshadowing/hints when you're done, so the killer doesn't come out of nowhere.

    This is fine if the author is willing and able to go back and extensively re-write as needed (and if they're able to figure out what's needed). Some (many?) people cannot, and the possibly good story languishes in a drawer, forever unfinished.

    Offline Justawriter

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    Re: Plotting mystery novels - tips?
    « Reply #56 on: August 24, 2017, 10:41:31 am »
    This is fine if the author is willing and able to go back and extensively re-write as needed (and if they're able to figure out what's needed). Some (many?) people cannot, and the possibly good story languishes in a drawer, forever unfinished.

    I think what it basically comes down to is people either work from an outline or don't and it doesn't matter much if it's a mystery or a romance, it's still writing. There is no one right way.

    Offline juliatheswede

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    Re: Plotting mystery novels - tips?
    « Reply #57 on: August 24, 2017, 11:10:00 am »
    This is fine if the author is willing and able to go back and extensively re-write as needed (and if they're able to figure out what's needed). Some (many?) people cannot, and the possibly good story languishes in a drawer, forever unfinished.

    Why wouldn't a writer be willing to do rewrites? I never do extensive rewrites when the first draft is finished as I keep rewriting as I go along. Takes very little to do the final back writing. After you've read plenty of mysteries, you should get a feel for what's needed and not. I can feel it when something doesn't quite work pretty quickly. Practice makes perfect. Though, of course, always use the method that works best for you, plotting or pantsing.

    Offline Justawriter

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    Re: Plotting mystery novels - tips?
    « Reply #58 on: August 24, 2017, 11:19:13 am »
    Why wouldn't a writer be willing to do rewrites? I never do extensive rewrites when the first draft is finished as I keep rewriting as I go along. Takes very little to do the final back writing. After you've read plenty of mysteries, you should get a feel for what's needed and not. I can feel it when something doesn't quite work pretty quickly. Practice makes perfect. Though, of course, always use the method that works best for you, plotting or pantsing.

    Plus, one nice benefit of pantsing is that your subconscious is always working on the story, so will often organically connect stuff without you even realizing it. Very fun when that happens.

    Offline juliatheswede

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    Re: Plotting mystery novels - tips?
    « Reply #59 on: August 24, 2017, 11:28:47 am »
    Plus, one nice benefit of pantsing is that your subconscious is always working on the story, so will often organically connect stuff without you even realizing it. Very fun when that happens.

    Absolutely. It always works out one way or another in the end. Somehow. It just comes to you.

    Offline D A Bale

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    Re: Plotting mystery novels - tips?
    « Reply #60 on: August 24, 2017, 12:21:31 pm »
    Plus, one nice benefit of pantsing is that your subconscious is always working on the story, so will often organically connect stuff without you even realizing it. Very fun when that happens.

    I love those light bulb moments!

    Offline michisjourdi

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    Re: Plotting mystery novels - tips?
    « Reply #61 on: August 24, 2017, 04:53:03 pm »
    My advice would be to write it backwards. Know who killed your victim(s) and how. Then write about it about why they did it on some scrap paper. This can help you to come up with some clues. Then you might want to try doing some vague outlining.

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    Offline LifesHumor

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    Re: Plotting mystery novels - tips?
    « Reply #62 on: August 24, 2017, 05:56:59 pm »
    Plus, one nice benefit of pantsing is that your subconscious is always working on the story, so will often organically connect stuff without you even realizing it. Very fun when that happens.
    That happens to me all the time. One time I was ringing the bell for Salvation Army and came up with a solution for a plot hole.
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    Offline Alan Petersen

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    Re: Plotting mystery novels - tips?
    « Reply #63 on: August 24, 2017, 06:19:51 pm »
    Some of you recommended Frey's How-To books (How to Write a Damn Good Novel/Mystery/Thriller)... he's running a 2,5 day story intensive workshop in Portland, Oregon in October (20th-22nd). They're kept small (generally no more than 10) so individual scenes and plot lines can be critiqued/brainstormed. The cost is $250 (tbc - it might be less) which includes the workshop and 2 dinners. PM if you want the email address of the host (it's hosted in someone's home but there is a good hotel within walking distance). I've attended many of his workshops - he's a master teacher, is very generous with his time if you ever want to follow up with him, and has forgotten more than I'll ever know about writing craft and I'm a craft nerd! :)

    Cool. I hope he does another one in Berkeley.
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    Offline Alan Petersen

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    Re: Plotting mystery novels - tips?
    « Reply #64 on: August 24, 2017, 06:21:24 pm »
    This is fine if the author is willing and able to go back and extensively re-write as needed (and if they're able to figure out what's needed). Some (many?) people cannot, and the possibly good story languishes in a drawer, forever unfinished.
    I've got the t-shirt to that club. No fun.
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    Offline Word Fan

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    Re: Plotting mystery novels - tips?
    « Reply #65 on: August 28, 2017, 05:56:10 am »
    One time I was ringing the bell for Salvation Army and came up with a solution for a plot hole.

    I see. A little bell went off in your head and... ding!... there it was!  ;D

    (Mine always seem to happen when I'm doing dishes and my hands are all wet and I can't remember where I put my iPad and I have to scramble to find a pencil and paper and...  :'(  )

    Offline Anna Drake

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    Re: Plotting mystery novels - tips, software?
    « Reply #66 on: August 28, 2017, 08:51:45 am »
    Yet I've read several interviews by popular mystery writers who said 'I make it up as I go along, figure out who did it at the end, then go back and put in any clues I need to prove it.'

    This! I never plot. Mysteries are fun to write for that reason. What I do know when I begin is the killer. I always know who that is and why he or she committed the murder. And back planted clues? They rock and work.  But that's my system. I suspect everyone has to use whatever system works for them.


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    Offline D. Zollicoffer

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    Re: Plotting mystery novels - tips?
    « Reply #67 on: August 28, 2017, 01:07:03 pm »
    Pants at your own risk. Some writers can do it while others will have to rework entire novels after realizing that they've written an unfixable mess.

    Me, I use "skeleton" outlines. I map out the major plot points and work towards them. After all, it's about the journey, not the destination. It's about how the detective figures it out and what they'll lose along the way. These outlines give me the freedom to play around while working towards a set goal. Feels like the best of both worlds! :)
    « Last Edit: August 28, 2017, 01:12:23 pm by D. Zollicoffer »

    Offline unkownwriter

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    Re: Plotting mystery novels - tips?
    « Reply #68 on: August 29, 2017, 04:37:43 am »
    I wonder if the OP is having troubles because s/he is trying to write against their natural style (thinking they must plot, when they don't normally do so). That alone could be causing the issues. Me, I say write the way you naturally do, so long as you understand the structure of the genre. Just because you pants doesn't mean you can't edit. It's not an either/or world.

    Offline Word Fan

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    Re: Plotting mystery novels - tips, software?
    « Reply #69 on: August 29, 2017, 05:45:01 am »
    What I do know when I begin is the killer. I always know who that is and why he or she committed the murder.

    This can even work as the storyline itself. The Columbo television series from the 1970's and 80's did it like that. You saw right at the beginning who the killer was and how and, sometimes, why they did it. The fun was watching the detective seem to bumble and stumble his way through the case, following false leads and red herrings, until he did a classic "British country house" denouement, where he confronted the killer with all of the evidence and wrapped everything up neatly.

    From Wikipedia: It popularized the "inverted detective story" format, which begins by showing the commission of the crime and its perpetrator. The series therefore usually has no "whodunit" element. The plot revolves around how a perpetrator, whose identity is already known to the audience, will finally be caught and exposed, which the show's writers called a "howcatchem," rather than a "whodunit."

    It was a huge success on television. I wonder if anyone does, or has done, that in books, and if it could be done today.

    Offline whistlelock

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    Re: Plotting mystery novels - tips?
    « Reply #70 on: August 29, 2017, 05:58:12 am »
    I take the Colombo route  in that I have my protagonist say "It's that guy right there. I don't know how he did it, but I know that he did it. Now I just gotta figure out how" 

    So it's less a Who-Dun-It and more a How-Catch-em.

    Offline 10105

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    Re: Plotting mystery novels - tips?
    « Reply #71 on: August 29, 2017, 06:17:45 am »
    From Wikipedia: It popularized the "inverted detective story" format, which begins by showing the commission of the crime and its perpetrator. The series therefore usually has no "whodunit" element. The plot revolves around how a perpetrator, whose identity is already known to the audience, will finally be caught and exposed, which the show's writers called a "howcatchem," rather than a "whodunit."

    It was a huge success on television. I wonder if anyone does, or has done, that in books, and if it could be done today.
    I don't know about being a huge success, but my "Corpsickles' Cremains" book begins with the killer fully identified doing the deed. The plot centers around finding the victim, who is classified missing, and keeping others from being similarly killed. Read the Look inside to see whether you think it works.

    ETA: The killer's name isn't given at the beginning, but by the end of Chapter 3, the reader knows who he is. I don't know whether that would be the same trope.
    « Last Edit: August 29, 2017, 06:24:07 am by Al Stevens »

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