One Writer’s Journey

June 22, 2018

5 Minutes a Day: Outlining a Mystery

About two month ago, I wrote a post about outlining your novel.  I’m in the pre-writing stage of writing a mystery and I’ve been working on outlining my plot.  The problem was that something was missing.  It had to be.  My list was only about 20 scenes long.  Even I know that’s not enough for a novel.

So I started reading cozies, paying careful attention to the plot.  What I quickly realized is that I had outlined only part of the book.  I had the mystery, as in the crime, all plotted out.  A mystery novel is so much more.

Scenes that show us the character’s life sans mystery.

What is your character doing when she isn’t solving mysteries?  For an adult mystery, it often involves a job such as running a knitting shop or catering.  In a book for young readers the main character might be in the marching band at school or in pom poms. Whatever it is, these scenes show us what life is like when your character isn’t trying to unravel a mystery.

Sometimes these scenes take place at the beginning of the story.  In Last Wool and Testament by Molly MacRae, the main character is traveling to her Grandmother’s funeral.  This may not be how she spends a typical day, but the focus in these scenes is on family and friends and emotion.  This emotion is important because it will help readers identify with your character.

So throughout the book you can throw in more of these scenes.  Show your character interacting with family and friends. You can spend several five-minute sessions laying out these scenes.

Red herrings.

Other scenes are needed to drop red herrings into the story.  Once that mystery is launched, you need a string of suspects.  These scenes supply you with these suspects.  Perhaps your character overhears an argument, is sent a threatening text or someone tells a funny story that in hindsight may also contain a clue.

Again, spent several five-minute sessions noodling over how to make several of your secondary characters look guilty.  I’m including someone with a temper, a robbery, and a character who is hiding a secret.  The red herrings will be more obvious than the scene that actually gives the clues to the murder.  I’ll have to see if that works.

Plot.  Red herrings. Everyday life.  A mystery has to contain all three.  Fortunately it doesn’t take buckets of time to layer them into your outline.

–SueBE

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