Writing a mystery is fun, but tricky. It takes some planning. Think about it. When a real criminal rushes into murder, he ends up getting caught. A mystery novel’s equivalent to getting is caught is the reader figuring out whodunit before the sleuth. And when that happens, it’s not just the victim that winds up dead – so does your book.
So how do you keep your book out of the morgue? It takes thorough planning. (a.k.a. The Outline)
I don’t know how some authors “wing it” and I don’t know any successful mystery author who ties all the ends together without first outlining the plot. My murder mysteries follow a six part outline that begins with the murder. Even if the death takes place outside the story itself, it’s still the act that sets the story in motion.
The outline doesn’t have to delve deep into all the little details. Those can be worked out later. It does, though, include the suspects and motivations. It lays out every major scene and the genuine, fake and pivotal clues. Without this direction, I’ll get lost when I begin writing and go off on tangents and into dead ends.
However, you know that in any good murder mystery, nothing is as it appears.
So, here’s the key: There’s another, deeper outline that plots the off-the-page action. It’s the real story beneath the surface. It describes what the murderer is doing to cover-up his crime, misdirect the sleuth and every little deceptive lie. This deeper outline will help line-up clue placement within the story so they aren’t just dropped into the story but methodically placed.
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