Tuesday, July 1, 2008

Plotting Murders

By Chester Campbell

I realize this is risky business. Who knows who might read this and call the cops on me. I assure you, however, that all the murders I plot are strictly on paper. Honest Injun—hmm, that’s probably not PC, either (oh, well, if I’m gonna get in trouble, I might as well get in deep).

The question is, how does a mystery writer go about plotting a murder?

The answer to that one is easy for me. I don’t. Since I’m not an outliner who works several chapters or a whole book ahead, I don’t know about the murders until they happen. The first homicide that occurs in The Marathon Murders, my fourth mystery featuring senior PIs Greg and Jill McKenzie, caught me by surprise. I knew the guy was missing, but I didn’t know what had happened to him until Greg and Jill found his house in disarray.

Okay, sure, I wrote it, but you get immersed in the characters and what they’re doing, and suddenly—BAM—there’s a dead guy in the lake.

Did the murderer plot it? You bet your bippy, but I didn’t know who it was at that point, so don’t blame me.

I suppose I do plot in one respect. I just do it backwards. After finding the body in the lake, I had to go back and figure out who did it and why? Come to think of it, did I do that, or was it Greg and Jill? I’m not sure, but before I could get all that straightened out, the murderer had done it again.

This plotting business, or plottingless, if you please, can easily get out of hand. That’s why I try to keep my hands off and let the characters work it out. Well, not strictly hands off. After all, what they are and what they do comes through my fingers, but you know what I mean.

I suspect there are lots of others out there who work the same way I do. So the next time you’re reading a book and run into a few bodies, you may be learning about it at the same time the author did. We don’t set out to be murderers, you know. It just happens that way.


Mark W. Danielson said...

I agree with you, Chester. The fun is in watching our characters come alive -- or in some cases, die.

Jean Henry (Mead) said...

I plot the same way, Chester, which means I really don't plot at all. I just start writing and give my characters free rein. They surprise me with their intelligence and resourcefulness. And it's amazing how many dead bodies turn up along the way.

Jaden Terrell said...

Great post, Chester! So at least you can't be accused of premeditated murder.

Chester Campbell said...

Thanks, guys, I find it interesting to learn the story as it goes. But you do what works for you, as Beth points out in her Wednesday contribution.

Maryannwrites said...

Chester, I'm glad to see that I am not alone in not plotting. I have had so many people say, "That's no way to write." But, hey. It gets done. :-) And it is so much fun to see where the characters are going to take us next.