Saturday, December 11, 2010

Preparing for Murder

by June Shaw

As we prepare for what many believe is the best holiday of the year, lots of us are also preparing for murder.

Preparing to create our next murder mystery, that is.

So many questions come into play when we are planning our stories, whether we make a long outline or basically wing it as our story comes into play:

Why will readers care about our main character?
Who will die?
Why will the victim be important?
Who will murder that victim?
By what method?
Where is this taking place?
Who else appears to be guilty?
What makes them appear guilty?
What red herrings will we throw in?
Do other murders take place?
If so, we'll ask most of the same questions as above.
How and where will the story twist?
What will happen in the showdown--the climax?
How will our story end?

Actually, once we've decided on answers to that small batch of questions, we basically have our story. It seems fairly easy.

Oh, one more question: What will we call this mystery?

Do you consider any other questions when you're planning a murder? Or when you're reading one?

Happy plotting.


Jean Henry Mead said...

You've covered the subject well, June. I might add: why do amateur sleuths get involved in solving the murder(s).

June Shaw said...

Ah, good question, Jean. Thanks!

Mysti said...

Great list! I also ask:

-- How does the theme resonate in the action of the story. Example: Maltese Falcon, every character is betrayed by and betraying at least one other person, except Wilmer, who gets nothing but abuse for his loyalty. Themes of morality, trust, etc.

-- How does the story "bang" on main character's worst fears? Example: Easy Rawlins is afraid of slipping back into the life he was forced to accept before the war in Devil in a Blue Dress. Everything that happens in the story directly or indirectly threatens to take his house and everything else away from him.

These aren't specific to mystery, but they are easily forgotten when trying to fill plot holes and misdirect readers. I also use them as a guide for what to cut out and what to add in during developmental edits.

Thanks for a great list!

Cindy Sample said...

Hi June. That's a great list. I would also add that when writing a traditional mystery, I try to make sure that I've given enough clues and red herrings for the reader to deduce who the villain is, at the moment I want them to make that determination.

Jackie King said...

Very good list. My favorite question as a writer (my favorite brain game) is the tried and true, "What if...?"

Jaden Terrell said...

Nice list. And Jean and Hard-Boiled Mysti, I like your additions.

I don't have an amateur sleuth, but I'm working on a new PI novel, and the questions of theme and how the events play on the character's fears are integral.