Pat here: Unlike my psychic heroines, I have nothing insightful to tell you as we dive into the new year. I’m still trying to figure out what day of the week it is after the holidays, and almost missed my blog date because I haven’t updated my calendar yet. I have accounting worksheets piling up all over my desk for my personal taxes and those of an organization I work with. Who can write a book with all this new stuff spinning in the brain? Maybe I need that crystal ball!
Yet I continue to wade into the fray of writing mysteries. I’ve written characters for forty years now, savoring their romances and conflicts, and I still learn something new every day in how to depict their personalities. But mysteries. . . require actual plotting.
Our beloved Jo Beverley called herself a “fly into the mist” writer, far more descriptive than the usual “pantser” the unplotters among us are called. In a romance, it’s great fun to set up two characters who consider each other utter anathema, and then throw them together in an impossible situation. That’s plot enough for me to start a book, although it did drive editors a bit crazy when I summarized the story as “and something happens. . .” (image "Flying in the mist" by Infomastern )
Mysteries, unfortunately, usually require a dead body (image: "22_jump my horse over his dead body" by Jim Surkamp) or two. Admittedly, that may be why I’m writing them as we drag through this second year of quarantine. There are many people I consider worthy of murder, and if I can kill them in a book, I can happily write lots of words. Although, so far, there are so many people I’d like to bop over the head, that I seem to be melding them together in an amalgam on the page. Since the dead people in the first few books are generally ghosts, that sort of works. Ghosts are just character sketches, right? (first book out 3/29/22 INDIGO SOLUTION)
But now that I’ve dragged myself out of the Covid doldrums with this new direction and am progressing into the series, I need to develop better habits. If I drop a body or two into the first scene, then I have to figure out who they are and who might have murdered them and why. I winged the first couple of books without ever really knowing until I reached the end, because that way the suspense kept me going. <G> But as I work more in this genre, I can see this leads to problems, and I should try to figure these things out at least a little tiny bit in advance.
I always have an “idea” page where I jot down my various “what ifs.” It’s good for figuring out goals and conflicts and such in romance and working out how to portray them. Since I have romantic couples in the mysteries, I can still use “what if” notes. But for the actual murders. . . “Drop body through courthouse ceiling” is about the best I can do. Hard to give motivation to a dead body! Apparently, I need to quit thinking of corpses and go back and make them people. Argh! Lesson learned. (courthouse image: "First courthouse 1891" by Eridony (Instagram: eridony_prime)
So today’s writing advice to anyone considering writing mysteries—if you can’t plot, then you’ll be rewriting those first scenes forever. It’s doable but painful. In the draft I’ve just begun, I’ve had to add visuals of the death scene, a brief note of everyone in the vicinity (and there’s a riot going on, so that’s fun), a more thorough description of the protagonists, hints of motivation, and oh yeah—conflict. A riot may be entertaining but it’s not exactly a driving force in a story. Plot. . . yeah, I still need a plot.
Do you read mysteries? Do you have favorite types of stories? Authors?