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Cut Through The Story Fog To Write Your Mystery


Photo by Eugeniu Esanu on Unsplash

How To Not Get Lost In Your Mystery

Writing a first mystery can be challenging as a new author. With all the information out there about writing a story, you may be tempted to get “everything” into your story. 

And, with your creative mind buzzing, it’s easy to have lots of ideas for your story and add them all in. You come up with plot twists or add interesting characters to your suspect list. 

In the end you have a unwieldy story that is hard for you to manage, especially closing it all out. And, worse yet, a story that is hard for readers to follow. 

​A fellow mystery writer in Sisters in Crime told me at our last meeting her first book was over 400 pages long and included 26 suspects. Way too long and complicated to gather a solid reader base. She laughs about it now.  

In this week’s Mystery Monday I talk about ways to avoid the fog of putting too much into your mystery. 

Get Organized Before You Write 

You will enjoy the writing process more if you organize your thoughts before you start writing the story. 

Get to know your protagonist. Your mystery detective carries your story. Know as much as possible about your sleuth. The deeper you probe the more your readers will engage.

Plan the important details of your storyline. As you write you’ll have a roadmap of where you are going. This plan will help you stay on course so you don’t end up with a 400-page story with 26 suspects. Instead, you will have a select group of 5 to 8 suspects to develop and keep your sleuth and your reader guessing.

Flesh out your perpetrator. He or she needs to be smart, clever, and able to tell lies well. The more you know about this character, the easier it is to hide important details. Keep your reader guessing.

Manage the Main Storyline

If plotting sounds intimidating, don’t use the word. Develop your storyline to follow as you write scene by scene.

The guys at Sterling and Stone put together a brilliant 40 chapter outline. Here’s the sequence to help your build your mystery. If you follow the sequence you will outline your story from start to finish. 

1          Everyday world, everyday conflict
2          Setup for the inciting incident
3          Inciting incident
4          Aftermath of the inciting incident

5          Setup for the first complication
6          First complication                                          
7          Aftermath of the first complication

8          Minor dark moment

9          Setup for the first plot point
10       First plot point
11       Aftermath of the first plot point

12       Second complication
13       Aftermath of the second complication

14       Setup for the first pinch point
15       First pinch point
16       Aftermath of the first pinch point

17       Third complication
18       Aftermath of the third complication

19       Setup for the midpoint
20       Midpoint
21       Aftermath of the midpoint

22       Fourth complication
23       Aftermath of the fourth complication
24       Setup for the second pinch point
25       Second pinch point
26       Aftermath of the second pinch point

27       Fifth complication
28       Aftermath of the fifth complication

29       Setup for the second plot point
30       Second plot point
31       Aftermath of the second plot point, part one:  the dark moment           
32    Aftermath of the second plot point, part two:  the resurgence of hope

33       Climax, stage one:  preparing for battle
34       Climax, stage two:  taking the fight to the enemy
35       Climax, stage three:  first contact
36       Climax, stage four:  war of attrition
37       Climax, stage five:  mano a mano
38       Climax, stage six:  from the ashes of disaster

39       Resolution, stage one:  sweeping up
40       Resolution, stage two:  reconnection

Fill in the 40 chapters with brief descriptions listing the characters involved. It’s a quick, smart way to get your story outlined so you can cut through the fog and start writing.

Zara Altair 
Zara Altair writes mysteries set in ancient Italy.

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