A Surefire Way to Get Back Into Your Story: Be Like Your Detective 

female police detective standing next to a mirror

It’s not unusual to stall when writing your mystery novel. For most writers, that sag happens somewhere after the middle to about three-quarters through the story. 

Not only do setbacks happen to writers, but setbacks are also a normal part of the writing process. So, take a deep breath, know you are normal, and think about how to get back in the flow.

Be Like Your Detective 

Wherever you are in your story when it stalls, you can act like your detective and revisit the facts. For you, those are the facts of your story.

Just as your detective lists the facts like evidence, clues, and suspect interviews, you can revisit the facts of your detective novel. 

And, just like your detective looks at the facts in new ways, you can do the same process with your story facts. You can think of new ways to present your story facts. Ask what-if questions. Examine a story element from a new perspective

First, You Need the Facts.

Your detective may have a notebook or a whiteboard where they keep relevant facts and draw relationships. You may have a character bible or a plot outline. 

Review what you have. Then close it up and look away.

Take a stack of 3 x 5” cards and a pen. Now start writing new idea notes for your story—the same way your detective looks at the mystery facts in a new way. Detective B. Adam Richardson of Writer’s Detective Bureau listed these attributes to get in touch with your detective: 

  • Detective character traits
  • Conflict causes
  • Ideas/themes
  • Where they  work
  • Cool gear 
  • Car
  • Story ideas- crimes
  • B-story
  • Backstory ideas
  • previous assignments, pre-law enforcement life
  • Relationships
  • Where they live

Use the same process for other characters and plot ideas.

Don’t go back to your story yet.

Spread the cards out on a large flat surface like a table (I use the floor, but that may not be possible with lively pets, busy children, or a small living space.) You want a flat surface rather than a wall because you’ll move the cards around, grouping and regrouping.

Arrange them according to relationships. Take notes. Re-arrange them according to plot ideas. Take more notes. 

Now go back to your story bible and add pertinent notes from your new ideas. If you have a plot outline, add any new plot ideas and twists to the plot outline.

This brainstorming process helps you kickstart new ideas. And it also helps you integrate those new ideas into the storyline.

Now Start Working on the New Ideas

With a stack of new ideas on hand, you can move your story forward with scenes and ideas from your brainstorming session. You may have a new way for the opponent to obstruct your detective. Or you may have an idea for a new opponent. Or you may discover that the lovey-dovey love interest isn’t as loving as you thought. Or a suspect may hide an important piece of information, and now your detective is stymied.

The whole idea of this process is to kickstart your story with new ideas to get you writing again. If you’re really stuck, I have five more ways to unstick your story. Whatever method you use, the concept is to brainstorm new ways to work your story. 

Now that you have new ideas, you may want to write that scene with your detective making their list to solve the case. 

Note: B Adam Richardson is forming a new cohort to begin solving a murder case on August 1, 2022, in his Writer’s Detective School. I’ve taken the course. You’ll discover all sorts of things you didn’t know about being a detective.

Photo by RODNAE Productions

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