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Headed Toward Trouble: Getting to Act II of Your Mystery

in the dark facing headlights, mystery detective doesn't know what's coming next

From Murder to Trouble in Your Mystery

In the first five chapters you introduce your detective, connect your detective with the murder, and start your detective off with a plan to find the murderer.

Your main goal in those beginning chapters is to bring the reader into your story world, get them empathizing with your detective—even if he’s not likeable—and bring them onboard to follow the detective as she begins to piece out the puzzle of who the culprit is.

In the next five chapters, you are still in Act I and you are still setting up your story. Now that your reader is hooked, you can add dimension to your story. Introduce subplots like a love interest or an opponent who wants to keep your detective from succeeding.
As you expand your story, remember that conflict keeps readers reading. So whether it’s the main story or a subplot, cause trouble. Make your detective work for even the slightest clue. Expose her weaknesses.

Chapters 5 -10 of your mystery novel get your detective headed for trouble and straight to Act II of your story. Introduction of subplots and their relation to the mystery of your story which is the main story arc.
16:34 Questions and Answers
16:57 One of my characters isn’t a suspect, but they have an important clue. Does this work?
19:23 I’m feeling like my mystery is an epic. It’s 140K words. Is this a good length?

The Next Five Chapters – 6 – 10

Using the 40 Sentences model you can apply the novel structure and adapt it to your mystery crime fiction.

6          He leans on his usual allies and resources, but they’re not enough; even worse, the trouble he gets into triggers his flaw or wound—this new situation feels a little bit like that thing he never got over. (Subplot A)

Your detective starts working on the plan from Chapter 5, but the plan doesn’t work. A rival or a superior who wants things may deter him to get things done their way.

For those who have studied plot, this is the first complication.

7          Taking a step back, literally or metaphorically, your protagonist tries to figure out how he lost control of this situation. He might go looking for advice, or advice might come looking for himbut either way, his misbelief prevents him from understanding it. (Subplot B)

Your detective looks at the original plan to see if he can spot the error. A suspect or a new suspect gives him a piece of new information that seems like good advice or a new insight into the murder victim. The detective meets a member of the opposite sex who is some combination of intriguing, sexy, smart, so unlike him that as attractive as she is it won’t work, but still…

Plot students, this is the aftermath of the first complication.

8          Realizing it’s time to pull out what he thinks are the big guns, your protagonist does something he would normally consider to be a last-ditch effort to get his life back on track—but instead, whatever he tries ends up backing him into a corner. (Subplot A)

Your detective latches on to a clue or suspect and thinks he has the answer, he may even take a risk to prove his point. Instead the mystery becomes more mysterious. To add insult to injury the detective’s opponent wins a minor triumph.

Still loving those plot labels? This is a minor dark moment.

9          He might have a moment of false success before he finds himself stuck outside his comfort zone, exposed and vulnerable. (Maybe he wasn’t expecting there to be a twist here?) He’s made his situation ten times worse, and none of his usual allies can (or will?) help him.

You detective blunders along on her discovery path and even makes a find that seems to lead her closer to the killer. But everything, especially the new discovery, is not as it first seems and a step forward sets her back.

For plot aficionados, this is the set up for the first plot point.

10       Maybe he has no choice, or maybe they’re all bad choices—either way, your protagonist has to choose between letting his everyday world become intolerable or stepping into uncharted (for him) territory. He commits to entering the extraordinary world.

So far all your detective’s choices have led down a false path. People around him, even friends, seem to get in his way and he pulls back, takes a look, examines his previous actions, and starts down a new path.

Plot freaks, this is it. The first plot point.

Move the Story

Using the 40 Sentences is the fastest way to plan and work through a story without spending time trying to slap a label on each sequence. Your writing focus is on the story, not matching plot points, beats, or any other “story structure” to your planning process.

If you are struggling with trying to fit pieces of your story into a framework, try using the 40 Sentences to make your story flow.

Zara Altair

Zara Altair writes mysteries set in ancient Italy. Her course for beginning writersWrite A Killer Mystery is coming soon. Get on the notification list.

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