Troubleshoot Your Mystery

Troubleshoot Your Mystery

​Get Past The Stuck Place

Sometimes your story seems to throw up a big wall and you don’t know how to fix it. You’re stuck. It happens to all writers. Don’t despair.

With all the character development and story planning you’ve done, your story seems stuck and you don’t know where to go next or what to write. 

Take action to root out the problem so you can continue writing if you know what to do. 

The first thing to do is not consider your story a failure, or worse, that you as a writer are a failure. It’s only a process glitch.

Tips to Revive The Story Thread

Approach your stop point depending on the root cause. Use these tips to kick your story forward.

  • Take a step back. Walk away, do something else. Better yet, work on another scene in your mystery. Trust the process and wait for the insight which comes when you are away from your writing space.
  • Get physical. Trim the hedge, wash dishes, run. Physical energy stimulates mental energy. It’s neuroscience.
  • Go back to your Character Bible. Add more to your main characters. Examine their fears, secrets, and lies. Add more details. A close look often sparks the way to new complications.
  • Look at your storyline. Sometimes you are emotionally attached to a scene or chapter that doesn’t fit the overall story. 
  • Create conflict. Add a new obstacle. Perhaps a suspect has a reason to not reveal everything to your sleuth. (Revisit the Character Bible.)
  • Be cruel to your sleuth. You’ve created a rock star sleuth with multiple talents, now make your sleuth work hard to get to the finish. The bigger the obstacle, the juicier the story.
  • Raise the stakes. Make the conflict bigger. Raymond Chandler wrote great detective stories. Here’s his problem solver:

When in doubt have a man come through a door with a gun in his hand…. A writer who is afraid to over-reach himself is as useless as a general who is afraid to be wrong.

  • Raise the threat level. Expand your threat thinking from just physical to emotional and philosophical. It may be a gun, it may be a member of the opposite sex who drops an emotional bomb, When good fails and evil wins, for the moment, make you sleuth turn cynical.
  • Head toward the midpoint. If you’re in the first half of your mystery, focus on getting to the midpoint. What can happen in the story right now that gets your sleuth closer to the middle? You may be too focused on getting to the end. Give your story room.
  • Head toward the end. The reveal is the end of your mystery. Have you identified the right killer? Think about changing the villain/killer and explore where that takes you. 
  • Read in your genre. Look for inspiration from other writers. Examine how other authors keep the story moving. You’ll find fresh ideas for your mystery.

The tips are aimed at helping you identify why you are stalled
with the story. The resolution to getting unstuck is often in the story structure or in your cast of characters. 

Positive Moves Get Results

Taking action is the quickest way to get past your story impediment. Positive motivation to make the story the best it can be will get your story moving. And, a positive outlook that this is just an obstacle for you the writer to overcome kicks you out of negative thinking. 

Every writer has moments when the story doesn’t feel right. Remember that writing a mystery novel is a process. When you work to get past a stuck place, you improve the process. Find your “man with a gun in his hand” and keep writing. 

Zara Altair

Photo by Lava Lavanda on Unsplash

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