Mystery Plotting is like a spider web, it’s all connected
I’ll admit it, I’m a very loose plotter. I start a story with a set-up or situation in mind and maybe a character and that’s it.
Sometimes, as I write, it’s like I’m reading a novel that I’m also writing. If you’re a writer you’ll know what I mean. My plot develops as I get to know my characters and watch them react to the situation I’ve created. It usually takes 20 or more pages before I know where the whole story is going to go and which character will be dominant. It’s messy and most writing instructors will tell you not to do it. I can give you a few good reasons why I think its fun and why it works for me.
When I started my last novel (working title “A Wind Beaten Tree”) I knew it would be about art theft and include some underworld types, so I opened with a scene where a thief, Morell, has hidden inside the Musee Moderne and ingeniously stolen several priceless paintings. We quickly find out there is a mole inside the French Gendarme and there are powerful people orchestrating the events. In the next chapter we meet a woman, Jade, who turns out to be the main character and pretty soon her path of crime is crossing his. Now I’m having fun.
If I plotted out how I thought this was going to go before writing, then there would’ve been little room for discovery or accidental surprises, like the handsome film actor she cons then recruits or finding out how the man who saved her life 5 years before is connected to the crime head Morell works for, not to mention the missing person’s report in Oklahoma that might be Jade, who by the way has amnesia. I have coincidences that might just be coincidences and connections that hint at a much bigger story than even our characters know. If I were to draw it out in the classic brain-storming fashion, I would have a delicate spider web as spun by a spider with a split-personality disorder.
Writing mysteries has its own rules of conduct. Moving from point A to point B rarely takes a straight line, and my gosh, that would just be boring.
If you’re a traditional plotter, try cutting out a plot point or two and when you get to that part of the story, let your characters decide what they want to do. You can also try throwing in a random event, such as an unexpected death of a character you hadn’t planned to kill or catastrophe for which they are forced to deal. I’ve discovered this gives me a chance to show character development and strengthen connections or it can even add a key element they need to solve the mystery. Don’t worry if it doesn’t work out, that gets fixed in the editing process.
Author’s Note: I am deathly afraid of spiders, but the webs in the right light can at times be inspirational;)