Plotting Questions For Mystery Writers

Your main goal in writing a mystery, or any kind of fictional work, is to create story questions in the reader’s mind. This creates suspense that you need to propel the story forward. Even as you are plotting the book, assuming you’re a plotter like me and not a pantser (figuring it out as you go), you need to keep asking yourself ongoing questions.
Plotting Questions
Let’s take a story I have in mind as an example. The setting is a historic house. Suspects may include the head docent, the owner or owner’s children, a board of trustees if they own the place, the gardener, café manager, and gift shop lady. Objects are being stolen from this house one at a time so the theft won’t be noticed. So here we come to several questions.
Why is someone stealing valuable objects?
The thief needs money. What for?
Gambling debts (a bingo addict? Horse races? Jai A’lai games? Illegal online gambling?)
Medical care (expensive medications for a hidden disease? Medical treatment for a loved one? Nursing home care for an aged relative?)
To pay back a loan or to pay blackmail money
Greed (he’s not getting paid enough)
To hide financial losses
Or the thief is stealing out of a sense of entitlement. The culprit feels these items should be rightfully his because the former owner (a distant relative?) swindled his father out of his inheritance. Or was his father cheated by a business partner, the former owner of the estate?
Note that you can assign one of these motives to each suspect without deciding which one is the killer. It’ll make them all seem guilty.
Next question would be: Who has access to the house? This could be any of the above named suspects, plus the cleaning staff, repairmen, or other minor players.
So the thief steals these items. How does he sell them? Does he go through a person acting as fence? If so, how did he gain this criminal connection? Has he been incarcerated, which is where he got the idea for thievery and learned these skills? Or maybe the culprit is a woman lonely for attention who’s been seduced by a bad boy?
What about security? Are the valuable items in locked display cases? Is there video monitoring, motion detectors, glass-break alarms? Or are the objects in plain sight in various rooms guarded by security personnel until closing time?
Now we come to the next big question. Who is killed and why? Did the victim witness the thief in action? Maybe he saw the crook hand off the item to his fence in exchange for a wad of cash. Or he stumbled into the culprit and the stolen object tumbled from the thief’s jacket onto the ground. Either way, this appears to be a crime of opportunity.
The sleuth finds the body. What is the means of murder? Where does she find the victim? Let’s say the sleuth also discovers one of the stolen items on the estate grounds. How does it get there? Did the thief mean to get rid of the evidence, or did the item fall from his pocket accidentally?
Now let’s turn everything around. Thefts have been taking place at this estate, and the suspects all seem to be hiding these secret motives we’ve discussed. But what if the victim’s death was premeditated? The autopsy reveals that this act was set in motion even before the day’s events began. He died from poison, not the knife wound. Plot twist! Now your sleuth has to reexamine all the motives, the access to the victim, and the specialized knowledge needed to commit the murder.
If you’re a mystery writer who likes to plan things out in advance, you need to answer all these questions before you begin writing the novel. You might be a pantser who starts with a story crisis and keeps writing, being surprised along the way. But as you can see, a plotter can be surprised as well when these plot twists pop up. I call this process story magic coming into play. The point is to keep asking questions. These same questions will plague your readers, and that creates suspense. When one issue is settled, you’ll need to raise more questions to keep the tension going throughout the book.
For more on this topic, see my previous posts on Writing the Mystery
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Joyce Sweeney's Plot Clock

This past weekend, writing coach Joyce Sweeney gave a workshop on The Plot Clock at the August meeting of Mystery Writers of America Florida Chapter. You can sign up for a webinar on this topic at her website: http://www.sweeneywritingcoach.com/. Here’s what I learned. Any errors are due to my misinterpretation.
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Start with this question before you begin plotting: What will happen to your protagonist so he has to change and transform? In a mystery, how will the murder challenge your main character?
Act One of this four-act structure includes the Inciting Event. The person who doesn’t want to change meets an event that will cause him to transform. At this stage, he is reluctant to get involved. He fights against the inevitable until something compelling happens that he can’t avoid. This is called the Binding Point.
Act Two finds the hero entering the special world of the story. In a mystery, this is when the sleuth commits to solving the crime. But the protagonist hasn’t changed yet and makes mistakes. Things go badly for him. As a writer, ask yourself what’s the worst thing that can happen to this character? He keeps losing ground and struggles to carry on until he reaches a Low Point. This happens in the middle of the book.
In Act Three, the hero determines to improve and fight on. By doing the right thing, he gains ground. He may have followed the wrong path and has changed direction. Now he is on the proper trail. But we still need to escalate tension. As the protagonist gets closer to identifying the murderer, the bad guy reacts. More deaths may occur. Attempts on the hero’s life might threaten him. The sleuth is doing better at solving the crime, but the killer is now on to him. For every action the hero makes, the villain makes a countermove.
The Turning Point comes out of left field and moves us into Act Four. Nobody could have anticipated this plot twist. It derails the main character so that he questions his purpose and wants to quit, or “turn away.” Here you must raise the stakes so he can’t quit. He rallies and “turns back” to solve the mystery.
The Climax comes close to the end. You should be layering in the explanations about the suspects’ motives so the Denouement is short and doesn’t drag on.
For more details, visit Joyce’s site at http://www.sweeneywritingcoach.com/
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Having Too Many Story Ideas

Writer’s Block is often interpreted to mean that a writer stumbles over what to write next. Or he comes to a complete halt due to outside distractions or loss of confidence. But what about when he has so many ideas, that he can’t complete a single one? This can be conceived as another type of writer’s block.
Story Ideas
“I have too many ideas at once, and I don’t know which one to pick,” an aspiring author wrote to me. “What is your advice on this issue?”

It’s great if you have lots of story ideas. It’s not so good if you allow them to distract you until you can’t write anything. Or maybe you’ll write a bit on each one but never finish a single novel. My suggestion would be to pick the one idea that excites you the most and keep writing until you finish the first draft. Yes, it’s that simple.
“You’ve had two series going on together. How did you manage it, both mentally and during the actual writing? Was it difficult going back and forth? Is it easier to finish one at a time?”
I can only work on one project at a time. Even when I was writing two series in different genres, I would focus on one book until it was finished and in the hands of my editor. When that book was completely done, I would turn to the next project.

What happens when you have so many ideas that they interfere with your concentration? Write them down. Keep a “New Idea” file or a “Plotting” file and jot down your notes. Then put them aside until you finish your current project.
Set yourself daily and weekly writing goals for your story of choice. Then sit your butt in the chair and drive yourself each day until you meet your quota. Do not stop if one of those tempting ideas entices you. Concentrate on the book at hand. Later on, those ideas will either be viable or not. You’ll know better when you gain some perspective. For now, you have one project only that you need to finish. To reiterate:
· Pick your project.
· Set your writing goals.
· Write down all the distracting ideas in your head and set them aside.
· Begin on your daily writing quota.
· Keep writing until you finish the first draft.
Next come revisions, and that’s another topic we’ve already addressed here. Your book isn’t done until it’s done. Edited, Revised, Polished, and Submitted.
Then and only then, you may turn to your list of potential new projects. If you’re writing a series, you will need to begin the next installment. If not, listen to your heart and determine which idea is calling to you. Your passion will shine through in your words. Have some ideas that don’t resonate anymore? Scratch them off the list. You want to be excited enough that the buoyancy will sustain you throughout an entire novel. One idea at a time. One day at a time. One page at a time.
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Bait and Switch Tactics for Writers

Bait and Switch Tactics are a means to keep your reader on the edge of her seat when using multiple viewpoints. What you’ll want to do is isolate your characters, then write scenes in each person’s viewpoint with a cliffhanger at the end of every sequence. Make sure in each scene that you are in one character’s head, so the reader can identify and care about this person. Then they’ll be eager to turn the pages to see what happens next.

Bait and Switch Tactics for Writers

Take the main characters in Silver Serenade as an example. In this science fiction romance, Silver is an assassin whose assignment is to kill Tyrone Bluth, leader of Tyrone’s Marauders. Jace Vernon, a hunted criminal, needs the terrorist alive to prove his innocence.

In one scene, Silver and Jace confront the terrorist leader in his lair. The purpose of this scene is to deliver important information to propel the action forward. To raise the suspense, I have isolated our protagonists. Here is how the scene breaks down into several sequences [spoiler alert]:

1. Jace’s viewpoint. Jace and Silver, in disguise, present themselves as new recruits for Bluth’s terrorist network. They look for their contact, Gruber, at a saloon on the planet Al’ron. While sitting at the bar, Silver shrugs off a roughneck patron who makes a play for her. The fellow insults Jace, who kills him. After this display, their contact approaches and introduces them to the bandit leader. Impressed by Jace’s quick response, Bluth says they passed the first test. He’ll take Silver with him to his headquarters, but Jace must follow them alone in his ship. Jace fears for Silver’s safety. Or worse, will she use this opportunity to assassinate Bluth and leave him behind?

2. Silver’s viewpoint. She is on a firing range at headquarters for Tyrone’s Marauders, being tested for her skills as a sharpshooter. She passes the test. Her supervisor marches her to the detention center where the evil Bluth snatches a captive child from his mother’s arms and demands Silver shoot him. Tempted to aim her laser rifle at Bluth instead, Silver manages to demonstrate her skill in a less lethal manner. During their dialogue, she learns a piece of important information. Bluth leads her away, while she wonders what’s happened to Jace who has failed to show up. Has he been caught?

3. Jace’s viewpoint. Jace’s cover has been blown, and Bluth arrives to torture him in his prison cell. Bluth questions him about his contact, Gruber. Was Gruber duped by Jace, or was he a willing accomplice? Jace turns the interrogation around when he learns important news about his missing sister’s whereabouts. But what chills him is Bluth’s boast that Silver waits for him in his chamber, unaware the pirate knows full well who she really is and why she’s there.

4. Silver’s viewpoint: Silver eludes her warden and seeks to rescue Jace. In the hallway, she hears approaching footsteps. She whips inside the nearest unlocked suite. It belongs to Bluth’s chief financial officer. After rendering the man unconscious, Silver copies data from his computer. This information may help prove Jace’s innocence and could also be used to cut off Bluth’s funding at its source. But this data will only be useful if she can escape the complex. How can she reach the detention center and free Jace?

5. Jace’s viewpoint: Guards arrive to march Jace from his cell, and he figures he’s marked for death.

And so on. You get the idea? When I began this scene, I had no idea how it would play out. The sequences developed as I wrote, but each time I was in one character’s head, I left them at a critical juncture. Hopefully that will induce you, the reader, to keep turning pages to see what happens to them next.

In summary, to increase suspense, isolate your main characters and leave each one in jeopardy or fearing for the other’s safety at the end of each sequence. Switch back and forth until they meet again. This technique has been used successfully in many thrillers, and you can deploy it for your story as well. Hook your readers and reel them in!

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Plot Twists

I always thought I wasn’t clever enough to come up with good plot twists. Short story writers have the market on this writing technique. Especially in the mystery genre, short fiction often relies on an unexpected twist for its punchline at the end.
So how can cozy writers come up with enough surprises to keep the reader turning pages? Sometimes you can plan ahead. I’ll write a synopsis before I begin writing the actual story. But something happens along the way. The characters, setting, and story elements stew in my brain, and out pops a surprise I didn’t anticipate. This is what I call story magic.
How can you get it to work for you? Review what you’ve written, and note any plot threads that you’ve introduced but failed to resolve. How about that minor character who makes a brief appearance on stage but whose role might be significant? Or the connection between two characters you didn’t expect? Or maybe a new character arrives on scene who upsets the balance among your suspects or your recurrent cast. Who is this person and how do they relate to the plot? To the other people in your story? Why did this person arrive at this time and for what reason?
In other words, pick up on clues that you’ve left for yourself. You’ll be surprised at what you find. If you are taken by surprise, so will your readers be amazed at your plot twists.
surprised
You can go back later and revise your synopsis accordingly. Meanwhile, go with the flow and see where it takes you. You’ll be pleased by your reviews when you have a few surprises along the way. Here are some of mine that are particularly pleasing in this respect:
Facials Can Be Fatal
“The story had more twists and turns than a pretzel. And I ate them all up! It is really fast-paced and kept me thoroughly engaged to the end.” Readeropolis
pretzel
“I recommend this book to those who are cozy mystery fans and enjoy a sleuth mystery with many twists and turns.” Readers’ Favorite
“The storyline is fast-paced and keeps readers guessing to the end. There were several different twists and turns this story could have taken. I was surprised at the outcome.” Socrates Book Reviews
Hair Brained
“You are always thinking and on your toes while reading this book. And when you get to the end and everything is revealed….it will blow your mind!” Cozy Mystery Book Reviews
“The story actually has a couple of mysteries within its pages and all is worked out by the end, but there are a lot of plot twists along the way.” Carla Loves to Read
“There were several twists and turns, plus many red herrings in this book. Just when I thought I knew what was going on, the author threw in a few extra curves to have me scratching my head.” Socrates’ Book Reviews
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Stuck in the Middle

While writing a novel, you are plodding along during the first half of your book, and all of a sudden you come to a halt. Now what? It’s too soon to start the revelations leading to the killer or to the romantic resolution. You need more material to make your word count. It’s also a good spot for a turning point in your plot. So what do you do? You face the blank white page and experience a sense of fear that your story will come up short. You’ve reached the dreaded Muddle in the Middle.
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Do not panic. Instead, read your synopsis over again or review your chapter-by-chapter outline. Haven’t done them? Do so now. Reviewing what you’ve written will reveal plotting elements you might have forgotten or personal threads you can expand on. Here’s what else you can do:
Raise the body count.
This is especially easy in a murder mystery. Just throw in another dead body. Who is dead and why? Who could have done it? How does this deepen the primary mystery? Could two different killers be involved? What if this victim was your prime suspect? Who does that leave? A whole new investigation will start based on who is dead, and it may throw your sleuth’s earlier theories out the door. Now she has to go in another direction for answers.

Crime Scene
Have an important character go missing.
If a character disappears mid-point in your story, that’s going to disrupt everyone’s plans. Is this person in jeopardy, or is he guilty of perpetrating the initial crime? Did another bad guy betray him? Or is this act staged, and the person isn’t really missing after all? How do your other characters feel about this missing person? Was he loved or despised? What efforts are being made to find him? How are the police treating his disappearing act?
Introduce a new character who shows up unexpectedly.
Think about a secret baby, secret lover, or secret sibling. Or a secret spouse. What is this person’s role in the mystery? How does his appearance change the investigation? Who was keeping this character’s identity a secret? This would be the time for that secret baby to come to light or the past husband no one knew about or the former girlfriend with a grudge. Or it could be someone who’s heard about the case and wants to cash in somehow. Could this new arrival be a fraud? How does his presence affect the other characters?
Twins
Resurrect a character thought to be dead.
This is possible if a death was staged, meaning no body was ever found, or the corpse was not identifiable. Is it someone who’d been gone for years or whose alleged murder started the current investigation? What made this person decide to reappear now? Or, what is the clue that leads the sleuth to believe this guy isn’t dead after all?
Steal a valuable object or return one.
Why was this item taken? Is it a clue to solving the mystery? Does it relate to another crime? Who took it and why? Is it meant to be a distraction from the murder investigation? Or was it part of the same crime all along? In the reverse, you could have a valuable object turn up, like a missing will or a more recent one that names a different heir.
Build on secrets and motives already present.
If you’ve laid the proper groundwork for your story, your characters have enough secrets, motives and hidden depths that you can explore as the story moves along. Write down each loose end as you review the high points and make sure you go down each trail until that thread is tied. Usually you’ll find you have enough material already hiding among your pages. Snippets of suspicions your characters mentioned can be plumped out until laid to rest. So give your people enough layers that peeling the onion takes the entire book. Except just when you thought you knew it all, throw in another twist like one of the points above.
What are your tips for getting through the muddled middle?
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Six Stage Plot Structure – Part 2

Michael Hauge’s Six Stage Plot Structure, Part 2 – The Inner Journey
The second part of Michael Hauge’s talk on Six Stage Plot Structure at the Florida Romance Writers Cruise Conference deals with inner conflict. If you missed Part One, read it Here. For the sake of expediency, I use the term “heroine” but these principles apply to the hero as well.
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Disclaimer: Any mistakes in this summary are due to my misinterpretations.
The writer wants to elicit emotion in the reader. You can convey emotion and show us what’s going on without the need for dialogue or internal reflection. i.e. A lonely guy is staring at the empty furniture in his house. We get a sense of loss.
Character, desire, and conflict are the key components to storytelling. “Stories are participatory. We become the hero or heroine in the story.” We want to create a movie in the reader’s mind.
Modulate the tone and pace of the story to heighten emotional response. Here Mr. Hauge showed us clips from the movie “UP” as an example.
 

Key Components of the Inner Journey

Longing or Need
This is a desire that is expressed but the protagonist does nothing about it. It’s a hole in the character’s soul. A longing is expressed while a need is not acknowledged. This need is usually for a connection with another person.
Wound
A painful experience from the past is still driving the protagonist’s behavior. Most typically take place in adolescence. In “Up,” the older man’s wife Ellie dies. His wound is that he never gave her the adventure he’d promised.
Belief
We formulate a belief to explain what caused the wound, and to prevent it from happening again. In “Up,” the guy believes he failed by not keeping his promise. In a romance, it might be the heroine’s belief that if she loves again, her heart might be broken like before, and she might not survive this time. Or, an abused child believes he deserved punishment. The belief is never true but it is always logical.
Fear
We harbor the Fear that the painful experience will happen again. The Belief is very specific as to what may cause it to reoccur. For the abused child, the fear might be of letting anyone see who he truly is. An abandoned child might believe that anyone he gets close to will disappear. In “Up,” the man’s fear is that if he lets go of Ellie, he’ll lose all connection to her (i.e. he’ll lose her again).
Identity
The Identity is the false self we present to the outer world that allows us to feel safe. It protects us from the fear that grows out of the belief that was created by the long-ago wound. In “Up,” the main character has turned into a curmudgeon who lives in an empty house with Ellie’s things still there. If he sells the house or lets anyone inside, he might lose his memory of her. He must protect his memory of her at all cost. Our identities keep us feeling safe. It’s our emotional armor. But it makes us believe this is who we really are.
Essence
The Essence is a person’s true potential if they let go of the Identity. We see who this person really is underneath their façade.
The heroine of a story must leave her identity behind and live fully in her essence. This is the only way to achieve the outer motivation or visible goal.
Identity versus Essence is the Inner Conflict. The heroine’s inner journey or character arc takes her from living fully in the Identity to living fully in the Essence.
Looking at the Six Stage Plot Structure, in Stage One which is the Set Up, the heroine is living in her Identity. She believes the wound is in the past and over. Then an Opportunity arises that moves her to a New Situation. In the New Situation, the heroine is still in her Identity but she gets a glimpse of what living in the Essence would be like. She sets a goal.
To achieve this goal, she must live in the Essence. In the film “Up,” the main character realizes his wife Ellie viewed their marriage as an adventure. He throws out their furniture, which has served as his emotional armor, and he moves on to a new adventure. He goes into his Essence and achieves his goal.
The inner journey involves moving from Identity to Essence. This exposes the Fear, and so the protagonist retreats to her Identity before finally embracing the Essence. The Aftermath shows the reward where the heroine has found the courage to move beyond her Fear and live her truth.
This character arc should be a universal truth, while the outer plot is specific to the story. i.e. To live fully, we have to be willing to let go of the past and move forward.
This transformation should be gradual and not an epiphany. During the third stage, the character makes Progress. She vacillates between her Identity and her Essence. She feels vulnerable at getting a glimpse of her Essence and retreats back into her Identity.
In a romance, the biggest weakness is when there’s no solid reason why these two people should be together except the author wants it. Attraction at first sight is okay, but physical chemistry only takes you so far. This does not make for an enduring relationship. Why are these two people in love? They fall in love because they are each other’s destiny. The hero is the only one who sees beneath the heroine’s Identity and appreciates her true Essence. And vice versa. They connect at the level of the Essence. When there’s a love triangle, the guy she’s going to leave represents her Identity. The guy who is her destiny represents her Essence.
Conflict takes place at the level of Identity. Connection is at the level of Essence.
At the Change of Plans, the characters may not recognize their goal of pursuing each other but the reader does. You can put them into a competition or force them to work together. At the half-way mark, they can acknowledge their goal but still resist it.
Complications (Stage Four) ensue as the outside world intrudes. The heroine might feel safe but unfulfilled in her Identity. She can have it all, but she has to get past her Fear. She may think, “I’ll do whatever it takes to achieve my goal. Just don’t ask me to [blank] because that’s not me.” You know it’s the right thing if [blank] scares her.
At the Major Setback, both characters retreat to their Identities to feel safe. In a romance, this is the Big Black Moment.
The heroine’s reflection character (best friend, sidekick, etc.) says, “What are you doing? This isn’t you. Go after him.” The reflection reminds the character of who she truly is.
The hero and heroine make the Final Push (Stage Five) to achieve their goals and win each other’s love. They return fully to their Essence. The Aftermath (Stage Six) shows their transformed existence.
For more information on Mr. Hauge’s one-on-one coaching, visit StoryMastery.com
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Six Stage Plot Structure – Part 1

Michael Hauge’s Six Stage Plot Structure, Part 1- The Outer Journey
Michael Hauge teaches a terrific class on Six Stage Plot Structure. Michael has coached screenwriters, producers, stars and directors on projects for every major studio and network, as well as top public speakers and corporate leaders. He’s the author of Writing Screenplays That Sell and Selling Your Story in 60 Seconds: The Guaranteed Way to Get Your Screenplay or Novel Read, as well as his best selling lecture with Christopher Vogler, The Hero’s Two Journeys. Michael is also a popular speaker around the world. We were fortunate to have him with us on board Independence of the Seas for the Florida Romance Writers Fun in the Sun cruise conference.
 
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Disclaimer: Any errors in this summary are due to my misinterpretation.
 

Key Components of the Outer Journey

Set Up (Stage One)
Here’s where you introduce the protagonists and show them in their normal life. You’ll want to establish an emotional connection with readers. Create empathy with the main character and connect the reader to her before you introduce any flaws. How do you do this? For the sake of expediency, we’ll use the term “heroine” but these principles apply to the hero as well.
1. Create sympathy by making her the victim of undeserved injustice or misfortune.
2. Put your character in jeopardy, but it doesn’t have to be physical. It can be the threat of loss for something vitally important to the character.
3. Make your heroine likeable by showing her kindness or generosity. Show that she is well liked by others.
4. Make the character funny. She can be funny by saying things that are unfiltered and not politically correct.
5. Give her a skill set that we admire. For example, we admire people who can get things done. They have the power to accomplish things.

Next show the protagonist as being stuck or in a state of inertia. They’re tolerating a situation or lying to themselves, and something is missing from this person’s life. Another character in the story tells them what they need to learn in order to progress.
In a romance, do we meet the hero and heroine separately before they come together, or do they come together at the outset? Determine if you’re using one or two viewpoints for these characters. If we meet the heroine first and encounter the hero when she does, you can use the singular viewpoint.
Opportunity (Turning Point 1)
Something happens that has never occurred to the main character before. It jolts the heroine out of a normal life and she must react. This can be a good or bad event, but either way, it will result in the heroine’s preliminary goal, a desire to move to a …
New Situation (Stage Two). Now the protagonist must figure out what’s going on and how to react, and in response will formulate a specific, visible outer motivation.
Change of Plans (Turning Point 2)
The heroine will begin pursuing the outer motivation.
Most Hollywood movies involve a heroine pursuing one or more of five visible goals:
1. To win the love of another person or a competition
2. To stop something bad from happening
3. To escape a bad situation
4. To deliver or transport an item of value
5. To retrieve something of value and bring it to safety or possess it.

Emotion should grow out of conflict and not out of desire. In a romance, you have to delay pursuit of the love interest. Or, have them meet but then go back and show their normal lives beforehand. Or, force them together but give them different goals. The heroine should have another goal than pursuing the guy. For example, “You two have to work on this project together. The outcome will determine which one of you gets the promotion.” Hold back her admission that she’s falling for the guy by giving her a different goal to pursue.
In a mystery, the dead body presents the Opportunity. The sleuth makes a discovery at the one-quarter mark. A new event leads to a new goal, i.e. “It looks as though we’re going after a serial killer.”
Progress (Stage Three)
The heroine’s plan seems to be working. She’s moving closer to her goal but still has conflict. She must bypass or overcome obstacles until the midpoint or Point of No Return (Turning Point 3). Something happens that forces the protagonist to make a full commitment to her goal. In a romance, it might be the first kiss, or the first time your couple goes to bed together. Now they are not able to return to the life they once had.
Complications (Stage Four)
It becomes more difficult but more important to reach the goal. If the heroine loses the hero now, she risks losing her destiny. But the outside world is closing in and the conflict becomes greater and greater, until the main character suffers a Major Setback (Turning Point 4). All appears lost. In romance jargon, we call this the Big Black Moment. This is when the two lovers break apart.
Retreat and Final Push (Stage Five)
Each character will try to return to the way they were in the Set Up. They go back to the original situation, but it’s no longer satisfying. So the protagonist makes a final push to achieve her goal.
The Climax (Turning Point 5) is where the heroine faces her biggest obstacle. She either achieves her goal or she doesn’t.
In the Aftermath (Stage Six), we see the heroine in her new life. In a romance, we see how the hero/heroine will be living together. It’s the reward at the end of the goal. They’ve reached their destiny.
For more information, visit StoryMastery.com
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Writing the Mystery – Whydunit?

In the previous post, we discussed character development. As you figure out each person’s goals and secrets, you need to determine how that character relates to the others. Think of a spider web. The victim is in the center, and all of the other threads are the suspects. Or visualize it as a character wheel with spokes. Whichever model you choose, you’ll want to connect the characters to each other.

characters
Here are examples from my WIP to show you how it’s done. The characters are involved in a bake-off contest held during the spring festival at a local farm.
Tally Riggs, my hairstylist sleuth’s best friend, met Becky Forest at a local historical museum. She told Tally about the bake-off.
Becky, a scientist, is a cookbook author and curator of the museum. She studies plant remains of ancient peoples, including early Florida food practices. Every time Becky has a new cookbook out, she’s a guest on Chef Raquel Hayes’ TV show.
Raquel, a judge at the bake-off contest and a TV chef, did something in the past that could scandalize her. Francine Dodger recognizes her on TV and threatens to spill her secret.
Francine, a contestant at the bake-off, is a food magazine editor. While researching an article on the farm, she uncovers something that could ruin the owners’ reputation.
Zach Kinsdale, eldest brother of four siblings who run the family farm, hasn’t told his two brothers and sister Janet about this looming disaster.
Janet is married to Tony, who runs an import-export business. He sells his imported olive oils to Zach for the farm’s marketplace. But Janet suspects something unethical about her husband’s business. She’s the one who organized the bake-off since her husband’s company is a festival sponsor.
Tony, Janet’s husband, is worried about an exposé that Francine has mentioned. He’s also concerned about Tristan Marsh, pastry chef at The Royal Palate and a judge at the show. Tristan has been making inquiries that concern him. He’s not the only one. Alyce Greene, a blogger who supports the farm-to-table movement, has been troublesome as well.
Alyce is a contestant at the bake-off. She’s married to Jon, a food truck operator. Jon got a loan to start his business from Alyce’s brother, Steve Madison. Steve, an investment advisor, manages Tony’s accounts.
And so on. You get the idea. It helps when the puzzle pieces fit together as a whole, but this process may take a while. In the meantime, allow your subconscious to stew on these ideas until story magic happens. The connections will pop into your brain. It’s a joyful moment when this occurs. It always does; you have to maintain faith in the creative process.
Now you know as much about these people as I do. Next comes Writing the Mystery – Howdunit.
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Facing the Void

I’m in that void in between books. Having finished my Author’s Edition of Body Wave (Bad Hair Day Mystery #4) and scheduled it for launch on June 16, I can start thinking about my next project. And so far that’s all I’ve done—think about it. This would be Bad Hair Day #14. It’s a direct sequel to Facials Can Be Fatal that follows Peril by Ponytail, my September release. I’ve set this summer for plotting with writing beginning in the Fall.

All I have at this point is the victim. I also have a possible motive, but whether this ends up a red herring or the actual reason for the crime is yet to be determined. My suspect pool is limited to work colleagues. Who else can I bring in? Did the victim have any interests or extracurricular activities that might have gotten him in trouble?

charcoal blazer

I won’t know the answers until I do my character development charts. But first, I have to figure out the timelines, because this guy’s background indirectly intersects with my sleuth’s life. So where was she when they first met? What does she know about him?

Another person is involved who has a closer relationship to our intrepid hairstylist. How is this person related to the crime? Is it random, or does this character have secrets of her own that could provide a motive?

And what about the so-called crime? Is it plausible? What could be the course of events that led to the victim’s death? Who else might be involved? This necessitates research. I have to ask an expert in the field.

As you see, all I have are a series of questions. But these are things I must ask myself to start the plot formulating in my head.

idea

And then there’s the Wow factor for me. What can I learn that’s new and interesting? This is what really grabs my interest and gets me excited about a story. The idea can come from a newspaper or magazine article, news broadcast, personal experience, or tidbit of information that crosses my path. Maybe as I’m delving into the characters, it’ll come to me. Meanwhile, my story antennae are alert.

If all else fails, I can explore my Dirt File, where I keep clippings of interesting articles about people’s crimes. Or I could explore my General Research files where I stick items that might inspire me. I’m hoping these actions won’t be necessary. Maybe I’ll get an unexpected visit from the muse who will bring me the right idea. Then the pieces will start to fall into place, and a story will form. I call this the Discovery phase because you are discovering what the story is about.

Plotting a new book is a daunting task, but one every writer faces when he finishes one book and contemplates the next. I can’t wing it like some authors. I need the story plotted out in advance. I’ll write a synopsis before beginning page one. This entire Discovery process can take me from one to three months. Then the hard work of writing begins.

How about you? When does your story brain put the pieces together?

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