13 January, 2013

The Mystery of Plotting and Vice Versa

Here's another great post from guest author Jayne-Marie Barker, mystery writer extraordinaire.  It's always a pleasure to have a good, proven writer here on the blog.  I know you guys enjoy her posts as much as I do.  Check out her website to get your grubby hands on some good clean books, too!  (That's an expression where I come from.  No offense intended :P)

Earlier this week a friend of mine admitted to a secret desire to write a novel, and sought my advice on plotting. My friend had written the story into a corner, the direct result of poor planning. It's an easy mistake to make, one I've made myself in the past. The fingers are keen to put the words on the page - or screen I should say - but first the foundation work must be carried out. I explained to my friend that it was like building a house. You can't start building the part that everybody sees until you've laid the foundations...

Plotting a novel has been a mystery to many but the lucky few for as long as I can remember, and will probably remain that way for years to come. Let me let you into a little secret... there isn't a magic spell, the writers on the shelves of your favourite book shop or library do not have special powers. There isn't an invisible night school where you slip away into the ether and wizards in long robes reveal the deep dark secrets of how to plot a novel... in truth there is no right way to construct a novel, you have to find a path that suits your own writing methods.

From a personal viewpoint I plan my novels quite thoroughly. I break down the story and compile a list of events. Once I have this for the main plot I repeat the exercise for the sub-plot(s) and then weave all lines into one neat line. Now for the fun part... What I have actually constructed is the story in strict date order, but that isn't necessarily the order I want to reveal the story to the reader. If you prefer you could write the events on post-it notes or cards and move them around on a tabletop... it's the same thing really.

But now... to the mystery of plotting a mystery novel. The art of plotting is the same for all books irrespective of their genre, but in a mystery there is need to tell the story in a certain way. All good mysteries reveal the information like a drip, slowly and steadily. As the reader it's my humble opinion that you want the information but it's more interesting if not everything is taken at face value, or rather you do take it at face value and then realise (hopefully close to the climax) that there was a subtle clue behind the details given. One point is vital - the reader must have a fair chance at solving the mystery - just as your main sleuth does. It would be highly unfair to produce an identical twin or new character nobody had heard of right before the end, and for that character to turn out to be the killer. Fairs fair, you must play by the rules if you want to retain your reader.

So, the art of plotting a mystery novel then. Take the usual plotting guidelines but spend extra time on the order of revealtion. Think about the pace of the novel and apply the order that best fits the uncovering mystery and furthers the story whilst keeping the plotline moving and the reader on the edge of their seat!

The above is only my opinion based on experience and personal belief. If you're a writer hoping to pen your novel this year then I wish you the very best of luck finding a path that works for you. If you're a reader then sit back and enjoy!

Copyright: Jayne-Marie Barker, Author www.jaynemariebarker.com


Wm. Luke Everest said...

To my subscribers: this article got removed and had to be re-posted because blogspot went insane. It is currently in a metaphorical psychiatric ward. Sorry to make you get the same email twice.

Toni Denis said...

I'm picturing Blogspot running screaming through the Internet in the middle of the night! It was well worth reposting. Thanks.

Wm. Luke Everest said...

You're welcome :)

And I believe the google doctors have medicated blogspot and placed him under surveillance, so we're all fine now.