How To Plan a Crime When Writing a Mystery Novel

A crime is an illegal activity. A crime is something someone commits that is an offense to the law. A crime is a robbery, a murder, assault, kidnapping, etc.

It’s not good.

So. How does one commit a crime?

I’ll tell you how, but only the skeleton of it. The rest you’re going to have to figure out on your own. You can’t expect me to do all the work, can you? No, of course not.

Step One.

Plan the crime before you do anything else.

Step Two.

Now — Wait, what? What do you mean you don’t know how to plan the crime? What are you even doing with your life if you can’t even figure this part out on your own?

Alright, come on…

How To Plan a Crime when writing a mystery novel Rachel Poli

Let’s start back at the basics, shall we?

A mystery is a puzzle, a riddle. Maybe a secret or a problem. A mystery is something of the unknown. The only way to solve said riddle, puzzle, problem, whatever is to ask yourself basic questions.

Who, What, Where, When, Why, and How.

Yes, I’m bringing you straight back to elementary school. The only difference is that we’re not trying to write an essay from analyzing a book. No, we’re going much darker than that. We’re adults now.

Who

“Who” refers to people, the characters of the story. Each character has to have something to do with the crime whether they like it or not. Are they a witness? A victim? An investigator? A suspect? Maybe they’re just there to throw the investigator off the trail and take the reader along with them.

Once your have your characters lined up in a row, give them each a job.

  • Who are the victims?
  • Who are the culprits?
  • Who are the witnesses?
  • Who are the suspects?
  • Who are the accomplices?
  • Who are the investigators?
  • Who discovered the crime(s)?

What

The “what” may not be known right off the bat, but depending on the situation some answers may be more obvious than you think.

  • What is the problem/crime/secret? (What happened?)
  • What was the weapon/what was stolen?
  • What was the motive?

Where

“Where” is how you set the scene for yourself, your characters, and your readers. It’s a little tough to investigate when you can’t see the scene surrounding you.

  • Where does the overall story take place?
  • Where does the crime take place?
  • Where was the victim(s) when the crime took place? (Unless it’s a murder, the victim doesn’t necessarily have to be around.)
  • Where was the weapon(s)/stolen item or person?
  • Where was the culprit(s) hiding?
  • Where were the witnesses when the crime occurred?

When

Time matters.

  • When did the crime take place?
  • When was the crime discovered?
  • When were the authorities called/brought to the scene?
  • When does the investigator find his first, second, third clues, etc.?
  • When does the investigator solve the crime?
  • When does the culprit(s) get caught/confess?

Why

The reason is key. You need to be able to explain to your readers why this mystery happened in the first place, why it was a good story to tell.

  • Why did the culprit commit the crime?
  • Why did the culprit choose that particular victim?
  • Why was your investigator the best one to solve the case?
  • Why did the crime take so long to solve? (Why did it take not long at all to solve?)

How

I assume you’re writing a fictional mystery. In which case, your readers still need to know the “how.” Everything needs to fit together nicely like a puzzle and be explained as realistically as can be.

  • How long was the overall investigation?
  • How did the culprit pull off their crime?
  • How was the culprit caught?
  • How did the investigator figure it out? (How did they finally piece it all together?)

Some of these questions are redundant, but I think it’s good to repeat yourself sometimes. It helps you remember and helps you catch mistake or plot holes.

Some questions you may not need. I’m sure there are other questions out there that you can ask yourself that are not on this list.

This is how I plan my mystery novels. I plan the crime before any actual writing begins so I, as the writer, am the investigator.

Now all you need to know is how to implement this crime.

This post was revived from Mystery Month’s 2015 post: Who Dun It? 

rachel poli sign off

Twitter | Tumblr | Pinterest | GoodReads

Advertisements

How I Began Writing Mystery

Via Pinterest
Via Pinterest

There’s something about mystery that tends to draw people in. The suspense and thrill of it all is very enticing. Yet, I never imagined myself wanting to write mystery novels.

I’ve been writing since I was ten-years-old. The first novel I ever wrote was a young adult high school drama. The second was fantasy with superheroes.

I always enjoyed X-Men, Justice League, Batman, etc. I loved the idea of people with superpowers. Most of my novel ideas surrounded around that. I always thought that was going to be my forte.

Yet I’ve always enjoyed playing video games as well. My favorite being The Legend of Zelda series. The timeline for that series is absolutely amazing. The puzzles are great and the mystery behind the Hero of Time is fantastic. I always had a will to write as great as that.

Of course there are TV shows, as well. I enjoyed watching Burn Notice and Chuck, both shows about spies. My favorite is Psych which is about a “psychic” detective. I always enjoy watching shows like this and try to figure out the ending before the hour is up.

Then I discovered the video game series Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney with my sister, Kris. You play as a defense lawyer where you investigate crime scenes, talk to witnesses, then go to court and clear your client with a not guilty verdict.

This video game was the final push I needed to start writing George Florence, my mystery series. I began writing without knowing too much about the mystery genre. I sort of made stuff up as I went along.

I started reading more novels in the mystery genre when I started writing mystery. For example, I read the Psych series and the alphabet mystery series by Sue Grafton.

There have so many inspirations for my beginning and interest in the mystery genre. However, I look back at old novel ideas that I still plan on writing someday and each one has some sort of mystery or suspense aspect to it.

I guess I always enjoyed mystery, but just didn’t realize it right away.

Inspiration Station: The Perfect Crime

The Perfect Crime

What is a perfect crime?

A perfect crime is a crime that is so carefully planned and executed that it is nearly impossible to solve. With that being said, perfect crimes don’t really exist. It may take a few years to solve a crime, but as far as I know, about 9.9 times out of 10, the crimes are solved.

 

Can you create a perfect crime in a fictional mystery novel?

As a mystery writer you can certainly leave the readers begging for answers; they’re minds continuously trying to solve the crime long after the book is over.

But, unless you plan on a few sequels, that would be mean.

Sure, you want your readers begging for more. You also want them to be satisfied as well. Readers are a tough crowd, I know.

What elements should you have in a mystery novel?

There are a few key elements needed to make for a good mystery. You can’t really have one without the other, either. All the elements need to work together in order to make the crime work.

A Crime

This is an obvious one. Mysteries stem from suspense and most do that through a crime; whether it’s a murder, a robbery, a kidnapping, etc.

The characters need to be asking questions in order to give the readers a sense that something is wrong. There is a problem, there is a puzzle that needs to be solved, nothing (or not everything) is being explained, someone is keeping a secret.

Clues

In order to help solve the mystery, you need to lay out clues for the readers and the characters. Clues can range from objects, such as a weapon, or people, such as witnesses.

The objects are also known as evidence. Anything that can be put in a bag, analyzed, and dusted for fingerprints, it’s evidence.

Of course, statements from witnesses, victims, and suspects are also evidence to see whose story matches and whose doesn’t.

Law Enforcement Figures

Every crime novel needs a few characters in the law enforcement field whether they’re a police officer, detective, lawyer, judge, etc.

The law enforcement needs to be involved in order to solve the crime, discover the clues, and make accusations.

Dead-Ends

Will the law enforcement team make correct accusations all the time? Probably not.

Every once in a while a clue will be picked up that will lead the investigators down the wrong path. When that time comes, a new clue will pop up steering them in the right direction once more. Or, they’ll have to start back from the beginning.

How can you keep track of each crime?

It’s a lot of note-taking, but as long as you–as the writer–stays organized and keeps notes, your readers will be able to follow easily.

Keep a list of clues, know the problem and conclusion ahead of time, and give each witness and suspect careful statements.

With all this being said, mysteries aren’t too bad to write. In the end, everything falls into place. It’s just a lot of thinking involved. Make your readers think, make them proud when they finally get to the end of the book and realized they solved the crime before the protagonist did.

Writing Prompt:

A detective is called to the scene of a bank robbery. The culprit got away with $100,000. There are no signs of a break-in and there’s some blood on the lobby floor. An elderly couple living across the street are the only two witnesses. What happened?

Related Articles:

6 Secrets to Creating and Sustaining Suspense
Elements of the Psychological Thriller, Mystery, Suspense, and/or Crime Fiction Genres
25 Things You Need to Know About Writing Mysteries

Genre Bingo

Yesterday I talked about finding your genre when it comes to writing.

One of the points I made was to practice with all genres; whether it’s reading different genres or trying to write in different genres.

I love a good reading challenge whether it’s Goodreads yearly Reading Challenge, a Bingo board, a deadline for a book review, or even just a book recommendation.

With that being said, I decided to make my own Bingo board. I have a few, but this one I made is plain and simple. It’s Genre Bingo.

If you heed my advice about reading in different genres, this will be a great way to keep track.

The bingo board includes 24 genres plus the lovely free space that everyone adores. It also has a reading list at the bottom so you can write down which books you read for which genre. I don’t know about you, but I like keeping track of the books I read for which square whenever I do a reading bingo. So I thought I would throw that in there.

Anyway, you can download the Genre Bingo here.

I hope you guys enjoy it! I’m sure I’ll be doing the challenge soon enough.

Inspiration Station: Finding Your Genre

Finding Your Genre

 

Sue Grafton writes mystery. J.K. Rowling writes fantasy. What do you write?

When you’re just starting out as a writer, there are so many questions to ask and so many decisions to make. Who’s your audience? Is my writing any good? Who in the world would want to buy my stories?

My personal favorite is, what genre should I write in?

This can certainly be a tough one since there are so many different genres out there: fiction, nonfiction, science fiction, fantasy, mystery, suspense, thriller, romance, and so much more. Then there are the sub-genres to worry about.

So, how can you find your genre to write about and share with the world? There are two options.

1. Write in a few different genres you enjoy reading.

I wrote five manuscripts before I decided on which genre was right for me. Two were fantasy, two were young adult drama. Plus, I write my fair share of short stories in multiple genres as well as children’s books, middle grade, and I even tried my hand at script writing and poetry.

Once I started writing my mystery series, I fell head over heels in love. I wanted to continue writing it all the time. The characters keep the story moving, the plot make sense, and I have many more ideas to come for this particular series. I was writing for eight years before I discovered this.

2. Read every genre.

The best thing a writer can do in order to improve their writing–without actually writing–is to read. Do you have a particular genre you enjoy reading all the time? Or do you try to read every book published?

Make sure you read in many different genres. Chances are you’ll find a favorite and come up with story ideas for that genre.

Writing Prompt:

Write in an out-of-your-comfort-zone genre. For example, if you mainly write fantasy, give romance a try.

Related Articles:

How To Pick The Right Genre For Your Novel (And Why Your Sales Depend On It)
Forms of Writing
How to Choose a Genre for Your Novels

 

Camp NaNo: New Characters

Via Pinterest
Via Pinterest

I wrote 3,010 words this morning. My official word count for Camp NaNoWriMo at the moment is 19,034 words. I would have liked to hit 20,000 words this morning, but I wanted to post on here and then I have to get ready for work (technically, I should be getting ready for work now).

I think it was on day two or three of Camp that I introduced a new character into my novel, Anonymous Tip (which is  a George Florence novel).

I didn’t expect her to come into the story. I didn’t think she would even exist. Her name is Celeste and she’s the mother of two side characters, so obviously she exists because those other two characters had to come from somewhere, right? Yet, she wasn’t supposed to make an appearance and she managed to push her way through anyway.

If you knew her personality, which is a stubborn and head-strong, you can easily see why she made herself known in the novel.

It’s a good thing because poor George and Lilah had a case, but they didn’t have a client. Well, this woman barged into my story and into their lives and now they have a client. So, I guess she has a purpose after all.

This morning, another new character came into play. I debated on introducing her to the series eventually, but I didn’t think it would be in this novel.

Her name is Ingrid Florence. Yes, George’s mother.

She and Celeste butt heads a lot. So, naturally when Celeste made an appearance, Ingrid felt as though she needed to join in as well.

Ingrid hasn’t actually been in the novel, yet. She left a message on George’s answering machine, but already I can tell that she too has a strong personality. Yet, she seems a lot nicer than Celeste.

I wonder if Ingrid and Celeste are going to end up in a scene together? I’m sure that would be interesting to see.

How are your novels coming along? Have any unexpected characters come for a visit?

Camp NaNo: Week One Recap

April 4 2015

Week one of Camp NaNoWriMo is coming to a close as of midnight tonight. Of course, depending on your time zone you may have a bit longer… or week one may already be done. Anyway….

Week one went well for me. I skipped writing a couple of days (oops) but I’m still ahead of the game, so it’s all good.

Daily Word Count:
Day 1: 5,015
Day 2: 2,005
Day 3: 0
Day 4: 4,047
Day 5: 2,454
Day 6: 0
Day 7: 2,503

Week one total: 16,024 words

As you can see, my word count fluctuates.

My original plan was to write 2,000 a day, extra on the weekends since I’ll have the extra time. As you can see, that has not been happening. I hope to get into a better routine for week two, but as long as I stay on par I’m good.

My novel is going well. I’m writing the next installment to my George Florence series. It’s a brand new case with new characters, new settings, new drama. It’s going really well (in my opinion). When the month is over, I plan on posting an excerpt as a Short Story Sunday that I hope you’ll all enjoy.

In the meantime, we need to prepare ourselves for week two of Camp. It’s the slump week, so I hope you’ve all got your coffee ready!

How is your novel going so far?

Character Spotlight: Barney Florence

Questions for the Author:

What is your character’s name? Does he/she have a nickname?

One of the male characters in Detective Florence is Barney Florence, who is the main character’s older brother. He does not have any nicknames.

What color is his/her hair? What color are his/her eyes?

Barney looks similar to his little brother, George. He has light brown hair with brown eyes so dark you can barely see his pupils.

Who are your character’s friends and family?

Barney has a large family as he is one child out of seven. He tries to keep in touch with all his siblings and even his mother, but it’s hard with his job as a police officer. It’s easier to stay in touch with some siblings over others because they work together in the law enforcement field.

Where does your character live?

Barney lives in a small studio apartment by himself. The apartment doesn’t have a lot of furniture and is pretty bland as he isn’t there very often. He’s usually working or he’s out with some friends.

What is his/her biggest fear?

Barney’s biggest fear is getting hurt in the line of duty… again. While chasing down a couple of robbers, Barney was shot in the leg. He had to take leave from work for a few months. When he came back, he started off staying in the office doing paperwork afraid to get back out onto the field. He has worked his way up yet again and is now a police officer once more.

Has your character ever been in love and/or had a broken heart?

Barney has never been in love or had a broken heart. He tries to go out as often as he can and meet new people. Being in his early 30s, he really hopes to someday get married and start a family.

What kind of clothes does he/she wear?

Barney always dresses up. If he’s not in his police uniform, he’s most likely in a suit or slacks. It’s very rare to see Barney in jeans or sweats.

What is he/she doing on his/her day off?

Barney enjoys watching criminal shows on TV. He enjoys watching the mystery and thriller movies in the dark with a big bowl of popcorn. However, he tends to rope others into watching these movies with him because, to him, it’s a lot more fun with other people.

What is his/her overall personality like?

Barney is serious at work and he gets stressed out easily. When he’s stuck on a case, he internally panics. He tries to hide it, but most people know by the look on his face. However, he does a good sense of humor and knows how to have fun with family and friends.

Questions for the Character:

What do you consider your greatest achievement?

“I think my greatest achievement would be going to back to work. I know that might seem a bit odd, but when I got shot in my right leg, it was questionable if that leg was going to be paralyzed for the rest of my life. Thankfully, my leg healed nicely and even though I was nervous about going back to work, I stuck it out because it’s what I love to do. I climbed the ladder again and I’m back where I belong; out in the field.”

What is it that you most dislike?

“I hate unfinished paperwork. Most people hate doing paperwork at work because it’s tedious and time consuming, but I actually don’t mind it. It really irks me when I’m delayed in finishing my paperwork. I’d rather fill it all out right away while the information is fresh in my mind.”

What is your greatest regret?

“I don’t have any regrets that I can think of. I’ve always done what I thought was right at the time, so I don’t think that’s anything to worry about. You can’t fix the past and worrying about the past certainly isn’t going to help improve your future.”

What is your best trait?

“I’m very efficient. If there is something that needs to get done whether it has to do with work or not, I’ll get it done right away and I’ll do it right the first time. That’s why my mother calls me all the time if she needs help with something because she knows that I’ll come help her right away.”

What is your worst flaw?

“I work too much. I can admit that. I’m barely home because I’m always putting in overtime at my job to solve a case, finish paperwork, or help someone else with something. The chief has actually had to tell me to go home on some nights because he would catch me sitting at my desk doing research for a case or something of the like.”

What is your hobby?

“I love watching mystery movies. I don’t know if watching movies can be considered a hobby, but I love solving mysteries. I try to find new mystery movies often for a fresh case.”

Who do you most admire?

“I admire my mother the most. She was the one who always encouraged me to go through with law enforcement. She took care of me when my leg was injured and she pushed me to go back to work when I was just about to give up. Plus, she took care of me and my six siblings all on her own. That alone deserves a gold medal.”

My Planning Process

Yesterday I discussed different outlining methods for your novel. I talked about three techniques, but there are many more. Many are out there on the Internet and others are private between the novel and the author.

So today, I’m going to share my magnificent outlining secret!

Not really… I’m pretty sure I’ve seen people use this way before even though I thought I made it up myself.

All you need are six items: index cards, post-it notes, a pen, a pencil, a notebook, and tape. I like to use the bigger index cards to fit more notes. I also use colored index notes to make it look pretty. Same goes for the post-it notes; use pretty colors (but that’s totally optional). I use a pen to write on the index cards and post-it notes (because that’s what a pen is for). I use the pencil to number each post-it note (I’ll explain further in a minute). I use a notebook to put the post-it notes and the index cards. I use the tape to hold the index cards in place on the pages.

20150125_133655

I’ll use Detective Florence 2 as an example of this untitled outlining method. I have a total of ten index cards (there may end up being more). On one card I wrote a list of characters in the novel; main, secondary, minor, etc. I also wrote their ages and their purpose in the story. The list was too long so I taped a second index card on the bottom to continue the list. One card has a list of plot points; questions that need to be answered by the end of the book. One card is a general list of notes about plot, setting, characters, anything. Since DF2 is a mystery novel, two of the index cards are death details; “who, what, where, why, how, when” questions and answers. Two cards are the culprits plans; again, the who, why, what, etc. questions. It’s a lot of repetition, but mysteries have a lot of information that need to be remembered. I also have an index card with a list of dates and a small summary of what the characters did on each date. It helps keep track of the times and days in the novel for the characters. The last card is editing points, which I don’t create until I start the editing process.

I tape those down on the first few pages of the notebook, as shown above.

20150125_133733

The rest of the pages are filled with post-it notes. I use the pen to write in each scene on post-it notes. Each scene takes multiple post-its because I do a minute-by-minute summary. I don’t say, “this will happen in this scene.” I say, “George will do this” then “Lilah will say that.” Post-it notes are small and my handwriting is big; but I think it’s more helpful to be more detailed rather than give a general summary of each scene. I like to lay each scene out so I know exactly what to do next. Sometimes it changes, but that’s okay; at least I start off with a plan.

That’s exactly why I use post-it notes. If something changes, I can easily add, take out, or simply rearrange the notes. That’s also where the pencil comes in. I number each post-it note–despite they’re already in order in the notebook–so if I move them around I can erase and re-number them instead of crossing out the numbers with a pen.

Since I’ve already edited the manuscript once, some post-its got moved around. Others got cut completely. However, you should never waste an idea you once thought was good or needed. So, in the back of the notebook I stack all the unused ideas together. Some might end up back in the novel and others might appear in the sequel. You just never know.

20150125_133743

If you look closely at the picture, you’ll see there are 15 notes that didn’t make the cut this time around.

Now, why do I use a notebook? When I first thought of this method I used a giant poster and stuck everything on there. I hung it on the wall behind my desk for easy access as I wrote and edited. The thing was, the post-it notes kept falling off the more I moved them around. They lost their stick so I tried taping them down like I did with the index cards. That just ripped the poster so I would have to replace the tape each time I moved a note. It was more tedious than it needed to be.

So I decided to use a notebook. I can close the cards and notes inside so they don’t fall off and they don’t get crinkled up. Plus, you can see from the pictures that there is still some room (mostly just the margins) to add in notes about the notes.

This method is easy, flexible, and doesn’t take much time. That’s why I love it so much. So feel free to try it out for yourselves, regardless of what genre you’re working on. I hope it works just as well for you as it does for me.

 

Why Outline?

Who actually outlines their novels? I know a well variety of people who outline and people who don’t outline. For the people who do not outline, is that a bad thing? No.

Outlining means to lay your novel out flat before you even begin writing it. You write the basic idea, certain scenes you want, character bios, etc. in a notebook, on the computer, on index cards, what have you. It’s almost as if you’ve mapped out your brain so when you do start writing, you’re able to write, write, write!

Outlining is optional when it comes to writing. It’s not like the first draft stage or the editing stage; you can actually skip the outlining stage. It works for some people, but it doesn’t work for others. Some prefer to freewrite from the get-go and go from there.

Via Google
Via Google

Personally, I find outlining to be a huge help, but even I don’t do it all the time.

I think it depends on the kind of project your writing. When deciding if you should outline your novel before writing, ask yourself:

–Are there going to be a lot of characters that need developing?
–How many different ways can my plot go? Will there be any opportunities where the plot will rip and cause a hole?
–Where are my characters based? Is the setting fiction or based off of a real place?

Of course, there’s also genre to consider. I believe that if you’re writing a mystery or a science fiction/fantasy novel, it always helps to outline. If there’s a lot of information the reader will obtain while reading the novel, how can you as the author be expected to remember it all while writing? That’s how plot holes happen.

As I said, outlining is completely optional. Will it hurt your writing? No, of course not. Does your outline need to be complete before you start your novel? No.

Via Google
Via Google

That’s what I love about outlines; there are no rules. You may not stick to your outline (or your characters might not), but that’s okay. An outline is just a guideline.

You can map out your ideas however you want, where ever you want, whenever you want. If you get stuck on your outline at some point, you can begin writing what you have already outlined. By the time you get to the end of your outline, you should have thought of new ideas to continue on.

When that happens to me, I continue to write and outline as I write. It makes editing a lot easier for me.

Speaking of editing… outlining is a great way to help edit; not just help with the first draft.

Once you finish your first draft, you can always refer back to your outline to look up certain characters, change some scenes around, etc.

All in all, outline helps you further understand your novel.

Related Articles:

How to Make a Novel Outline
Writing an Outline of Your Novel
Outlining Your Novel: Why and How