No two stories are alike. Each story is different and unique from another. Sure, there are cliches in the world of writing, but each outcome is different from the one before it. The possibilities are endless.
Yet, there are some things that each story have in common with each other: Elements. Or, ingredients as I like to call it.
It’s what makes a story a story.
All stories need five elements in order to make it a true, compelling tale.
1. Characters — The main person (or animal, alien, robot, what have you) the story revolves around. Plus, supporting characters to help or hinder the protagonist along. 2. Setting — The place where the story takes place. 3. Plot — A series of events and actions done by the character(s) that center around the conflict. 4. Conflict — The main struggle of the story. Usually, there are two sides to the conflict, good and bad, where your character is on one side. 5. Theme — The main idea or moral of the whole story.
Sounds easy enough, right? Sure.
But what does this mean when you’re writing a mystery novel? I’ll tell you what sort of ingredients you’ll need in order for you readers to beg you for dessert.
There are four main types of characters you’ll need for a mystery novel.
1. Detectives — Who is solving the crime here? No, you’re “detective” does not have to be part of the law enforcement. Your detective could be a young adult investigating on his or her own trying to figure out what truly caused their parents’ car accident.
2. Victims — Did they die? If so, I’m sure they had friends and family. Were they robbed? They need to be around to report the crime and give their statement. Maybe they have their own suspicions of who did it.
3. Suspects — Someone has to be the culprit. A crime doesn’t commit itself. Then again, your protagonist can’t catch the bad guy on their first go. There should be more than one suspect.
4. Witnesses — Someone might have seen something or at least heard something. Someone has to call the police. Maybe they’re the one who walked in on the dead body. Who knows?
Just like any other story, the setting is important. You want your readers to have a good sense of where they are and what’s going on, right?
Did your crime take place in a large city where crime happens multiple times a day? Or maybe a small, secluded town where the population is five and crime almost never happens there. Invite the reader to these places.
Someone, most likely the protagonist, will have to investigate the crime scene, right? Let’s assume there’s a dead body in the room… where is the body? Does it look clean? Does the scene have blood splattered everywhere? Is the place a mess (signs of a struggle) or pretty clean?
Give your readers some clues as your protagonist finds them. Give your readers a chance to investigate with your characters and possibly figure it out before them.
Most mystery plots come in the form of questions. These questions need to be answered by the end of the story or you’ll have some pretty angry readers.
Mystery plots can include:
A problem or puzzle that needs solving
Something that is difficult to explain
Secrets, the unknown
Something or someone that is missing
A crime that’s committed (robbery, murder, etc.)
As stated before, a conflict is mainly between two sides. For mystery, the sides would be the good guys trying to solve the crime and the other side would be the bad guys running and hiding so they don’t get caught. Or the bad guys have a reason for what they did, but your main character doesn’t believe in their theories.
For conflict in a mystery, you need…
1. A crime — Basically the plot of the story. Who, what, where, when, why, when, and how?
2. Clues and evidence — Help your readers solve the crime alongside your protagonist. Give them “a-ha!” moments when they find a new clue and piece it together with evidence. No one is going to get anywhere solving the crime without any clues.
3. Red-herrings — Red-herrings are distractions, false evidence, dead-ends, whatever you want to call it. No one can solve a crime perfectly on their first try. They may view a clue the wrong way. Maybe a witness led them astray, whether done on purpose or not is up to you.
Well. This one is pretty much up to you. You decide what moral lesson you want your characters to teach your readers.
Well, now that we have all the ingredients to make our mystery novel, let’s mix it all together and begin!
Pre-heat the Oven
The beginning of your mystery novel should introduce everything. The characters, the setting, the plot. Your characters should figure out there is a problem and begin to learn how to solve it.
The middle of the story will include your characters finding clues, piecing together evidence, investigating crime scenes, interrogating key witnesses, making mistakes, making breakthroughs. Finally, they’ll have their “a-ha!” moment.
Time to eat!
The ending is where everything gets wrapped up. Your investigator explains the whole crime from beginning to end making sure there are no loose ends for your reader, no more questions asked. The culprit is then taken away and everyone else can celebrate.
At that point, you should go bake yourself a cake in real life. Because that’s when the editing begins.
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.
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.
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.
I started school today. I have five classes. I have about a billion assignments to do already. But… can I really complain?
Yes and no.
I’ve been looking forward to all my classes. I’m taking Creative Writing: Fiction, Writing About Place, Selected Authors: J.K. Rowling & J.R.R. Tolkien, Learning & Behavior, and Spanish. English, psychology, and Spanish. We all know I love English and creative writing, I’ve always had an interest for psychology, and I enjoy learning Spanish (regardless of whether or not I’m good at it).
The teachers (as far as I can tell) are pretty good, as well. My Selected Authors professor is 100% a nerd, which is awesome. She’s been doing a lot of fan-girling for Harry Potter and Lord of the Rings. The professor for my Writing about Place class is nice as I’ve had her for another class. She knows her stuff. My professors for Fiction and my psych class seem to be good, as well. Spanish… I think she’s nice, but I can’t tell because everything is written is Spanish, so who knows?
All of my classes are online, so I don’t have to deal with people. That’s a plus. I’ve done the discussion boards for every class so far and my classmates seem interesting, engaged in the classes, and nice. I’m still happy I don’t have to see them in person, but if I did it wouldn’t be a bad thing. We all know how anti-social I am. I do much better over the Internet. I suppose that’s probably a bad thing, though.
Anyway, I’m listing all pros, aren’t I? Oops, I’m sorry. I forgot to mention all the homework.
To put it simply: I’m going to drown in homework this semester.
It’s a lot of reading and a lot of writing. Would you expect any less from an English degree? No, of course not. However, the weeks are always Monday-Sunday. We get our assignments on Monday, they’re due the following Sunday, and repeat for the next week. It’s Wednesday which means we have two less days. It’s always like that at the beginning of the semester, but my professors have always taken that into account. They always give us just a small icebreaker discussion board, give us a chance to get our textbooks or if we already have the book we can start reading to get ahead. They give us a quick assignment due by the end of the week, but also more assignments which are due to the following week. It’s almost as if we get two weeks for the first week… does that make sense?
Not these professors, though. They’re all treating it like a normal week saying, “Careful! We’re already two days behind, so make sure you get everything in on time.” Yeah, thanks…
My psych professor is a different story. He wants us to call this “Week 0.” He gave us a discussion board and called it a day. We’ll get into the real class starting on Monday. Needless to say, I got all my psych homework done for the week.
I only edited ten pages of Detective Florence today because of school. I hope to alternate between school and writing tomorrow and for the rest of the days to come. Do a bit of homework, edit… do a bit of homework, edit… so on and so forth.
Just wait for work to get added into the mix on Monday. That will be super fun!
Adair’s A Freak, Justin Lives Under A Rock, And Dominic Is Actually Normal…
Can we talk about my characters for a minute? I wrote half of chapter four today and I quickly realized how…interesting (for lack of a better word) my characters are.
In chapter four, Adair bothers the two boys to read a little of their stories to each other so they can see what each other has so far. I have quickly realized that all of chapter four they’re just going to be talking about Adair’s novel. Each chapter is their next meeting, which is only an hour and a half long. With the conversation they’re having about Adair’s novel, there is no way they’re going to be able to talk about all three novels in an hour and a half. Especially since when they started talking about her novel, they already only had an hour left.
In my last post I mentioned that I might plan our their novels a little bit. Well, I forgot to do that and I remembered when I was crawling into bed. So needless to say, I never planned out their books. As I wrote chapter four, I made everything up as I went along. I had Adair read her opening sentence and ask the boys what they thought about it. Well, I can tell you what I thought about it…it was crap. I read it over and over and over again and I said to myself, “Adair is completely weird.” I wondered what goes on in her mind and then I realized…Adair is me. I’m the one who wrote that sentence for her.
Justin rewrote the sentence for her, which came out a lot better, but Adair was pissed because her sentence was 41 words long and Justin’s re-write was 24 words. Then Justin was appalled because he can’t believe her biggest concern is the word count. And Dominic is just sitting there, along for the ride because he doesn’t want to get involved because he’s smart and normal.
But then Dominic and Justin both grilled her about this novel because it is the strangest thing ever. This is what we found out about the novel: Cerridwen is the main female, Zindel is the main male, the novel is in Zindel’s POV, they live in a forest, the plot of the novel is that the forest is in trouble and Cerridwen and Zindel need to save it, Victor is the bad guy, Cerridwen has the power of earth because she apparently is not human and evolved from a plant…which is why she has vines attached to her hair, and Zindel has a power, but we don’t know what it is, yet. Completely strange/ridiculous/I don’t even know what to call it, right? So Dominic and Justin are trying to make sense of this whole novel and are hoping that she changes it drastically. I’m just sad because my mind was capable of coming up with something like this.
Then throughout the whole chapter, Justin is freaking out about the names. I had Adair use obscure names because that’s just something she would do. But Dominic keeps pronouncing them wrong and Justin is just angry because Adair has names like that when she made fun of him for naming his main character John. Plus, Justin is wondering why the bad guy, Victor, has a normal name. On a random note: Justin lives under a rock. So far throughout the novel, Adair has mentioned Mario and Princess Peach, Link and Zelda, and The Sims games. He had no idea what she was talking about for all of them. He is a 27-years-old man and has never played video games…there is something wrong with that picture.
And the chapter isn’t even over, yet…
So, like I said…interesting characters, right? There certainly is never a dull moment with these guys. I have to give them some credit though because they really are fun to write.
Well, I have been on a roll writing for at least one hour every day. However, I didn’t write at all today. But I did say that I was going to try to post on here every day, so here I am. I have no news, but I am posting!
The reason as to why I didn’t write today was because I was busy with my websites. For example, Stars Vs. Gems, Gaia Ranch, and Spilled Ink. Spilled Ink is a writing website that my sister and I are working on together. We already have one up right now, but we completely re-did the whole website. So that’s why I didn’t give you the link because it’s not open yet. However, we are planning on opening it on Columbus Day…maybe sooner. I’ll explain more about the website when it opens.
Once I finished working on our websites for the day, I thought about getting some writing done, but when I looked at the time I realized that I wasn’t going to have enough time. Although, now that I think about it, I could have written a little bit. Getting a little something done is better than nothing. But oh, well. What’s done is done.
I had a very busy day today because of church. Everyone knows that I’m the co-director of the Sunday school, correct? Well, today the Bishop came for a visit. Plus the Sunday school were performing something in the middle of the service. Also, we had a luncheon for the ladies who run the Thrift Shop to say thank you for everything they do for the church. Usually, I’m at church from 9:30 to 12:00. Today, because of the Bishop’s schedule, the service was 2 to 3. But because of the thing the Sunday School did in the service, we needed to practice it. So we told everyone to come at one, which meant that I was there before one. Then after the service, we had the luncheon and, well…I was at church today from 12:45 to 6:00. It wasn’t a bad time, but I just didn’t want to be there for that amount of time as well as it being smack in the middle of the day.
Anyway, when I got home, I was starving (there wasn’t any food I liked at the luncheon) so my sister and I got Panera and we’ve been watching TV ever since. I’ve been too tired to do anything else. Although, I think I might go plan out the novel a little bit.
The Blank Page has three novels in it and I thought that I should plan those out. Not fully, but just enough so that when I have my characters writing them, they all make sense. So I may do that, but as far as actual writing goes…I’m not going to be boosting my word count tonight.
Speaking of planning out the novels, though, I found this really cool app on my iPod. It’s called “A Novel Idea.” It breaks everything down. You can click on “novels” and will ask you the title, setting, theme, tone, POV, premise, plot, and group. The group is something you make up. You can group certain things together. For example, when I plugged in The Blank Page, I put it under the Writers Group group. The other sections are “scenes,” “characters,” “locations,” and “ideas.” It’s very detailed and organized. I added The Blank Page as a novel and added Dominic, Justin, and Adair as characters. Then it allowed me to attach the novel to each character. It also allowed me to give Dominic, Adair, and Justin relations to each other. It really keeps you organized. I think I may use this to plan out the three novels that aren’t real. Then I might know enough information about them so Dominic, Justin, and Adair can write them efficiently in The Blank Page.
If you like to write and have an iPod, iPhone, iPad, or anything along those lines, then you should download this app. It’s really useful and it was free. I highly recommend it.