1. Flamenco1

    Flamenco1 Member

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    First shot at a crime mystery.

    Discussion in 'Plot Development' started by Flamenco1, Dec 7, 2020.

    Just looking for a few thoughts on plot creation. I’m just starting out and while I’ve found creating my characters and locations straightforward (possibly because I’ve based them on real people and locations I know well), the plot is causing me problems.

    I’m writing a crime mystery, but it is the characters and their interactions that are most important. I guess what I mean by that is the crime is not overly complex and is a framework upon which my characters develop and interact. I hope for the reader that there is some “Who done it” but that is secondary to them caring about some of the main characters (and the predicaments they face).

    My first general thoughts on plot development were that the mystery is created by what the reader and/or characters do not know. So, I thought I’d map something out and then expose the overall situation bit by bit to certain characters, and thus the reader.

    A rough overview.

    · There is an intermediary (link) in an A-class drug delivery chain.
    · A delivery goes missing.
    · Only two people know the intermediary. Both are killed.
    · Three parties: main character who sees himself as a Sherlock Holmes, the local police, and the gang who distribute, are keen to find the intermediary, the murderer and the drugs.
    · Each of the three parties are motivated for different reasons. And each has very different methods.
    · One party does not solve all three objectives.

    There’s a bit more to it but that is the drift.

    If anyone has any thoughts and/or warnings on this approach I’d welcome your input.

    I’d be interested in feedback on:
    • Is mapping out the characters and locations in detail before getting to grips with the plot a bad idea?
    • Would you flush the plot out in detail (say 5000 to 8000 words) or get down to writing? [To be fair I've already written a few scenes and can see they will now need rewrites due to plot changes. However I don't mind that. I learnt a lot from doing so].
    • I saw this first attempt as a short story but can see that I cannot do the plot justice in what I typically think of as a short story. Is it ok to just write with no real thought on book length, allowing the plot to resolve itself naturally?
    Tx
     
    Last edited: Dec 7, 2020
  2. Xoic

    Xoic Prognosticator of Arcana Ridiculosum Contributor

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    That can be a good way to start, but in a story the characters have to serve very specific purposes. The story is a conflict, and the characters must each be clearly defined in how they relate to that conflict.

    I sometimes use the analogy of a story being an engine. In order for it to work the characters are the pistons, and the conflict the explosions that are converted into forward momentum. Lol, it's far from a perfect metaphor, but it gets the idea across.

    Each character should have a goal in relation to the conflict of the story, and also fears and hopes. Their goal is what they want to or need to accomplish. Their fears are what will happen to that character if they don't reach their goal, if it's thwarted by another character. And their hopes are what will happen to them if they do accomplish their goal.

    When approached this way you're relating the characters directly to the central conflict that is the story. Otherwise you can end up with a neat story that won't get out of the driveway so to speak, that fails to move or to move the readers.

    You should be very clear about specifically what a character knows, what a reader knows, what one knows but not the other, or what they both know. It's very important in mystery. You may already have seen this, but here's Hitchcock on what creates suspense:

    (This may be exactly what you meant—I wasn't able to tell, sorry.)
    I'll answer both of these at once. Don't worry about it, since you're as you say a beginner. On working up a plot versus just writing, either is fine. Try both. You'll be revising and re-writing so many times there's plenty of room to try both, plus a few variations.

    And I wouldn't worry about story length either at this point. Just write. It'll be a while (a long while) before you're getting stories accepted for publication. Before that even comes over the horizon for you, you've got a lot of writing, plotting, editing, and revising to do. Many thousands if not millions of words' worth. Take that first step, and the next, and the next, and eventually you'll wrap your first story. It will be unpublishable. Your second will as well, and your tenth. Maybe your 20th will be getting there. But the important thing is to develop yourself as a writer along the way, which is done through a lot of writing.
     
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  3. Flamenco1

    Flamenco1 Member

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    Xoic that is what I needed to know. Many thanks. I've built relationships between the characters but I haven't got them to "serve a purpose" related to the plot. Well maybe I have in part, but I haven't documented it (mapped it out), so that I can use it to hold everything together.

    I will gladly get down to writing as you suggest, but only when I get the character purposes clear in my head.

    As for Hitchcock ----- a genius. If I cannot learn from him then I must have already given up.

    Cheers for your detailed, relevant and prompt response.
     
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  4. DriedPen

    DriedPen Member

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    I realize you may not be writing this genre, but by reading some Romance-Thrillers you might get a better idea of the kind of plot you are looking for. Like anything that has dual purposes, a romance-thriller kind of describes what you are looking for plot wise because it waters down a true steamy romance novel by having a serious who-dun-it-plot in it, but also waters down the who-dun-it-plot by having a bit of romance in it. Maybe by reading some of these, you can get a better idea on how those writers have a bit more subdued who-dun-it-plot???

    Myself, I try and get the main story down as quick as I can, not really worrying about length quite yet. I also write the parts of the book that I already have thought of in my mind. So I jump around a lot. My latest novel, I started out writing the second chapter, jumped to the last chapter, added several chapters in the middle, BEFORE writing the first chapter. By that time, I nailed the first chapter because it practically wrote itself.

    My current novel has a rough draft with 3/4 written, with the beginning, end and build up chapters written, but not the part where the hero saves the day. I'll get the rest written, and then that part of the book will write itself because all the clues will have been given at that point.

    Most of the time I can think of character conversations first, so I just write those out. When I am cranking out a conversation, and need the characters to walk somewhere, or describe what they are wearing, etc, I just use the Navigation Pane of Microsoft word and type in: Describe Girlfriends Dress, highlight it, and make it a title 3. Then I keep going with my conversation without having to stop and think of those details. Later, as I look at my novel by chapter in the navigation pane, all those details that I skipped over are right there for me to see, and I can go back and fill in those specific details.

    After the st0ry is written, then I will go back and adjust the plot to be more ideal. As I think of improvements, I inject them where needed. This makes my novel kind of choppy, so when all the elements are to my liking, I go back and read/edit what I have from start to finish, adding in the segues. This helps makes my book flow seamlessly with the least amount of time spent on it.
     
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  5. Flamenco1

    Flamenco1 Member

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    DriedPen that is good to here. I was thinking maybe I was missing a trick by jumping around too much. I for sure had trouble early on not writing scenes involving 2 or 3 of my characters. Bringing them to life is the fun part for me. I like the idea of writing the end at an early stage.

    But you've included a lot of thoughts that I have read now but more importantly can revisit as I progress. Thanks very much.

    As for reading I not only did that but also did some Beta reading. I did three beta reads recently for an author resident on this forum. That I found was a very informative process. Especially as I could interact with the author and understand why he had, or had not, done certain things. What he found easy, what he found hard. I actually think I gained more from the process than he did.

    Well with input from you and Zoic I have that final boost in confidence and will push on from here. Cheers
     
  6. Xoic

    Xoic Prognosticator of Arcana Ridiculosum Contributor

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    Here's a video that goes into much more detail about it:

    And I truly believe the secret to becoming an excellent writer is learning to use hand gestures the way the woman in the video does. Seriously, work on it... :supergrin: :supercool: I'm improving every day, but I sprained a wrist and jammed 2 fingers yesterday, need some recovery time and then a little physical therapy before I can get back in the game.

    Here's a little more on the topic:

    The real takeaway here is that hand gestures alone aren't enough—to hit the advanced levels requires some serious head maneuvering as well. I'm getting myself a neck brace and ice packs in preparation.
     
    Last edited: Dec 8, 2020
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  7. Flamenco1

    Flamenco1 Member

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    Xoic I’ll reserve my hand movements for my Flamenco :D

    OK I get this ‘purpose/goal/objective’ thing -------- I think. Below are the four main character related threads, which have objectives, as I see them.

    Questions: Is four too many? Can the reader buy into that many? Should some take greater priority than others?

    At the moment my story ends with pretty much all four concluding together at the end.

    Four purposes/objectives:

    Sherlock Holmes reborn. Jim sees himself as an amateur sleuth. At 19 he waits his A-level results; few doubt that he will get into the Police Academy. And from there he can fulfil his boyhood ambition to be a detective. But has this opportunity come too soon? Is life as Arthur Canon Doyle portrays it real? Will his over confidence be tested? Could it even put his future in doubt?

    [Jim does get into trouble “withholding evidence” but survives and gets to the Police Academy. He learns that real detectives have to work hard to solve crimes, that clues are not scattered on the ground, and logic can mislead.]

    A final chance. Local country/village Mr Plod is 18 months from retirement. Not the brightest but he knows he could have done more. He knows that once retired he will be forgotten. He will disappear without trace. But is this a final chance? A dead body on his beat and CID don’t care. To them a dead drug dealer is one less drug dealer. Could this be Mr Plod’s last chance to show his worth. He knows there is more going on locally and he is the man to solve the mystery.

    [PC Plod will have his final moment of fame but largely because Jim feeds him what he requires. A generous and human side of Jim is displayed.]

    Solving economic problems. Mortgage payments, two kids to get through university, and a father who will soon need to be in a nursing home. A council administrator sees an opportunity but quickly is out of his depth. Could he even be a murderer? And how is his father involved?

    [Both well intentioned, a father and son become criminals. The son’s family are at risk. To cut a long story short the father dies and takes the wrap.]

    Would it be a mismatch? Jessie is a local village girl. She has had a restricted education. Her family have few expectations for themselves or her. She’s a barmaid who has led a very sheltered life. But unknown to most she is an ardent reader. She seeks knowledge. There is another Jessie inside waiting to blossom. But does she have time to capture Jim’s heart before he is swallowed up by a bigger far-away world? He is educated, worldly from her perspective, and sophisticated. There are almost 4 months before he leaves.

    [Jessie proves to be Jim’s Doctor Watson and thus gets very very close to him. She tries to persuade herself that she will settle for those few weeks together and she should be grateful for that. But there is hope.]


    On building tension I have a few ideas but I notice tension in novels seems to come in many forms and levels. There are those where the whole book offers a mounting tension (e.g. the end of the world asteroid saga). In others there are many localised tensions, but the overall story tension amounts to little more than wanting to find out what happens.


    I’m not clear on quite how I want to play this. But I guess that is all part of the fun. Maybe I’ll just have to go with trial and error.
     
  8. Xoic

    Xoic Prognosticator of Arcana Ridiculosum Contributor

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    My immediate thoughts, and keep in mind, I'm not well versed in writing in general or especially in Mystery:

    It seems to me their goals should be directly tied in with the solving of the crime itself, as well as life in general. The crime, the mystery, the thing that brings these otherwise unrelated people together, is the core of this story. It becomes a microcosm of life for each of them, the crisis point where their lives either take a really good turn or a really bad one, and it's irrevocable.

    And it sounds like you're already leaning in this direction, but I would add that Jim is made to forcibly realize that if he does become a police detective then he can't solve crimes in the freewheeling and self-directed way Holmes would, but must follow strict procedure, become a part of the big machine that allows no individuality, but forces everyone to the code. Really this is already implicit in what you said, I just think it could be tightened up a bit and related directly to this particular incident and how it will affect his hoped-for future since it brings him probably for the first time in direct contact with the police and is probably the first time he really gets to use his sleuthing skills on a real case.

    I would ponder on these things a bit more—what would happen to Jim if he fails to solve this case, in the larger picture of his hoped-for future? And how would it even affect his relationship with his female Watson? Do the same for her. What's her stake in this particular case, which can be seen as a huge stepping stone for both of their lives if he succeeds, or might tear them apart if he fails (and maybe ends up in jail and disgraced, wit h no possibility of ever working in the Police Department afterwards?)

    Mr. Plod probably needs some beefing up of his stakes as well. Or maybe a better way to think of it is, don't just settle for what you've already come up with, look at it as a first stab at it and keep messing around with shuffling these characters around, fit them together in different ways and see if you can really sharpen up the conflict.

    What happens to Mr. Plod if Jim solves the case, or if he fails to?

    I seem to be assuming Jim is the main character, and I must say that's the way it feels to me from what you wrote here.

    Oh, you should also understand, you can shift the POV (point of view) from one character to another but still have one who is the main character. Holmes was always the main character even though his stories were told through the POV of his less talented assistant Watson.

    Personally I would also recommend you watch a few episodes of a show called House (originally called House MD). Gregory House is a modern-day Holmes, but he solves medical cases nobody else can. He has an incredible intellect, but like Holmes is crotchety and misanthropic. His only friend is Dr. Wilson (his Watson) who is good-natured and friendly to a fault, the exact opposite of House (House/Homes, get it?)

    House believes everybody lies and takes advantage of each other, in fact he states this specifically many times, while Wilson believes people are generally good at heart and you should trust them. This leads to a lot of tension between them, House is basically just short of abusive toward everybody he knows and tests them all manipulatively. This creates a really strong setup for what I consider one of the best shows I've seen.
     
    Last edited: Dec 9, 2020
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  9. Flamenco1

    Flamenco1 Member

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    Tx again Xoic. Taking everything onboard I think I'm going to map it out from scratch. Many of the things you offer lead me to believe I have the right ingredients but not the right priorities.

    Yes, I can see that I have let the crime drift and lose focus. However as you suggest it should be the glue.

    Actually Jim, Jessie and PC Plod have lived in the village all their lives. Not connected in a strong way but familiar with one another. The difference is that now Jim and Jessie are sexually aware and looking to escape the limitations of the village. I guess PC Plod has the same typeof motivation, but needs a high beforehand. So they are all I guess at a crossroad. I take your point I need to bring that out.

    Spot on.

    I will. I'd missed that type of thinking. Looking at the alternative route.

    Yup. I need to work on that more, especially for PC Plod. I'd had thought of his grandchildren being bullied and this being a motivating factor for him. He needs to be respected by them. Just a thought to date

    Yes correct. I have written small pieces about his early years and how WW2 led him and his widowed mum to the village in Scotland. And another set of scenes where he is a uniformed sargeant in Keswick aged 48. And another where he is 24 and makes another major error which explains why he is in uniform at 48. So this current event directly relates. But as you say I can use the POV of Jessie as a great tool. After all Watson is often portrayed as the narrator in Sherlock Holmes stories.

    I've also tried writing small scenes from the POV of his Irish Wolf Hound 'Holmes' and his terrier 'Watson' but early days with that.

    Ha ha

    Yup. I've watched a few very recently. For sure I have a few conflicts of character to work with.

    I was going to make a big thing of the father and son who turn criminal but I think I'll try to avoid that. That will allow me to focus on the three main protaganists.

    Well I'll post here. But in all seriousness your thoughts have been very helpful and stimulated my thinking, so a big thanks for that.:D
     
    Last edited: Dec 9, 2020
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  10. Xoic

    Xoic Prognosticator of Arcana Ridiculosum Contributor

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    I'm glad, but at the same time nervous, because as I suggested above, I'm far from a published writer or highly experienced. I sort of hoped a few other people would step in to point out the mistakes I'm making... o_O
     
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  11. Flamenco1

    Flamenco1 Member

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    I can see the advantage of listening to authors but at the end of the day it is readers that matter (and I'm sure you've read plenty of books ;) If you haven't would be great to know why you are here??? :meh:).

    Please don't be nervous. I'm more than capable of assessing ideas and opinions, and making my own decisions. But sometimes I just need for a door to be identified (being new to this stuff). I'll decide if I want to walk through it.

    Who knows maybe it is how you see situations? Maybe you have a great future as a marriage guidance councillor. :D:D:D
     
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  12. Xoic

    Xoic Prognosticator of Arcana Ridiculosum Contributor

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    Lol, oh, I've written quite a bit (and yes, read a lot). Just nothing at a professional level. I've been writing stories since I was 9 years old (possibly earlier, I can't remember—and I'm coming up on 60 in a few years). But only at an amateur level, and I didn't really understand about story structure or this kind of character stuff until more recently. So I'm giving advice I've read about and seen videos about, tried to use here and there, but when I write I tend to fly by the seat of my pants, and even when I outline first I have so far failed to include this kind of structure. :supermad:

    Also, I almost asked about the setting. It was becoming clear it's not set in a modern city, as I assumed at first. So I guess the police wouldn't be as procedure-bound as today's police are, but still it would be much different from the kind of individualistic detective work he had probably dreamed of doing. He could even find himself the prime suspect, or arrested for impeding an investigation or something.
     
    Last edited: Dec 9, 2020
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  13. Flamenco1

    Flamenco1 Member

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    1959 West coast of Scotland, 9 miles south of Ayr. The village is called Runore which is based on real life Dunure.
     
  14. Lifeline

    Lifeline South. Staff Contributor

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    Depends on your writing process. I know this advise is not super-useful, but every writer is an individual and what works for me doesn't necessarily work for you. I'm a pantser at heart (which means the story unfolds while I'm writing), but every now and then and more often lately, I need to outline. I need one when the events are so complex that I doubt my own ability to hold all of my story in my head during writing a particular short story/chapter. Pantsing only works for me when I can trust my subconscious to know all ties the current story has to all prior as well as later short stories (they are all interconnected, y'see). Only then, when my subconscious knows what's gonna happen and what happend in the past, can I trust that writing without outline will not end in obscurity and a tangle of threads without aim.

    A story needs a goal. It needs stakes, and my own take is that every character that crops up (yes, even secondary ones!) has a life to live and their own goals. Every one of those can impact the main character's life, as well as hinder or advance him trying to reach for his own goal. That's complexity. If you include maybe the opening of a factory around the corner where your MC is just starting up his small bakery for which he's taken up a big loan... and then the law changes because the company has been angling for it, making it easier for them to run their factory but more difficult for your MC to meet hygenic requirements... You can make your story as far-reaching as you want. But then you need to take care of all angles you open up, maybe even foreshadow them in earlier chapters to let the reader know gently that things will not be as easy as they seem. For that, an outline is helpful.

    You said it yourself: Rewriting when something that you've written doesn't make sense in later chapters/short stories, is a pain in the ass. But you learn a lot from scratching and starting over again. Words are not numbered, and writing is an ability that improves the more you use it. The more you write, the more proficient you'll get. I've always taken the long view, and, even though I don't relish rewriting shorts again and again, I do see how it helps.


    Again, depends on yourself. Some writers are real good keeping their mind on the goal. If you are one of those, write away to your heart's content. But the big difficulty for most is to just write and write and write and find yourself in a tangle of thread, or a monster of a work of > 200k which will be difficult to sell, or require a complete rewrite to cut away all the clutter.

    Who says you're making mistakes? :D
     
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  15. Xoic

    Xoic Prognosticator of Arcana Ridiculosum Contributor

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    Ran across this in my YT feed today and wanted to post it here. Can't believe I forgot to mention the Character Web! He doesn't call it that in this video (so far, I haven't seen the whole thing yet) but that's what I know this concept as. You compare and contrast the characters against each other in terms of how each one relates to the main conflict and just to each others' character traits.


    It's also important to think about the character arc for the MC. Luke begins innocent naive and idealistic, but he's growing toward being a savvy, experienced and unshockable Jedi with full mastery of himself, very different from his humble beginning.
     
  16. Xoic

    Xoic Prognosticator of Arcana Ridiculosum Contributor

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    And another lesson in the fine art of advanced hand gestures:

    ... in 2 parts:

    This really gets to the heart of creating a great main character and a great story at the same time.
     
    Last edited: Dec 11, 2020
  17. John Hub

    John Hub New Member

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  18. Flamenco1

    Flamenco1 Member

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    Just thought I’d post a quick update. I’ve taken onboard a lot that was offered here – so many thanks to all.

    After identifying goals, and what might be at stake for all the main characters, I got down to writing some serious scenes. I’ve written about 20. Six look good. Four are in the “Odds and s**s” folder, from which they may be resurrected. And the rest have gone in the grey bin.

    I have a scene where Jim and Jess go to the cinema to see “Vertigo” (which fits with 1959). They play a ‘spot the Hitchcock cameo’ game. At the end Jess grabs Jim's hand as the angel of death appears and Kim Novak plummets to her death. Their first physical contact. So thanks Xoic for introducing Hitchcock to the thread.

    It’s all working out quite well. The characters now interact with the crime resolution much more. The only thing that on the one hand pleases me, and on the other hand worries me is that Jess (Dr Watson) has become the most interesting character. She has one goal and four possible outcomes. Outcomes that will impact the rest of her life. I have my work cut out on Jim (Sherlock Holmes) to give the reader a reason to care.

    But my enthusiasm is high now I know a little more of what I’m trying to achieve. :)

    So before I get back to writing I’ll wish you all a very happy new year .
     

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