1. RightWrite

    RightWrite Active Member

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    Is the traditional scene structure compatible with mystery novels?

    Discussion in 'Plot Development' started by RightWrite, Sep 15, 2019.

    As you know, scenes consist of a goal, conflict, and disaster. It is generally recommended that scenes be filled with action followed by a sequel followed by more action scenes and so forth. So each scene ends in disaster, then in the sequel, the POV character chooses a course of action for the next scene and again encounters a disaster. This type of flow with successive disasters doesn't fit well with mystery novels in the opinion. In a mystery novel, the detective normally finds and analyzes clues and suspects in putting together a puzzle. You can't have disaster all the time. It's more of an intellectual game the detective plays with the antagonist and suspects.

    Furthermore, the basic plot structure or narrative arc of a mystery novel is first exposition, then rising, middle, climax and resolution. To illustrate my point of why the traditional scene structure won't agree well with mystery novels, consider the author's task of introducing the characters and setting in the exposition. There can't be much conflict all the time in this phase of the plot.

    So do you think the traditional Scene structure of novels (made up of MRUs [Motivation-Reaction-Units]) is compatible with mystery novels or not?
     
    Last edited: Sep 21, 2019
  2. Cave Troll

    Cave Troll It's Coffee O'clock everywhere. Contributor

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    I'm going to assume MRU (Most Recently Used), cause there are 36 things that use those initials.

    Using that metric (MRU), it might be useful to you to read the most modern
    Mystery novels that also have sequels (probably going to be a series or standalone,
    and extremely rare that you will find a trilogy in the genre, though IDK for sure).
    That way you get a better idea of how the plot moves and the beats for each
    part of the story are executed.
    Good luck. :)
     
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  3. RightWrite

    RightWrite Active Member

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    I was referring to MRU as the "Motivation Reaction Unit" as originally propounded by Swain Dwight, but thanks for your reading suggestion. :)
     
    Last edited: Sep 15, 2019
  4. Rence

    Rence Member

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    I'm writing a detective mystery novel and I completely agree with you, sometimes it's hard to identify with this structure.

    Part of the problem I have found is the word disaster is too leading. If you use set back instead, its easier to see the pattern. So your detective might have a goal to find a suspect, the conflict could come in finding them and then the setback could be they are dead/missing or whatever.
     
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  5. LazyBear

    LazyBear Banned

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    To an extent, it makes the main character more interesting by showing the life outside of mysteries using normal arcs. It's what I like about Dexter and Gosick. Not just a drunk police sitting in his empty appartment as a filler.
     
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  6. deadrats

    deadrats Contributor Contributor

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    I'm not sure this MRU approach is so standard. It's not something I've looked into or come across. And as an avid reader, I wouldn't label this structure as traditional. I don't think this formula would really work in a lot of stories. The novel I'm working on is a mystery and I'm certainly not doing anything like that.

    I've tried to think about this formula, but it sounds more like advice to beginners than something that actually works in storytelling and good writing. Personally, I would forget all about that. It seems like it would get repetitive and predicable, which could easily lead to boring. A disaster in every scene is only going to dilute the actual disaster(s) in the story.
     
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  7. Homer Potvin

    Homer Potvin A tombstone hand and a graveyard mind Staff Supporter Contributor

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    Haven't we had like three MRU threads go up in flames in the past?
     
  8. RightWrite

    RightWrite Active Member

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    I agree. I like how you mapped the Goal/Conflict/Disaster structure to the mystery novel, but your example is structuring the overarching/macroscopic structure of the whole novel. I don't think you can apply this same structure at a microscopic level to EVERY scene of the mystery novel. This is just an observation. I'm not disputing your point. To add to what I said in the original post, I don't think it's advisable to have break neck action (fist fights and car chases) in every scene or have them in your mystery novel at all. By the way, I'm also writing a mystery novel/novella. What type of plot structure are you using? Are you using something like Freytag's Pyramid and do you still use the goal/conflict/disaster (set back) structure in the scenes of your mystery novel?

    Agreed, but may I ask what type of plot structure you are using in your mystery novel?
     
    Last edited: Sep 22, 2019
  9. Malisky

    Malisky Malkatorean Contributor

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    Depends on what kind of crime mystery you are writing. I've read some notes or two upon writing a story such as this and it didn't have an all-time, classic structure, because the genre is way too stretched out and it also falls under many subcategories. For example, are you writing a serial killer mystery following the detective as the protagonist or a mafia thriller mystery following the assassin? Does the story have an underlying message for the MC that has been torturing him/her most of his life or is he a rookie? What does he/she want to achieve and why? What are the stakes? They have to blend in somehow to his daily life. See? It really depends on who the MC is and which viewpoint you personally are interested to examine in the story. Structures are loose guides. They have been noted down by people that examined many novels or films and found a pattern in their structure, but in a general sense. There's "Seven" which is a film and then there's "The Killing" which is a serie. How long do you foresee your novel will last?

    The structure you mentioned indeed exists in these stories. I believe they exist in every story, but in what pacing and what's the measure? In a crime story, what is considered to be a "disaster"? What is the drama about? That's what concerns me. Anyhow, I don't follow a specific structure, meaning "do it like he/she did it". That's part of my personal inspiration but of course there is a structure in everything, if that's what you mean and it's good to read books that analyse it. Gives you a wider perspective. I can't provide you with a specific book suggestion, because I've never read one from start to finish or iterated one, but I'd suggest you picked your favorite crime books and films and really pay attention to them in order to break down yourself what it is about them that inspired you so much and why.

    Have fun writing your story!
     
  10. Rence

    Rence Member

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    I actually heard the same theory but phrased differently on a podcast called the story grid podcast, I'd recommend you check it out if you have time. It's essentially a seasoned editor helping a new writer to write a story that works.

    He states that every scene must meet the five commandments of storytelling,
    1. Inciting Incident
      1. Causal
      2. Coincidence
    2. Progressive Complication
      1. Active Turning Point
      2. Revelatory Turning Point
    3. Crisis
      1. The Best Bad Choice
      2. Irreconcilable Goods
    4. Climax
    5. Resolution
    And also every scene should have a positive/negative value shift. It's really hard to see this in practice and even harder when trying to write! But that's what he says.

    I guess I'm just following a standard 3 act structure in my story, how about you?
     
  11. deadrats

    deadrats Contributor Contributor

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    I did say it sounded like writing advice aimed at beginners. Writing shouldn't be so paint by numbers, in my opinion.
     
  12. Rence

    Rence Member

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    It is probably intended beginners (like me :)), but could be useful for anyone if they write a scene that's flat and seems like its missing something.
     
  13. big soft moose

    big soft moose An Admoostrator Staff Supporter Contributor Community Volunteer

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    yes we have ... although most of the protagonists of the last punch up are spending more time in their gardens so we'll hopefully avoid that this time round.

    the all seeing eye is watching
     
  14. big soft moose

    big soft moose An Admoostrator Staff Supporter Contributor Community Volunteer

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    On point I'd say that the Story grid is far too restrictive ... generally when i write stiff happens, then some more stuff, then even more stuff, then in the finale some stuff, and then the loose ends of stuff are tied up .... then three or four rounds of editting tidy the stuff up into a workable story
     
  15. RightWrite

    RightWrite Active Member

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    These are excellent points. I'm actually writing a hybrid between a cozy and private investigator mystery, although I might end up just featuring an amateur detective in a cozy mystery. I anticipate the story to be the length of a novella, although it might turn out to be a novel. As a beginner, I don't think I have enough experience to pull off a novel length story, at least not at this stage.

    I couldn't agree more. The terms disaster and conflict must be applied to the mystery story in a different vein as it primarily features an intellectual game between the reader/detective and detective/villain. The reader is out to solve a puzzle and beat the detective to it, not to be interrupted continuously with physical action. By the way, I totally agree with you that these types of story structures fence in and place limitations on the limitless creative possibilities that authors normally have.

    I recently read "Writing and Selling Your Mystery Novel" by established mystery author Hallie Ephron and she recommends that each scene from the very beginning gradually build up tension, conflicts, and disasters such that at the climax the MC experiences the greatest threat to his investigative progress. To me it just does not fit well with the traditional mystery novel. Yes, putting your detective though perils at every turn maybe appealing to a select group of mystery readers now a days, but I don't think it should be adopted by all authors. And this observation is in line with what you said about different mystery sub genres requiring different story structures.

    Thanks. I'll check it out.

    I'm following a slightly modified version of Freytag's Pyramid plot structure. It includes an exposition (character introductions and crime happens), rising (when the detective is called in to investigate), middle (when the detective investigates the crime), climax (the aha moment when the detective discovers the culprit), and resolution (when all the loose ends are tied up and the culprit is dragged off to jail).

    I totally agree.
     
    Last edited: Sep 23, 2019
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