Guest Post: Plotting a Mystery

Guest post

Hello everyone! Today is a very special day because Danika Stone author of Edge of Wild (May 2016) and All the Feels (June 2016) is featuring a guest post for the Sunday Street Team on my blog! Without further ado the guest post!

Guest Post: Plotting a Mystery

There are many ways to plot a book. For some authors, the process is like gardening: Plant the seeds of an idea, tend them, and see what grows. For others, it’s architecture: Create a structure and assemble the plot by following that plan. I’m probably a little of both, but when it came to writing my mystery / thriller Edge of Wild (Stonehouse, 2016), I found I needed far more of a plan than I’d expected. Looking back, these are some key elements which kept my plot rolling.

1.Start with the End in Mind: Edge of Wild is a small town mystery about an outsider who finds himself in the crosshairs of a killer. Having this main idea from the get-go let my inner ‘gardener’ write what she wanted while maintaining an overall plan. A few unexpected scenes appeared as I wrote, but having this general idea kept them on topic.

2. Lay Out a Plot Plan: In my den, I have a wall dedicated to whatever novel I’m currently working on. I write a one-sentence summary of each scene on a sticky note, color-coding by which character it focuses on. I then lay these scenes out in columns by chapter. These scenes can (and do!) move around while I’m writing, but being able to see them in motion – color by color – lets me get the bigger picture of whose story is being told.
With mysteries, it’s important to keep your readers guessing. Moving character-scenes lets you do that.

3. Get An Outside Point-Of-View (or MANY): When the first draft of Edge of Wild was finished, I sent it off to beta-readers. Their insights allowed me to do my first round of edits (and they were massive!) With this done, my agent took a look, offering his ideas for polishing. (Round 2 was slightly easier.) Then the book headed off to a professional editor.
In my case, this was Dinah Forbes, one-time executive editor from McClelland & Stewart. She took Edge of Wild to the next level. Her complex, scene-by-scene analysis broke the plot down like a mathematical formula, pointing out issues with pace and plotting, and suggesting ways of tightening the mystery. Her notes were both terrifying and satisfying to read. If someone with a background as strong as Ms. Forbes says your book is ready to sell, it is!

4. Rewrite, Rewrite, and Rewrite Again: Every book benefits from revisions, but if you’re writing a mystery / thriller, edits are the difference between success and failure. (ie: See everything I said in the last paragraph.)

5. Let Your Characters Have One Out-Of-Character Moment: The last hint came to me as I was deep in the throes of revisions, and that is the question of how you throw enough shade on everyone in your story to leave them open to being the potential villain. It’s actually incredibly easy, and works beautifully in the realm of building believable, flawed personas for all the characters in your book.
You let them have flaws.
And every once in a while, you (sparingly) allow them to do something ever-so-slightly ‘off’. Why? Because your readers are smart, and they’ll be watching for it. You want them to wonder, and there’s no better way to do that then leave everyone as a possible suspect.
In the end, you’ll be able to judge your success by your reader’s reactions.

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I’d say that’s pretty fair evidence that Edge of Wild’s plot works.

It was lovely having Danika on my blog! Be sure to check out my review for Edge of Wild tomorrow!

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4 thoughts on “Guest Post: Plotting a Mystery

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