The Plotting Process
Posted by Nancy J. Cohen on February 6, 2012
I love it when a new story begins to come together. I’ve started to plot my next mystery, and as such, I’m in the discovery phase as I mentioned below in my discussion on the three stages of writing. This means I’m getting to know the general background, setting, and characters before sitting down to actually write the story.
Since this will be a continuation of my series, I already know the main characters and the setting. So who’s the victim? That’s the first thing I determine. Next come the suspects. Who wants this guy dead and why? I begin by making a list of possible acquaintances, relatives, or business associates close to this individual. Then I give each one a motive. Suspect A is embezzling money. Suspect B is skirting state regulations. Suspect C resented the victim for spurning her. And so on. What’s more difficult is linking these people together.
For example, the Victim discovers an irregularity and reports it to Suspect B. Suspect B advises him to notify the authorities. Instead, he tells Suspect C. Suspect C, alarmed about the implications, threatens Suspect B to keep her quiet. Meanwhile, after the Victim dies, Suspect B throws suspicion on Suspect D. This person tips off the sleuth that Suspect E could cause trouble. You get the idea?
It’s wonderful when these connections start snapping together. At this point, I begin writing my synopsis. I also have to determine the personal angle for the sleuth, because the mystery won’t take up an entire 75,000 words. We want the story to be about her life and how the crime impacts her and why she gets involved. What other difficulties is she facing at this time? How will she grow and change by the end of the book?
Research also comes into play at this stage. I have to ask my police source about the crime scene and I have to look up info on the “irregularity” the Vic discovers and where that can lead my sleuth. Maybe I’ll send her to a location I haven’t visited before, so I’ll have to figure out how to work that into the plot.
The discovery process can take weeks or even months. I don’t like to hurry it. Once the fragments start to brew in my subconscious, it’s like a stew that has to simmer so the ingredients can blend together. Ideas will bubble to the surface and I’ll jot them down. I’ll delve deeper into my characters, determining who they are and cutting out photos from magazines to suit them. Eventually, I’ll have a cohesive whole and a completed synopsis. Then I can begin writing.