Every mystery is filled with the usual suspects to keep the reader guessing "whodunit" until the end. Have at least four characters in your novel who have possible motives to commit the crime. They will be hiding secrets, lying to your protagonist, and acting suspiciously throughout the book; they each may have a reason to want the victim dead. But only one is lying about being the killer. Your job as the author is to trick the reader into believing right up until the final disclosure--that any one of those suspects could be guilty.
PLOTTING A MYSTERY, PART TWO: PLANTING CLUES AND RED HERRINGS
There are several techniques to use for dropping clues and hiding secrets. You can divert attention from a clue with an action or a joke; you can drop clues in dreams; you can hide clues in lists of interesting things; or you can use dialogue for misdirection.
- Distract the reader withaction. J.K. Rowling does this at the beginning ofHarry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkabanwith Scabbers the rat; he's mentioned as being old and missing a toe and the shopkeeper notes that an ordinary rat shouldn't live more than three years.
How does a mystery writer go about planting clues and red herrings, fill the book with the usual suspects and the right amount of foreshadowing, enough conflict and suspense to keep the reader guessing whodunit, with a twist at the end? Follow along on the series of blogs, coming up in the next several weeks, to see what worked for me.
This week's blog is titled "Outline or Not, but Have a Plan."
Whether you're a plotter or a "pantser," when writing a mystery you can't leave
ARE YOU A PLOTTER OR A PANTSER?
What does that mean? To a writer, it describes how you go
about your writing process.
A “plotter” means that the writer starts by making an
outline before the first sentence of the novel is written. She knows how the
story starts, where it’s going and she knows the ending. She knows every
character, what they’re going to do, where they’re going and when. Sure, once
and a while she might change her mind and stray from her outline—she’s not inflexible,
after all—but there will still be a revised outline and a clear ending in mind.
Call it flow, pacing, or
movement—your scenes, chapters, paragraphs, and sentences should be varied in
length and technique. As a musician, I prefer to call it rhythm.
Short, choppy sentences and
fragments add tension to a scene. In real life, sentences tend to grow shorter
as we become more upset. We speak in fragments, sometimes uttering single words
at a time. Especially when used in dialogue, this can add a sense of reality to
THE POWER OF PROOFREADING
Never underestimate the importance of the time you spend on proofreading
your work. It’s the final, and most crucial, step in the writing process. Face
it, we’ve all fallen victim to the occasional typo, misspelling, and grammar or
punctuation errors that might even change the meaning of your text.
Time, or more accurately, the lack of time, is the main reason
proofreading tasks are ignored. But if you take the time to proofread
carefully, you show your reader that you care enough about them to pay
attention to details.