HOW TO PLOT OUT A MURDER MYSTERY
I write in different genres including YA fantasy/paranormal but I also write murder mysteries. In fact one of my first novels published is WITCH HUNTER about a 15 year old girl who tries to figure out who is murdering the people of Salem, Massachusetts. My current book (not YA) is, IF IT’S TUESDAY, IT MUST BE TROUBLE, a Mel Thompson, P.I. case. The first Mel Thompson book is, IF IT’S MONDAY, IT MUST BE MURDER both published by Gypsy Shadow Publishing. Usually I write from the seat of my pants (a pantser) but with mysteries you have to plot. I usually get the basic story line down then go back over and over it again and again to make sure it makes sense and to make sure the timeline/murder works.
Here’s a basic way to outline your own murder mystery.
1. The storyline comes first. Think of who is going to be killed and why. This is one of the most important pieces. I mean, why this murder, why now? Usually people will kill for various reasons but mainly for greed, passion, or revenge (these are what I’ve come up with after reading hundreds of mysteries over the years---no I won’t tell you how many years.) So, you have to decide what the reason is and what the killer has to gain because the killer must gain something whether it’s satisfaction or a better job or the love of their life or whatever. This is important. No one kills unless there is a reason, it has to make sense to your readers even if the reason is, “I wanted his shoes.”
2. After you have determined who the killer is and why they are killing this person, you have to determine the means of killing. Men tend to use guns or blunt force, women tend to use poison or something less messy but not always. Make sure you research your method so if there is a reader out there who is an expert on medieval poisons or whatever they won’t yell at you (virtually, of course).
3. Next you have to determine who is going to look like he or she is the killer but is not the actual killer. These are called red herrings. A red herring occurs when a fish such as a herring is brined and smoked making the flesh turn red and is often time attributed to the practice of using fish to throw off the scent of dogs when they are fox hunting (although this is not believed to be true). You must set up clues that make the reader think they know who the killer is but by the time they get to the end of the book they realize they were wrong (we hope).
4. Once you have your killer, the reason, the means and the red herrings, take a look at your main character, the sleuth in question. Some authors might do this differently, they might choose the sleuth first then the killer etc. but I do it by choosing the killer first. Once your sleuth is in place you need to determine if they are a cop, a wanna-be cop, a private investigator or an amateur who is invested in figuring out the murder. If you choose an amateur he or she must have access to police procedures. I made my main character a former cop, now a P.I. with a cop boyfriend who has access to police procedures. She’s also best friends with a Medical Examiner.
5. Your setting is important too. For the first book I chose the town the main character lives in and made up a small town USA setting in Illinois. I wanted it to be in the Midwest and so picked a small town (I made up the name) near Chicago. For this book I chose to set it part of it in the small town and part of it in Chicago at a fashion house. My main character knows nothing about fashion so it’s foreign territory for her. I had to write it from her lack of knowledge about the fashion industry.
6. So, okay, you have the killer, the murder victim, the means of murder, the sleuth, the red herrings and the setting. What’s next? The solving of the crime comes next. This is where it gets tricky. Again, don’t be too obvious but leave little clues, this is called foreshadowning, leave these clues throughout the story but make sure it’s not easy for the reader to guess the killer.
7. And that’s it! My outline for plotting the perfect murder mystery. Hope this helps you when you are either reading your favorite mystery novel or when you are writing one.
Take Care, Until Next Time,
Kathleen S. Allen
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IF IT’S TUESDAY, IT MUST BE TROUBLE!
Mel Thompson Series Book Two
By Kathleen Allen
Mel Thompson, P.I., former cop returns in her second murder case. It’s the first case she’s taken since she almost died at the hands of the murderer from her last case, three months ago.
Things are looking up a bit though, her cop boyfriend moved back in, the back surgery she had seems to have dulled the pain in her leg and she’s working as an intern in a fashion house in order to catch a murderer.
The fashion world is an alien one to Mel but she’s eager to learn in order to figure out who killed an up and coming designer who just happened to be the sister of the senior buyer. Mel plans on being an intern for a few weeks, getting the information she needs and getting out.
She didn’t plan on actually liking the people in the fashion house. And she didn’t plan on being in harm’s way, again.
About the Author:
I am an urban faerie born without wings but I fly on the wings of imagination tethered to this mortal coil. Moonlight sustains me and sunlight devours me. Stars swim in my eyes and my soul bleeds on a daily basis. I am a writer.