Plotting murder doesn’t come easily to me. When I started planning my first mystery novel Up in Smoke, I knew who the killer was, the method of murder, and who was going to end up dead. . . but that was it. Even worse, I was reluctant to think about how the killer was going to do the deed.
Whhaaat? A mystery writer who doesn’t relish figuring out how her victim gets whacked?
Yep, that was me. And that’s how I became stuck before I even started.
So, I did what comes naturally for me – research – and I kept finding the same advice about sleuths, victims, killers, clues, red herrings, suspense, plot twists, and on, and on. But no one ever answered the HOW of it. How do I bring all of these elements together to create a mystery?
Then somewhere along the way (and I wish I could remember where) I discovered the key to resolving my quandary: Write the murder scene first – and do it from the killer’s perspective. When I did this, everything else I was trying to plan became much easier. Writing this one scene revealed information that helped me plot the key points of my mystery. And this is why I think you ought to do it, too. Even if your murder scene never finds its way into your novel, writing it will answer all kinds of questions that will help drive your plot.
When I wrote my murder scene, here’s what I learned:
How the killer gets to the scene of the crime and gets away,
Who observes the killer’s arrival and departure,
What the witness can contribute to solving the crime,
The killer’s frame of mind,
How the killer lured the victim into the snare,
What challenges the killer had to face to commit the crime,
How the murder was accomplished,
What weapon was used and how,
Where and how clues were left behind,
The telling clue,
Something about the victim that was used later to complicate the investigation, and
How killer attempted to cover his or her tracks.
These kinds of insights are priceless and will go a long way toward helping you create the framework for your mystery.
Oh, and when I say write the murder scene, I really mean write. Give it dialogue, description, characterization . . . the whole nine yards. Doing this gets your writing muscles warmed up and gives you the feeling that you’ve started your novel – and you have!
Now it’s your turn. Even if you’re eyeball deep in writing your mystery right now, give it a try — there’s no telling what helpful little gems you’ll discover.