Back in November 2014, just a few months after I wrote Modern Persuasion, I decided to take on my first mystery story. For the first time I had a completely original idea. I wasn’t basing it on fan fiction and I wasn’t using Jane Austen as my model. I had my own, original characters. I had my own original plot. I had no idea who did it, but I figured that would come to me. After all, I was really good at writing! I was super awesome at writing AND I love mystery novels. I am super awesome at figuring them out, so certainly I could write one by the seat of my pants.
I am not a huge outliner. In fact, very often my project for NaNoWriMo is a detailed outline of what I want to happen before I write the full novel. It took me years to realize what I was doing. It was writing Missing Auggie that drew my attention to my habit. This is because it’s really hard to go into writing a mystery novel without an idea of who did it (whatever it is). I tried to do just this, but in the end had something different than I expected. By the end, I knew who did it, but I didn’t have a satisfying mystery novel. I didn’t plan the mystery and set up the suspects and big reveal because I didn’t have an outline. When I read the draft, with the hopes of revising it, I realized it was a very detailed outline. There was some details, but there was a lot that could be fleshed out better and cleaned up.
The next year, 2015, I approached a failed mystery with a plan and an intent to write the whole novel. I realized that year that I need to start the project with no plan and use the first draft to form them plan. This is how I decided to start projects with a detailed outline. I approach NaNoWriMo with a very broad idea of my plot and use the first year to craft that outline. Then I tinker and revise over the next few years. Once I am ready to re-write, I bring it back and work on it moving forward. This year, Missing Auggie is ready for it. This year, in regards to this novel, I’m working with a very specific plan. I spent this weekend with my suspects and plotted their version of the story. I asked why they were suspects, for whom were they suspects (the narrator or the cops), I looked at how they would fit into the theory of a crime, and how it would be resolved. I spent the most time with my bad guy and what made him/her the real deal. I looked at how the crime was committed and how I could build up to the reveal that this person was not just a suspect. I debated how clear I wanted it to be and how prominent the character will be in the story. I actually have a very detailed plan.
This is my second year attempting to work this way. Last year New Devil (book #3) was given a very similar treatment, but that story had to be stripped of the anger of my mid-20s and shaped into a story. I had to do another draft after that because it wasn’t as balanced as it needed to be. Trust me, it’s in a much better place than it was a year ago. It isn’t a mystery (other than who gets hired to be the new Devil, but it’s pretty clear through the story). It can benefit from me discovering details as I write.
Missing Auggie, on the other hand, needs more detail, some additional research, and character development. I need a very clear path to do these things. It has been a lot of work to get me to where I need to be mentally as a writer and I am pretty excited about this story for the first time in a year. That’s not to say I’m not flying by the seat of my pants in some way. The Woodhouse Yarn and Cafe story is completely in the air. I have an idea, but every single part of it is completely flexible. I’m even trying to decide if I even bother with a romance plot.
I can’t wait to see how this goes and if I have any skills as a mystery writer. It’s one of my favorite genres to read, but it’s difficult to write well. Keep your fingers crossed, even though most of you will have to wait until 2020 to read it.
In the comments, tell me how difficult or easy it is for you to discover the bad guy in mystery novels.