Tuesday, September 25, 2018

Writer's Wednedsday: Planning and Plotting

I've been playing with making Wednesday posts more about writing and being a writer, and posting fewer reviews (partly because I'm busy and can't read as many books, and partly to keep reminding myself and you that I'm a writer). I can't do updates on my progress every week, though, so I'm going to share thoughts on my writing process. I can't claim it's wisdom; I can't even claim any of it will be applicable to anyone but me. But maybe someone will get something useful out of it.

I'm currently in the process of planning my next mystery, and I've talked about that process before (see below). But something I'm thinking about this time around is the structure of the novel. My last book got a comment from an editor about there being too much that happens before the murder, and that got me thinking about the right place for a corpse. Of course, when I looked hard at the draft of that book (and got feedback from another editor), what was really wrong was that there was too much *unimportant* stuff before the murder--too much detail of every move JJ made. But the fact that the first reader argued that the corpse should show up in the first chapter gave me pause.

Of course, a quick look at the cozy mysteries I read tells me that the rule is nothing like that hard and fast. I've seen books that started with the body on page one, and others that take half a book to get there (I'll admit that those usually frustrate me a bit; it is supposed to be a mystery, after all; the sweet spot may lie somewhere in between, and I'll bet it's in a different place for every book).

There's another issue, too: we are expected to open with some event significant and exciting/dramatic enough to grab the reader and make them need to keep reading. A corpse is a pretty good way to do that. But lots of things are important to the main character, so maybe a broken coffee-maker spewing grounds all over the counter is a good dramatic opening, too.

As you can see, I'm rambling, trying to sort out some ideas and see what flies. Let me know what you think: must a cozy mystery open with a major dramatic event, and at what point should/must the corpse show?

I had originally though I'd write this about outlining/plotting, since that's what I'm doing right now. I was bemused to see that I have written posts on this subject 3 times. My approach has evolved.

The first time was in Feb. 2013.  This post refers to a novel called "Murder Stalks the PTA." That evolved into Death By Ice Cream, the first of the Pismawallops PTA novels. That evolution was one of the things that convinced me the process I discussed in this post needed work. Up to that point, I'd been an unthinking pantser, taking the nugget of an idea and just jumping in and writing.

The second time was in September that same year, and I was starting to develop the outlining approach that I have more or less stuck to since, having struggled with the revisions of that novel.

The third time was in October 2015, as I was preparing to write Death By Trombone. Reviewing that was good--it reminds me of some things I'll want to do on the way to getting ready to write Death By Library.


  1. Can't say I've read enough cozy mysteries to chime in on when the body should drop. I'm more of a TV show person (Murdoch Mysteries, Bones, Castle, Rizzoli & Isles, Lucifer) and the body typically appears in the first few moments, but usually from a different POV. Not sure if that's how they do it in the books though.

    1. I'm thinking that in those TV shows (are they the 1-hour sort?), the first few minutes is like somewhere in the first few chapters, since you can fit so much less into a TV show than a book. I also read elsewhere an explanation of the position of the corpse and what it means about the type of book. Good food for thought, and I'm gradually coming to some ideas about what I'm going to do.

  2. I can't say when I think the corpse should show up. It sounds like it all depends on the story and the writer's gut feeling.

    1. Yeah, that's the conclusion I'm reaching. The important part is making whatever comes before sufficiently interesting and important to keep the reader going!

  3. I seem to remember someone saying that if every thing should could towards plot, character or motive (I think motive was the last one). So if your protag walks down a street and a dog passes him, carrying a bone in its mouth, the bone had better turn out to be the leg of the corpse later in the book.
    I can't remember who it was that said that, but odds are it was Stephen King or Chuck Wendig.


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