Saturday, August 27, 2016

Planning a Mystety Novel from Start to Finish

by Marilyn Meredith

That’s the topic Jean asked me to write about. I’ll modify the subject a bit because I’m going to tell you how I plan a Rocky Bluff P.D. mystery from start to finish.

I’m fortunate because I already know who the characters are going to be. The series follows the men and women who work at the Rocky Bluff Police Department. Though they each will show up in a book, a different person may play a more prominent role. That’s something I usually don’t decide in the beginning, it just happens as I’m writing.

 Because I keep newspaper clippings and notes I’ve taken at Sisters in Crime meetings and from the Internet of intriguing crimes, I go through them and see if anything pops out at me that I’d like to write about. Of course, what I write is never exactly what the original story was about. I think things like “What if it wasn’t the wife that killed him, but his very best friend?” and then I go from there. 

Though I don’t outline, I do write down a lot of notes. I think about things like who the murder victim is, who might have wanted this person dead, and alibis. More characters are being added to the story which means finding the right names and descriptions for each one. 

I know exactly what the town of Rocky Bluff looks like—but I need to describe new people’s homes, where the victim is murdered, all the details that make a mystery fun to read. Though I may not write all this down at first, I will keep notes. 

Beginning the story with a bang is important. The first sentence, first paragraph and first scene set the tone and often will be the reason a person keeps reading. 

I begin writing, and as I write more scenes and situations occur to me and I continue taking down more notes. Sometimes the characters themselves suggest what should happen next. I always want the reader to make the discovery of every clue right along with the detectives and other police officers. Of course, often things aren’t quite what they seem. 

In between the crime solving, my officers (yes, this is my police department so they are my officers) and their families have other problems that crop up just like it is with all of us. I need to be sure to continue something that has been going on in a previous book and has yet to be resolved.

I always like to have an exciting scene at the end, sometimes nail biting, where everything comes to a climax.

 As I’m writing, I’m often reading the manuscript chapter by chapter to my critique group who help make sure the dialogue sounds realistic, letting me know if what I’ve written needs more clarification, and mistakes I’ve made. The next day, I edit the chapter carefully, not always taking my group members advice, but usually fixing what they pointed out one way or another.

When the book is completed, I go over it again, looking for more mistakes including continuity errors. I do use the editing tool on WORD—though sometimes I ignore what it tells me.

When I’m sure I have the manuscript as clean as I can make it, I send it off to the publisher. In time suggestions may be made, and I’ll have a draft of the book to check for mistakes. I’ll send back a list of what I’ve found. Once they’ve been fixed, I’ll have another chance to check. Despite going over a galley proof carefully, sometimes mistakes still pop up in the book. I’ve decided there are gremlins out there whose only job is to plunk in an error or two, and sometimes more, in any published book.

Then I wait for a glimpse of the cover to give my approval. After that, the books are printed—and then it’s on to the promotion part.

That’s the way I do it, start to finish, it’s what works for me.

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