Write Mystery Plots for stories or scripts
A mystery starts with a question and ends with the answer. The question starts with ‘What if …’ This question breaks down into a kaleidoscope of other questions. .. all of which must be answered by the end of the story. These questions are the life force of a mystery, the situation into which the characters are tossed and by which the reader or audience is captivated.
Mysteries are Adventures
“Nobody reads a mystery to get to the middle. They read it to get to the end. If it’s a letdown, they won’t buy anymore. The first page sells that book. The last page sells your next book.”
Mysteries are incredibly flexible. They can bend and twist to fit any circumstances or situation. If you are writing an interactive mystery event, you just have to know what you have to work with in the beginning to save yourself the work of adjusting elements later on.
If you are writing a book, you have much more freedom – but you still need to know where you are going to end up. One of the great joys of being a writer is being able to lay the infrastructure so that it supports all the twists and turns you are going to pull your reader through on their way to solving the crime.
This does not mean you are married to a rigid outline or structure. Yes, you do have to make one, but if along the way a better idea pops up, follow it as far as you reasonable can. If this bright new idea is asking you to rearrange just about everything – it’s probably a different book. If you can easily tweak existing ideas to support the new twist – by all means follow it if it improves the story.
Mysteries are Circular by Nature
Mysterys are circular by nature. Their construction is circles within circles. Because of the shape of a mystery there are many different points of entry when devising a cluetrail. In the centre of the circle is the crime. Around the circumference are the suspects. Orbiting between the centre and the circumference are the motive, method, opportunity – any one of them a point of entry into creating and solving a mystery. You can start with the big picture of what actually happened or begin with a small portion of the picture; motive, method or opportunity.
Basic Plot Points:
There is no particular order in which to begin your mystery because writing the plot is not a linear process. The setting, the characters and their motives and the crime itself are all intricately tied together. If you are writing a scrip, then the parametres you follow are going to be narrower than if you are writing a story.
“With Agatha Christie ingenuity of plot was paramount – no one looked for subtlety of characterization, motivation, good writing. It was rather like a literary card trick. Today we’ve moved closer to the mainstream novel, but nevertheless we need plot.”
Plot point #1 – Setting
An interesting setting draws people in. Whether writing a novel or a script, it makes them feel like they are in a privileged position – privy to the dark secrets or strange inner life of something out of the ordinary. They get to watch something forbidden, in a safe way. In mystery events the setting refers not only to the place but what is happening in that place at the time of the mystery.
What interesting occasion is happening when the murder occurs? For instance just having someone die at a regular house party or awards ceremony is boring. There must be some exciting reason for people to be gathered together; the guest of honor is going to prison after the party is over or to unveil a secret technology. This is a fictional event on top of if it is for someone’s birthday or anniversary.
One project I was involved in was a fundraiser for the community arts and culture centre and the local belly dance group. With a combination like that the title ‘Midnight at the Oasis‘ immediately popped into my head. Now what could be the fictional reason for the gathering? After a week of thought and trying things on I made up my own tale out of the Arabian Nights and set about using that as the raison d’être. The fictional reason for the gathering was that it was the one day out of the year that the Midnight Genie could be enticed out of his genie bottle to grant three wishes.
Plot Point #2 – Who Dies?
Who dies can be quite different in a written story than at a mystery party. In fiction writing, a writer has the ability to be subtle; in live events, not so much. The dead person in a novel can be good or bad or both. At a party, there is no room for subtly. The dead person is always the deepest, darkest villain who truly deserves to die. Not one tear will be shed as he (or she) drops down in pain, rises up gasping for breath, pulling over chairs and knocking over lamps as he finally stumbles his miserable way out of this world.
Case in point: In Midnight at the Oasis, the Sultan of Haberdashery with his drug sniffing camel Alice, is the villain. Well, the camel gets to live. The Sultan – no. A truly detestable bad guy, he gives everyone he comes in contact with a good reason for wanting him dead. Blackmail, burglary and betrayal are just of few of his horrendous habits. The Sultan has control over something which the killer and other suspects want; their hearts, their freedom, their pocketbooks. Motive is all about being in control at its bottom line.