Writing a Mystery Novel – Plot 101 or Where to FInd Ideas

Writing DeskToday, we will begin a series of short blogs on how an author can craft and sell a novel, beginning with where a writer can find plot and character ideas.

Most simply, just do what you are already doing, such as reading other books. Of course, do not plagiarize but use these readings of the famous and not-so-famous as a springboard to build your own unique images, situations, dialogue or characters.

Next, close your mouth and listen. The world is not a still nor a silent place. In most public areas, some action or form of conversation is going on, from the hair salon, the checkout line at the market, at church or a little league baseball game, in the queue at the movie theater or yes, even sipping a double-mocha skinny latte at the dank coffeehouse where the one-armed guitar player hangs out. (Bet she has some tales to tell.)

Got Texts? Everyone is on the phone these days, playing games, tweeting, reading books or just clutching their devices like their lives depended on them. Maybe you overhear one-sided conversations and your imagination fills in what you don’t hear – sobs, cursing, yelps of joy, utter disgust, or just breathing because you have stumbled across a couple in love.

Maybe the boob tube keeps you warm on those rainy winter nights, or awake on those lazy Sunday post-brunch afternoons. The medium is a 4-season, ripe for the plucking, tree of ideas, from reality shows, interviews on talk shows, news reports, crime dramas, soap operas and dare I say, even sporting events. Think of a crowded stadium with 90,000 in attendance – a body is found in a bathroom after a match or game. How many suspects will there be? How many witnesses and how does a resolute crime-solver even begin paring down the list? Suppose a human flies to the ground from an upper balcony, was it suicide or murder, or just someone who had too much to drink?

Look around your neighborhood. Become privy to the backyard gossip and drama that often courses just below the surface of even suburban areas with well-manicured lawns, 3 SUVs in the garage and two cats in the yard. Maybe Jane’s gardener does takes twice as much time with her yard as he does with everyone else, or that Bob is always loading golf clubs into the trunk of his car – at night, or that often the Smith’s house sounds like a carnival shooting gallery in the wee, still hours after midnight, when dishes break on the Mexican tile floor with no regrets, and shadowy figures crash hard against ivory balloon shades and bold epithets hang cocked like shiny copper skillets in the tense kitchen air.

Or, maybe you live in the woods in a tent with no modern conveniences and your only burglar alarm is Fido and a ring of tin cans, begging to be kicked. Yeah, beyond that natural realm at the end of your grimy fingertips, is a world filled with your unique forays though life. It has been repeatedly said that authors create from what they have experienced. Perhaps you remember as a small child venturing beyond an unlocked door into a world of wonder that teemed with danger (at least to the adults searching for you) or the first time you drove a car by yourself and the pride you felt in returning home, with you and the car in one piece..

There is nothing wrong with digging a little deeper too. Why not mine your subconscious by keeping a pad and paper, recorder or your cell phone handy to record your dreams when you awaken. Use these inner glimpses as building blocks, tunnels or apertures for your ventures into a forbidden fantasy world. Keep a notebook of these dreams, put them on a flash drive, or on note cards and file them as fodder for those hopefully few times when you are searching for writing inspiration.

Above all else, enjoy the journey. Treat this process as absolutely necessary for your writing to grow and evolve, but delight in it, roll in it as if it were a field of your favorite wild flowers and be happy to be alive.

‘Till next time. Happy Writing.

R.R. Harris, Author of Double Take: An Island Travel Mystery of Lively Romance and Deadly Betrayal.       http://amzn.to/1l4uFak

Double Take Kindle Cover

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