Writing The First Mystery Novel
A Story To Tell – Step One
While the basic story elements for my first mystery novel were plucked from personal experience and local events, there was no plot and no characters . . . hmm.
Plot, Elements Of
It’s the fascination with mystery stories, plot twists, thrilling suspense, surprise endings, that keep me glued to a good mystery book. That’s what I wanted to create—a mystery thriller.
Edgar Allan Poe is often referred to as the American inventor of the detective story and I vaguely recall Poe’s instruction on writing a good mystery, write it in reverse, start with the ending. Of course, as the author, I knew the ending of my murder mystery. Essentially, the murderer (or murderers) is revealed and dealt with. (No peeking.)
So much for Poe’s cryptic advice. I needed structure and direction, the basic framework of a plot from which I could improvise. Herbie Hancock’s jazz virtuosity comes to mind, soaring with elegant grace and intricate beauty—very tasty.
I needed players—characters that had the motivation and personality traits that would wind them up in the thick of this authentic little tale of greed and lust.
Ultimately, I wanted to create a vivid reality based on real attributes and behaviors derived from actual people. The characters would need to be multifaceted composites, manifesting their own unique personalities. A protagonist, to be sure, but more than one dominant character.
The Wild Card
I knew it was there, but didn’t yet know what role it had to play in the overall scheme of things. It delivered suspense, accentuated the mystery and an unexpected twist—controversy. ESP, psychic phenomena, the supernatural, I don’t know exactly why the subject is controversial. Perhaps it’s fear of the unknown. That said, this is fiction. Yet I had to be mindful of the “reality” factor—needed to be true to the real world as we know it. My own initial reluctance ended up as the protagonist’s curse.
Once I had the ensemble, they all joined in. Drums keeping the beat, the rhythm section anchoring the melody, the horn section blowing—everyone took eight bars, improvising over the top. All I had to do was let it flow. It took on a life of its own. A joy I’ve only ever experienced in the act of creative expression.
Keep in mind, like most of you, I’m still working a fulltime job. Approaching this from the viewpoint of a professional writer involves scheduling and discipline—managing the activity based on results, tracking statistics and adjusting accordingly. It took me a good ten months, writing on lunch breaks, early mornings, evenings and weekends to complete the first draft.
Back to doing what I love to do. Finally! I hope you enjoy reading it half as much as I enjoyed writing the first in the Lance Underphal Mystery series – Dark Side of Sunset Pointe.
I promise, I WILL get to the business side of things—independent publishing of a Crime Fiction Novel—in blogs to come.