Writing a story, whether it's a novel or something shorter, requires focus and at least some idea of where you want your tale to go. You should have an idea where you want to begin your tale, what happens along the way, and how it all turns out. But writing a mystery requires a bit more work.
In a mystery story there are many different things to keep track of. Not just your characters, but the suspects, clues, and red herrings that make a mystery novel so compelling to read.
You may be asking yourself, “What is the best way to organize your suspects, clues and red herrings when you're planning and writing a mystery?"
What I like to use is a plotting spreadsheet. It can be done on paper, or on a computer, depending on your personal preferences. I usually do mine on paper because it's easier for me and I use a pencil so I can make corrections when needed.
I use boxes to help make the plots easier to follow. At the top of a piece of paper, centered, I make a box that labeled “Crime". Inside, I write a very brief description of the crime; usually no more than the victim's name, where and how they died and who killed them. Then I make a box for every major event in the story below it. Kind of a timeline for my tale. When the body was found, and by whom? When the first real clue discovered, the second, the third, etc? This is the timeline of my story. I try to keep the main plot line the only information in the middle boxes. You'll see why in a moment.
Now, for each subplot, I use another line of boxes along both sides the main plot boxes. If I have one subplot, then I have one line of boxes. Two different subplots, two lines of boxes, and so on. I tie the red herrings, suspects, and clues for those subplots to the main plots. When does the first suspect show up, and is he/she the real one? What are the red herrings and when are they introduced? For each different item, I place it in a box near the timeline box that it coincides with and connect them with a line.
This method not only helps me keep track of all the different aspects of my mystery story, it helps me make sure my subplot's timeline flow along with my main plot's timeline. I don't want to have a clue being introduced that has already been discussed earlier. Likewise, I don't want to introduce a clue that is never talked about again.
When finished, it should look a lot like a corporate organization chart. Each subplot nicely laid out beside the main plot. It might sound daunting, but it gives me a clearer picture of my subplots, and how each item relates to the main plot. Doing something like this should also help me decide if I have too many subplots going on. The page should be busy without being impossible to follow.
This brings me to the next point in this article. Can a mystery become too involved and tangled? How can we, as writers, be sure to have enough “mystery" without creating too much?
When I write a mystery story, I try to create enough subplots to keep the reader interested, without overwhelming the reader. Personally, if I have trouble remembering what each one is, and what it's correlation to the main plot is, then how would I expect my reader to keep track of them too? Likewise, if the story only has the main plot, or just one subplot, it isn't likely to have enough tension and suspense to keep my reader reading to the end.
So, for me, if my mystery story has two to four subplots I'm happy. I can keep track of the events, remember the clues, and keep the suspects straight.
When writing your mystery, you want enough subplots to keep the reader guessing, but not enough to make them run and hide from your story. The object of writing a mystery story is to keep your reader guessing until the reach the final page.
Dawn Arkin is an author on http://www.Writing.Com/ which is a site for Writers . Her portfolio can be found at http://www.Writing.Com/authors/darkin so stop by and read for a while.