I was going to add a nice picture of a garden spider in the middle of an orb web here, but I think enough people don’t appreciate the beauty, just the creepy-crawlyness of it. So, enjoy the pic of our pretty blue spring flowers instead.
I’m reading my writing teacher’s latest book in her Door County Fudge Shop series. Great book, by the way. Mouthwatering! Anyhow, fudge aside (yes, she does have recipes in the backs of the books 😉 ), there’s a wonderful cast of characters, including a water spaniel named Lucky Harbor who is far better behaved than my own dogs despite his love of swimming and fudge (which, in the interest of his health, translates to goldfish crackers). As with all good mystery tales, there’s a handful of suspects who may be responsible for the crimes.
I admit I’ve never been good at deducing whodunnit. Once I get to the end of a mystery, when the perpetrator is revealed, I can sometimes think back through the clues and realize what I missed. Some mysteries, though, are so convoluted that I have a hard time tracking back through the breadcrumbs. Agatha Christie’s novels are like that for me. Remember Ten Little Indians (aka And Then There Were None)? I suppose I should reread it and see if I can follow the clues, but as I recall, that particular mystery stymied me even after I finished the book. Of course, it’s been a few decades since, but I remember feeling mighty confused at the end.
I’ve just reached the big reveal in Five-Alarm Fudge, and I can–with 20/20 hindsight–see the little clues sprinkled through the story. With the number of suspects available, I started to wonder how a writer can lay out the plot in such a way the reader is kept guessing until the reveal. An outline or some other sort of plot map would be necessary just for the writer to keep things straight. But how complex would that plot sketch be? Does the writer map each suspect’s movements and interactions through the main story? What sort of organizing method works well for that?
I’ll have to ask Chris what she uses the next time I talk to her, but as I’m beginning the first revision of my current WIP, a mystery complete with multiple bodies, I’m working out how I can weave character paths together so the reader won’t figure things out too soon.
How do you construct a mystery that leads the reader through suspects and suspicious events? Do you use a mindmap? Notecards on a bulletin board? Lego figures? Beat sheets? I’m open to suggestions; I’m still trying to tune my process, and my outline just doesn’t seem like it’s working very well. I’m leaning toward using beat sheets; I’m going to try them out this week and see how they work.