Formula for Writing a Mystery or Whodunit? by Mar Preston
Did you know there was a formula to writing a mystery or a whodunit?
It may not be apparent, but there are rules that determine how satisfying your finished story will be to readers. You may have read dozens and dozens, maybe even hundreds of murder mysteries already. If you are an avid reader of the mystery genre you already know these rules at some level of consciousness.
Writing a mystery is hard. Plotting isn’t easy. People remember strong characters and situations. They often forget plots. They'll say something about my books, “Oh, yeah, it’s the one where Mason and that guy, you know…the lawyer.” They don’t know the head-scratching anxiety I went through to come up with that lawyer who play a critical role in getting my protagonist the next clue
Writing your first mystery will help you figure out whether you’re an outliner or seat-of-pantser. The important thing is that you just get going and start putting lines of words on paper before your idea cools. If it’s all up in your head, it is not written. You can say that John Sanford (one of my ideal whodunit masters) works out his plots while playing golf. You and I are not John Sanford. Get it down on paper.
Don’t tell (bore) everyone with your idea. Talking about it dissipates the energy you have to actually write your story. Talking about it, or announcing it on your Facebook page is not plotting a mystery. Putting lines of words together in some logical linear fashion is writing a mystery. I am not a proponent of initially brainstorming a plot with other people. Get it down on paper first and then brainstorm the weak points in your plot.
Don't be surprised to hear from your characters when you're outlining your story. A character may walk into your scene and steal it away from you, pushing you in a direction you'd never intended. This is called coming up with a better idea.
You may be nursing an idea right now. Are you? Take a look at my EBook Plotting Your First Mystery.