This photo is a good demonstration of what my brain looks like when I’m creating the plots to my novels. Oh sure, it looks like a string of Christmas tree lights, but it’s also a mass of crisscrossing synapses at work during my plot plotting time.
I enjoy the challenge of plotting mystery novels, but it certainly is not easy. There has to be the obvious, of course, the murder of one or more characters in the book. But there also has to be a lot of suspicious characters, red herrings or false clues to the murder, and then the strategic placement of various mystery clues. Add to that the imperative envelopment of each character’s point of view regarding the murder, and the plot literally thickens.
For instance if the housewife suspects the mailman, I have to get into the mind of the housewife and the mailman. I need to keep track of what the housewife thinks, how she reacts to the mailman, and then, just as importantly, what she knows about the murder and the mailman. Then the mailman, too, because he is a character he has a stake in all of this, so I need to relay what he knows about the murder, and how he reads or does not read the reaction of the housewife toward him.
Of course there are more than just two characters involved in a good mystery, so it will naturally get more complicated with each new character. Then there is another layer, and it is the important layer of The Reader.
I have an allegiance to my readers, every novelist does. In mystery novels the author has to be aware at all times of what the reader knows, and then bring them along gradually, informing them of developments. It is unfair to involve your reader in a mystery without giving them clues and ways to solve the murder. Agatha Christie, who is one of my heroes, sometimes wrote mysteries in which the reader could not possibly have figured out the murderer. Long lost cousin inherits and we don’t know this person, or his motive, until the last few chapters. That’s not fair. I give Agatha Christie a lot of room on that, however, because she was great and there’s always a lot to learn from her regardless of a few shortcomings. Also, this unwritten fairness rule is a more modern aspect of mystery writing that was less pronounced in her day.
But here we are in the end of 2012 and it’s not cool to fool your reader. So I think about all of this as I sit at my desk, crowded in the empty room with a lot of fictional characters yakking away at me. Everyone wants to be a star.
As one does with a tangle of Christmas light strands, I unwind what I can, follow the leads when they present themselves, and plod through the confusion with patience. When it all gets really mind-boggling, I get up from the desk and fill my water glass; take a new, fresh drink on the situation and wait for clarity.