At the American Christian Fiction writers conference, I attended Jennifer Dornbush’s session “Everyone Can Spot a Fake” on how to write gripping crime fiction.
Ms. Dornbush taught us how to “corkscrew your story”, creating twists and turns in the plot that bring some kind of change, whether minor, medium, or major. She discussed how writers can use the tropes of crime fiction to do this.
Tropes to Corkscrew Your Plot
- Explosions — Including a literal — or is it literary? — bang in your story should create an exciting twist.
- Dead body — Any time a dead body is discovered the plot must change.
- Bad character revealed to be good and vice versa — This can be used in any genre. But I would use this trope with caution. I have watched TV shows where a character does all sort of despicable things and then declares himself a good guy. I don’t but it. The actions can be amibiguous, but if they are too awful, the character’s sudden unmasking won’t be convincing.
- Harm to investigator — Either threatening harm or actual harm that actually is inflicted on the investigator.
- Innocent dies — Similar to a dead body, but much more powerful.
- Important person goes missing
- Evidence lost or tampered with
- Investigator is taken off the case — If the investigator is a govt. official, then a superior pulls her off. If the investigator is a private detective, then the client fires him. In Sandra Orchard’s A Food and his Monet, the author does an unexpected variation on this trope.
- Investigator makes mistakes — He or she can do this in two ways.
- From personal experience — Something in his past, like fears, prejudices, or experiences, leads him to a wrong conclusion.
- From misinterpreting the evidence — She simply gets it wrong
Ms. Dornbush recommended dropping in clues every 10-15 pages, which will give writers many opportunities to “corkscrews the plot. She also stressed that the investigator should have conviction for the case he is working, and the writer should give her an opportunity to grandstand and celebrate when she closes the case successfully.
I found this session fascinating and wished I hadn’t had to miss the beginning of it. When I sit down to write the murder mystery I have in mind, I will know I will refer to Ms. Dornbush’s great advice if my plot becomes flat.
What other tropes of crime fiction can “corkscrew” the plot?