Working Out the Logistics in a Mystery

Having been inspired by V.L. Adams’ guest post, “Start with the End: Leaving Clues in a Mystery“, I decided to write a post on working out the logistics in a mystery. As I tackled the next novel in my Rae Riley series, I hit upon a way to keep the action straight.

Get a Calendar

Preferably an old calendar. I’m using my calendar for this year but in months that have already passed. My novels are set during definite seasons of the year. A Shadow on the Snow starts in late January and ends on Good Friday. My current work-in-progress A Storm in Summer opens on Memorial Day and covers roughly two weeks with a wrap-up on Father’s Day.

On a day that action takes place, I draw a line down the middle of it. On the left side, I write action that will appear in the book. Since I write in first person, this is also what my main character is doing. On the right side, I write what other characters are up to during that same day. Their actions may or may not appear in the book. Keeping track of where all the characters are at certain points of the day prevents holes from appearing in my plot and makes it easier to fix holes when they do show up.

For example, let’s say I need my teen detective Rae Riley to see a certain car. The most plausible way for her to see it is town where she works. So I write a scene where she goes to work at the library and has lunch with a friend and spots the car

But how did the car get there? On the right, I write what the other characters have done so Rae can see the convertible in town. Those reasons may not have to appear in the book for readers to make sense of the mystery, but it helps me understand my plot and the motivation of my characters.

You can break this technique down to hours or even minutes if you’re plotting requires it.

Let’s say you’re writing a mystery in which someone had to have been murdered between 11 and 11:30 p.m. Select your day and then the times to schedule what the detective, victim, guilty part and suspects were doing.

Plotter or Pantser

This method works for a plotter or a pantser. If you’re unfamiliar with these terms, a plotter is someone who maps out her entire book, writes from an outline, and doesn’t deviate from it much. A pantser usually has a rough idea of characters, settings, and plot but explores all those aspects as he writes. While my calendar plotting obviously appeals to a plotter, it can also help a pantser when she needs to smooth out rough spots and fill in the holes in her story.

If you write crime fiction, what method do you use for working out the logistics in a mystery? I’d love to learn about it!

2 thoughts on “Working Out the Logistics in a Mystery

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    1. I wish I could. I’ve stalled at 20,000 words. I took a couple weeks off. I just feel like my writing is stale, but I know I’m expecting too much of a first draft.

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