Collaborative Mystery, Part 1

Welcome to Mystery Month on JPC Allen Writes! All the prompts and tips relate to mysteries. This October is especially exciting for me because I’ll be revealing the cover and promoting the pre-release of my debut YA mystery, A Shadow on the Snow! As part of the celebration, I’m trying something new with my prompts for Monday Sparks. All the photos this month will be prompts for a collaborative mystery.

What is a collaborative mystery? Collaborative fiction is when multiple authors write different parts of one story. Here’s how it will work on my blog:

  • I’ll write two or three sentences in the comments to start the mystery.
  • Anyone who wants to may write two or three more sentences.
  • Please no graphic content.
  • Next week, I’ll take the last sentences in the comments from this week and repeat them as the lead sentence for the next photo prompt.
  • By the end of the month, we’ll have a story!

Who wants to be part of a collaborative mystery, part 1?

What’s the Mystery?

Last prompt of my month of mysteries! I chose a photo that could inspire a Halloween mystery, either a straight whodunit or a mystery with a supernatural twist.

What’s the mystery? Here’s my take:

“Okay, we’ve been in every room.” My cousin Made hurried to the front door, gathering her long skirt in her hands. “Now can we please go before the cops catch us in here?”

“We haven’t been in the basement.” Ava adjusted her gray-streaked wig.

“That’s not a room.” Made had her hand on the doorknob. “It’s a floor. The dare just said every room.”

“Oh, come on.” I started down the stairs, my flashlight highlighting every gross cobweb and dirt-caked corner. “It’ll take only one more minute, and then I can shove Erin’s dare in her face.”

The stairs creaked behind me as Madi and Ava followed. At the bottom was one closed door. I stopped, my breath coming short. I’d thought the basement would be open, like mine at home. I didn’t expect a separate room.

“What are you waiting for?” Ava said in my ear.

“Nothing.” The word was hoarse, but I took another step.

A thud reached us, and Ava and I jerked like it was a punch that had landed on each of us. Madi screamed.

Another thud, this time with wood cracking under it, and the door at the bottom of the stairs shook.

What’s the Mystery?

Another photo to prompt another mystery. What’s the mystery about a burning building in a cemetery? Here’s my beginning:

Even though Jace and I stood like a football field away, we could still feel the heat of the fire that ate up the caretaker’s building in the Union Cemetery.

Lots of people had come into the cemetery to watch: Father Mihalic, Mrs. Hudson, who worked as a janitor at our school, mean, old Mr. Olsen, Mayor Coleman, some other kids on their way to the middle school.

Jace elbowed me. “Did you see the mayor?”

“You can’t miss him.”

He was closer than anybody to the fire, except the firefighters, walking fast, back and forth, shouting if they were sure Mr. Delaney hadn’t been in the building.

“Mayor Coleman’s acting real upset,” said Jace. “Do you think he’s scared he killed Mr. Delaney when he set fire to the place?”

I tried to remember what we’d seen in the early dawn when we’d left the house because Dad had finally come home.

I shook my head. “I think he’s scared he didn’t.”

What’s the Mystery?

October is mystery month on my blog. What’s the mystery this photo might inspire? Here’s my idea:

The two men talked as they walked, but they seemed more focused on each sound that made them glance over their shoulders or peer toward the end of the tunnel.

“It’s all set then?” said the younger man.

“Unless you have any more questions.” The older man adjusted his hat.

“Just one.” The young man stopped. “Should we go through with it?”

The moisture dripped from the ceiling of the tunnel.

His head bent, the older man said, “What choice do we have?” He jerked upright. “Someone ran across the entrance.”

Leap Day as Writing Inspiration

For this unique event, here are some unique suggestions for using leap day as writing inspiration.

Speculative fiction

Such an unusual day seems ready-made for inspiring speculative fiction. In the thirteen-book series, The Notebook of Doom by Troy Cummings, Alexander Bopp’s leap year birthday proves pivotal to the plot as he and his elementary school friends battle monsters in their hometown. The first book starts with Alexander moving to Stermont right around his birthday. The importance of his birthday isn’t revealed until the last book. Mr.Cummings uses this plot point cleverly and brings a cohesion to his series that I don’t always find in middle-grade books. The Notebook of Doom is a lot of fun for second and third-grade readers.

The rarity of leap year should signal something rare for the characters and plots of speculative fiction. Perhaps a character discovers her special power on February 29th and is at her most powerful on that day. A particular magical phenomenon only occurs on February 29 or during the leap year, and various parties try to take control of it.

To give a story an Indian-Jones flavor, two groups, one good and one evil, are attempting to discover some powerful object that is only accessible on February 29th. Once they find it, they must use it during the leap year. After the year is finished, the object becomes dormant.

Mystery

I’ve encountered two stories in which leap day was a crucial clue. In one short story, of which I can’t recall the title, an old diary is proved to be a fraud because the person who supposedly kept it had an entry for February 29th, 1900. Leap day occurs at the turn of the century every 400 years. 1600 and 2000 had leap days, but not 1700, 1800, and 1900,

In a radio episode of “The New Adventures of Sherlock Holmes” from the 1940’s, a Scottish nobleman waits for his inheritance, which will happen on his twenty-first birthday. Because he was born on leap day, he is 84 years old but has only had twenty actual birthdays. A key plot point, again, is the fact that 1900 did not have February 29th. The nobleman must wait until 1904 to celebrate his twenty-first birthday.

Here’s another approach: greedy relatives contest the will of a wealthy woman because she instructs her lawyers not to make its contents known until the next leap day. Why the condition? A relative plays detective to uncover the answer.

Or a small town had a notorious murder committed on February 29th. Legend has it that the ghost returns every four years. The town’s tiny police force is strained to the limit dealing with an invasion of ghost hunters. When one ghost hunter turns up dead, the cops have to figure out if there’s a connection between the old murder and the new one.

Other Genres

In a romance, a couple meets on leap day. Events and their own flaws tear them apart, but on the next February 29th, they have a chance to reunite. Another idea is for a couple who met on leap day to hold a special celebration every four years, and the story charts the development of their relationship on those days.

For a family drama, a tragedy on leap day still haunts the survivors years later. On another leap day, a character somehow brings peace to the family so they can move on with their lives. Perhaps the family had a misconception about the tragedy.

For more ideas on how to February can inspire your writing, check out this post.

How can leap day as writing inspiration ignite your writing?

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