It’s a Mystery

mystery_machine_side_view

Ruh-roh

July Camp NaNo is finally over, and my summer class has finished up, and S and I are on vacation this week.  We’re at Panera today so S can write some more of her rapidly-expanding Musketeers fanfic.  At this point, she thinks it’ll end up being at least 70,000 words long when it’s all finished.

I’ve updated the section of this blog about The Myrciaverse with my two latest novels, including the one I just finished, Joint Command.  I had a lot of fun writing that one, and the outline I used was somewhat more complicated than what we normally use.  There were three POV characters, so I decided to do a different sort of story for each one of them.

For Deborah, whom I describe in my synopsis as “a veteran, fighting her disillusionment,” the story is about rediscovering her love for her job as a spy and for her rather eccentric colleagues.  So I used Nigel Watts’s Eight Point Story Arc in plotting out her chapters.

  1. Stasis (everyday life)
  2. Trigger (something beyond hero’s control sparks the story)
  3. The quest (hero spurred to action by the trigger)
  4. Surprise (obstacles and complications)
  5. Critical choice (hero makes a crucial choice, revealing character)
  6. Climax (highest point of tension, direct result of Critical Choice)
  7. Reversal (change in status of characters, direct result of Climax)
  8. Resolution (a new Stasis, result of Reversal)

The second POV character, Geir, is on the same side as Deborah, though working for a different, allied country.  He thinks he’s on the trail of a mole, but he discovers to his horror that there’s a conspiracy that goes much deeper than he thinks.  So I plotted his eight chapters as a Thriller.

  1. Shock opening.  Meet the hero.
  2. Meet main characters, intro into some of hero’s backstory and personal life.  Disaster threatens.  Hero understands what’s on the line if he doesn’t do it.  He has to step up.
  3. Subplot introduced.  Hero on bad guy’s trail, always behind, figuring out the bad guy’s game.  Midpoint.  Stakes raised.  New character introduced, and an old character is killed.
  4. Bad guy on top.  Bad guys get worse.  Hero’s team dissents, and hero is on his own.  It’s all gone wrong.  (Other people doubt hero, but hero doesn’t doubt self yet.)
  5. Someone else gets killed.  More pressure on hero.  Hero comes to doubt self.  Then hero figures out what to do.
  6. Climax section.  Hero gets bad guy’s underlings, then gets bad guy.  Payoff.  Hero prevents the disaster that threatened in Chapter 2.
  7. The real threat emerges.  Twist: the hero realizes there’s another layer of threat (hopefully foreshadowed).  Rush.  There’s no time to waste.
  8. More payoff.  Breathless pace.  The uber-bad guy is stopped.

My third POV character, Nitya, is on the other side from Deborah and Geir.  She’s trying to find the mole and bring him (or her) home.  So, since she’s trying to solve a mystery, I outlined her chapters using “The Classic 12-chapter Mystery Formula,” only with the events condensed to fit the eight chapters I had allotted her.

  1. Mystery, clues disclosed with dramatic event.  Sleuth introduced.  Ground reader in time and place where crime occurs.
  2. Sub-plot introduced.  Sleuth set on path to solving mystery.  Plausible suspects (each with a motive) introduced and questioned by sleuth, one of which must be the perp.
  3. Reveal facts about suspects.  A clue is discovered that points to ultimate solution.  Flight or disappearance of one or more suspect.  Sense that if mystery not solved soon, there will be terrible consequences.  Investigation broadens to put suspicion on other characters.
  4. Return to sub-plot to reveal sleuth’s background—show what drives sleuth/haunts her/is missing in her life.  Sleuth shown to have personal stake in outcome.  Hidden motives and secret relationships revealed (romantic involvements/scores to be settled/kinships).  Clues from Chapter 1 clarified.
  5. Sleuth reveals results so far of investigation.  Reader can review things so far.  Sleuth is stymied, as she has misinterpreted clues.  Sleuth has to look at things from new direction.  Chain of events that provoked crime revealed.  Crucial evidence from Act I points way to solution.
  6. Sleuth weighs evidence and information gleaned from other characters.  Based on what sleuth knows, sleuth must seek positive proof to back up undisclosed conclusion.
  7. Resolution of subplot.  Protagonist, having been tested by his or her private ordeal, is strengthened for the final action leading to the actual solution of the mystery.
  8. Resolution.  Revelation of clues and the deductive process which led to the solution.  Establish that the case has been solved and justice has been served to the satisfaction of all involved (except the villain).

As you look through these, you’ll probably see how they can work together.  Geir’s “Shock Opening,” for example (number 1 on his outline) is the same event as Deborah’s “Trigger” (number 2 on her outline): they go together to meet a third agent and discover that he’s been murdered by the mole.

Finally, I had to set up all the various suspects who could be the mole, so I outlined each “Suspect Arc.”  First I briefly stated the Means, Motive, and Opportunity for each suspect.  In other words, I figured out why my three POV characters might even consider that person a suspect.  Then I listed two clues and two counter-clues (or alibis, if you will), like so:

Clue one: Bob’s hat found at the scene of the crime.
Counter-clue one: But Bob was at work when the crime was committed.
Clue two: Proof found that Bob wasn’t really at work.
Counter-clue two: But he lied because he was with his mistress.

Then there’s a “twist,” which can be a further clue or a definitive alibi, followed by a “resolution,” where the detective, and the reader, can see whether the person is guilty or innocent.

Having figured this out for each one of my four suspects, I went through my story outline and figured out where my three POV characters could encounter each of the suspects, and where each of the clues and counter-clues would be revealed.
In the end, I think it turned out pretty well.  When the reader gets to the end and finds out who the mole really is, I think it makes sense, but isn’t so obvious that the story is boring.

J

 

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