Planning, Plotting, and Tying it All Together


In response to “Winging It: Our Ever-evolving Mystery Writing Method #1,” another writer asked for hints on tying everything together and making sure there are no loose ends.

The authors of some books on plotting recommend calculating the number of scenes based on desired word count, then dividing the scenes to fit into a three-act structure, or a five-part structure, or whatever formula the author is employing. It not doubt works for some writers, but if did that, I’d never finish anything. It looks too much like the word problem from hell.

Some writers plot out all of the scenes and then write each scene, which are then pieced together—I can’t speak for Aki here, but that’s too organized to work for me. Our method (which is probably driven by my random thought processes) consists more bullet points noting where we want things to go. This “list” then evolves into a standard Roman numeral, Capital Letter, and Number outline format as we go. This outlining is a latter step, coming when we need more details to move the plot forward. Basically, we tend to solve problems as we go.

Yes, we had a plan for A Halo for Red Betsy, and we maintained a number of the original elements, but we didn’t used a more structured method because we didn’t want to be tied to any particular element. At least, I don’t.

For example, as I noted in the previous post, we had a killer, a motive, and a solution (how the detectives, Keegan and Takeda, figured it out), but as we developed the character of the killer, we realized that our assigned motive didn’t fit with his personality. That left us with one of two options: change the killer’s personality or find a new killer. Changing the motive could have been a third option, but we didn’t consider it.

This character was pretty well developed by the time we realized that there was a problem, but we also liked the character as we had created him and so didn’t want to make that change. Plus, his personality as developed tied into another aspect of the story that we wanted to keep, so that wasn’t going to work.

Which left us with either introducing a new killer early on (no surprise killer coming out of nowhere for us), or enlisting one of the existing characters. We chose the latter, which then required making changes to that character, including more scenes.

Given that we use a method by which we are not tied down, how do we tie everything together?

We read it, then read it again, and keep reading it, always considering how things fit. It works something like this: Frank did X on page 36, but now the situation on page 112 is such that Y would have been the better choice. And so, I go back and change X, and subsequent references to X. Then re-read it some more to be sure everything fits. It’s like frosting a cake; it looks messy, you get it smoothed out eventually.

A Halo for Red Betsy, available in paperback and on Kindle.

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