Beginning Your Mystery Novel
You’ve got a great idea for a mystery novel. You can hardly wait to get started, but before you launch into that first chapter, three steps can save you hours of frustration and repair work later.
1. With the murder as the central event, draw a time line. Indicate where every character is at any given time. This will aid you in the creation of alibis. It will also prevent you from placing a character in two places at the same time. Have a clear idea from the outset as to what period of time your story will cover. Suspense is always greater when the action takes place within strict time constraints.
2. Write brief a biographical sketch for each character. You may have only three characters to begin with: victim, detective, and person telling the story. As new characters enter the story, add their bios. Take the time to think of appropriate names for your characters. Using temporary names and changing them later is counterproductive. Names contribute to a sense of character.
The biographies needn’t be lengthy. Obvious information needed:
the character’s physical appearance
role in the story
Knowing the characters’ likes and dislikes, past disappointments, and at least one childhood trauma will feed your unconscious mind, contributing to the plot in ways you can’t anticipate when you begin your story. If in addition you give each character a secret, the way is clear to provide false leads by making the innocent characters behave in suspicious ways.
3. Keep your draft in one word processing file, not in separate files for each chapter. Having it all in one big file will simplify revision. You will want to rearrange chapters and spread out information. It’s much easier to do that when the entire draft is in one searchable file.