July 22, 2021 - Serious Plotting

Thursday, July 22, 2021

Today I focused on various materials I have about plotting. As expected, this inspired more ideas and enhancements to existing ideas for The Case of the Pirate’s Puzzle.

First, I read a chapter in Mastering Your Mystery: Write, Publish, and Profit with Your Mysteries & Thrillers by Cheryl Bradshaw. For some reason, I’d thought this book was oriented toward cozy mysteries such as I write, but then I ran into several pages on the different kinds of serial killers. So I went back earlier in the book and checked online and discovered, yes, she writes mostly thrillers about—you guessed it—serial killers. So, since I wasn’t interested in the gruesome details, I skipped that section. But the next section had to do with different kinds of killers, which did provide food for thought.

Except that she started with the premise that your killer should be a sympathetic character. So I scratched my head for a while, and then decided that idea went back to the difference between what she writes (Hannibal Lecter was one of her examples of sympathetic serial killers) and what I write. You see, in cozy mysteries, the victim is often “someone who needs killing.” In other words, not sympathetic at all. Everyone in town dislikes them, which means everyone in town could be a suspect.

I moved on to the next chapter in the Plotto Instruction Manual, which focused on illustrating that the master plots and complications in the Plotto system are not meant to be used literally, but as suggestions to inspire the writer’s imagination for their own stories. The exercises are meant to train you how to work with them.

For example, the first exercise was based on Conflict 705, which reads: A, unable to conquer his misfortunes, seeks to escape from them by committing suicide.

You were asked to come up with three different misfortunes that were so awful that they’d bring A to that desperate solution.

Then the second, used Conflict 588: B, dying, reveals to her husband, A, a closely guarded secret which he finds greatly perturbing.

The assignment was to come up with several ideas for what the secret is.

I found these exercises useful, and I finally understood what the instruction manual meant by “a trained imagination.” And, yes, thinking of alternatives, especially when I got to the exercise that asked you to elaborate on your chosen Master Plot and Complication, did give me some ideas for my own novel.

I’m going to have to step up my game as far as this plotting goes. According to my writing schedule, I’m supposed to have the outline for The Case of the Pirate’s Puzzle done by the end of next week. While I’m making good progress, I’m not sure it’s good enough. So I’ll have to make it so.

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A Clash of Kings
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