The End of Act One

Friday, September 16, 2022

I use a four act structure to write my mystery novels. It makes more sense to me than calling it a three act structure and having two halves of act two, which means act two is twice as long as the other two acts. It doesn’t really matter, except for the fact that one rule of thumb for mysteries is that the murder should occur in the first quarter of the book, which just happens to coincide with the end of act one.

As the title of this blog says, I reached that point in Bury Me Not today. Yay!

Of course, I should be a lot further along if I want to finish the book by the end of this month, but beginnings are hard. First of all, the characters have to take shape in my imagination. I generally have to come up with the cast of characters, including pictures of what they look like, before I start writing. I also frequently have to add characters as I go, but those are usually minor rather than major characters.

I almost always know who the victim is. Sometimes I know why he or she was killed, but not always. This is where those characters come in again. Most of the new characters are suspects, and each one has to have a unique motive to kill the victim. That means they each have a history, which is a lot of what I think about at the beginning of a book.

That gives me the first of the three elements of a crime: motive. Next up is means: the way the victim was killed. That also goes along with the suspects. You can’t have a person who’s squeamish about blood stab someone to death or hack them apart with an ax. And last is opportunity. It has to be likely that the circumstances of the crime fit where the suspect was at the time and what they were doing.

That’s why the first part of a new book takes so long to write. The rest of the story generally goes a lot faster. At least, I’m hoping it will. And so are my readers.

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