GPS For Your Novel

If you’re writing a mystery novel, it’s really easy to fall into a knowledge labyrinth: Who knew what, who did what, and when? And why?

This usually pops up when you’re half or two-thirds done with your first draft. The characters are running around independent of each other. And like a classic Three-Card Monte game, it’s really, really easy to loose track of the cards.

A non-writer might find it difficult to believe you can’t keep all these things together – after all, it’s a work of fiction and you, the author, created it. Don’t you understand every nuance of it?

Not that simple.

So here’s a good trick. When you start to get a little unsure about all your plot threads, stop writing and create a new file, which I call, “How I Spent My Summer Vacation.”

Find a starting point in your fictional timeline. Page 1, for some writers. Ten years before Page 1, for others. It’s the date of the inciting incident: the event that triggers your plot.

Then, write ONE PARAGRAPH per major character. Write it in the first person. And describe what that character did and what that character knew – and when and why – from that moment until the point in the novel in which you stopped writing. Depending on the pace of your story, you might write about each day. Or, in fast-paced books, every hour.

I imagine people who knit on a loom do something similar. All your energy is focused on what comes next, how to blend the many colored threads to create a pattern. But it’s probably a good idea to pause, look back, and remind yourself about the pattern you’ve already laid down.

First, it will remind you of where your characters are and what they’re thinking. Second, if you’ve made an error, it’ll show up. (“LuLu couldn’t have killed Bix! She didn’t know he was a lying schemer until two days after the murder! OK, regroup….”)

Try it. Think of it as fictional GPS.

About danahaynes

Dana Haynes is the author of ICE COLD KILL (2013), BREAKING POINT (2011) and CRASHERS (2010) from Minotaur and St. Martin's Press.

Posted on March 13, 2013, in Blog. Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.


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