Recently I had the pleasure of teaching a mystery workshop. In such situations, I like to encourage as much audience participation as possible. One of the most fun activities we did together was an exercise in plotting a mystery. While the participants worked the game, their imagination bounced off the walls! Here’s how it went:
First, we reviewed many of the special elements that make up a mystery story, specifically the differences between 5 of the following subgenres: cozy, P.I., hard-boiled, noir, and police procedurals.
Then we broke up into small groups, and I assigned one of the subgenres to each group. One person in each group volunteered to record that group’s plotting.
I gave the participants a series of questions, one at a time. They were the same 8 questions for everyone, regardless of which subgenre their group was plotting. Their answers reflected the issues we’d discussed for each subgenre. I gave them several minutes to discuss each question among themselves, but then they had to pick an answer, and the recorder wrote it down.
The 8 questions, in this order:
- What is the crime?
- Who is the villain?
- Who is the victim?
- Who is the detective?
- What are the clues that will be uncovered?
- Who are the suspects?
- What is the resolution?
- How does the detective solve the mystery and bring the criminal to justice?
When their time was up, each recorder read what his/her group had created. Each group turned out to have a full plot, from beginning, through saggy middles, all the way to the end. And the imagination behind each plot was off the charts! It was a fun exercise, and any of those plots could be fleshed out to become a finished mystery novel.
Do you ever start a new novel by asking similar questions?