Monday, July 7, 2014

Hiding in plain sight

When you start a new book do you know whodunit from the get-go? If so, how do you ensure you don’t unconsciously give it away? And if not, when do you decide whodunit?

I'm a big planner. I never go to the grocery store without a list, and I always make a lot of notes before I start writing. I like to know that the journey (or writing the book) is going to end up someplace good before I start. The whodunnit is a biggie in a murder mystery, so I try to figure that out before I begin writing.

But there is a lot about the book that I don't know when I start writing. I usually only figure out the "clothespin" scenes, or the big scenes that drive the main plot of the book, before I begin. This is a little like deciding I am going to drive from New York to New Orleans, but I'm not sure yet what route I'm going to take. The route will be important, and each decision I make will change the experience of the trip and/or the plot of my book. But I'm not quite ready to commit until I check out all my options.

Something important that I haven't always figured out before I begin are the identities of all the minor characters. And that's when things can get really interesting. Minor characters are great red herrings and can help create subplots for your book. They can skulk about in the background guarding their secrets and attempting to distract your hero/detective from figuring out identity of the real villain.

I believe in playing fair and giving readers all the info they need to figure out the murderer. But I also believe in being sneaky about it, so readers can enjoy the puzzle and the experience of being led astray before all is revealed. That means burying clues in plain sight, which is, of course, easier said than done. And when I want to know if I managed to pull it off, I ask a few readers to take a look at a draft and let me know.

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