Mystery novels are a little bit different than regular stories because you need to plot backwards on some things. I wrote two cozy mysteries, Any Lucky Dog Can Follow a Trail of Blood, 2021, and Any Lucky Dog Can Find a Missing Child, 2022, and am starting to plot the third one, Any Lucky Dog Can Save Her Master’s Life (working title).
Because this is a series, I already have the dog’s name, Lucky, and the hero, Sheriff Craig, and the heroine, Jenna. I also have the town and many characters in the town. But because this is a series, I have to figure out what time of year I want it. Right now I think I will put this in December, when Jenna and Craig plan to have their wedding. Nothing like a murder to interfere with wedding plans.
Plotting backwards involves deciding on the villain or villains—who they are and what their motive is before you plan anything else. Once I have that, then I have to decide who they will kill and how. Since I am just starting to plot, I haven’t made these decisions yet. I am at the stage of just jotting down ideas in a notebook.
Next, I need to figure out what clues the sheriff and Jenna will follow to solve the mystery. I also need to decide on what are called “red herrings.” These look like clues but lead nowhere.
Who will find the body? I’ve already decided that it will be Lucky who leads them to the body, and I’ve decided where I’m going to hide it, as this will be the opening chapter. I might have to change it, but that sounds good right now.
Two other books which I plotted backward were Scorpion’s Trail (my all-time favorite) and Stolen Secrets, both written in the late 1900’s.
I am not an author who enjoys plotting. It “ruins” the excitement of writing the book when I know all the answers. But a mystery can’t be written totally plotless. If I can, I will avoid plotting some scenes and let them write themselves. Then I’ll enjoy it more and I think the book just turns out better.
I enjoy watching Korean mystery series on Netflix and pick up some ideas from them. Two series I watch over and over are “Stranger” and “Beyond Evil.” Neither are “cozy” but I enjoy the characters and watching how they work the clues into the plot.
If you enjoy mystery novels, take a look at Murder Is To Die For, a boxed set featuring diehard dames who don’t give up.
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A USA Today bestselling author, Nancy Radke grew up on a wheat and cattle ranch in SE Washinton State. She attended a one-room country school through the eighth grade. She learned to ride bareback at age 3 (Really! It was a common practice.) and when she got off or fell off, she would pull her horse’s nose to the ground, get on behind its ears, and the horse would lift its head so she could scoot down onto its back. Nancy spent most of her childhood exploring the Blue Mountain trails that bordered the ranchlands. She and a friend once took a trail that turned out to be a two day trip. They always rode with matches and pocket knives, so made camp and returned the next day. These long rides worried her parents, but provided plenty of time to make up stories. Her first novel was set in the Blues, and is entitled APPALOOSA BLUES. TURNAGAIN LOVE was the first one published. It rated a four star review from Affaire de Coeur. Scribes World said “Turnagain Love has some fascinating twists and turns, unexpected complications, and charming scenes.” It is light and humorous. Nancy currently has over 30 books written, both modern and western. All her stories are sweet and wholesome.