It’s been my experience as I’ve embarked on the Madeline Dawkins series that more concentration on plot is required when crafting a mystery. While writing general fiction, all I needed to certify my leap into a new novel was some well-thought out characters, a good premise, and at least one plausible ending. At that point, I was welcome to let my imagination run wild.
Now that I’ve taken this new path, I’m realizing how necessary it is to see both ahead and behind, running scenarios through a prism, seeing them from every angle and noting the consequences of every line, no matter how trivial they might seem on the surface. In fact, it’s those seemingly innocuous moments that lend themselves to the most unexpected opportunities.
While writing “Spouse Trap,” the prequel to the Madeline series, I was picking my way through a style of writing that was loaded with alleyways that could sneak back around and bite me on the tokus. This prosprct was as exciting as it was scary. To ward off the unknown, I armed myself with as much knowledge as I could, taking a private investigator course so that I would know what I was talking about, and “virtually” living on Guam for months.
Still, treading as carefully as I could, I had a heart-stopping moment as I neared the end of the book and saw a hole in the plot that threatened the credibility of the story. I panicked, naturally, and executed a mental face-slapping, which brought about a simple solution, one so benign and natural, it had the added bonus of delivering the ending in a nicely tied bow. Had I not gone down that blind alley, I would not have had that opportunity to punctuate the finale while underscoring the birth of the series.I won’t give specifics to avoid spoilers, but this once glaringly obvious oversight ended up as the unexpected twist in a perfectly shaken Sazerac.
Other unforeseen opportunities presented themselves in “A High Price to Pay.” I was not petrified by the gaffs this time, and was able to exploit them to their full advantage. What I’ve discovered in this style of writing is that every scenario has multiple possibilities—of both the subliminal and red herring variety—that give us diehard mystery lovers what we crave: the satisfaction of being so close to figuring it out and still being surprised at the end.
As I wade into the third Madeline book, I’m letting out more line and keeping my eye out for any and all happy surprises. May all your “mysterious” endeavors lead to satisfying conclusions!
Until next time,