Saturday, January 14, 2012

The Rule of Three. Because I'm writing another mystery ...

I've been reminding myself of the need for structure in a mystery. The three act structure works well for the screen as well as books.
The first third would be the set up:  Introducing the characters in their setting. The conflict and the hook which keeps the reader turning the pages.
The second act, or middle - and the largest part of the story is when the complications and crises arise. First establishing the problem, the protagonist attempts to solve it, facing dangerous situations. He/she fails to resolve it. Their second attempt reveals more complications. The third attempt brings them lower as the tension rises to an unbearable level with no obvious way through. Another body might make an appearance here.
The Third act solves sub-plots. In the big scene, the protagonist eliminates theories, figures things out and confronts the villain. The crises are resolved and the villain meets his/her end.
Wrap it up with a description of what lies ahead for the protagonist and what he has learned from the experience.
Adding a romance to the mystery - as I plan to do adds more sub-plots and conflicts . The opening line of a romantic suspense has to draw the reader immediately into the story.
For example:
Why did the house feel so cold? Casey leaned her elbows back onto the narrow bed as the memory of the past few weeks ran through her mind, tightening her stomach. She’d hoped to escape the trauma of a broken relationship by returning to England, but the break-up seemed to have taken a piece of her she wasn’t sure she’d get back.

My mystery/romantic suspense novel MURDER IN DEVON is released by Black Opal Books on 28th February. Here's an excerpt:
 Blurb: Casey Rowan, a women's magazine editor, finds herself racing against the clock to solve a murder investigation after her friend is murdered and his wife's life hangs by a thread.

The drum of her heels on the parquet floor echoed through the hall. Something seemed very wrong. Don had been very successful in his chosen profession, but it wouldn't have made him the millions of pounds required to buy this kind of luxury. Their previous house had been humble by comparison. At what point did they start wanting so much more?
She pushed open the door to the main bedroom with her fist and stopped. The room had been ransacked, cupboard doors hung open and drawers overturned, their contents spread across the floor. She backed up against the wall, her eyes darting across the room. When did this happen?
The scene sent her heart pounding so hard her ribs began to hurt. She ran for the front door; sliding on the Persian carpet, she grabbed the doorway to stop herself from falling. Stumbling into the back bedroom, she fell to a crouch and stared at the glass scattered across the floor. The window had been smashed from the outside.
She stayed crouched and tried to listen above the noisy pounding of her heart. Either all the noise she'd made sent someone scurrying for cover, or they'd left before she arrived. The house was so silent she could hear the heating system kick on and the distant chug of a boat on the river.
Her heart slowed to its normal rhythm. Inside the house, nothing moved except her, and she retraced her steps to the study.
Don's computer discs lay scattered over the desk. The computer was still on. She grabbed a pencil and used its rubber tip to scroll through his files. He had a backlog of information stored there. When she was just about to give up, a file simply headed Farrowham appeared in the computer's recently opened documents. The name was familiar but the file was encoded.
The front door opened, and she jumped to her feet, her eyes sliding wildly across the room for somewhere to hide. She'd only taken a few steps before, DCI Carlisle appeared at the study door, with two other police officers standing behind him.
"Ms. Rowan," he said, his words curt. "I thought I made myself perfectly clear. Do I have to put you behind bars to stop you from interfering in this investigation?"
"I just got here." Casey felt her face grow hot. "The place has been ransacked. A window broken. Why would I do that? I have a key!"
"And how did you come by a key?"
"I borrowed them."
Carlisle's expression didn't change. "And the alarm sequence?"
"Tessa wrote it in my diary when she asked me to house-sit for her." She fumbled in her bag and rifled through the pages. "See for yourself."
He looked at the page she thrust at him but he didn't seem satisfied.
"You're threatening this case, Ms. Rowan. We have a right to know why you're here."
"Looking for anything unusual. I know Don. If something's out of place, I'd know it. I can help." She searched his face. He wasn't buying it.
He walked over to the computer. "That's debatable. So far, you've done nothing but mess up a potential crime scene. What have you touched?"
"I checked the computer files. I used the end of a pencil."
Furious, he motioned to the other two police officers. They left the room, and she listened to them move about the house. "We're going to need to take a trip to the station. You don't seem to realize you're a suspect in a murder enquiry, and now I find you at a crime scene. The Devon police took your fingerprints, didn't they?"
She nodded. "I didn't know it was a crime scene. And I was careful. You won't find my fingerprints here. When did this happen?"
His brows rose slightly. "Friday morning."
"Friday! You might have mentioned it when we spoke earlier."
Carlisle looked tired. He rubbed his hand over the beginnings of a four o'clock shadow, and a muscle worked in his cheek. His tie was loosened at the neck, the top button undone. "I guess I just didn't realize I was supposed to keep you informed. Maybe a night in the cells will cool you down."
"On what charge?" She went to brush past him, but he placed his hand against the wall, blocking her exit.
"Oh, I can come up with a great deal on you, Ms. Rowan. Tampering with a crime scene, for one."
They studied each other. She drew breath, unsettled by his proximity, so close she caught the scent of leather and soap.
A heavy frown lodged between Carlisle's eyebrows, his blue eyes frosty. "I'm still waiting for you to tell me what you're doing here."


Susan C. said...

I've been brushing up on structuring a mystery in between drafts of my own novel - this was a good summary. Good luck with Murder in Devon!

Maggi Andersen said...

Thanks Susan. Good luck with your novel.