Mystery in the Middle

Am learning a LOT about plotting a mystery from Frey, which is good since Act Two is all about the mystery. Here’s a real simple thing that I would not have thought of myself until it was too late: write out the story of the murder. Not in scenes that will go in the book (not yet) but as a synopsis. This will be the same path of clues the detective follows. I could not have known what my detective would do next until I knew in minute detail what the murderer had done, why and how and when. Once I got that all written out, I saw exactly how my detective had to act to uncover the crime, step by step.

So simple, but it didn’t occur to me. There’s a ton more; this book was really worth the money. For example, there are tried and true heroic traits for the detective (mine is a cop on vacation). The good guy needs courage, needs to have a special talent, be good at their job, clever and resourceful, wounded, an outlaw, and self-sacrificing.

A fun fact Frey throws in is that the guy can be messed up in other areas as long as he (or she) has these heroic traits. He points out that Sherlock Holmes was a junkie and Columbo was a slob. Sam Spade sent the woman he loved to jail. (She was a murderer…but still!) He also points out that most of these guys are loners, without lovers or friends or successful relationships.

A final nugget, one Frey picked up from Elizabeth George: about halfway through the book, George sits down and writes out every single conclusion the reader has probably come to so far in the story. What the reader expects to happen next. And then she makes sure to subvert at least two out of three of these expectations. As a reader (and a former reviewer of mysteries) I know how important it is to have the element of surprise in a mystery. Who wants to read a whodunit already knowing all the answers?


  1. Hi Cynthia!
    I’ve included your website in the Writer’s Resources page of the Spring print version Mom Writer’s Literary Magazine. I like your site very much. Thank you for sharing your thoughts on writing with the world. You can reach me on my personal blog, which includes links to MWLM. Have a great day!


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