Plotting a Mystery: Seasons







Using a period of time (or life moment) to begin outlining a novel

It’s summer. In between picnics, parties, and vacations, who has time to write? I certainly struggle to meet my page goals during the warm months. So, in honor of the hot-and-busy season, I’m offering a three-part series designed to assist not so much with writing as outlining. Outlining is as important as writing, yet I neglect it. I’d much rather develop characters than plot points. But this summer, instead of writing pages, I will compose notes that support an outline; I will plan important components of my fiction novel and stay focused on my goals.

Using this blog as a starting point, I will strategize my new novel. While I’d love to say I just begin typing on a new project, I’ve found that before I tackle anything new, I first need to develop key concepts. No better time than the present, eh? Let’s get started.

Writing is to house painting as outlining is to washing walls and taping woodwork. Before I put words on a page (or paint on a wall), I first must get organized. I’m not a “pantser”; I need structure. Before starting a writing project, I develop an underlying framework, a thesis, if you will. (Creating this structure takes time away from actual writing, but I’ve found that I work faster when I have specific plot points in mind.)

There are two things I must establish as I build an outline: season and time.

Plotting your novel -- using seasonsWhat do I mean by season?

A “season” could refer to a time of year but in this instance, for my purpose, it means a season of life. In the novel I’m developing, my main character is a woman who is forty-plus. She and her friends are at a time where their jobs and marriages have changed and their children are grown. The women are entering new stages; they’re questioning their existence, their purpose. This season in my main character’s life—and her reaction to what’s happening—drives the story.

During June, I will examine what this new stage of life means to my main character. I will analyze and brainstorm; I will let my mind wander. I will step into my character’s head to discover how she feels, what she thinks, and how she reacts to conflict. Truly, what better time than summer to daydream?

A secondary task will be to embrace a “season” as in time of year. For the story I’m working on, the logical time would be autumn. It’s the season that most corresponds with my character’s time of life; however, my hunch is to go against type. Spring may be more appropriate. My character is entering a new phase of life. Should I place the story during spring to underscore this change? Would placing the narrative during the spring season be more appropriate than autumn?

 I don’t know yet and that’s the beauty of this exercise. While I’m walking, traveling, boating, and enjoying summer sunsets, I’ll be contemplating how seasons affect the character and the book I’m developing. I love the sense of freedom that this stage offers: I have no plot line yet, no restrictions. I’m not burdened by anything other than the time it will take to create the foundation of my new novel.

What season works for your novel?

What about you? What are you contemplating? Anything new? Are you taking part in National Novel Writing Month in November? Now is the time to set the groundwork! Consider the concept of “season” and how it affects your work. Jot some notes, embrace the exercise, enjoy letting your mind wander.

Next month, I’ll discuss time and how it affects the outline for your novel.

Happy summer—and happy writing! - Tracey Kathryn

 Blog Shout Out: Jungle Red Writers






If you’re a Midwest-based writer, you may have attended a writing event that featured Hank Phillippi Ryan as a keynote speaker. She’s a journalist-writer-dynamo who is inspiring and encouraging. Her website links to a blog that’s part of the Jungle Red Writers. The blog is a hoot! It describes itself as “The View” with [dead] bodies. The women are eight “smart and sassy crime fiction writers  who dish on writing and life.” The blog is worth following—and Hank is a fantastic resource. Enjoy!

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