Much is made of mind mapping for authors who wish to finish a book fast. No doubt, it is good to know where you are going. And for nonfiction Kindle edition books of 50 to 80 pages, even a shoddy map can get you to the finish line fast.
But what about crime fiction? I believe this is a different animal. The strongest books are thick with plot. Twists and turns keep the reader guessing. Subplots entwine with the main theme to create a layered narrative that must evolve and escalate over 300 pages or so.
Some crime writers gleefully follow their instincts. Elmore Leonard, for one, was not the kind of guy to sketch a map or outline. Other experienced novelists won’t begin writing until they have created a detailed outline.
For new authors of crime fiction I believe there is a middle ground that can be a powerful starting point.
Mindstorming the Crime
Start by writing your crime of choice in great detail without worry about how the whole story will play out. You know a lot about the people, circumstances, consequences and complications because you have a criminal mind.
Bits of dialogue, crime scene specifics, previous causal events, weapons, weather, season, odors, clothing, body portions and proportions … the moment of truth, the song of death, injury or downfall, how it felt to commit the deed & how it felt on the morning after … all these and so much more are worthy and welcome.
Begin to shape your story, events and characters by using your crime details.
Imagine a window with a with a bullet hole. See the cracks and fissures that move outward from the hole in the glass? In one way or another, they all connect or relate to the central event.
The crime you have invented works the same way: its epicenter suggests waves of situations (scenes, confrontations), characters and outcomes.
Some things are close to the crime, others are distant but eventually will be touched: Neighbors, schools, places of employment, churches, cemeteries, diners, bars, teachers, newspaper reporters, readers, political leaders, cops, etc.
Do this Now
In the center of a piece of paper write the word “crime” — the event you have already described in great detail —and around it sketch something similar to the glass cracks and fissures. Now write a name, event (scenes, confrontations) or location on each line of the sketch that expands outward from the central disruption. Some folks are located close, some are distant. Some places and situations are near, others are far away.
The drawing reveals cause and effect — the world defined and possibly reshaped by your crime. It is also an initial, though not definitive, draft of your plot and where the story might take you.
This method of discovery is often preferable to sitting with a blank piece of paper and trying to dream up or outline a plot.
Do you need a plot? Yes indeed. Just re-read your favorite crime novels and you’ll understand the power of structure and surprise. What you don’t need in the beginning is that terrible feeling that occurs when you hit a dead-end and wonder, What the freak happens next?
Start with a bullet hole. See the ramifications. You’ll eventually have plenty of material for an outline, or maybe plenty of good stuff to get you started writing your book.
Need help? My ghostwriting services can speed the process, even if all we do is engage the mind-storming process.
Or grab a free copy of Crime Becomes You: How to Create Killer Fiction — The 6 essential Steps. Available at ExclusiveGhost.com. Begin your publishing dreams with professional help.
Douglas Glenn Clark