Expectation vs. Reality| Plotting a Mystery Novel

So. It turns out that mysteries are harder to plot than I expected. What's with that? I've written fantasy, contemporary, and sci-fi, but until now, I hadn't tried to tackle the mystery genre yet. In my mind, it was like tackling a kitten, but little did I know that someone had snuck that kitten steroids (I'm pretty sure that's illegal, so...yeah), waiting for the day that I would test the waters of mystery (ooo, great novel title. I call it).

For the past month, I have been plotting my latest novel, Strange Sights. I've had it as an idea for the past year or so, and it has been driving me crazy to not be able to write it! I assumed that as soon as I got to immerse myself into the marvelous world that I wanted to create, I would be happy. Well, it turns out that it's still driving me crazy, but in a different way. Less of a picturesque "oh no, I'm a writer who just has too many things to write. Woe is me." but more of a "HOW THE ACTUAL HECK AM I GOING TO PULL THIS OFF?"

Image result for chris traeger I am 100% sure

This has definitely been a learning process for me, which is good, but also....how important is learning, really?

This learning process (Learning Process: the phrase that I use to describe why I'm crying over math or have my foot stuck in the oven after trying to cook dinner) has changed how I see the mystery genre.
Expectation vs. Reality: Plotting a Mystery
(because boy, did I have expectations...)

Expectation: Mysteries aren't that much different from every other genre. You plot it just like every other genre, you do the same kind of research, etc.

Reality: Actually, you delusional pancake, mysteries are exactly that, A MYSTERY. 
I doubt that any writer has the perfect formula to writing (unless you are a writing god like Maggie Stiefvater), and I doubt that any mystery writer knows exactly what they're doing, but GOODNESS GRACIOUS, was this a learning experience. Each genre comes with its own challenges.
  • Fantasy can be difficult for those with a limited imagination.
  • Sci-Fi can be hard for those who don't like space or shooty things (usually sci-fi includes shooty things that go pew-pew. #hardfacts).
  • Comedy can be hard for those who have as much humor and wit as a dried apricot.
  • Romance can be hard for those whose soulmate is 5 cats.
  • Horror can be difficult for those who are afraid of shadows. And light (because light creates shadows, so...that's scary, too).
  • Historical Fiction can be hard for those who fell asleep in class and aren't actually sure whether World War I was a zombie invasion or if the moon landing was faked by an alien named Neil Armstrong. 
  • A series can be hard for those with commitment issues.
  • BUT MOST OF ALL: the mystery. A beast that lurks in the shadows, waiting for the unsuspecting writer who thinks they can Pants this.
Which leads me to my next expectation.

Expectation: I can Pants this. 
It is totally within my power to write this by the seat of my pants. I'll just let the story go where it goes, like the other novels I've written.

Reality: giRL, listen to a thing.
Murders take planning, schedules, and a reasonable motive (I promise I'm a writer. Please don't call the cops). Murders take multiple suspects that have to all have probable suspicion yet still be as innocent as a butterfly. Murders have to have a little flair that makes them interesting. THESE THINGS TAKE PLANNING.

Image result for plan things gif

Expectation: Writing a Fantasy-Contemporary-Mystery will be a piece of cake.
If I take these three genres and mash them together, that means 1/3 of the work for me!! Because if I can just combine a few things here and there, I won't have to come up with my own original ideas. It's a win-win for everyone.

Reality: Genre x 3 = MORE WORK, YOU CRACKED WALNUT. 
What did you think it would be? A walk in the park? No. The parks closed: you get to walk in the cactus-filled desert (not to be confused with cactus-filled dessert. I will not be making that mistake twice...). It's 3x the work trying to find the right way to get all three genres to mix perfectly without being too busy or insane.

Expectation: I will never use math in life.
Well of course I would never need addition or subtraction. I don't need to know how many apples Johnny has. All that matters is how many apples I have, which better be more than Johnny, otherwise Johnny is going down.

Reality: Fractions, division, and percentages exist in all worlds, not just evil ones (aka any world where you're forced to do math).
It turns out my villain is very much so into using math and percentages for his evil schemes. What is with that? That leaves me trying to accommodate his shenanigans by doing said math. I suppose I could hire someone to do the math for me, but then I'd have to do math to figure out how much I had to pay them if they worked for x hours. MATH IS EVERYWHERE.

Image result for math is everywhere gif

Expectation: Since I'm basing this in a real-world environment, I don't need to focus at all on world-building because I've been to the location many times. I know it well enough.
Like all crazy things, this novel is taking place in Portland (also a little in Ireland, but we won't talk about that). Since I myself have been to Portland many times, I don't have to research much. I know the vibe, the businesses, and the terrain well enough to be able to rely on my own brain over Google for this one.

Reality: Just kidding, I have the memory of a goldfish, and I also have to create a whole other community and tie it in with the residing one. 
So it turns out that magical communities are very different from normal ones, what with their wings and floating cats...

Expectation: Detectiving will be simple.
I'm a relatively intelligent human. I can Sherlock my way out of any situation. I can find proper evidence and clues at the click of a key.

Reality: I am as intelligent as Anderson.

Image result for anderson sherlock gif

True story. I have the mind of a middle-aged man who wears a lot of sweaters and falls against the wall crying. Why can't clues present themselves in a reasonable way? Why can't there be a Clue Line where the detective is shown the evidence straight up? Because then all the Sherlocks of the world would become Andersons. (Then again, Anderson believed that Sherlock was alive, so he may actually be the smart one here. Hmm, food for thought).

Expectation: I'm smart enough to write all this. Totally. 

Reality: To be decided.

What genre is your favorite (to write or read)? For all my writer peeps: What is the hardest thing about plotting? Did I miss any Expectations vs. Realities? 


  1. THIS IS SO RELATABLE. And don't forget freaking out that the "mystery" ends up not even being mysterious. I was writing a murder mystery and omg I just thought it must be SO OBVIOUS the whole time *facepalm* and one beta thought it was and the other didn't so I just then removed myself to faceplant into a hole. 😂 Let no one say writing mysteries is easy!! And you're so so spot on accurate with those expectations vs realities!

    1. Ah, yes, the classic "I'm actually an idiot and everything about this story is predictable" reality. I myself have done that more times than I care to admit. XD

  2. I wrote a mystery. Once. That was enough. They are my favorite genre to read, but nope, not gonna write them. However! I have a book to recommend that can help you through this! It's called How to Write a Damn good Mystery by James N. Frey, and it is spectacular. Also helpful.

    1. You know my pain. XD And I'll have to check that out! :) Any help is much appreciated (and probably needed).

  3. I feel kinda bad because I thought it was kinda funny imagining your foot getting stuck in the oven xD

    It's getting set in Ireland as well? Interesting...

    My fave genre is contemporary! But I'm branching out this year to see if it'll change. I don't know if I'll stop WRITING contemporary though... other genres seem so darn hard in comparison.

    The hardest thing about plotting is being a pantser.

    1. I'm sure it looked hilarious to the rest of my family...

      Right? It can be tough to learn a new genre if you're used to just one.

      Can I get an amen? Because that is the TRUTH. I'm trying actually plotting something for once, and it is harder than I thought (though still fun). There is a reason why I usually just Pants it. XD


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