Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Planting the Clues

Rather than a how-to, this is more of a how-do? We all know one of our favorite parts of reading a mystery is trying to figure out all the clues...can we discover whodunit before our intrepid detective, whether it’s a police investigator or the nice neighborhood grandmother who always seems to be involved!

I tend to lay in the clues as I go along – I know what I want my reader to know, what s/he can extrapolate from that and what should be a bit, shall we say, “fuzzy” in an effort to keep the villain a secret as long as possible.

Let’s share our secrets: how do you get your clues in there? Do you plot them out before hand? Do you drop them in at the end? Do they surprise you and kind of insert themselves at opportune (or even inopportune) moments?

Let’s dish for our readers!

Libby McKinmer
Romance with an edge
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Mark Troy said...

Okay, I'll dish. I plant seeds as I go. I don't know if they will grow into clues or plot elements until I'm finished. Then I go back on subsequent drafts and weed out all the ones that didn't amount to much. After that, I may have to do more rewriting to put in necessary clues that didn't get seeded the first time.

Mark Troy

Libby McKinmer said...

Thanks, Mark! It's interesting to see how different authors do this -- and how some ideas we think will bear fruit, don't!

Elizabeth Spann Craig said...

I think planting clues is the most challenging part for me. Readers are so savvy these days; I don't want the clues to be so easy that they figure out the murderer's identity right away, but don't want the trail to be so difficult that they lose interest. I come up with clues that point the finger at each suspect. At the end, the clues pointing to suspects other than the murderer are red herrings.

Mystery Writing is Murder

MAGGI said...

It's also important to research thoroughly even in fiction. You can't expect a reader to suspend belief if there are glaring mistakes in your story.
CASEY'S LUCK, a mystery/romance/suspense available from Wild Child Publishing.

Libby McKinmer said...

Yes, Elizabeth, I agree -- it's so hard to hit that right balance.

Libby McKinmer said...

Maggi, research is so key! I do my research AND talk to experts in the field as well. Get the "real world" take on things.

Ben Small said...

I probably shouldn't say this, but I like to plant them early, have them overlooked and become significant later.

Helen Ginger said...

I like to know my villain and the ending before writing so I can plant clues. But I know people who write the book and say they don't know who the "killer" is until the very end.

Straight From Hel

Jean Henry Mead said...

My "red herrings" just seem to evolve from the plot, and I have no idea where it's going until my characters show me. I'm one of those writers who usually doesn't know who the killer is until the third quarter of the book.

Libby McKinmer said...

That's interesting how villains "appear" for some of us. I always know my villain ahead of time, but it's also fun to try and make another character a really viable choice for the readers as well. Keep the fun of figuring it out up for them.

Dana Fredsti said...

I use a little from all of your examples - some clues seem really obvious as to where they go when I'm writing. Others get added at the end when I'm finding glaring holes. And still others pop up like little surprise 'Easter eggs' in DVD specials extras menus!