First Off the Deck

Once a writer decides when the victims in a mystery should be killed, the next step is determining how the first one will be positioned to open up the plot. Being killed in an interesting way helps for its shock value, but the victim’s personal connections and their motives need to be thought out.  From there you can devise how to assign the clues.

To start, it is important to mask the trail leading to the perpetrator. If you feature an early scene of the killer acting weird, or overly interested in the death, the reader will mark them down on their suspect board—and there goes your twist. Instead, the friend-of-a-friend principle can be helpful. The victim was known to associate with a friend of the killer, and thus becomes a suspect who masks the actual villain. If the killer and the friend engaged in a number of similar activities, you can continue hiding the killer in the shadows in future scenes—because the reader is pointed toward the friend. So see if you lay out a string of shared activities and then stagger them throughout—i.e., a series of clues.

Also, characters who knew the victim can provide observations that hint about the motive without nailing down the specific act that led to the killing. Since murder, famously, is committed either for money or for love, you can pick out a general topic that relates to motive. For example, if the victim was known for lavish dinner parties but did not have much of an income, that hints at living beyond their means. Unless you specifically produce a loan shark, you can bruit news about that person with several unsavory associates, all of whom the reader must put up on the board. 

You can also provide different views of the victim from several characters. If you think through what those views are, then assign them to the characters who will voice those opinions, you are in a position to decide when each view will be given. For example, if a fellow office worker says the lavish-spending victim is guilty of embezzlement, that opens an avenue at the victim’s place of work. Maybe that is pursued first, in a string of scenes, and the embezzlement comes to seem less likely as a motive for murder. That’s when you drop in the second opinion: oh yeah, the vic was a sex hound, and here’s the number of one of the street walkers that serviced them. Another avenue is opened up, and this one really leads somewhere, because the loan shark also is or is linked to a pimp. 

By this point you may have already bumped off a second victim, and you then can start linking the two deaths. The two might have frequented the same bar, for instance. The same witness that knew about the sexual activity of vic 1 also has an opinion about vic 2. And now you’re off to the races.

“Life is nothing but a competition to be the criminal rather than the victim.”          —Bertrand Russell

Copyright @ 2021 John Paine. All rights reserved.

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Copyright © 2020 John Paine. All rights reserved.