Help! My Plot is Twisting

by Ane Mulligan, @AneMulligan, +AneMulligan

I’m working on the plotline for a new novel. It’s the second in a series of Depression era books. While the time period is different, the story has my brand elements of an ensemble cast of strong Southern women helping each other through life.

I’ve been doing character interviews and the backstory for about two weeks now. But today, something happened that I didn’t see coming. The plot is twisting into a mystery.

That in itself is not a bad thing. Almost every family in the South has a mystery in their past or a relative who’s crazy. It’s an intrinsic part of Southern life. Like ghosts. Yes, we love our ghost stories, too.

But I digress. I have a plot point I needed to figure out. As I wrote down questions that needed answering—something Rachel Hauck taught in one of her posts here on Novel Rocket—I stopped and gaped at what I’d written. Staring at the screen, I was completely gobsmacked.

How so, you ask? Well, a character died in a fishing boat accident prior to the book opening.I didn’t think a lot about that when I first I began to work out the plot. But I can’t have that character simply die and not know how it happened. You see, I need that boat for another character. This is during the Great Depression, and there isn’t money to buy a new boat. After all, we’re not talking about a rowboat, but a mid-sized commercial fishing boat. I had to find out what happened to it.

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Remember those questions Rachel said to ask? I started asking. How badly was it damaged? Was it salvageable? Could a man die in the accident but the boat survive? Were there any tale-tell signs of skull duggery?

As I asked these questions, I remembered I once slid a small mystery thread into Home to Chapel Springs, but it wasn’t planned out, it simply happened, and it didn’t require a lot of strategy. I don’t think strategically enough to figure out all the red herrings and misleads of a real mystery. I can’t play chess, either. They both take strategy and I don’t have a lick.

Possessing strategic bones or not, I now find myself now with a mystery on my hands and three people who have a very good motive for murder. I knew a call to my critique partner Elizabeth Ludwig was in order. We’ve been writing pals for twelve years. I knew she’d give me good advice. And she did.

  1. You must have a compelling reason for a character to do what you want them to do. They can’t just do it. I agree. Motivation is everything.
  2. You need an Obi Wan Kenobi character. She suggested a new character I hadn’t thought of and she works perfectly. This new character can be the “conscience” or wise counsel who provides the motivation for another to do what I need her to do.
  3. Work out the clues you need to get then end you want. Once I decide for sure if it was an accident or murder, then I can figure out the clues. If an accident, I can still cast suspicion on people if they have the motive.
  4. The rest will sort itself out as you write. And she was right. I took our brainstorming ideas and wrote them down, as if telling myself the story. They work. The devices all tie together. The motivations tie together.

Now that Lisa talked me off the cliff, I’m excited again about this story. I’ve got the elements, and have some characters that will stretch me as a writer. What more could I ask for?

Critique partners are the greatest!


Life in Chapel Springs

Life in Chapel Springs has turned upside down and inside out.

Is it a midlife pregnancy or … cancer? Claire will keep her secret until she’s sure—but it isn’t easy. Between her twins’ double wedding, a nationwide art tour and her health, life is upside down. Shy Lacey Dawson was happily writing murder mysteries for the community theater, but a freak accident results in traumatic injuries. When the bandages come off, Lacey’s world is tuned inside out. Gold has been discovered in Chapel Springs and the ensuing fever is rising.

While a large, floppy straw hat is her favorite, Ane Mulligan has worn many different ones: hairdresser, legislative affairs director (that’s a fancy name for a lobbyist), drama director, playwright, humor columnist, and novelist. Her lifetime experience provides a plethora of fodder for her Southern-fried fiction (try saying that three times fast). She firmly believes coffee and chocolate are two of the four major food groups. President of Novel Rocket, Ane resides in Sugar Hill, GA, with her artist husband. You can find Ane on her Southern-fried Fiction websiteGoogle+AmazonGoodreadsTwitter, and Pinterest.