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Plotting Backwards – Well, I didn’t See That Coming

Go to any writing convention and sooner or later you’ll come across the endless debate, To Plot, to Not to Plot. It’s the only eternal question for which the correct answer appears to  not be 42.

Some writers plot their stories out, some with just an outline, others in considerable details. I’m one of them. When I’ve tried to write without first developing a plot, I found I wasted thousands of words writing myself into irrelevancies, blind alleys or places where my story had no right to be going.

Others, known as Pantsers, i.e they write by the seat of their pants, figure out the plot as they go. Stephen King is one of them, so clearly it works for those who can do it.

Murder Mystery writers seem to mostly be Plotters, which isn’t surprising I suppose, considering the intricate details that often have to be worked out. But, I have to admit, when I first start out on a plot, it feels like a big ball of confusion.

Something I’ve learned recently is that quite a number of MM Writers plot backwards. Instead of starting with a body and an investigator, they start with the murder, the perpetrator and the motive. They know exactly how the crime was committed, which makes it easier to lay in clues as they go.

Some write a short narrative of the events in the murderer’s life leading up to the crime. This way they know where the killer went and what he/she did and these become opportunities to plant clues.

The famous English writer, PD James once said, “I always know the end of the mystery before I begin to write. Tension should he held within the novel and there should be no longuers of boring interrogation.” (I had to look “longeurs” up in my dictionary – it means, a tedious passage in a book or a piece of music. Who knew?)

All this got me wondering if it’s possible to tell from reading a novel if the author was a Pantser or a Plotter. Hmm!

I’m just starting out with plotting my next novel, so I’m going to give this reverse gear idea a shot.

I’ll let you know how it went.

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