I’ve just finished writing the set-up for my second River Bluffs mystery. There was a time when I tried to follow the 5 Acts of Storytelling, but it never worked well for me, so now I have my own rhythm for writing books. The first fourth of most books (I bend my own rules when I want to) is the set-up.
My mystery will be about 70,000 words, so my goal for its first fourth is about 17,000. I know there are people out there who can splash down that many words in a week. I’m not one of them. Especially at the start of a book. Opening chapters are like tiptoeing on quicksand for me. It’s like meeting half a dozen people to set out on a journey, and you only know a couple of them. The rest are strangers or acquaintances. Do I like them? Trust them? Do I want to spend time with them? They can’t all be nice, because I need conflict. And sorry, poor innocent newbie, but I’m going to kill you in chapter 10. I’ve already plotted it out.
Writing a book’s first sentence, first chapter, and first page all make me sweat. The opening is what hooks the reader. I don’t need to trip over a body right away. Mysteries create a certain mood. Subtle hints can assure me I’ll find a corpse eventually. If EVERYBODY hates the book reviewer who slams writers? He probably won’t be among the living a few chapters in. I can wait. Because I know that the setting, the people I bump into, and little tidbits of information will all eventually contribute to the guessing game of who done it.
I like the long, slow games of mystery as much as the quick and dirty. I just finished reading Jenna Bennett’s Past Due. Bodies dropped so fast, I had trouble keeping up:) I’ve started book 9, and so far there’s only one body. People are dying at a more sedate pace. Doesn’t matter to me. I like them both.
A set-up needs certain elements, though. A hook. An inciting incident. Introduction to the main characters. The book’s big problem (the mystery). An internal problem the protagonist must face. Some minor characters (a friend or two, antagonist, villain, or romantic interest. For mysteries, some witnesses victims, and suspects.) A setting. And I like to throw in two sub-plots that fit the story’s theme. Another element that makes a difference to me is tone. Authors have unique voices, but they can change tones. The same author can write humorous or dark. It’s a matter of word choice. And a riveting tone can keep me turning pages.
Anyway, I’ve finished writing 17,000 words and I can cross off all the necessary elements for the way I like to write a set-up. You can do what you want, and if you do it well, I’ll probably like it. But I’m happy with my book’s set-up. The crucial ingredient? At the very end of the set-up, I want to write a twist, a turning point, that drives the book in a different direction and ups the ante. And I’ve got that, too.
Now all I have to do is write the next fourth of the book. I’m not fast at that either:)
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