Thank you to Janice Hardy and to Writers in the Storm for this excellent article on plotting the novel.
Unless you’re playing with a non-chronological story structure, plot unfolds as time marches on in a novel. It starts when the problem is discovered (more or less), and ends when the problem is resolved. But just because the story is in chronological order, doesn’t mean we need to plot it that way.
I’m currently working on the outline for a novel a bit outside my normal genre. It’s still science fiction, but it’s a detective novel at heart, with all the twist and turns and plot requirements that entails. Information needs to be revealed in the right way, otherwise my plot might feel too rushed or too slow, and some of the logic leaps my detective has might not make sense. This holds true of most stories, regardless of their genres.
Luckily, there are pinch points I know I’m going to have, such as finding the body, uncovering the killer, revealing key secrets and clues. These clear moments are “destination points” for me to plot toward.
Pantsers just write their way there and see what happens, but I’m a plotter, and I need to have a solid outline in place before I begin a novel. When I can’t find my way forward, I skip to the end and go backward. Because of those destination points, I know exactly where I need to be.
With a genre as structured as a mystery, this is even easier. For example, I know my detective will discover the killer’s identity at a certain point. So I start there–what specifically reveals this? What clue leads him to this discovery? How does he find that clue? What is he doing when he discovers this clue? At each point, I figure out what had to have happened to get him there.
Let’s look a little closer.