Yes, those are my feet in not very high fashion shoes (they’re plastic) and white socks. This is called, “I’m holding my feet to the fire.” It means I’m finally moving on with ideas for the next three Eve Apple mysteries.
I am working on descriptions of my next three books in the Eve Appel Mysteries and playing with plot ideas. I like to use the word “playing” because that is what it feels like as I consider ideas for the books. It is like throwing play dough at the wall. Some sticks; some does not. The stuff that sticks gets shaped into my story. What I’m aiming for are story descriptions, not plot outlines; those will come later. I want the exciting ideas to pop out at this point. I want the ideas to lead so that details will emerge later, often in the process of writing itself.
Regardless of what story emerges in my work, it must do several things. As a cozy mystery it must be about people in a defined community. For Eve Appel that is the community of Sabal Bay, a small ranching city on the Big Lake. The relationships among those in the story are important. Sometimes I think the characters are more important than the murder itself. The murder can be viewed as merely the catalyst that sets my characters in motion. Most of all I set myself the task of tackling important social and personal issues. As I’ve said elsewhere: I consider cozies to be about important stuff, not fluff. Finally, I insert humor into my stories because that’s how I write.
I decided to very consciously lay out what I do when I set up an idea for a book and thought I’d share what I understand of my process and encourage all of you to comment with your own approaches. What I’m going to say isn’t very elegant, and it doesn’t adhere to any established manner of developing plot ideas; it’s just my own process, sloppy as it is. I do adhere to a plot structure that uses two plot points, a dark moment and final resolution as taught by Mary Buckham.
I usually begin my plot meandering with a “what if” question. My “what if” question usually comes from something I’ve read or have been thinking about. In this case, I was reading an AARP article on drug addiction among seniors. And thus the question comes from that article. It can be very general such as, what if I took the recent opioid epidemic and applied it to Eve’s life? My first step is to make the “what if” question impact a murder. So someone must die in a way that can be connected to the opioid issue. From here it is easy to fill in some details such as who is it, how did the person die, how does Eve get involved in solving the murder? The latter issue is important. I always want the murder to be someone Eve or someone close to Eve knows and cares about. I do this because it is important in a cozy to keep the connections personal and close, and Eve’s connection to the person murdered gives me my first plot point, i.e., Eve’s initial reason for getting involved in solving the case. In this situation I made the person killed Eve’s friend Madeleine’s elderly aunt who has come to live in Sabal Bay.
I create the second plot point by getting Eve more intensely involved in solving the murder. In the opioid example, the authorities investigate the murder as a robbery during which the aunt is killed. However, here I have thrown in another reason for the murder: Madeleine’s aunt told her she thought someone was watching her, something the authorities dismiss, so Madeleine hires Eve to look into the case, meaning Eve begins to investigate the aunt’s background, her friends and events during the time leading up to the murder. Her investigation uncovers information indicating that the aunt was on pain medication, but none was found in her home. The case now becomes more than a search for robbery suspects who killed the aunt, but a much more complicated situation in which the aunt could have been a victim of someone looking for drugs or one of the seniors selling them for additional money.
Throw in the moment of potential failure and personal threat for Eve and final resolution and you have a cozy murder mystery. The intricacies of investigating the case can make for an exciting and intriguing story. However, I think that is not enough, so I went back to the “what if” question. What if the opioid epidemic hit Eve more personally?
Here I’m upping the ante for my second plot point. This generates a subplot, and one in which I can draw in Eve more intimately. In this case, I set up Madeleine’s stepdaughter to become addicted to pain killers through a dental procedure. Through the stepdaughter I bring in Eve’s eldest son, first as a rival for an apprenticeship position on her father’s game ranch and then as potential collaborators in finding drugs to feed her, and possibly, his addiction. Where could they find a source of drugs? Perhaps the senior community in which Madeleine’s aunt lived?
I now have the bare bones of a story in which the very personal subplot meshes with the original plot. This is where the fun begins as I weave the two together, and the cozy mystery becomes more than solving the crime of murder. It is now the life of families in a small rural community who are hit with a national problem flooding into their community and their homes.
My final description of the book is more detailed than the process I have outlined here, but it is open enough to allow me to add twists and turns as I begin outlining and writing. This description differs from a synopsis in its openness as I have not yet established who is responsible for the murder or the motivation behind it, and I haven’t laid out fully the ways in which the subplot will permeate the overall mystery. This openness allows me to make changes that we all know pop up as we write.
How do you approach developing a new story line?