"You have chosen you working genre for your ebook. Now it’s time to get into the inner workings of the book and flesh out your story idea. Let’s suppose that you have chosen to write the next great mystery novel. What’s your story going to be about? Where do you even begin? You begin with answering the questions: Who? What? Where? When? Why? How? Starting to resemble grade school grammar class, right? Buckle in and hang with me because this is where the fun for you really begins.
On the first sheet of paper in your notebook write down those questions above leaving about five to nine lines in between each one for you to write down your answers. Now, we’ll go through each question one by one, and get more details for our mystery novel.
Who? On the first few lines, write down who the main characters in the story will be. The essential ones to consider for any story are the protagonists (good guys), the antagonists (bad guys) and any secondary or supporting characters. At this point, you don’t need to flesh out each character entirely. We’ll do that in a bit. Right now just jot down a little bit about each one. Are they male or female? Old or young? If you can give them working names for now then go ahead and do so. If not, don’t worry. You can come up with these once you completely flesh out each character. For our example, we’ll say that our heroine in this story will be a young female named Emily. The antagonist will be an unnamed shadowy mass murderer. We’ll give Emily some supporting characters like her huffy boss, senior partner, and maybe her pet cat. I am honestly picking these things at random as we go along. So, we’ll have to see where this story ends up together.
What? This is a big question to answer, and it might take some time to completely answer. Once the story is developed further you will get a better idea of how to answer this one in full. For now, let’s just get some of the big picture concepts on your paper. What level of diction will you use? Not only will what you say to your readers matter, but how you say it as well. Will you use a high level of diction like Shakespeare, or will you employ colloquial speech? What is going on with the main plot in your story? What led your characters to the point that they find themselves now? What will be some of the obstacles that the main characters face? Going back to our example, let’s suppose that Emily has just finished graduate school and earned a degree in Criminology. She has just finished State Trooper Academy and now finds herself as a rookie undercover investigator in a small town. She will likely have to face the obstacles of being accepted by her peers, overcoming her fears on the job and maybe working past her problems with social awkwardness to finally get into a steady relationship. The main plot may be that Emily and her senior partner fall onto the trail of a local mass murderer, and have to race against time to catch the killer before another person in town gets knocked off.
Where? This one can be an easy question to answer, or a hard one. It depends on how complex you want to make your story. You could have your mystery be simple and take place in a small town in the heart of Americana. You could decide that it should be more elaborate, and take place in deep space, or perhaps on a distant planet. For the purposes of keeping things simple for clarity, we’ll continue along the line of our example and say that our mystery will take place mainly in some small town in America. Other things to consider in this category are smaller details such as: Where does the main character live? Where is the killer in relation to the town? Where is the police barracks? The more details that you give to your work now the easier that it will be to bring it to life when the time to write it arrives.
When? Again, the sky is the limit on this question as well. It can be as simple or as complicated as you want it to be. There’s nothing saying that we couldn’t write a mystery story that takes place in the distant future, or one that happened in the Salem Witch Trials of 1620s New England. This is where you get to be creative and have a lot of fun! Take some time to let all of the possibilities percolate in your mind. Jot down all of them as they come to you, and then play the ‘what if’ game with each one. What if Emily were on a distant moon in 2137 and chasing after an alien killer? What if she were accused of being a witch in Salem in the 1620s, and had to prove her innocence? You could take our example and probably come up with dozens of scenarios to expound on alone. For our sake, we’ll say that Emily is stuck in present day America.
Why? Once more, you can open up your imagination with this question and come up with hundreds of reasons for each case. Basically, though, you want to figure out why the killer is killing in our story. Why is he so hard to catch? Other items under this heading might include: Why can’t Emily get a date? Why is her boss such a jerk? Why is her partner constantly riding her case? You want to try and develop the main motivations for why each main character does what they do. Emily can’t get a date because she is young and clueless on how to approach boys. Maybe she went to an all-girls high school, and stayed focused on class work during college. Maybe her boss is a jerk because he is having problems at home. Maybe he has an alcohol addiction. Maybe the killer is trying to prove a point, or expose a social injustice. Maybe the killer is trying to avenge a wrongful death. Lots of things to think about, so, again take some time to consider all of the possibilities and write them down in your notebook.
How? The next concept to tackle is the ‘how’ to the story. How does the killer kill his victims? How will Emily and her cohorts catch him? How will her boss overcome his addiction? How will each character overcome the obstacles that are thrown in their paths? For our story, perhaps the killer murders his victims with an axe. He leaves behind cryptic messages that give the investigators some clues as to his next victim, but not enough to tell them everything. Maybe Emily eventually discovers the system that the killer is using, and gets one step ahead of him. On one of the subplots (which we’ll delve into in later sections) might follow how her boss overcomes his personal demons with addiction. Again, take the time to properly flesh out some of the answers to this question. They will pay you big dividends later."
To obtain a full copy of "Ebook Help Now! The Essential Writer's Companion", click the link to the right on this page.