"Morning Glory": Building a Mystery

I mentioned on Tuesday that I brought the start of Morning Glory to my writing group, and that they generally seemed positive about it. One fellow writer asked what it’s like to write a mystery—whether I plan the whole thing out, or what. Surely I have to know the culprit the whole way through, right?

(Yes, the post title is a reference to that Sarah McLachlan song.)

I’m not the best person to ask, since this was my first mystery. But yes, I knew what really happened from early on—or at least I knew how it began to go wrong. From there, I wanted the characters to interact naturally.

I didn’t entirely plan how I was going to get to the end that I wanted, though. I had a very high-level outline of a way they could get there, but wasn’t holding myself to it, and indeed the final story did not go that way. Many times I just brainstormed into my notes app between writing sessions, trying to figure out extra motivations, original plans, and possible ways out of the situations I’d written myself into. (Again, if characters don’t go off alone, they don’t die!)

The most interesting thing I realized was that writing a mystery means keeping several plots in your head at once: the “true” events, plus each additional hypothesis you want the readers to consider, plus (perhaps) what each character believes is true, plus the original plans the characters had that may have gone wrong. All of these need to go at once, and you need to avoid contradicting any of them accidentally. In a sense, you are playing the “witch” of my short piece “The Rules”.1 I’m not sure I actually accomplished this with Morning Glory, and I may try to fix some of the issues in my revision.

That said, my parents told me about an interview with Tana French, a published mystery author, where she said that she doesn’t know who the culprit is when she starts out. So it sounds like even that can work. (French’s novels, at least the first one I’ve read, are as much character studies as mysteries anyway—the mystery may not be the point.)

Anyway, that brings us to today’s progress report. I’ve gotten over the hump I mentioned previously: switching the actions of two pairs of characters in order to make a later part of the story make more sense. I’m now moving forward at a faster pace again, just trying to improve flow and clean up inconsistencies. Unfortunately, I realized that there’s a similar problem coming up in chapter 6, where the plan the characters come up with just doesn’t make sense. Hopefully I’ll think of a good answer for that soon.

I realized that I never got around to posting triumphantly for having finished NaNoWriMo, being overshadowed by Current Events. That means that, unlike 2008 and 2012, I never posted a Wordle for Morning Glory. So, here you go!

Word frequency map; the largest words are "Theo", "Laureen", and "Chris", followed by "Trina", "back", "Mom", "looked", and "Emily"

Part of NaCreSoMo 2017.

  1. “The Rules” is itself based on Umineko, much more directly than Morning Glory, and it wouldn’t surprise me at all to learn that the writer, Ryukishi07, had a similar idea in mind. ↩︎