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One mystery, looking for a detective...

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I'm a beginner writer. I've completed a few NaNoWriMos but nothing stunning (or readable), so I'd really appreciate some experienced advice.

I'm at the plotting-and-planning stage of writing some mystery novels.
I've got plenty of ideas for the murder itself - people of interest in the case and how my detective might find her way through the clues to the truth... but I don't have a clear picture of my detective.
I keep picturing myself in her place - and while I'm sure I'm fascinating... I'm probably not gripping fiction.

I'd like to steer clear of the heavy police procedural stuff - which is why I'm looking at more of a cozy feel to the stories. So I'm not looking for the detective to be police, PI or similar... but I'm not really sure what the alternatives are.
She's a member of the community that the book is about - I'm planning on setting it amongst geeks, in particular amongst ren-faire/medieval re-eneactors (at least for the first book)... and I'm sure I can contrive for her to get tangled up in the investigation for the first book, but I'm not sure how I'd do it again without it becoming too contrived.

I've got a few ideas for different book-plots and while it may be wishful thinking to be planning more than one story at this time - I'd like to build the first one with at least the possibility of my detective still being around so I can do the other ones too. Of course - it's possible I could simply write a completely different detective for the other book ideas... but I like the idea of having somebody familiar - so that I don't have to introduce them the second time, so they can be a common thread in the books, and so I can grow the character over time. It also seem to be reasonably common practice amongst mystery writing to have a detective for a whole series.

So I guess I'm at a bit of a loss.

Is it better to build a single detective for multiple books, and how can I get her involved in the cases without bringing in the heavy police procedural details?

Thanks in advance

PS: was encouraged by this post:

:) thanks for saying it's ok...

Old Bill:
Tae.  You offered me some good comments on my work so it shows that you know what the reader is looking for.  I wish you luck on your first MS.

I agree with you that if I based a character on me, it would be a fabulous seller for insomniacs.  ::)  So we have to make a protag from a composite of lots of people both known and those flitting around in our imagination.  Sounds like you are heading for a Murder She Wrote type of novel, which as a cozy may work okay (although it usually drives the 'procedural' types up the wall).  Somewhere along the line you will need police intervention and I will give you the same advice I give others...if you know any cops, talk with them and get a feel of actual police work.  If you don't know any, take a trip to your local PD or Sheriff's Office and meet some (I usually encourage writers to send a letter of intro first to the head honcho as a matter of courtesy and door opener.  Shows them you are a professional and not a nut case).

I wouldn't worry too much about writing the first novel as a series.  If it works out that the protag is really interesting you'll know it soon enough and it should be easy to carry her into the next one.  But remember that the reader may start a series after the first one and you'll still need to give lots of background to the protag or else the reader will be lost.  (I killed off my protag in Ticket To Murder and it really PO'd some of my beta readers.  So I guess there won't be any series there.)  :P

Anyway, good luck.

Old Bill

Lance Charnes:
You need to decide whether you want a series character.

If this is a one-off, you have more freedom to choose your main character. He/she may credibly become involved in the investigation because of his/her specialist connection to the victim's (or main suspect's) milieu (i.e., Ren faire), and so doesn't need to have a professional excuse.

You mentioned the problem with a recurring amateur detective: his/her reasons for being in the middle of a murder inquiry become more contrived with each case. The logical end for this is the old joke that you don't want to invite Jessica Fletcher to your dinner party, because someone will end up dead.

So, if you want a recurring amateur detective who doesn't strain credulity, he/she should have some skill or profession that could lead him/her to be called upon to weigh in on murder cases. Archaeologist? Historian? Insect expert? Plant expert? Are these active, working murder investigations -- meaning the police will not welcome interference from amateurs -- or cold cases? Are they all going to be in the same general milieu?

You may have set up a false dilemma for yourself. There's a lot of territory between Ed McBain and Lillian Jackson Braun, and you can pick any point along that continuum. No matter what flavor of story you end up with, if your MC has some skill that sets him/her apart -- even if it's quilting -- you'll need to know more than a little about it in order to show how the MC solves the crime. In that way, every story becomes a procedural of some sort, perhaps just not a police procedural. Good luck.

Hi and thanks to both of you.

It's definitely planned to be an active case  - and indeed I was thinking about whether or not she would be getting in the way of the investigation - or trying to help, or a combination of the two. But I was definitely aiming for an amateur sleuth, rather than somebody already in the profession - though I figured that sleuth skills is something she could pick up over repeated exposure. :)

To begin with, the only specialist skill I'm looking at for my character is in-depth knowledge of the people/culture involved - which will give her insights into the kinds of motivations and conflicts likely to exist... this is why I was aiming at a cozy style. but as a geeky type she'd be well-read and have a lot of random knowledge... probably suffering from the CSI-effect.

My initial thought was actually that I could have her conveniently working at the police station fixing/setting up their IT system, and thus being around them when the case comes in. I was thinking a friend of hers could get dragged past in cuffs -> their main suspect... and he yells at her that he's innocent and can she please help him catch the real killer... :)

The other thought was to make it a "locked house" kind of mystery somehow - eg by setting it in a remote location cutoff by foul weather... but not entirely sure I could pull that off as well... and while I'm sure I'd smile indulgently at the stereotypical high bodycount around my sleuth... I'd not really take seriously a sleuth who was repeatedly found cutoff from modern-day technology by freak rainstorms...

Or she could be just tentatively dating a policeman - and when they each get dragged into the thick of it, he gets pulled into her world as she's pulled into his....

Of course I still need to make her interesting enough for the reader to want to get dragged into her life.
I'm sure I can make the reenactor's world interesting enough - just trying to map out a part for her, and that's why I'm a bit stuck.
I have my murderer and other people of interest and their motivations. But she's a blank piece.

The question is: do I make her a separate person looking in, or make her a necessary part of the action? If I do the former - she can become part of a series, if I do the latter - it's setting it up to be a one-off (as the situation dragging her in will not likely recur). It's early enough days that I can still mould it either way. but I do have several other ideas for mystery stories in this line... which is why I'm giving it thought.

anyway - not decided yet, but appreciative of your comments (and any more are definitely welcome!). :)

If you think of a plot, then you know what sort of characters you'll have and what roles they play, at
least in broad outline. How do you want your detective to know about the crime? Related, onlooker, victim, researcher who
stumbles on the crime, etc. Your crime should tell you the most interesting way to do this. Once you start writing you'll see
how your characters interact and you can change them to suit. As you go, you'll find lots of new possibilities and make
so many changes you might not even recognize the final product.


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