Mystery is one of my favorite elements of fiction. So when I started writing A Rogue Game, my first mystery novella and the beginning of the Benjamin Adelson Mysteries series, I set out to craft a better mystery than any I’d written before.
It wasn’t my first foray into mystery—there were elements of mystery in almost all my previous books, and I’d co-written the murder mystery/thriller novel Dark Waters with my sister the year before—but this was my first proper detective story. Which meant everything had to click and come together at the end to be a satisfying, cohesive mystery.
Plotting the story, and developing the characters, was a more intensive process than what I’d done for even my full-length novels. A good mystery is intricate, but not unnecessarily complicated; perfectly set up, but not laboriously slow. You can’t exactly wing it.
Before I started writing, I plotted the entire story using several methods.
I used the Save the Cat beat sheet, popularized by screenwriter Blake Snyder, to lay out the narrative structure and pacing.
I took extensive notes—and wrote down enough ideas to fill several books—about the antagonist’s plan.
I created character profiles for all the major characters, and gave all the suspects motives and complicated relationships with each other.
I charted an exact timeline of events—in a mystery, knowing when things happen to the minute can be essential.
Since the finale would be the most complicated and important part, I gave it its own in-depth plot breakdown, writing down everything that would happen, even off the page.
Once I started writing the book in early 2021, I continued to expand and refine my notes and outline. With all my recent books, I start with a rough outline that gets added to and changed over the course of the writing process. I’ll often discover a new narrative direction while writing a particular scene, one I hadn’t thought of at the initial outlining stage.
One tool I found particularly useful: Google Maps. Over the course of A Rogue Game, our protagonist, Detective Benjamin Adelson, travels across New York City in pursuit of answers. Tracking the timing of how long it would take to get from place to place informed the timeline of events, and how I would describe the setting (e.g. when the sun would be setting). And since there are some real-life locations used in the book, I used Street View to see details I could include in descriptions of a location. (Of course, it also helps that, as an NYC local, I’m familiar with a lot of the places I was writing about.)
I finished writing the first draft of A Rogue Game in late October 2021. Then it was off to editing, to ensure the mystery came together just right.
Plotting and writing this mystery was the most complicated and painstakingly detailed development process I’ve gone through for a book—although Catalyst of Control, my current work-in-progress, may take that place—but it was great fun, and I think the result was worth it.
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Thanks for reading.
My Latest Videos
📘 Book: Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury (One of my favorite sci-fi/dystopian books. It’s a classic for a reason.)
🎬 Film: Memento, directed by Christopher Nolan (A mystery told in a very unique manner—you’ll probably want to watch it more than once, as I have.)