Let’s talk about plot and structure. There’s kind of an accepted formula when it comes to your classical detective novels: Twelve core chapters grouped into four distinct acts. Each chapter has a sort of assigned set of elements that must be introduced, developed, and resolved at certain points. It’s all fairly elementary and rigid, but it works and I think that—because this is going to be a fairly traditional detective story—I might try to work within the basic framework for simplicity’s sake.
Let’s take a look at it, shall we? I’m going to go ahead and offer up the basic elements of each chapter, and at the end of each act I’ll offer some thoughts that I’m already having about how I’d like to change the formula.
- Introduce the crime and initial mystery to be solved.
- Introduce the detective and provide groundwork characterization.
- Establish a sense of time and space.
- Initial dramatic event.
- Introduce sufficient clues to implicate initial suspects and carry the detective through to the end of the first act.
- Put the detective on the path to solving the mystery by introducing plausible suspects (conventional wisdom has one of these initial suspects being the eventual perpetrator).
- Establish that the mystery is greater than it initially appeared.
- Introduce a subplot personal to the detective to add thematic/emotional depth. The resolution of the plot should hinge on the growth or change of the detective, and its climax usually coincides with that of the central plot. This is primarily a device for regulating pacing.
Pretty basic stuff, here. In film, the first act usually ends with the protagonists reaching a “point of no return,” which would probably represent the deepening of the mystery for me. Despite the fact that I’m planning to spend a couple of chapters getting Dow to the lunar surface—and drawing this act out a bit—I have plans for the incorporation of all of these elements. They’re likely to be juggled around or spaced out a little bit for the sake of keeping a consistent pace through the additional opening chapters.
- Develop the initial set of suspects, building upon the mystery and introducing additional clues as you do so.
- The disappearance of one or more suspect.
- Introduce an element that raises the stakes of the situation, building a sense of urgency.
- Expand the investigation, introducing more suspects or turning characters previously trusted into suspects.
- Using clues and other information, begin to develop a route to a solution—even if none of the characters realize it yet.
- The subplot is developed, exposing more of the detective’s backstory and increasing the reader’s understanding of him.
- Introduce a personal stake in the situation for the detective.
This will remain largely unchanged, I think. I’ll probably try to build a decently sized action set-piece into this act, though, as a way of incorporating Dow’s larger and more preferred skillset. Again, you can probably expect a couple of additional chapters, but this has more to do with my personal preference for using shorter chapters to break up unrelated scenes than it does anything else.
- Begin to expose motives and relationships that were previously hidden, lending new relevance to old clues and clarifying some matters while deepening others.
- The detective reveals the results of his investigation, giving the reader and other characters—and even the detective himself—an opportunity to review the situation and consider the possibilities. The solution should seem hugely unlikely, due to poor conclusions and the misinterpretation of evidence.
- The detective decides to change his thinking.
- The detective reviews the case and attempts to find holes in his logic.
- Reconsidering a seemingly insignificant clue from the first act sheds light on the case, revealing the true motive behind the crime and the sequence of events that led to it.
- The detective prepares to tie up the situation.
This will likely be one of the harder sections for me, as I find the repetition of writing these review and compare chapters tiresome. I’ll probably try to find a way of changing things up a bit. Also, I’ve got kind of a cool bit in mind for revealing what’s really going on while also providing the antagonists room to act and cover their tracks at the same time.
- Using the collected clues, the detective now has a solid grasp on The Truth but lacks sufficient proof. He must now proceed with the intention of finding that proof.
- The subplot is resolved, allowing the detective to square himself away and be capable of solving the mystery.
- The dramatic confrontation between detective and perpetrator leads to the climax of the plot.
- The service of justice and resolution for all involved parties.
I think that I’m also going to expand this part somewhat, which I’m fine with as these chapter breakdowns are essentially forms constructed to assist with pacing and the completion of elements (we’re basically just going down a line of check-boxes here, which is kind of boring so why not play with it a little?). Besides which; I’ve always enjoyed a slightly more drawn out climax for dramatic purposes, and the political aspects of this story will likely call for a little more time spent on the resolution. I’m also unsure of the resolution of my subplot (which is, for the time being, Dow’s deteriorating marriage and mental state), as the circumstances and distances surrounding both necessitate they be larger issues that continue to be dealt with after the novel ends. For that reason, I’ve also got another, smaller, subplot in mind that I trust I can bring to a successful resolution.
That’s what I’ve got for you tonight, folks. Tomorrow I break out the index cards.
Also, don’t forget to enter the walk-on role contest!