Mystery Development via 12 Chapter Formula

ACT 1: INTRODUCTION OF THE CRIME (MURDER MYSTERY) AND THE SLEUTH.

-Chapter 1-

1A. Disclose the crime and mystery to be solved. The crime must capture the imagination. It should be committed in an extraordinary way and either the victim, the perpetrator, or both, must be unusual. Provide the reader enough information about the victim to make them truly care that the perpetrator is found and justice served.

Destruction of an historic building by fire in the Chicago Loop. The structural failure was complete due to the deformation of the iron (steel later?) beams and columns by fire. An historic building with cultural significance–it was one of the first skyscrapers and has persisted through the growth and development of the downtown area.

Entering emotional state of the point-of-view character
Character objective: What do they want?
Conflict: What impedes them from what they want?
Motive for antagonism: Some understanding of the other characters’ motivations
Character’s worldview: What belief system is he/she operating in?
Tactic: What actions the character takes in the scene to achieve their objective (remember, dialogue is action)
Turn: Does the character get what they want in the scene? What comes out of the conflict? What causes their emotions to change?
Objective achieved: Yes or no?
Exiting emotional state: If not the opposite of the entering emotional state, it must at least be different

1B. Early in the story, reveal clues suggesting both physical and psychological aspects of the initial crime. These clues should point to suspects and motive which will carry the sleuth (protagonist) to the end of Act 1. Some clues should point the sleuth in the right direction, others not so obvious, or recognized as factual clues until later in the story.

The building failure occurred because of compromised terra cotta fire proofing that did not shield the structural members along the edge of the foundation on one wall of the structure. The building, of course, was somewhat old with a raft foundation reinforced with steel plate. The company that owns the property and structure is a paper and stationary manufacturing company that has fallen on hard times in this digital age.The company is a mom and pop operation with the family still running the business.

The structure is adjacent to a site under development to become a large structure with retail and commercial at the base, shared office space on the next 5 levels and a limited number of apartments on the upper floors, as well as a bar and restaurant on the upper level, partially open.

The structure was designed by a well-known architect from Chicago who was famous for not only for his buildings, but for his relationships and rumored abuse. Some even believe he was a white nationalist who promoted racism and suppression of blacks, irish, and german population. These same people point to ornamentation on the building that they say are symbols that represent and broadcast his racist beliefs. There have been petitions and rallys by a group of Chicagoans to have the ornamentation in question taken down.

Entering emotional state of the point-of-view character
Character objective: What do they want?
Conflict: What impedes them from what they want?
Motive for antagonism: Some understanding of the other characters’ motivations
Character’s worldview: What belief system is he/she operating in?
Tactic: What actions the character takes in the scene to achieve their objective (remember, dialogue is action)
Turn: Does the character get what they want in the scene? What comes out of the conflict? What causes their emotions to change?
Objective achieved: Yes or no?
Exiting emotional state: If not the opposite of the entering emotional state, it must at least be different

1C. Introduce the sleuth who will solve the crime early, and have him or her do or say something clever or unexpected to establish them as unique. Create this sleuth character with care, and with an engaging personality to sustain the reader’s interest to the last page (or throughout an entire series of books). It is not necessary to disclose all aspects of the sleuth’s personality at the onset. Allow the description to unfold gradually while sustaining reader interest. Reveal enough background so the reader understands the world in which the sleuth functions (Small town sheriff, Scotland Yard detective, Pinkerton agent in the old West, country squire, investigative reporter in New York City, etc . . .).

The sleuth is an insurance fraud investigator working for Northeast Insurance. The insurance company will pay off the value of the building once it is clear there is no fraud being committed. The destruction of the building is very unfortunate, but it is common enough, because of the limited fire protection buildings of this age have. The process seems like it will be straightforward, but there are some items that seem to be questionable, and the sleuth will look for surprises.

Entering emotional state of the point-of-view character
Character objective: What do they want?
Conflict: What impedes them from what they want?
Motive for antagonism: Some understanding of the other characters’ motivations
Character’s worldview: What belief system is he/she operating in?
Tactic: What actions the character takes in the scene to achieve their objective (remember, dialogue is action)
Turn: Does the character get what they want in the scene? What comes out of the conflict? What causes their emotions to change?
Objective achieved: Yes or no?
Exiting emotional state: If not the opposite of the entering emotional state, it must at least be different

1D. Ground the reader in the time and place where the crime occurs. It is often useful to include some sort of symbol, an object or a person, in the opening scene which serves as a metaphor for what occurs in the story. The reappearance of this symbol throughout and especially at the conclusion of the story creates a certain organic unity; pepper it in, but not so much as to make it flagrant. Subtly works best.

It is the present day in Chicago. Although the city suburbs are in decline, downtown and the immediat surrounding areas are booming to accommodate the younger generations that are moving into one of the greenest cities in the country.

Symbols: paper :: city :: culture

Entering emotional state of the point-of-view character
Character objective: What do they want?
Conflict: What impedes them from what they want?
Motive for antagonism: Some understanding of the other characters’ motivations
Character’s worldview: What belief system is he/she operating in?
Tactic: What actions the character takes in the scene to achieve their objective (remember, dialogue is action)
Turn: Does the character get what they want in the scene? What comes out of the conflict? What causes their emotions to change?
Objective achieved: Yes or no?
Exiting emotional state: If not the opposite of the entering emotional state, it must at least be different

1E. Begin with a dramatic event. Some writers offer a prologue describing the execution of the crime in detail, as it occurs, possible from the point of view of the victim or perpetrator. The same information could also be revealed by a character through dialogue. Furnish sufficient details to allow the reader to experience the event as though he or she were actually there as witness. Another good opening is to place the sleuth in a dire situation and allow choice details of the crime to unfold in due course.

Structure fire and failure. The fire seems to have appeared at the buildings main panel. The panel itself was fine, but some people said they saw rats scurrying in and out of the area. Could it be that a rat had chewed through one to many wire covers? As the fire developed on the lower floor, it began to spread through the neighboring spaces then finally through chases and along the front facade. The flames were ghastly, climbing up the facade and taking hold at the windows on the stories above. By the time the fire department arrived, the fire had reached the fourth story. Although much of the building seemed to survive, the structure had failed in the corner bay and neighboring walls. Without the ability to resist shear, the corner failed, falling to the ground below and much of the remaining structure was compromised and diagonal cracking appeared and much of the building became unstable and some fell to the ground like the corner bay.

Entering emotional state of the point-of-view character
Character objective: What do they want?
Conflict: What impedes them from what they want?
Motive for antagonism: Some understanding of the other characters’ motivations
Character’s worldview: What belief system is he/she operating in?
Tactic: What actions the character takes in the scene to achieve their objective (remember, dialogue is action)
Turn: Does the character get what they want in the scene? What comes out of the conflict? What causes their emotions to change?
Objective achieved: Yes or no?
Exiting emotional state: If not the opposite of the entering emotional state, it must at least be different

-Chapter 2-

2A. Set the sleuth on the path toward solving the murder mystery. Offer plausible suspects, all of whom appear to possess logical motives, means and opportunity to commit the unique crime. Select the most likely suspects and have the sleuth question them. One of these suspects will turn out to be the actual perpetrator.

The insurance inspector received word of the fire and structural failure on the evening news, while eating a bowl of cereal that served as his dinner.

Entering emotional state of the point-of-view character
Character objective: What do they want?
Conflict: What impedes them from what they want?
Motive for antagonism: Some understanding of the other characters’ motivations
Character’s worldview: What belief system is he/she operating in?
Tactic: What actions the character takes in the scene to achieve their objective (remember, dialogue is action)
Turn: Does the character get what they want in the scene? What comes out of the conflict? What causes their emotions to change?
Objective achieved: Yes or no?
Exiting emotional state: If not the opposite of the entering emotional state, it must at least be different

2B. At the approximate mid-point of Act 1, something occurs which clarifies to the reader the crime is more complicated than originally thought. Provide hints so the reader can envision possibilities not yet known to the sleuth.

Entering emotional state of the point-of-view character
Character objective: What do they want?
Conflict: What impedes them from what they want?
Motive for antagonism: Some understanding of the other characters’ motivations
Character’s worldview: What belief system is he/she operating in?
Tactic: What actions the character takes in the scene to achieve their objective (remember, dialogue is action)
Turn: Does the character get what they want in the scene? What comes out of the conflict? What causes their emotions to change?
Objective achieved: Yes or no?
Exiting emotional state: If not the opposite of the entering emotional state, it must at least be different

-Chapter 3-

3A. Introduce the sub-plot. The main plot continues the progress of the story while the sub-plot carries the theme, which is a universal concept to which the reader identifies. Sub-plots tend to originate either in a crisis in the sleuth’s private life, or in the necessity of the sleuth to face a dilemma involving a matter of character, such as courage or honesty.

Entering emotional state of the point-of-view character
Character objective: What do they want?
Conflict: What impedes them from what they want?
Motive for antagonism: Some understanding of the other characters’ motivations
Character’s worldview: What belief system is he/she operating in?
Tactic: What actions the character takes in the scene to achieve their objective (remember, dialogue is action)
Turn: Does the character get what they want in the scene? What comes out of the conflict? What causes their emotions to change?
Objective achieved: Yes or no?
Exiting emotional state: If not the opposite of the entering emotional state, it must at least be different

3B. The ultimate resolution of the sub-plot demonstrates change or growth on the part of the sleuth, and will climax on a personal or professional level. That climax may coincide with, or occur as prelude to the climax of the main plot. The sub-plot may provide a vehicle for a romantic interest or a confrontation with personal demons of the sleuth. The author can manipulate the pace of the novel by moving back and forth between the main plot and sub-plot.

Entering emotional state of the point-of-view character
Character objective: What do they want?
Conflict: What impedes them from what they want?
Motive for antagonism: Some understanding of the other characters’ motivations
Character’s worldview: What belief system is he/she operating in?
Tactic: What actions the character takes in the scene to achieve their objective (remember, dialogue is action)
Turn: Does the character get what they want in the scene? What comes out of the conflict? What causes their emotions to change?
Objective achieved: Yes or no?
Exiting emotional state: If not the opposite of the entering emotional state, it must at least be different

ACT 2: DIRECT THE INVESTIGATION TOWARD A CONCLUSION WHICH LATER PROVES ERRONEOUS.

-Chapter 4-

4A. Reveal facts about suspects through interrogations and the discovery of clues.

Entering emotional state of the point-of-view character
Character objective: What do they want?
Conflict: What impedes them from what they want?
Motive for antagonism: Some understanding of the other characters’ motivations
Character’s worldview: What belief system is he/she operating in?
Tactic: What actions the character takes in the scene to achieve their objective (remember, dialogue is action)
Turn: Does the character get what they want in the scene? What comes out of the conflict? What causes their emotions to change?
Objective achieved: Yes or no?
Exiting emotional state: If not the opposite of the entering emotional state, it must at least be different

4B. Flight, or disappearance of one or more suspects.

Entering emotional state of the point-of-view character
Character objective: What do they want?
Conflict: What impedes them from what they want?
Motive for antagonism: Some understanding of the other characters’ motivations
Character’s worldview: What belief system is he/she operating in?
Tactic: What actions the character takes in the scene to achieve their objective (remember, dialogue is action)
Turn: Does the character get what they want in the scene? What comes out of the conflict? What causes their emotions to change?
Objective achieved: Yes or no?
Exiting emotional state: If not the opposite of the entering emotional state, it must at least be different

4C. Develop a sense of urgency. Raise the stakes or make it evident that if the mystery is not solved soon then terrible consequences are unavoidable.

Entering emotional state of the point-of-view character
Character objective: What do they want?
Conflict: What impedes them from what they want?
Motive for antagonism: Some understanding of the other characters’ motivations
Character’s worldview: What belief system is he/she operating in?
Tactic: What actions the character takes in the scene to achieve their objective (remember, dialogue is action)
Turn: Does the character get what they want in the scene? What comes out of the conflict? What causes their emotions to change?
Objective achieved: Yes or no?
Exiting emotional state: If not the opposite of the entering emotional state, it must at least be different

-Chapter 5-

5A. Broaden the investigation to place suspicion on other characters.

Entering emotional state of the point-of-view character
Character objective: What do they want?
Conflict: What impedes them from what they want?
Motive for antagonism: Some understanding of the other characters’ motivations
Character’s worldview: What belief system is he/she operating in?
Tactic: What actions the character takes in the scene to achieve their objective (remember, dialogue is action)
Turn: Does the character get what they want in the scene? What comes out of the conflict? What causes their emotions to change?
Objective achieved: Yes or no?
Exiting emotional state: If not the opposite of the entering emotional state, it must at least be different

5B. Information gathered through interviews or the discovery of physical evidence should point toward the solution, although the relevance may not yet be apparent.

Entering emotional state of the point-of-view character
Character objective: What do they want?
Conflict: What impedes them from what they want?
Motive for antagonism: Some understanding of the other characters’ motivations
Character’s worldview: What belief system is he/she operating in?
Tactic: What actions the character takes in the scene to achieve their objective (remember, dialogue is action)
Turn: Does the character get what they want in the scene? What comes out of the conflict? What causes their emotions to change?
Objective achieved: Yes or no?
Exiting emotional state: If not the opposite of the entering emotional state, it must at least be different

-Chapter 6-

6A. Reveal the sleuth’s background while the sub-plot develops. Show the reader what drives them, what haunts or is missing in their life.

Entering emotional state of the point-of-view character
Character objective: What do they want?
Conflict: What impedes them from what they want?
Motive for antagonism: Some understanding of the other characters’ motivations
Character’s worldview: What belief system is he/she operating in?
Tactic: What actions the character takes in the scene to achieve their objective (remember, dialogue is action)
Turn: Does the character get what they want in the scene? What comes out of the conflict? What causes their emotions to change?
Objective achieved: Yes or no?
Exiting emotional state: If not the opposite of the entering emotional state, it must at least be different

6B. Establish the sleuth possesses a personal stake in the outcome, either because of threat to their life, or the possibility of revelation of matters deeply disturbing to them on an emotional level.

Entering emotional state of the point-of-view character
Character objective: What do they want?
Conflict: What impedes them from what they want?
Motive for antagonism: Some understanding of the other characters’ motivations
Character’s worldview: What belief system is he/she operating in?
Tactic: What actions the character takes in the scene to achieve their objective (remember, dialogue is action)
Turn: Does the character get what they want in the scene? What comes out of the conflict? What causes their emotions to change?
Objective achieved: Yes or no?
Exiting emotional state: If not the opposite of the entering emotional state, it must at least be different

ACT 3: CHANGE OF FOCUS AND SCOPE OF INVESTIGATION.

*This is the pivotal point in the story where it becomes evident that the sleuth hunted down the wrong track. Something unexpected occurs, such as the appearance of a second body, the death of a major suspect, or discovery of evidence which clears the most likely suspect. The story must take a new direction.

-Chapter 7-

7A. Reveal hidden motives. Formerly secret relationships come to light, such as business arrangements, romantic involvements, unsettled scores or previously veiled kinships.

Entering emotional state of the point-of-view character
Character objective: What do they want?
Conflict: What impedes them from what they want?
Motive for antagonism: Some understanding of the other characters’ motivations
Character’s worldview: What belief system is he/she operating in?
Tactic: What actions the character takes in the scene to achieve their objective (remember, dialogue is action)
Turn: Does the character get what they want in the scene? What comes out of the conflict? What causes their emotions to change?
Objective achieved: Yes or no?
Exiting emotional state: If not the opposite of the entering emotional state, it must at least be different

7B. Develop and expose meanings of matters hinted at in Act 1 to slowly clarify the significance of earlier clues.

Entering emotional state of the point-of-view character
Character objective: What do they want?
Conflict: What impedes them from what they want?
Motive for antagonism: Some understanding of the other characters’ motivations
Character’s worldview: What belief system is he/she operating in?
Tactic: What actions the character takes in the scene to achieve their objective (remember, dialogue is action)
Turn: Does the character get what they want in the scene? What comes out of the conflict? What causes their emotions to change?
Objective achieved: Yes or no?
Exiting emotional state: If not the opposite of the entering emotional state, it must at least be different

-Chapter 8-

8A. The sleuth reveals the results of the investigation. The reader, as well the sleuth and other characters, are afforded an opportunity to review what is known and assess the possibilities.

Entering emotional state of the point-of-view character
Character objective: What do they want?
Conflict: What impedes them from what they want?
Motive for antagonism: Some understanding of the other characters’ motivations
Character’s worldview: What belief system is he/she operating in?
Tactic: What actions the character takes in the scene to achieve their objective (remember, dialogue is action)
Turn: Does the character get what they want in the scene? What comes out of the conflict? What causes their emotions to change?
Objective achieved: Yes or no?
Exiting emotional state: If not the opposite of the entering emotional state, it must at least be different

8B. The solution of the crime appears to be impossible. Attempts to solve the crime have stymied the sleuth. Misinterpretation of clues or mistaken conclusions have lead them in the wrong direction, and logic is applied to force a new way of grasping an understanding of the uncertainties.

Entering emotional state of the point-of-view character
Character objective: What do they want?
Conflict: What impedes them from what they want?
Motive for antagonism: Some understanding of the other characters’ motivations
Character’s worldview: What belief system is he/she operating in?
Tactic: What actions the character takes in the scene to achieve their objective (remember, dialogue is action)
Turn: Does the character get what they want in the scene? What comes out of the conflict? What causes their emotions to change?
Objective achieved: Yes or no?
Exiting emotional state: If not the opposite of the entering emotional state, it must at least be different

-Chapter 9-

9A. The sleuth reviews the case to determine where they went wrong.

Entering emotional state of the point-of-view character
Character objective: What do they want?
Conflict: What impedes them from what they want?
Motive for antagonism: Some understanding of the other characters’ motivations
Character’s worldview: What belief system is he/she operating in?
Tactic: What actions the character takes in the scene to achieve their objective (remember, dialogue is action)
Turn: Does the character get what they want in the scene? What comes out of the conflict? What causes their emotions to change?
Objective achieved: Yes or no?
Exiting emotional state: If not the opposite of the entering emotional state, it must at least be different

9B. Reveal the chain of events which provoked the crime.

Entering emotional state of the point-of-view character
Character objective: What do they want?
Conflict: What impedes them from what they want?
Motive for antagonism: Some understanding of the other characters’ motivations
Character’s worldview: What belief system is he/she operating in?
Tactic: What actions the character takes in the scene to achieve their objective (remember, dialogue is action)
Turn: Does the character get what they want in the scene? What comes out of the conflict? What causes their emotions to change?
Objective achieved: Yes or no?
Exiting emotional state: If not the opposite of the entering emotional state, it must at least be different

9C. The crucial evidence is something overlooked in Act 1, which appeared as of little consequence at the time of initial disclosure. This crucial evidence takes on new meaning with information disclosed in Act 3.

Entering emotional state of the point-of-view character
Character objective: What do they want?
Conflict: What impedes them from what they want?
Motive for antagonism: Some understanding of the other characters’ motivations
Character’s worldview: What belief system is he/she operating in?
Tactic: What actions the character takes in the scene to achieve their objective (remember, dialogue is action)
Turn: Does the character get what they want in the scene? What comes out of the conflict? What causes their emotions to change?
Objective achieved: Yes or no?
Exiting emotional state: If not the opposite of the entering emotional state, it must at least be different

9D. The sleuth (and perhaps the reader, if a keen observer) becomes aware of the error which remains undisclosed to the other characters.

Entering emotional state of the point-of-view character
Character objective: What do they want?
Conflict: What impedes them from what they want?
Motive for antagonism: Some understanding of the other characters’ motivations
Character’s worldview: What belief system is he/she operating in?
Tactic: What actions the character takes in the scene to achieve their objective (remember, dialogue is action)
Turn: Does the character get what they want in the scene? What comes out of the conflict? What causes their emotions to change?
Objective achieved: Yes or no?
Exiting emotional state: If not the opposite of the entering emotional state, it must at least be different

ACT 4: SOLUTION.

-Chapter 10-

10A. The sleuth weighs the evidence and information gleaned from the other characters.

Entering emotional state of the point-of-view character
Character objective: What do they want?
Conflict: What impedes them from what they want?
Motive for antagonism: Some understanding of the other characters’ motivations
Character’s worldview: What belief system is he/she operating in?
Tactic: What actions the character takes in the scene to achieve their objective (remember, dialogue is action)
Turn: Does the character get what they want in the scene? What comes out of the conflict? What causes their emotions to change?
Objective achieved: Yes or no?
Exiting emotional state: If not the opposite of the entering emotional state, it must at least be different

10B. Based on what only they now know, the sleuth seeks positive proof to reinforce the yet undisclosed conclusion.

Entering emotional state of the point-of-view character
Character objective: What do they want?
Conflict: What impedes them from what they want?
Motive for antagonism: Some understanding of the other characters’ motivations
Character’s worldview: What belief system is he/she operating in?
Tactic: What actions the character takes in the scene to achieve their objective (remember, dialogue is action)
Turn: Does the character get what they want in the scene? What comes out of the conflict? What causes their emotions to change?
Objective achieved: Yes or no?
Exiting emotional state: If not the opposite of the entering emotional state, it must at least be different

-Chapter 11-

11A. Resolution of the sub-plot.

Entering emotional state of the point-of-view character
Character objective: What do they want?
Conflict: What impedes them from what they want?
Motive for antagonism: Some understanding of the other characters’ motivations
Character’s worldview: What belief system is he/she operating in?
Tactic: What actions the character takes in the scene to achieve their objective (remember, dialogue is action)
Turn: Does the character get what they want in the scene? What comes out of the conflict? What causes their emotions to change?
Objective achieved: Yes or no?
Exiting emotional state: If not the opposite of the entering emotional state, it must at least be different

11B. The sleuth, tested by their private ordeal, is strengthened for the final action leading to the actual solution of the murder mystery.

Entering emotional state of the point-of-view character
Character objective: What do they want?
Conflict: What impedes them from what they want?
Motive for antagonism: Some understanding of the other characters’ motivations
Character’s worldview: What belief system is he/she operating in?
Tactic: What actions the character takes in the scene to achieve their objective (remember, dialogue is action)
Turn: Does the character get what they want in the scene? What comes out of the conflict? What causes their emotions to change?
Objective achieved: Yes or no?
Exiting emotional state: If not the opposite of the entering emotional state, it must at least be different

-Chapter 12-

12A. The climax; a dramatic confrontation between the sleuth and the perpetrator in which the sleuth prevails. The more impossible the odds, the more rewarding the climax.

Entering emotional state of the point-of-view character
Character objective: What do they want?
Conflict: What impedes them from what they want?
Motive for antagonism: Some understanding of the other characters’ motivations
Character’s worldview: What belief system is he/she operating in?
Tactic: What actions the character takes in the scene to achieve their objective (remember, dialogue is action)
Turn: Does the character get what they want in the scene? What comes out of the conflict? What causes their emotions to change?
Objective achieved: Yes or no?
Exiting emotional state: If not the opposite of the entering emotional state, it must at least be different

12B. Resolution; revelation of clues and the deductive process leading to the stunning solution. Establish that the case has been solved and justice served to the satisfaction of all involved (except, of course, the perpetrator).

Entering emotional state of the point-of-view character
Character objective: What do they want?
Conflict: What impedes them from what they want?
Motive for antagonism: Some understanding of the other characters’ motivations
Character’s worldview: What belief system is he/she operating in?
Tactic: What actions the character takes in the scene to achieve their objective (remember, dialogue is action)
Turn: Does the character get what they want in the scene? What comes out of the conflict? What causes their emotions to change?
Objective achieved: Yes or no?
Exiting emotional state: If not the opposite of the entering emotional state, it must at least be different

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