When planning a novel, the genre makes a large impact on the type of planning work that is required. As I'm writing a UF thriller mystery, I have a lot of genre crossover. While I have plenty of murders in my novels, they're not often as mystery focused as I'm planning to make this one.
So, an important part of conceptualizing this novel is planning the murders.
Note: Please don't murder real people. Go to town on the fictional ones, though.
Because I'm working with several killers and a serial killer, I have to track a lot of information on my victims. To start off with, I am only listing the murders that happen as the catalyst and through the duration of the book. At a later time, I'll briefly list the other victims, who killed them, and so on.
I am currently using a condensed rap sheet of killings for this book. I will have to expand on these murders as I write the book, as murder mysteries rely a lot on all of those little details. For a mystery, the devil is in the details, but I'm leaving my doors wide open until I actually write with this method.
These are just the basic ideas of each murder.
Here is the template I'm using:
When I reference murders in my notes and outlines, I will reference them by the murder number on the rap sheet of victims. This will let me refer to the murders all in one place as investigations (both by police and outside sources) are conducted.
You'll notice I didn't include an “Evidence left at Scene” category in this. When each murder is found, I will evaluate the evidence left behind and build a complete list of what the cops found and what they did not find. This is a little backwards, but fits better with my off-the-cuff writing style.
I don't want to ruin all of the surprises for myself, after all. Real murder mystery authors will likely spend a great deal more time working out the details of the murder and all of the evidence left behind, as well as full forensics for each and every death.
Me? I'm just writing this for fun, so Murder 101 is good enough for me. More to the point, the focal point of this novel is the thriller element, so as long as the murder details are ‘close enough' it will work out okay for me.
When you're planning on having a murder mystery in your book, the most important thing you should think about when you're establishing the murder is the killer's motive and the method of death.
Motive is everything. Is it a crime of opportunity? A crime of passion? What made this killer snap and finally off someone? The psychology of a murderer, I think, is one of the most important elements of a murder mystery. The rest is icing on the cake. Of course, the more accurate you can be while planning your murder, the better off you are. Your readers, if they're hardcore murder mystery fans, will also appreciate the effort.
The Art of Evidence
My basic rap sheet doesn't include a spot for evidence, and for good reason. There are a lot of factors when it comes to evidence. It's gray territory. It involves understanding a lot about forensics, too, which can be a problem. It involves research.
There are quite a few things you'll need to keep in mind when you're building your murder case. Did the killer leave any of their own DNA behind? This can be hair, blood, and so on. Was the murder done in a place where it's much easier to hide DNA? Did they try to cover their tracks, by doing things like making sure no hair was caught in their victim's nails if there was a struggle? Was the body moved from one location and dumped elsewhere?
How was the body moved? Would it have left a blood trail? What is the murderer's alibi? How can the killer make an alibi that prevents them from being put in the same location as the killing?
There is no such thing as a perfect crime, but there is such a thing as an imperfect investigation. Was the crime scene contaminated? The murder investigation sabotaged? Critical pieces of evidence lost?
And to skip to my perfect crime commentary, lots of people get away with murder. Unfortunately. But, someone had to perform the crime, and there's always a way to link the killer with the victim, even if it isn't discovered by investigators.
It may be easier to piece together the murder scene by starting with the evidence you want the police to find, then adding in the critical pieces they don't find. The evidence found, and the evidence they will find is far more important than the bits they — and the reader — may never learn about.
Murder mysteries are among some of the most note-intensive plots I've worked with to date.