O for Outline # A to Z Challenge

crime scene outline
photo by Simon Howden at freedigitalphotos.net

The chalk outline of a victim is instantly recognizable from film and TV drama. It may or may not appear in your cozy mystery.

But the outline of the mystery itself is, for me, indispensable. Whether you’re a plotter who plans every step of your novel or a pantser who likes to follow where the characters lead, a summary of the main points will keep you on track.

Write it all at once, act by act, or chapter by chapter. Those old-fashioned novels where every chapter started: “In which the heiress discovers a body in the library and the housekeeper makes jam…” were great for outlining the main points of the story. And that’s all you need.

Why Outline?

You may think I’m ignoring art and concentrating on formula fiction. You may think all cozies like all romances read the same with only the names changed.

But all good examples of the genre follow a pattern proven to appeal to the reader. Readers expect particular aspects of the genre to be included in the novel.

The skill lies not in following the formula slavishly but in adapting it to make your novel unique.

The cozy mystery is relatively tricky to write to satisfy the reader’s desire to remain puzzled until the last moment. To plant sufficient clues and hide them well enough, at some point you will need a chart to check you have everything covered.

An early outline will save you time and trouble.

Like any scheme of work, it is a working document only. It is flexible, easy to change and adapt as you go.

It also makes it easier if you don’t work in a linear fashion but prefer to jump about from beginning to end as you create the story.

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