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Did you know that when you write a detective or a mystery story, you actually have to write not one, but two stories? Yes, two! Let me break this down for you. The first story, is the one you present to your reader, but the second story goes much deeper than that.

The first story is, as said, the one that is presented to the reader. You see the detective or police officer or private investigator running around in the story, looking for clues, trying to find the killer and bring them to justice. The detective finds clues, interviews suspects and puts the information together like a puzzle. In the end, the detective finds the killer, or maybe not and there is a second part or maybe it’s a trilogy.

The second story is the killer’s story

And this is story you will not put in the book completely. It’s about the who and the why and the how and the where and the what. Just like the game Clue: it was Colonel Mustard in the library with the wrench. If you are writing a book, this is not enough however. Your reader wants to know more, otherwise they will be unsatisfied.

Take for example the book Eeny Meeny by M.J. Arlidge. (I’ll try to keep the spoilers to a minimum.) We see detective Helen Grace investigating a story where two people are taken hostage by someone who makes them choose: one lives, one dies. The killer leaves a gun at the scene with one bullet. Helen Grace investigates and in the course of the story, she finds more and more clues which make her convinced she might know and is even connected the criminal mind behind these cat-and-mouse-games.

Arlidge has to create a backstory for Helen Grace. The story goes back to her youth, where she had to survive the most horrible abuse you can think of. Arlidge also had to create a story for the killer:

  • What mistakes did the killer make?
  • What clues did they leave?
  • Why did the killer do what they did in the first place?

And maybe, this will not even make it to the story, okay, granted, the last part should, because of climactic exposition. The rest of the story should be in the back of your head when you are writing it.

Here comes a big spoiler, so skip this if you still want to read Eeny Meeny.

The backstory for the killer in Eeny Meeny

The killer in Eeny Meeny is someone who is linked to Helen Grace. The killer has been abused horribly in her youth and is now kidnapping people that Helen has received a reward for when she saved them. The criminal does this to torture her, to let her know she got away because they picked up the slack. This is the why to the back story for the criminal in this story. There’s more, but I don’t want to spoil everything.

The victim’s story

The third story is the victim’s story. You need to create a backstory for the victim too.

  • Where did they come from?
  • What did they ‘do’ to the killer?
  • Why did they upset the killer?
  • How did they get themselves killed?

Let’s look at Eeny Meeny again. The first set of hostages are a young couple that got picked up by the killer. They were kept for two weeks in an abandoned building, when finally the girl was let out by killing her boyfriend. So the question that Helen Grace has to solve is why were they taken?

Spoiler again

The backstory for the first victim

Helen Grace only learns in the end why this girl was taken. It was because her mother was pregnant with her when Grace saved her from a car wreck

Writing really is hard work

Did you know there were so many stories to conceive of when writing a detective? And if the number of victims increases, you will need to think of an equal number of background stories.

The key to getting your story straight, is to build a structure. A structure that will you keep your story going forward. Starting September 13th, 2019 I will host a Facebook group, where you will be able to set up the structure of your story. I will get back to you with the details. You can subscribe to my email list below, to get all the details when things are going to start.

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