(Number 4 in a series about writing the Max Hurlock Roaring 20s Mysteries)
So what comes first, the characters or the plot? In real life of course, the characters are first and then they either do things or things happen to them and they react. That’s the basic plot for every novel ever written. This seems to be how many writers write as well. “Now I have my characters, so what will I have them do?” One of the comments on my last post was about the necessity for conflict. Good point. You can’t have everyone acting in cheerful harmony all the time or the reader will be too busy yawning to finsh the story. Of course, with a husband and wife team, there is built in conflict. I don’t mean that they act like the Bickersons (old radio comedy reference alert) necessarilly, but they do have occasion to experience and comment on some of the inevitable rough edges of married life. Of course, with an citizen sleuth there is also the conflict with the local authorities, to whom a curious amateur is as welcome as a caterpillar in the salad.
Of course, you could call murder the ultimate conflict, and the suspects generate conflict with the detective, local law enforcement, and each other as well, so a lack of conflict should not be a problem in a mystery. What’s more, these conflicts are more than just the raisons on the mystery muffin, they help to reveal the character of the charactors. Someone said that conflict doesn’t build character, it reveals it.
So now we have our characters, our basic story type, and a formula for being able to mix up an interesting stew of coflicts and plot detours. The only thing left is to come up with a basic story to act as a framework for all these threads and see where it leads.