Friday, February 28, 2014

Story Game -- Generating a Mystery Story part 2

This is a relatively short post, finishing up my first draft of The Mystery Creation Game.  The first part of the game was posted two weeks ago.

That would actually work as a stand-alone game.  Depending on the kind of mystery you are looking to create, it creates a social situation, and you can generate motives for both your killer and your red herrings, and choose killer and victim randomly.  (The wheel of motives needs work, but the principle is there.)

For a really good, old fashioned "Clue" type mystery, you could create a Wheel of Murder Methods, and randomize elements of where and when, as well as alibis.  I may do a more elaborate version like that later.   I really enjoy playing this as a game.  However, right now, I'm creating what is useful to me in plotting a book.

To that end, I created one more element of the game.  The Big Wheel of Crimes and Theories.  This wheel has 165 items on it so far -- too long to put in this blog post.  For now, you can find it on this generic Blog Page

It could be used to replace the simple "motives" wheel -- but I like using both.  And that's because of how I use it (more below).

The Big Wheel of Crimes and Theories is really more suited for those of us who write mysteries with elements of suspense.  These are stories which have an extra level of skullduggery in them.

So even though the victim may have been killed out of the usual jealousy or greed, there is also the issue of the smuggling ring or blackmail, or the buried treasure.  And that's the kind of story I tend to write.

If you're going to use this wheel, there is a reason you still might want to use the motive wheel separately:  Every suspect has a motive -- so there can be lots of motives. However, you really shouldn't have more than one big secret plot. Unless they tie in together really well, you don't have a bank robbery AND a smuggling ring AND a plot to cheat the dowager out of her land.

Now, you might want to use one of those as a red herring in and of itself -- a theory your detectives come up with that proves false -- but then you really have to choose one that is compatible with the facts created by the real back story.

Which brings me to how I use this wheel differently.

Browsing Vs. Random Choice

This wheel could be used for random choices like the rest.  As a matter of fact, I did use it that way earlier.  But I apparently didn't even bother to write down what choices came up, because I have no record of them, and I don't remember what I rolled.

I just rolled them and continued brainstorming, and forgot them as soon as the story started latching onto a direction.  Then, after I had a feel for the story and the characters, I went back and browsed through the list, using it as a reference.  Sort of like using a list of baby names to help find the exact right name for a character.

That's the point of making the list so long and exhaustive: so that I can find an element that fits the story that is growing in my head.

That's a different purpose than random choice. Spinning a wheel creates a challenge, and forces you to look closer at a particular option you didn't choose -- it forces you outside of the box.  Or it forces you to stay inside the box and think up some way to make it interesting.  Either way it makes you work. 

Browsing a whole list, if it's long enough, prompts your mind to consider many options to find the right one.  It reminds you of things you might overlook or not have thought of.  (A random choice can do that too, but only with one option at a time.)

While I really like using random choices for stand alone stories, for series fiction, it can be very important to get the choices right. To keep the tone, think at the proper scale. (Some series need a "big" plot with spies and international intrigue, and some will need to stay very small and domestic, for instnace.)  For that kind of thing, it can be more useful to use the wheels as references and browse them for the right option.

(Plus, if you come up with three for four you like and can't make up your mind, well, you can flip a coin or spin a very small wheel to randomly choose one of those!)

So to sum up:

With the Mystery Game, I do continuing brainstorming.  As I mentioned in the first post: start with your existing series or idea.  Roll a set of characters and their relationships with each other, and brainstorm a basic situation on those characters and your existing ideas.  Then roll motives and get an idea of who might have killed who and why.  You can roll a big crime behind the crime at this time, or you can wait until you have more of an idea of what you want, and browse the big list to find the exact right crime secret to suit your story.

Next week I'm going to a little stand-alone game -- more of an exercise really.  It's unrelated to anything we've done so far.   I'm going to have you draw a map.  Not a dramatic map, nor one from a story, but a real if mundane map.  It's an exercise in memory that tends to spur ideas.

See you in the funny papers.


Elizabeth Spann Craig said...

Love your approach with this, Camille! And I added a couple of ideas to your Big Wheel of Crimes and Theories in a comment. :)

The Daring Novelist said...

Hey, thanks. I saw that.

Those will be good additions. I'll keep working on this for a while yet.

David Michael said...

At first I was a bit dubious on this whole "Story Game" concept, but I think I'm coming around. That is, I can see the value of such a thing for *me*. Not as any sort of general purpose/make it usable for anyone else sort of thing. But a tool for me to use.

Which is, I'm sure, what you said way back at the beginning. =)

So now I'm considering how I might design one for myself. For short stories, anyway. Not sure (yet) that I'd find it especially useful for novels. I'm more comfortable with taking a week or three to brainstorming and coalesce ideas for a novel. But for short stories, I just want something quick and easy to get me started.

So, yeah. I blame you. =)


The Daring Novelist said...

Well, the reason I called it a game is because I expected to be more fun than use. (And I expected it to be more useful for formula fiction than any other kind.)

(And I'm wondering if my nefarious plot to trap all my competitors in this fun game to stop them from writing hasn't backfired. I'm having more fun than productivity myself....)

I've found that short stories are really amenable to idea generation exercises. (Dictionary game - pick two random words, generate a story from them.) I think what I've been doing here is too complicated for a short (though maybe well suited to a novella or novelette). I guess, though, if you don't make yourself use everything that comes up, you could get a bunch of story ideas out of a certain "roll."

I'm going to do a string of those quick and short exercises over the next couple of weeks, though.