The Search for Plots

Where do mystery plots come from? National news broadcasts, local newspapers, obscure blogs – they are all great resources for a mystery writer.

The following are some of the news bits that caught my eye recently.

A searcher dies: Robert Rines died at age 87. For 35 years he’d been spending his free time at Loch Ness looking for evidence of Nessie. As a biologist in addition to being a mystery writer, I’ve always been interested in the search for unknown species. I think Mr. Rines must have enjoyed the adventure and the thrill of the search; otherwise he would have give up the hunt years ago. Many books have been written with the theme of “the searcher.” And many more will be.

A celebrity crashes his SUV: An expensive SUV driven by a sports celebrity strikes a fire hydrant and tree at the end of his driveway in the middle of the night. The air bags don’t deploy. His wife uses a golf club to shatter the back windows and pulls her semiconscious husband out. Or at least that’s the surface story. The next day reports of affairs fill the tabloid and mainstream news sources. Then the celebrity apologies for letting his family down and pulls out of scheduled events. Wouldn’t be hard to pen a plot with this scenario.

A couple crashes a White House State Dinner: Had Evelyn David included an event like that in a mystery, readers would have howled, claiming it was unbelievable. Now we all know different. All the Secret Service agents, metal detectors and firepower in the world is sometimes not as effective as one strategically placed secretary with a guest list on a clipboard. The couple’s totally inappropriate, even dangerous, actions have opened up all kinds of plot opportunities for writers who want to use the backdrop of the White House.

A murder trial in Italy: The American student studying in Italy is on trial for the murder of her housemate, a British student. An innocent, young American woman who is being mistreated by a foreign justice system? Or is she a monster who masterminded a sexual assault and bloody killing of another young woman? The jury just found her guilty and sentenced her to 26 years in prison. There’s tons of material for a fictional mystery in this sad set of circumstances.

What kinds of non-fictional mysteries are you interested in? Which ones would you like to see used as the basis of a novel? Or do you tire of the ripped-straight-from-the-headlines, Law and Order type of scenarios and would rather not recognize the events when you read a mystery book? Is it cheating to base the story on real life and simply manipulate the ending you prefer? Or is all fair and game in the mystery biz?

Rhonda aka The Southern Half of Evelyn David

2 replies
  1. Misa
    Misa says:

    Fiction imitates life. My mystery plots, and women's fiction plots, too, for that matter, all stem from real events in one way, shape, or form. My first mystery, Living the Vida Lola, has to do with tattoos–came straight from the local newspaper in Northern CA. Of course I added elements, created twists, etc, but that real life scenario was the backbone.

    The mystery in Hasta la Vista, Lola came about the same way. Real story of a real woman. Once I was done with it, no one would recognize the real crime story, but it planted a seed and from that a mystery grew.

    Excellent and evocative post, Rhonda!

  2. Marilyn Meredith a.k.a. F. M. Meredith
    Marilyn Meredith a.k.a. F. M. Meredith says:

    I collect newspaper articles and also notes I've taken when we have a police officer or detective at a Sister in Crime meeting. Often I use bits and pieces for my plot.

    A real murder we had nearby I've used parts of what happened in two different novels.


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