Welcome Jean to Cozy Mysteries and Other Madness. I’m now turning the cyber-podium over to you.
Jean Henry Mead
Today I’m talking about plotting juvenile mysteries. Plotting is hard work, especially when writing for kids. You need a good setting, a problem, and the kinds of characters that children can relate to. Even the most talented writers often fall by the wayside. Some start a manuscript with a great protagonist and a unique problem, but the storyline often loses momentum and is never finished because of plot problems.
Fledgling writers usually feel that all you need is a strong central theme, memorable characters and a problem that is resolved over the course of the book. I write middle grade mysteries in addition to senior sleuth novels, but after 13 published books, I still needed help, so I took a children’s literature course and was fortunate to have Louise Munro Foley as my mentor. She also laces her books with humor. My book project under her tutelage was subsequently published as Mystery of Spider Mountain, a semi-autobiographical novel set in the Los Angeles hills, where I grew up.
Plotting for juvenile mysteries requires even more planning than mysteries for adults, in my opinion. First, I had to decide on a setting. Most children’s lives are centered around school so I had to decide if my plot was going to take place then, during vacation or after school. When I had decided how the problem or action was going to take place, I needed to develop a time line when events were going to happen. That meant outlining, which I had only previously done with nonfiction books. The outline doesn’t have to be detailed but it should include events that are going to get progressively worse as the plot marches toward its conclusion.
I had to decide which activities and types of characters I needed to complicate my protagonists’ problem. Middle graders don’t require complicated plots so it’s usually best to concentrate on one powerful theme in a simple plotline, such as bullying or losing a friend or parent. I went a little beyond that with three young protagonists and their fears.
One of the things I learned is that child sleuths should have minimal help from adults. So they need to be smart enough to figure things out on their own. However, in my second Hamilton Kids’ mystery novel, I had Jaime 13, Sam 11 and Danny 9, visiting their Uncle Harry at his ranch in Wyoming’s Laramie Mountains, where I now live. That presented a plotting problem because the kids are confined to the ranch, with its variety of game and farm animals they’ve never seen before. They use their Ouija board, as in Spider Mountain, to discover who the culprit is that’s setting fire to their uncle’s hay field. And why he’s doing it. But convincing their uncle is another problem. They also investigate witchcraft on the Internet and attend the Summer Solstice Festival of witches and warlocks that actually takes place annually here on Casper Mountain the first day of summer. The woman who homesteaded the land where the festival is held is said to still haunt the area. Thus, the book’s title, Ghost of Crimson Dawn.
I use actual events and settings in all my books, whenever possible. All fiction has its roots in fact, even fantasy novels. So, in order to suspend disbelief, plenty of research should be conducted before the writing begins as well as spooned-in tidbits as the story progresses. Children are well informed these days and can easily check your facts on their own computers. And if you need a first reader, who better than your own child or grandchildren?
Thanks, Jackie for inviting me to join you and your readers. I’m giving away one of my mystery ebooks at the end of each of my 14 blog appearances, so everyone needs to leave a comment to get their name in the hat.
I’m also giving away three print novels at the conclusion of the tour. Be sure and leave a comment and email address to be eligible for the drawings. My blog tour schedule is listed at: http://jeansblogtour.blogspot.com/_ (http://jeansblogtour.blogspot.com/)
Jean, having you as a guest was all my pleasure. And readers, don't forget to leave those comments for a chance at winning a book.
Jean's latest Logan & Cafferty mystery/suspense novel, Murder on the Interstate, is available at: Amazon.com: _http://tinyurl.com/6znjvsa_ (http://tinyurl.com/6znjvsa) (print and Kindle) and Barnes and Noble: _http://tinyurl.com/3vxzppy_ (http://tinyurl.com/3vxzppy) (Nook)
Murder on the Interstate
Jean’s children’s books are available in print, Kindle and Nook.
Mystery of Spider Mountain: http://www.amazon.com/Mystery-Spider-Mountain-Hamilton-kids/dp/1931415307/ref=sr_1_1_title_0_main?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1317062609&sr=1-1
GHOST OF CRIMSON DAWN is now available on Amazon.
I’ll announce the winners of the books I’m giving away tomorrow.
Hugs to all,