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Plotting a Crime Novel in Public by Miranda Rijks

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Article by Miranda Rijks ©.
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‘Do you think it would be better if we killed him via electrocution or stabbing? If it’s the former, it could seem like an accident and that would be great,’ I said. I looked up from my sun lounger in the garden of the holiday cottage we were renting, and noticed a middle-aged couple standing on the lane, dressed in hiking clothes. The woman had a printed map dangling in a clear pocket around her neck. Their jaws were slack, their eyes wide. When they caught me looking at them, the woman elbowed her partner, and they broke into a run.

‘I’m a thriller author!’ I shouted after them. They didn’t look back.

I spent the next day waiting in trepidation for a visit from the local constabulary. Thankfully, no one turned up.

That conversation was a worryingly normal one for me. I was on Skype with my publishers at Inkubator Books. We spend hours and hours discussing the dodgiest of subjects!

I write psychological thrillers. Anyone who writes crime novels knows that they’re tricky beasts, full of twists and turns, and at the outset it’s a bit like looking at a massive box of jigsaw pieces with no instructions or pictures for guidance. I have to admit that I used to spend months getting lost in plots. Once I wrote a complete novel and in the final chapter the murderer and the victim swapped roles. Believe me, that doesn’t work!

So when I was approached by Inkubator Books earlier this year and they talked me through their Writer’s Room process, it was all quite a revelation. I didn’t even know what a high-concept or a beat was, and I have a Masters in writing and have been traditionally published for non-fiction. The duo behind Dublin-based Inkubator books, have a background in writing for television and film. They have brought the collaborative plotting process commonly used in those industries to book publishing, assisting their psychological thriller and police procedural authors with fleshing out their novels before they start writing.

For me, it was a relief. Although I like to think I have a logical brain, I found it hard to plot out a book all alone, and so I ended up being a rather unsuccessful pantser. With Inkubator Books it works like this: I pitch an idea for a novel (the high concept) – it’s normally a couple of pages long outlining the key characters and who does what and why. If they like it, we then develop this further. Our Skype conversations are two to three hours long, batting ideas backwards and forwards. I note down everything and work this up into a beat sheet. Each beat is a sentence or two on what is happening. Then I slot the beats into chapters. We then discuss it again and again and again. My last book had eight revisions of the beat sheet and the process can take several weeks! Once Brian Lynch and Garret Ryan give it the okay, I start writing. For me, that goes really quickly. I wrote Deserve To Die in eighteen days.

Collaborative plotting has, to my mind, many advantages. It means that the novel only needs a light edit and proof-read as the developmental issues have already been ironed out before the writing starts. My characters are stronger and better fleshed out as we have discussed their motivations in great depth. When I first started this process, I wondered if it might stifle creativity. It doesn’t. I still see the pictures in my head; dialogue flows easily and I’m never stuck as to what I should be writing next.

There’s another advantage to this type of collaborative plotting. It’s a solitary vocation, being a fiction writer. Some people relish that, but for me, it’s a struggle. I have spoken to many authors who say sitting alone in front of their computer leads to procrastination or inaction. Motivation isn’t my issue but that little gremlin who sits on my shoulder is. Perhaps you have one too? An insidious voice that whispers, ‘it’s not good enough’, ‘you’re no good’, ‘who do you think you are, calling yourself a writer?’. And once the book is out in the wide world and reviews start pouring in, it’s even worse. A ‘bad’ review can decimate self-esteem. I got my first one-star review a couple of days ago. It totally cancelled out the couple of hundred four and five star reviews. Fortunately for me, I have a great dialogue with my publishers, and they are fantastic at providing reassurance and putting doubts into context. And because there are only a few authors with Inkubator, we’re in contact with each other. Last week I had a long chat with fellow Inkubator author, OMJ Ryan who writes police procedurals, and we were able to share the many ups and few downs of being full-time crime writers.

If you are new to fiction writing or struggle with plotting, try and find yourself a plotting buddy or two. Just talking about your characters and their motivations out loud will help highlight any problem areas. And as the old cliché goes, two or three heads are definitely better than one. But if you’re a crime writer, just a word of caution. Don’t have those conversations in a public place! And don’t leave any tabs open on your computer when you lend it to someone else. I loaned my laptop to a friend visiting from the States so she could check her email. Safari was open, showing my search history: modus operandi for murders; forensic studies; crime scene procedures; notable serial killers; psychological disorders. She turned to me shaking her head. ‘I’m seriously worried about you, Miranda. I think you need some help!’ I grinned. ‘Thanks, but I’ve already got it.’

(c) Miranda Rijks

About You Are Mine:

Rupert has spent years searching for his perfect wife. Now he’s found her.

Her name is Charlotte Aldridge and she’s wonderful. A talented artist, modest and beautiful, she’s everything he ever dreamed of. Her hair, her eyes, her mouth – every little detail is perfect.

Rupert is confident that when they meet, she’ll fall in love with him just as he has with her. After all, he’s a wealthy British aristocrat. And he’s handsome – the relentless gym workouts and extensive plastic surgery have seen to that.

But what if Charlotte can’t see that they fit perfectly, that they’re meant for each other? Well, Rupert can be very persuasive. His father taught him certain methods which are extremely effective. Methods that can turn the most determined, ‘I don’t’ into a meek and submissive, ‘I do’….

A chilling, up-all-night  psychological thriller, You Are Mine is perfect for fans of K. L. Slater, Teresa Driscoll and Mark Edwards.

Order your copy online here.


Miranda Rijks writes psychological thrillers published by Inkubator Books. Her novels include, I Want You Gone, Deserve To Die, You Are Mine, Fatal Fortune, Fatal Flowers and Fatal Finale.