So. I'm going to write a mystery. Sounds easy enough. All I need is a plot and about 70,000 words. No sweat. Yes, I know I'm delusional, but that's an asset when it comes to plotting.
I am an unashamed Type-A personality. Translate that into meaning that I will be working from an outline. Said outline will become more and more detailed as the plot develops in my head. That's why they include the outline numbering function in MS Word, right?
My genre -- cozy or traditional mystery - says my word count should be between 60,000 and 80,000 words. I'm going to target 75,000 and cut from there. This equates to about 300 pages in a paperback.
Ross Mahler is an author and screenwriter who has come up with a theory and a tool called the Script Beat Calculator. You type the number of pages in your script and Mahler’s Calculator will give you a guide (within a typical 3-act structure) of the page numbers by which the various “beats” in your story should be taking place. According to the "beat" calculator, my manuscript (were it to be a screenplay) should break down as follows:
Opening Image: pg 1
Establish Theme: pgs 1 - 14
Setup: pgs 1 - 27
Inciting Incident: 33
Debate - Half Commitment: pgs 33 - 68
Turn to Act II: 68
Subplot intro by: pg 82
Fun - Games - Puzzles: pgs 82 - 150
Tentpole - Midpoint - Reversal: pg 150
Enemy Closes In: pgs 150 - 205
Low Point: pg 205
Darkest Decision: pgs 205 - 232
Turn to Act III: pg 232
Finale - Confrontation: pgs 232 - 292
Aftermath: pgs 292 - 300
Final Image: pg 300
Now this may not translate directly to a mystery novel, but it will help prepare the outline.
First, however, I need a title, at least a working title. I'm going to start with 99 Bottles of Beer on the Wall. It's kind of catchy, and I can hum along as I type or if I get bored.
My protagonist is a caterer, so beer ties in nicely -- there's nothing like a good pot of Carbonnade Flamande made with Belgian beer. I'm going to start out in her kitchen and move on from there. There will eventually be a potential love interest (Finn O'Malley is his working name) and a couple of friends/cohorts in crime. Since I live in Fairfield County, CT, the action will take place in a town similar to mine, with a suitably disguised name to protect the innocent. Or maybe the guilty.
Being a caterer provides my protagonist, Kensing -- or Kenzi, as her friends will call her -- with plenty of opportunity to trip over bodies, overhear threats, and otherwise become involved in mysteries. Since I want this to eventually be a series, that's a big plus.
For this book, I've decided she will find the body of her client's husband lying, with his head bashed in, on the wine cellar floor. Seems a shame to waste an expensive bottle of wine as a murder weapon, but we have to make sacrifices...
All that talk about beer has made me hungry, so here's a recipe for Carbonnade Flamande (or Vlaamse stoofkarbonade - Flemish beef stew) the way they made it when I lived in Antwerp as a child.
Tante Germaine's Carbonnade Flamande
3 Tbsp flour
1 tsp salt
1/4 tsp pepper
2 lbs beef chuck (round or rump) cut into 1 1/2" chunks
2 Tbsp butter
1 Tbsp olive oil
2 medium onions, sliced
2 cups Belgian beer (two 12-oz bottles with some left for the cook)
1 Tbsp vinegar
2 bay leaves
1/4 tsp dried thyme
1 thick slice white bread
2 Tbsp Dijon mustard
2 tsp brown sugar
Melt butter and oil in a heavy Dutch oven.
Mix the flour, salt, and pepper in a plastic bag. Dredge the meat well in the flour, covering all sides and shaking off excess. Sear meat in hot butter until all sides are brown. Remove to a bowl. Add onions a sauté a couple of minutes, until they begin to caramelize. Pour in half the beer and deglaze the pan, scraping up all the brown bits.
Add back the beef, the remaining beer, vinegar, bay leaves, and thyme, If necessary, add just enough additional beer or water to cover the meat. Spread the mustard thickly over the bread and place, mustard-side down, on top of the meat.
Bring to a boil, reduce heat and simmer, covered for 2 to 2 1/2 hours, stirring occasionally, until meat is tender.
Remove bay leaves, stir in sugar, and taste for seasoning.
Serve with noodles and beer to drink.