Monday, January 2, 2012

Mystery Monday #16

Welcome to our regular Monday feature, where you'll find different kinds of writing prompts and exercises. Each week, we'll give you something to help exercise your mystery-writing muscles.

As MG mystery author Dan Poblocki pointed out in his interview in The Interrogation Room earlier this year, the local crime blotter can be a rich source of material for potential mystery plots. I subscribe to a local neighborhood watch crime e-mail list and frequently scour the crime blotter for ideas. While I've yet to base a story on the scenarios I find there, they do kick-start my imagination and put me in the right mystery-writing mood.

For today's Mystery Monday prompt, you're going to play detective. Below is a sampling of strange scenarios I've come across in local crime blotters and neighborhood watch e-mails from a (overzealous!) volunteer. Choose one that appeals to you, then try to imagine both what events might have led up to the crime -- and how it might be solved. 

1) "House burglarized in 500 Block of XXX Avenue. Shotgun shells and four strands of pearls were the only items reported missing. Shotgun left standing in hallway. Burglars brought in newspaper from the driveway and left it on porch. Police suspect the burglars were wearing gloves, as no fingerprints were found."

2) "100 Block of XXXXX Road. Two plants were dug up and stolen from the front yard, one a rare orchid, the other a Sego Palm. A delivered FedEx package containing documents was also taken from the front porch."

3) "Police report that a band of minors are burglarizing houses under the direction of an adult. Kids are instructed to solicit door-to-door to raise money for non-existent school projects and, when no one answers, break-in to look for gold jewelry. At 2:00 p.m. on November 10, a home was broken into on XXXX Avenue and several gold necklaces and bracelets were taken. On November 12 on the same street, a homeowner encountered a pre-teen boy in her backyard who claimed he had just moved to the neighborhood and was lost. When she asked his street name, he did not answer and turned to leave. A moment later, he turned back and asked if he could use her bathroom. The homeowner immediately called the police. Please be aware of all teens who are not neighbors."  

Some questions you might consider:
  • Who might have committed the crime and why? (Or has a crime even been committed? Scenario #3 sparks as many questions about neighborhood paranoia as it does about actual crime.)
  • What might the police be leaving out of their report? 
  • Who discovered the crime scene? What relationship might they have to the criminal? Where had they just been?
  • Were there any witnesses? To what extent are they reliable?
Brainstorm as many other questions as you like, and jot down any notes that come to mind. Then, when you're ready, pick a potential character's point-of-view (the police, a teen sleuth, the criminal, the victim, the person who discovered the crime), set a timer, and free-write for 10 - 15 minutes. Hopefully some new ideas -- and maybe even a full story -- will begin to develop.

None of these interest you? Take a look in your local paper or head to police crime blotters online, and try the same exercise. The stories you'll find there are often stranger than anything you could make up on your own...


Kristen Kittscher’s debut middle grade mystery THE WIG IN THE WINDOW (Harper Children’s) will be released in 2013. It follows the comic misadventures of two tween sleuths who suspect their school counselor is a dangerous fugitive — and just might be right! A former middle school English teacher, Kristen lives in Pasadena, California with her husband, Kai. When she’s not writing, you’ll find her running her after-school tutoring business or taking orders from her hopelessly spoiled pets.

No comments:

Post a Comment

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...