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.
Our Tuesday blogging theme this month is settings. So today's prompt is designed to help you to choose a geographic setting -- for a scene, a story, or a novel.
Do exotic destinations seize your imagination? Many writers of middle grade and young adult mysteries throw their sleuths into international (or, in the case of Beth Revis, intergalactic!) intrigue. Some examples:
--Laura Resau, The Indigo Notebook (Ecuador), The Ruby Notebook (southern France), The Jade Notebook (Mexico)
--Susan Runholt, The Mystery of the Third Lucretia (The Netherlands), Rescuing Seneca Crane (Scotland), Adventure at Simba Hill (Africa)
--Anne Nesbet, The Cabinet of Earths (Paris)
--Beth Revis, Across the Universe and A Million Suns (outer space!)
Or, does local color inspire you? Some of our favorite kids' mysteries also take place in everyday venues like neighborhoods or schools or workplaces, or in places that don't require passports or visas. Such as:
--Peter Abrahams, The Echo Falls mystery series (suburban neighborhood)
--Josh Berk, The Days of Hamburger Halpin (a Pennsylvania town, and a historic mine shaft, the site of a class field trip -- and more)
--Linda Johns, the Hannah West series (various Seattle neighborhoods, each novel in a different one).
Here's a writing exercise designed to get you to pin down some possible settings:
1. Take a few minutes to brainstorm exotic destinations and ordinary ones, or foreign versus closer to home. List as many as you can - doesn't matter if you've actually visited them or not.
2. Circle the ones that intrigue you the most.
3. For each place you circled, brainstorm aspects that would led themselves well to a mystery (or to the mystery you're working on). For example, if I circled "Istanbul," I might list: "winding alleys -- great for hiding or fleeing. Carpet sellers everywhere -- shady dealings? More hiding opportunities?
4. For each place you circled, now write more detailed lists about activities that might take place there and institutions or organizations that are significant or of interest there. The activities and organizations could be legal, illegal/ illicit, or any combination. For example, for "Istanbul" I might list "boat tours on the Riviera" as an activity and "Boat charter companies" as an organization. As your lists grow, you might find ideas for a possible mystery plot -- or plot twist -- come to mind!
[Steps 3 and 4 were modified from Hallie Ephron's Writing and Selling Your Mystery Novel, Writer's Digest Books, 2005.]