Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Planning Ahead: How Much, and How Helpful is it Anyway?

Planning ahead, also known as outlining, is one of the biggest struggles--and necessities--for cozy mystery writers. Coming up with a decent plot involves a lot of this, but the real question is: how much should be done, and does it really help in the end?

How Much:

The process of outlining works differently for every writer, and it mostly depends on what goals you're trying to achieve. Will your cozy mystery try to trap and confuse the reader at every turn? Or will it be an easy mystery which the reader figures out before the sleuth? Obviously, the amount of outlining will vary based on what your goals are.

For me, I find it best to know the following things when I'm done outlining:

  • Who's the victim?
  • Why were they murdered?
  • A complete list of the suspects, including why (motive), when (opportunity), and how (means). 
  • Fake clues to distract the reader from the actual murderer, also called red herrings. 
  • How will the sleuth find the true murderer? 
  • What's a rough sketch of the book's beginning and ending?
  • What are the personalities of all the characters? What makes them interesting, and how do they impact my story? 

These details are usually enough to flesh out a solid plot. When I have these questions answered, I can start writing, because I know my characters and what's going to happen.

How Helpful is It? 

There are several reasons why I find outlining helpful. Even though it can be annoying and tiresome at first, it has plenty of benefits:

  • It's easy to get started. Beginnings are always difficult for me, but outlining has helped me overcome that. 
  • Your book is ten times funnier, engaging, and warm, now that you know every character's quirks and flaws. Character are the heart of cozy mysteries, and once they're developed fully through outlining, your story instantly jumps in interest and humor.
  • It's harder to get stuck once you get started. Writer's block, sagging middles, no plot development--they're all problems writers face, but with outlining, you take care of everything that's going to happen already towards the beginning of the process, so you don't have to worry about getting stuck. 
  • You have more time for actual writing, editing, and proofreading. While writers should write for their passion and interest and not the money, money's pretty important to most folks (scratch most and make that everyone), and there's more earning potential when your book gets done quickly. And it's not just quick: it's a quality quick, too, so you have absolutely nothing to worry about.
  • Your creativity increases immensely. Now that you have the skeleton of your story, you can add as much flesh and nerves and bone marrow as you like. You, as the writer, can unleash your full potential now, because you already know where to get started and how to guide yourself through the dangerous journey of writing a book.


Outlining's benefits definitely weigh its disadvantages, and no matter what type of cozy mystery you're writing, it's worth a try! 

What are your thoughts on outlining? Tips, techniques, questions? 


  1. Hi Amanda,

    Thanks for sharing your thoughts on outlining here. I'm a reluctant convert!

    I like your thoughts on "musts" for cozy outlines and the list of benefits of outlining, too. Food for thought for me, and encouragement for continuing on with the task. :)

    1. Thanks, Elizabeth! After reading your post on this, I remembered my own struggle with outlining, and I thought it would make an interesting post.

  2. This was so helpful! Your posts have been inspiring me to write cozy mysteries. I am so glad you madr this:)

    1. I'm very happy my posts inspire you, Amy!


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