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  • Writer's pictureShannon Work

Plotting the Perfect Murder (fictional, of course!)

I’ll be the first to admit, killing people for a living (even just on paper) is not normal, but it can be a lot of fun. A crime writer will spend

hours conjuring ways to murder a victim and attempting to get away with it. For me, it’s an amusing escape from a relatively quiet life.

So where do the dark ideas come from? After writing and publishing two murder mysteries, I’m sure I have more than a few friends and family members wondering the same thing. How can a seemingly ordinary (my kids would say ‘boring’) person come up with stories of heinous crimes?

The short answer is that ideas come from everywhere—news stories, movies, television, and hours of considering different ‘what if?’ scenarios.

Early in the outlining process of each novel, I use the Five W’s and an H method that I learned studying journalism in college. Who? What? When? Where? Why? And How?

Since I write contemporary mysteries, the when is always the current day. That’s the easiest question to answer!

In my latest novel, Everything To Lose, the main storyline (answering the rest of the questions) came from hours of wondering how to tie a murder mystery to the oil and gas industry that is so prominent in Denver. But I wanted most of the story set in Vail.

I knew that a fair number of wealthy Denverites have homes or condos in Vail. Cue Elliot Banks, a wealthy Denver energy executive murdered in his Vail mansion on Forest Road. That took care of the who, the what, and the where.

Next came figuring out the why and the how. Why and how was Elliot Banks murdered? The why is the killer’s motive. Why would someone want him dead? And who would do it? (Another Who question to answer.)

But figuring out the why and how of the murder is the fun part. This is when an author has to reach back into the darkest recesses of their imagination to come up with a surprising (yet hopefully plausible) scenario of why and how one person would kill another.

Once I had answered the Five W’s and an H for Everything To Lose—I knew who was murdered by whom and why; I knew where, when, and how—it was time to populate the story with additional suspects and characters to help hide ‘whodunit’.

This is where the storytelling comes in, creating a whole world around the inciting incident (the murder). This, for me, is what takes the most time and imagination. It’s creating the story around the crime.

And even if the reader can guess ‘whodunit’ before the end of the story, the author hopes the reader has enjoyed the ride!

PS- I took this photo last week. We were between storms and it looked like the mountains were floating in the clouds.


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