Monday, March 14, 2011

Stewing a Plot

Every time I start a new project; whether it's a mystery game or a manuscript, I try to think of the story as a whole; or, if you wish, as a large pot of stew.

First you need a plan. It's the same with writing; first you need your plot - if you're writing a mystery (like me) you need to know at least the identity of that first body. Now, who did it might come later, but if you're like me you don't want to get too far before your murderer unmasks, even though it's just to you at this stage.

Now that you've got your plot (or pot) you need your ingredients; your characters. Some are the main characters - your meat. There's nothing stopping you creating a stew with just meat, but that's not really a stew. You need your vegetables, those big chunks of potatoes, carrots, turnips and celery that add flavour and colour. Every plot needs those colourful supporting characters as well; those wonderful personalities who might be a little too wild to build an entire plot around, but whose quirks add a unique zest to your story.

Just as when you're concocting a stew you always add your spices - your garlic, salt, pepper (and maybe a dash of oregano or thyme) remember to sprinkle some seasoning to your plot. Dialogue is vital, of course, but characters do far more than talk. Remember to let your readers experience what your characters are experiencing. Put them in the room. Let them see what your character sees, let them smell the fresh coffee or the lingering scent of a fire. Let them run their hands over the worn velvet of Grandma's drapes, taste the moistness of a carrot cake or hear the scrabble of mice in the ceiling.

Of course, stew isn't made in an hour and neither is a book. Simmering a stew allows the ingredients to cook and all your flavours to mingle. Let your plot bubble. Go back. Adjust the spices, maybe add a few more carrots. You've got time. But remember, sooner or later, that stew needs to be served.

Think of it as a deadline.


  1. Elspeth - What a wonderful analogy! And just like a good stew, everything in the stew flavours everything else. Each character, plot move, etc., affects the others. And the whole is greater than the sum of the parts.

  2. Hi Elspeth .. as Margot says .. amazing way of cooking up a storm of a mystery .. and as you say stirring away until you're satisfied .. cheers Hilary

  3. Margot; I'm glad you liked my 'stew'!

    Hi Hilary; I'm busy stirring away...I wish you happy cooking as well!

  4. It's very like a stew, isn't it? I think that sometimes I don't know when mine is 'done,' and let it overcook a little. :)

  5. Elizabeth; I understand; I keep fiddling with the spices. :)

  6. Reading this post made me hungry!

  7. Jill; That's only fair; writing it made me remember I needed to get something out of the freezer for dinner!

  8. I won't be looking at stew quite the same way anymore. Great lesson as always.

  9. Great post, and wonderful analogy. I feel like my novel has been stewing forever, hopefully it doesn't get burnt around the edges. :-) All in good time, ay.

  10. oh yummy - I love stew and I love your analogy.
    and sweet patootie just told me dinner is ready. Yay!

  11. Hmmm... Hidden Fire had a dead body simply to create conflict for Randy & Sarah. I didn't know who it was or why they killed him until 2/3 of the way through the book. Is someone going to steal my writer's card?

    Terry's Place
    Romance with a Twist--of Mystery

  12. Mary; Try cookies! Cookies are always good.

    AJ; Some stews need to simmer longer than others; at least that's what I tell myself!

    Terry; Of course not. I couldn't do it, but if that's what works for you and it obviously does, then keep on doing it!

  13. Good post and recipe for writing. I'm gonna stew over it and let it simmer for a while ...


    Marvin D Wilson

  14. If only I could just throw it all in the crock pot and let it cook itself while I'm at work!


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