Monday, August 1, 2016

Using Trello to Write a Mystery

I've recently begun using Trello -- it has practically taken over every task list and plotting method.  It has movable lists and cards, where I can add links to the backs (and pictures, text, checklists, etc).'s the How-To for mystery writing.  As requested.

Every mystery has some core elements.  The Who-Dunnit and Suspicious Persons, Circumstantial Evidence (Items for Scrutiny), Promising Locations (where the event in question takes place), and The Big Question.

By the way, Trello is free, and it works wonderfully as either an app or a web page!

When you set up a Trello Board, title it meaningfully.  I've got one called "WRITE A BOOK".  (Capitalized so it stands out from my other boards.)

The next thing you are going to need to do is set up your lists.  Title each one.  (Click the image to see it larger.)

Later, you can add other lists for things like
Theme / Motif / Symbol
Character Details
Opening to Incident
Climax and Black Moment

For now, however, keep it simple.  Elaborate later.

Capitalize your first card under the first list to visually enhance which one is the main story question.  The rest are not capitalized because they are just events or main points.  Those events or points can be completely random, have some semblance of order, or...pretty much whatever you have in mind.

The list above is seriously as random and illogical as I could muster on the spot, and the moment I looked over what I had written, I realized this "plot" was going to suggest a highly comical mystery.  I had no idea how the hell I would piece it all together, but at that moment piecing it together didn't really matter.  I had the next list to tend to.

The second list should be filled out with the things you have in mind...or random, senseless, unrelated things.  Make them weird, if you want.  The fun is in tying them together so that you can make a unique and cohesive story.

Don't worry about capitalizing any of these cards, unless you know which scene will actually hold the incident that sets the book off on its story-long tangent.  (Make note that the original world must suddenly get diverted so that things are not as they usually are.  This is where the main character must figure out how to adjust or how to return things to their natural state.  After all, this is the guts of all stories!)

You may suspect that by this point these ideas have gotten me thinking and laughing.  I love Trello.  I love that you can click and hold items to be able to drag them and drop them. It lets you rearrange everything on a whim.

The next list is for Who Dunnits and Who May Have Dunnits.  Capitalize the person you want to be responsible for whatever major thing happens.  Everyone else will be a suspicious person, upon whom you can heap all kinds of hints and blames, making it seem like any one of them is responsible.  This lets you think of ways to foreshadow what happens throughout the book in a much easier way, too!

The next list will start off with the first card naming the character's main goal, with something to make it unique.  Think of things that are stopping her, or why she wants to achieve the main goal.  (Sets up inner and outer tension, turmoil, etc).  I've written "fail," "success", and "success and failure" on some of the cards here to show the outcome of a scene goal that is noted on them.  It just gives me direction.  Some of the other cards don't have that because they aren't for story setup -- they're for story body.

Make sure you look at your previous lists and choose items, people, and locations--try to find ways to connect them so that everything ties in together nicely.

It's kind of like creating an elaborate game of Clue!

Go with the flow.

Here is my own Key Points list.  (Multiple screen shots, errors included).

I like adding an "Editorial" list after these cards for ideas that pop up as I write.  I try not to stop writing once I've started.  Instead, I note "FIX" on the margin, or "RESEARCH", or "SPELL", or "DEFINE", or "ADD".  This lets me know where I need to return in a later draft, where I need to edit, add to, or flesh out an idea that struck me in the zone.  Try not to stop.  Just label with an action and a descriptive note. This should keep you working with a forward momentum.  Never stop. Never look back (until you are actually in the middle of the multiple stages of editing.)

After all of this is sketched out on your trello board, you can make new lists for the next step, or start another board for chapters, openings, etc.  However you prefer.

Once you have started a card, you can attach documents (online or off), pictures, and links (for research or other reasons).  You can also add checklists, make notes on the "back of the card" (just click the card to "turn it over").

Most of my documents are on Google Drive or OneNote.  I attach them with links.

That's pretty much how you get the spine of your mystery book figured out.  It gives you one hell of a creative playing field, without restricting you to a solid "outline."  You can add all the cool stuff as you do the actual writing.

I keep my  writing board separate from my editorial board.  I also have a project ideas board, where I draft multiple ideas as they occur to me, put them in the corresponding project-type list, and then move them to the new board when I begin working on one.

Editorial Calendars are awesome!  Look into that if you want to get a better idea on how to be more professional with your work load...or hobby load.  Whatever you wanna call it.

Let me know if this was helpful!

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