Some very basic ideas to help you plot a mystery.


  1. Every character has at least one secret, although the reader may never learn about it if it doesn’t add to the plot as you go. Set these secrets up before you begin, or, if you’re a non-plotter, you should come up with these secrets as the character appears and before you’ve written much about him or her.
  2. Most every character is reluctant to talk to the detective for a good reason.
  3. Every character tells at least one lie when talking to the detective.hercule_poirot by Almeidah - A stylized composition of the famous character from the books of Agatha Christie, the detective Hercule Poirot
  4. The detective suspects everyone he talks to, finds out if person had motive, opportunity and means. In one out of two interviews or more, he finds a clue and/or red herring–may not know it’s a clue when he notices it. Scatter them around. Use senses–see, hear, smell, taste, touch.
  5. Most every character the detective talks to has a reasonable motive for murdering the victim.
  6. Most every character had the opportunity to murder the victim.
  7. Most every character had the means to murder the victim.
  8. Several characters implicate another character, either overtly or subvertly. They give possible motive, opportunity, and/or means for other characters.


  1. When the detective asks in interviews about opportunity and means, she upsets suspect.
  2. When the  detective finds an interviewee in a compromising position.
  3. When bad guy begins to stalk detective.
  4. When police become annoyed at detective for interfering.


  1. At least one unique location.
  2. One character at least with a unique/interesting occupation or hobby.
  3. One character who is quirky or funny or eccentric.

All the above is a start. But I believe if you use most or all of these ideas, your story will be richer and better for it.


Money, of course. The more, the better, in most cases. But other paper? That comes in the mail, that comes in the door with your purchases, that comes to your front porch as newspapers and flyers?  In most cases, less is better.

Here are some quick thoughts:

PAPER: Get rid of as much as you can, as fast as you can. Go through the mail as soon as possible, discarding everything  you don’t need to keep, and filing away the rest, or handle it however it needs to be handled (write a check, make a phone call, etc.) If a newspaper is more than a week old, you might glance at the headlines, then recycle it. Magazines? Give them a month, two at the most. Have a small folder for receipts so you can always find the one you’re looking for to make a return or a complaint about a purchase. I like the folders that have monthly date separators. Save them by month, and if you need one, you may remember the month you bought the article and can just go through those to find it.

CLOTHING: Figure out how many of each type you need: Tops, bottoms, dresses, suits, underwear, shoes, hose/socks, hats, handbags. Get rid of everything you no longer wear or use, or haven’t worn in one year, unless it’s a special occasion item you may wear again, but limit yourself to only a very few of those. Now shop—fill in the blanks. You’ve decided you want twenty tops and bottoms and kept twenty tops but have only fourteen skirts or slacks to go with them? Even it up to your ideal count. Once at your ideal count for all items, if you buy something new, throw out or give away the equivalent item that is either the oldest, least used, or shabby. Your closet will thank you. Your sleepy self will thank you in the mornings when you’re getting dressed, especially if you arrange your closet by item.

KNICKKNACKS: Tired of washing, dusting, or otherwise cleaning them? No, you don’t have to throw away anything you truly love. What you do is put some things out, sparsely—no more than three items on a table, for example, and if it’s a small table, one item will do. Put the rest away in a special storage box or cabinet. Every so often, exchange the items for something in your storage area.

PANTRY ITEMS: First arrange them all by type (canned goods, baking supplies, etc.). Line them up so you can see what you have. As with the clothing, determine how much of each item you always want to have on hand. Stick with that number. It’s easiest to just pick a number for every canned item—for example, four of one kind of soup, four tomato sauce, four tomato paste, four canned mixed fruit, four canned tuna. You get the idea. At a glance, you can tell what’s getting low when you make out your shopping list. Do the same type of organization in your refrigerator. If you have room, even store those things that need to be there after opened. This way, again, you can see at a glance that you have an extra and don’t need to get more instead of checking the pantry. The exception is, of course, great sales items. You might put them in a special area, using up what you already have first, then checking that area and restocking your regular shelves before buying more. But if you do this, you have to remember what you have stashed away somewhere else. Or you can keep a list of those items right in the pantry or on the inside of the door.

I think you get the idea. Look at each area of your home and decide how you can arrange it so it’s more organized and it will stay that way with little effort.


Without a first draft, you’ll never have a published story or novel. Bottom line.

So, the first “rule” for writing a short story or book is to write a first draft until it’s all done.


Some people love to plot in advance, while others like to wing it. That debate is one for another blog post.

Pick your own way, then get to it. Maybe you plot extensively, then find out a third of the way through that it’s not going to work. Either fix the plot outline, or just plow ahead. Or maybe you love the exhilaration of sitting down every day not knowing where your story is going and just write. But you get half-way through, and you don’t know what should happen next. It might not hurt to take a few days to figure that out (in other words do some plotting) before continuing.

Writing is not a cut-and-dried process, obviously. So, do what works.

But get that first draft written. Don’t go over and over Page 1 or Chapter 1 until it’s perfect. For one thing, it will never be perfect. For another thing, you might get to Page 6 or Chapter 6 and realize you need to do a lot of work on Chapter 1. Again. And all that time you spent on it way back when is lost. You might have been on Page 10 or Chapter 10 by now. Plow through. Get it done.

Then you really have something to work with. Not only that, you can say, “I wrote a book.” Sure it’s not publishable yet, unless you’re a genius, and more work will need to be done. But the major objective is complete. Put a fork in it and get out your red pencil. Now you’ll have to do a different kind of writing, known as editing. And talking about editing would take a whole ‘nother post, so I’m not going there today.

But a reminder: Only two days left for the Goodreads giveaway of my suspense novel REVELATIONS about religious cult. Here: Good luck if you enter!


Need to clean up the kitchen, bathroom, refrigerator, your office? Here’s the best way to do any clean-up job quickly:

  1. Put everything away, or pull everything out of what you want to clean (like the refrigerator).
  2. Start at the highest point, and dust or wipe everything down, circling the area if it’s large, like a living room or bedroom, or starting at one end of a long space like the laundry room or the bathroom and moving to the end.
  3. Clean the floors—spot clean as necessary, and do a thorough job on a routine basis.

Sounds simple and easy when you break it down like this, doesn’t it? Since I sit a lot of the time on my computer, I break up jobs like these just the way I have them listed above. It doesn’t take more than ten minutes to straighten up a room in preparation to dust it or wipe things down. Except for possibly the kitchen, it doesn’t take much more than ten minutes to dust or wipe. For the kitchen, I sometimes break it into two sessions. Same for the floors.

And if everything is put away after it’s used, you can even pretty much skip #1 except when cleaning out something.

Another way to tackle keeping everything clutter-free and clean is to do one type of job in those ten minutes. Dust as many rooms as you can in ten minutes, go back to your sit-down job, then do another ten minutes after another hour has passed. Like this: I do the bathroom and kitchen on Wednesdays, I dust mop the bare floors and dust all the furniture on Fridays (I take Thursdays and Sundays off), and I vacuum the whole house and wash the floors on Saturday. This way you only get out your supplies for each job once a week instead of getting them all out every day to do, say two rooms a day.

The main points: Keep everything picked up and put away. And spot clean every room every day—counters in kitchen and baths, spots on the floor, handprints around doorknobs and so on. When you see something dirty or out of place, take a moment to fix it.


I’ve read a few books lately where I feel used.  Manipulated.  Tossed around like a puppet on a string. Actually, the last three I’ve read have made me feel that way.

Why?  Because of three things–shifts in time, placement of the inciting incident, and very fast shifts in viewpoint.

One book’s Chapter One starts in September.  The next chapter starts in April of the same year.  Of course, we quickly realize Chapter One was a prologue.  But the common wisdom, the heck with the timeline, is to call a prologue Chapter One.  Next in this novel we have other chapters going in the right direction, but with back story, of course–always needed, but it IS hard to keep track of what happened when because the story didn’t start at the beginning–I mean the beginning of THIS story.  Sure, the characters have back stories and those need to be told.  But when the author also fools with the story’s timeline this way, it’s confusing—I don’t know if the flashbacks relate to the fake Chapter One or to Chapter Two. I know the reason for this is because the current wisdom is to start with something exciting.  The heck with getting to know the characters and setting first.  Start with a fascinating action, and then fill it all in, going backwards, then forward.  Is that really a good way to tell a story?  Obviously, I don’t think so. 

And this thing about inciting incidents?  My books have more than one.  I hope most books do.  Part of the excitement should be the build-up to the incident.  Anyone can put a dead body on page one.  And go backwards.  For a police procedural, I expect that, because it’s the police’s story.  For almost all the other sleuths, I want to know a bit about him or her, the other people in the story, and the setting before someone stumbles over the body.  I wish I had a library full of Agatha Christi’s books so I could see how they start.  The few I’ve read haven’t started with what I would call an “inciting incident.”  And she’s sold more fiction books than anyone else, right? She’s still selling.

The next problem is the shifting viewpoints.  I’m fine with that–do it myself.  What I don’t like is whiplash.  We have two pages with VP #1, then ten with VP #2, then four with VP #3, then we get into just sections where they go from one to another.  How can a reader feel as if she is getting to know the characters in this mishmash?  I like to spend some time with each one.  And I hate it when the VP shifts right in the middle of a scene.  There might be two people on the planet who can do this well–the author of the book I’m reading while writing this is not one of them.  So, again, I feel manipulated. 

Of course, it’s entirely possible that readers who are not writers don’t notice any of this stuff, or if they feel uneasy about the way the story is unfolding, they don’t know why. And there are good reasons to start with a big inciting incident (I do in my current work in progress), to play with the timeline, and to shift viewpoints rapidly (near the end of the story is better, though, in my opinion, than at the beginning). But we need good reasons for any of these tricks, and we have to be good enough writers to pull them off.

Yes, I know we manipulate the readers all the time–we hope to make them laugh and cry.  We hope to make them want to not stop reading until the very end, then be sorry it’s all over.  That’s good storytelling. 

The manipulation I object to is mechanical.  The scaffolding is showing, then falling, my  friends, in a lot of current novels.  And as it’s falling, I’m getting bruised and whiplashed.


If you’re on the computer without your notebook handy and have a brainstorm, send yourself an email. Really. You can deal with whatever it was when you have time, then delete the email, like crossing off a chore on your to-do list.

Make sure the subject line clues you into what the email is about. For example, if you are writing a book called UNTITLED, put the title in the subject line, and a few words about what part of UNTITLED you had the brainstorm about. For example, “UNTITLED, clue in the ransom note.”

I love little tricks like this. How about you? Have any you’d like to share?


Please help me celebrate the launch of my latest mystery novel, Perfect Victim. I am very excited about introducing my private eye character, Paula Mitchell, to the world. This is the first in a series about Paula, and I hope everyone enjoys reading as much as I enjoy writing about her.

Here’s the description:

A few days after Sylvia Leominster is murdered, private investigator Paula Mitchell interviews Sylvia’s fiancé in their small-town Rhode Island jail. Warren Wade’s fingerprints are all over the murder weapon, he has no alibi, and Sylvia broke up with him the night she was killed. After another young woman friend of Sylvia’s is bludgeoned to death, Paula is dismayed when the police keep Warren in jail. They claim the second murder could have been committed by a copy-cat and remind her Warren’s fingerprints are still on the weapon that killed Sylvia.

Working with her best friend who often hires Paula to investigate cases and who is Warren’s lawyer, Paula searches for answers. Paula and  her computer guru lover narrow down the suspects to the victim’s friends. The group is led by a mesmeric young man with political ambitions. Paula doesn’t trust him, especially when she learns that all of Sylvia’s friends have lied during her interviews. At the preliminary hearing, some answers begin to emerge. Paula zeros in on the killer and sees firsthand how friendship and loyalty can be used for personal gain. With Warren’s freedom on the line, she has to find a way to capture the real killer. But in doing so, she doesn’t realize she’s putting herself and her own best friend in danger.

Please check it out at Amazon (click on the cover image above), where it’s available in print and for the Kindle. It should also be available in print at your favorite on-line store, if not right away, in a couple of weeks or so.

And thanks so much for you interest.


Have you thought about deadlines? I hope you’ve learned to prioritize your to-do list, keep your calendar updated, and have a place to jot down notes.

Next in your time management arsenal should be making deadlines for each task. Many of us do not report to anyone else—we’re stay-at-home moms, creatives, or entrepreneurs who report only to ourselves.


Working to deadlines, self-imposed or not, is smart. Some can be as simple as having a goal to finish a certain project by lunchtime. Or have several things you want to do before you go to bed every night. Others can be a lot more difficult to set, especially if they’re really big projects (such as writing a book or decorating a whole house). In the case of big projects, break them down into daily doable timeframes, figure out how many days it will take you to finish, give yourself a few days wiggle room, and put that deadline down on your calendar. And keep it at the front of your mind every day as you do your daily work.

Good planning, then having deadlines are the keys to good time management.