You’re About to Learn How to Plot a Novel
Welcome to the third post in the Outlining a Police Procedural series where you’re learning how to plot a novel. We’re excited to keep the momentum going and continue to help you outline your own police procedural or detective fiction novel.
If you’re new to the series, there are two posts we recommend you read before continuing on with this post.
First, read Outlining a Police Procedural, Pt 1: Introduction. With this post, you’ll learn what to expect from the entire series and how to prepare so you’ll have the best chance at completing the outline successfully.
Second, continue in the series by reading Outlining a Police Procedural, Pt 2: Set-up. This post covers the first 25% of your novel outline.
Once you’ve completed the first two, please move on to this post.
Outlining a Police Procedural, Pt 3: Attack covers the second part of your story or from 25%-50%.
Using the 4 parts of Story Structure created by author Larry Brooks, the second part of a novel is called: Response.
Response has 3 of the 18 milestones within the 4 parts of story structure. Assuming you’ve enrolled and consumed Fiction Formula’s free course titled Thriller Story Structure 101, or are otherwise educated on the elements of story structure, we’ll provide a brief definition of each and then move forward to the plot.
Response – covers from 25%-50% of how to plot a novel. Response is your hero’s response to what they’ve learned in the set-up portion of the novel. In a thriller, the initial crime has been committed. Many of the main characters have been introduced, and the hero has walked through the door of no return, meaning they are fully invested (although clueless at this point) to investigating the crime.
6. Hero Responds and Heads Down New Path – Your hero’s initial response to what has happened. For example: Your hero begins to make decisions on how to deal with the villain.
7. First Pinch Point – An in your face reminder of the antagonistic forces first hand. For example: The villain makes a move against the hero.
8. Midpoint Context Shift (New Info) – The hero has an eye-opening moment and realizes what the villain is after. For example: A major clue or idea is found or realized revealing the core issue.
Similar to the last post in the series, we will highlight by the milestone number any part of the outline that would make for a good fit for the milestone.
Also, despite only having three milestones, a lot happens in our outline, so pay particularly close attention. Foreshadowing and clues to the killer’s motives are discovered in response.
Plot Review and Intro to Part 3 Response Plot
All right, let’s get started with the plot review of set up and the subsequent response by your hero.
In set up, we covered the first five milestones:
2. Character Intro and Positioning
3. Foreshadowing, Intro of Stakes and Threat
4. Mechanism of First Plot Point
The opening of our novel brought us to a crime scene where a body was found. The hero was introduced as having known the previously missing person now found murdered.
The story flashbacks to the day and the life of our hero and eventually his focus on the missing person case. As clues are found, the hero and his team narrowed down their attention to one suspect who is in hiding. But, before the ending of setup, a murder is committed and the hero is pulled in another direction that may be related to his initial missing person’s case.
Now, in Response we pick up the hero who is investigating whether or not the murder committed is related to his missing person case. With the introduction of more characters, the hero uses his team to canvass the area trying to dig up information on the murder and to locate his initial suspect in the missing person case.
But, the villain has his own plan and tries to thwart the hero’s investigation by planting clues that continue to point the finger at their original suspect who is in fact innocent.
As the hero slowly begins to understand the villain’s movements, the villain strikes again and this time indirectly at the heart of the hero by killing a close confidant in an attempt to silence a witness.
In the first post of this series you had the opportunity to download the template for Part 1- Set up. Now, in Part 2 – Response, the download (located in the vault) has been updated to include both Part 1 and Part 2.
New Character Introductions
Because there are now two investigations happening simultaneously, there is a need to introduce one or two new sidekicks to the outline. If your hero is a police officer, detective, or something similar, consider introducing one or two other detectives in a same position.
Later in Part 2: Response another sidekick will need to be introduced. This sidekick has an important role, and that is they should be a close confidant of the hero. Depending on your outline, (and you may not know this yet) you may have introduced the close confidant sidekick in Part 1-Set-up. That’s just fine, but make sure you have this character introduced. You need time for the reader to become involved and care for this person. You want to have enough time to show the reader the hero cares about this person as well. As I mentioned in the plot earlier in this post, the confidant of the hero will be surprisingly killed at the midpoint of the story.
Hero and sidekick continue interviews with leads provided by witnesses or locals.
Tip: The purpose of the interviews is to begin to string together support clues for the hero to uncover. Your support clues may be one or two scenes in length, or they may build upon themselves until they’re finally revealed as truth near the end. This is similar to the foreshadowing efforts in Set-up. Build upon them until they’re shown as a good lead, or not so good.
For example: Assume the hero and sidekick interview a person who lived close to the scene of the crime. This person didn’t see what happened, but they did see an unusual vehicle driving around the area a few minutes before the abduction or murder. The car is described as an old brown car.
As the story continues and the hero or the sidekick continue to pursue leads, they learn of a person who “might” match the description of the initial suspect. The hero does some, and the initial suspect drives an old rusty car.
The hero would recall, or at least the reader would remember the initial interview where the person said they saw an unusual brown vehicle in the neighborhood. Now the hero finds out their suspect drives an old rusty car. Could be a good lead. Maybe it turns out not to be. The point is to build on at least three different support clues with at least one recurring lead that leads to the killer.
Hero and/or sidekick find evidence that leads them to believe they are on the right track (and they are). (6)
Despite the clues from witnesses, leads from locals, and evidence, the hero, suspects the initial suspect (the man they’re looking for) is not the real killer. Although all the evidence points directly to the initial suspect, it all seems too easy.
Hero narrows down a potential hiding place their initial suspect.
After following more leads and reviewing evidence collected, the hero determines it’s possible one person who provided leads may have been deceiving the hero and sidekick. All the leads the person provided seem to point towards their initial suspect (the innocent person).
Hero tries to locate the person who provided the leads and runs into a dead end. (This is the real killer).
Tip: This is where the plot starts to get difficult to follow. To keep it clear we have four things happening right now in the investigation. Do your best to keep the plot lines clear.
#1. The hero and team are looking for the abducted person.
#2. The hero and crew are looking for the initial suspect in the abduction. This is the person that all the initial interviews of witnesses and leads pointed to. To be clear, this is not the killer.
#3. The hero and team are investigating a murder that may or may not be tied to the original abduction.
#4. The hero is now aware at least one person (the real killer) who pointed at the initial suspect as someone who might be involved in the abductions may have given false information by pointing the hero toward their initial suspect when as it is turning out (at least in the hero’s mind) the initial suspect may not fit the profile.
I know we dropped this last part with the person who provided false information to the hero on you without notice, and this will cause you to have to go back to Set-up and fill in one of the interview characters as the real killer, but I did that for a reason. If we were to let you know back in Set-up who the real killer was, we would have to fill in a lot of information you’re finding out now, and that would be utterly confusing, so our apologies. Go back and use one of the people your hero interviewed personally and classify them as the real killer. You don’t need to do anything else, but alongside their name tag them as the killer. Now, back to the outline.
Sidekick is beginning to think the murder is not related to the abduction.
Hero receives a tip the initial suspect has been seen in a particular area.
Hero and team assemble and make a plan to find the initial suspect.
Hero and team converge on the area and begin to search for the initial suspect.
(Initial suspect POV) is chased and killed by hero and team.
Tip: The series of scenes you create around the search for the initial suspect should switch point of views (pov) from the hero to the initial suspect until the initial suspect is driven out and killed. This type of back and forth allows for you as the writer to create suspense. It also provides for you the writer to answer an important question for the readers. Is the initial suspect the killer?
You can answer this question by using the point of view of the initial suspect and show the reader, he/she is NOT the killer. Maybe the initial suspect is just scared of being chased and is entirely innocent. Perhaps they’re running from another problem altogether. Whatever it may be, use the point of view of the initial suspect to confirm for the reader (not the hero or team) that he/she is not the killer.
Important: This is where the flashback ends. Your job is to determine how much time has passed between the initial investigation and the hook when the body of the abducted person is found, and the missing person case becomes a murder. Your job is also to determine why your hero stopped investigating the case. Maybe the clues dried up. Maybe there was a more important case. Whatever it may be, it’s your decision.
If you decide substantial time has passed, you’ll need to almost immediately bring in at least one new sidekick. This new sidekick needs to be a close confidant of the hero. This is the sidekick I mentioned earlier in the post. This person will serve as the motivation for the hero to finally catch the killer of the original abducted person, the person killed at the beginning of Part 2: Response and now the killer of the hero’s close friend.
Need Help Plotting Your Storylines?
Get 10% off Plottr. The Visual Plotting Software for Fiction Writers.
Enter code “FictionFormula” (without quotes) to get 10% off
**The remainder of the outline takes place in present day.**
The hero in his new normal world (if substantial time has passed). If substantial time has not passed, use the excuse of leaving the case initially prior to leaving the flashback as the hero’s focus.
Something reminds the hero of the case that was never solved. The hero contacts a sidekick from the original investigation, and they decide to give it another look.
The focus is on the person who gave them false leads. From this point on we’ll refer to this person as “False lead person.”
Hero’s new focus is to find the person (the killer) who fed them tips on the initial suspect. Hero breaks down what they know about the person and begin to canvass area establishments.
During the canvass, the hero learns of a victim that survived a similar attack to the unsolved murder. Hero contacts victim and learns of physical description that matches the person who provided leads on the initial suspect.
Tip: The subplot of the murder victim and the abducted person from the beginning of the novel is complete. It’s apparent to the hero after interviewing the victim who survived a similar attack, the two killings are related. This is a new motivation for the hero to continue.
Hero and sidekick follow up on leads using new information learned from the surviving victim.
Tip: You’ll need to begin focusing on one or two different aspects of the killer here. From this point on the two focus areas should come up often in further interviews. In Set-up you gave the initial suspect defining facial features or vehicle or possibly a job. These are focus areas. Choose a couple or make up your own and use them to help the hero narrow down the suspect location until the end of the novel.
(Killer pov) If time has passed, catch the reader up on the killer and what they’ve been up.
(Killer pov) Make the killer aware of the surviving suspect. The surviving suspect becomes the new target for the killer.
Tip: With the killer point of view, it’s important to quickly catch the reader up on the killer’s motives. Provide some information that will remind the reader, why the killer killed, to begin with. Their new focus on the surviving victim is clear. They need to eliminate this person because they are the last remaining link to his identity.
In a series of scenes use this motivation and create a motive for the close confidant of the hero to end up in the same place.
(Killer pov) Provide a pivotal moment for the killer that includes time as a motivator to focus on eliminating the surviving victim. (7)
Close confidant makes a plan to go to a specific location for a reason you choose.
Tip: To create suspense, alternate the point of view characters from the killer to the confidant.
Killer has a plan and is on the move.
Killer and close confidant find themselves in the same location.
Confidant dies. (8)
Take your time with Response. Learning how to plot a novel and particularly this part of structure is incredibly long and detailed. Make sure you have your storylines straight with your hero, side characters, villain, foreshadows, and other things to remember. Consider Plottr as a tool for this purpose.
Plottr is the easiest tool for plotting stories that you’ll ever use. Plottr makes it simple to visually plot out multiple plot lines in your story. Organize, simplify, become the writer you’ve always dreamed of being.
I use Plottr to keep my outlines organized in the plotting stage. It’s easy to create multiple timelines that follow along with the original plot. You’ll know where the subplots intersect with the original plot and you can even use the timeline to keep track of the important information like the support clues.
Plottr has generously offered readers of Fiction Formula a 10% discount to try their service.