Learn How to Write a Fiction Novel With This Series
Welcome to Fiction Formula’s new series Outlining a Police Procedural. This is a series of blog posts designed for you to learn how to write a fiction novel and follow along a predetermined detective fiction plot outline using your own characters, setting, and ideas.
If you did not read part one in this series, we recommend you go back and read the blog post titled Outlining a Police Procedural, Pt 1: Introduction for the expanded explanation of this series and also action items that should be completed before moving on to this post.
Outlining a Police Procedural follows the four-part story structure accompanied by the 18 milestones taught by author Larry Brooks. If you are not familiar with story structure and the milestone elements, you are welcomed to enroll for free in Fiction Formula’s Story Structure 101 online course.
Intro to Plot
Just like most detective fiction and police procedural novels, our hero will lead the way in solving a murder using investigative practices and techniques.
In this storyline, our hero is going to be thrust into a murder investigation he is quite intimate with. In fact, it’s a murder case he was involved in weeks, months, or years ago (your choice) where the suspected killer was captured and killed, but the body of the victim was never found. Until now.
The body of the murder victim is found, but an uneasiness creeps back into the mind of the hero as he recalls how he felt during the original investigation. He never believed the original suspect was the killer. Despite the case being closed, our hero suspects the killer is still out there and when the clues don’t add up to the original killer, the case is re-opened, and our hero asks to lead the investigation.
The opening scenes are the present time when the body is found. Upon finding the body, the hero is thrust back in time to recall how the original investigation went down. This is called a flashback. The flashback will last through the from the initial disappearance until the death of the original suspect. The story will pick up in the present day where the hero has just seen the body and starts his current day investigation into the real murderer.
Points of Clarification
Throughout this series, we intend to provide you with as much information at each milestone as we can so you are able to build on the plot using your own characters, setting, and ideas.
To make this outline as clean and easy to understand as possible, we will be following the hero throughout the storyline and will have minimal side character, minor character, setting, and subplot involved. We’ve left those for you to decide.
As we progress through each part of story structure, we will highlight areas within the storyline that would be a good fit for subplot and foreshadowing. Make a note of these areas as they are optimal locations.
Keep in mind there are no wrong ideas. Use your imagination to build upon this plot outline. Consider using the “what if” technique to make a list of “what if” scenarios for each milestone. Once we complete this series, you will have a completed novel outline with several situations to choose from.
If at any time you have questions or ideas, Fiction Formula has a new Facebook group with thriller writers of all experiences who are more than willing to listen and offer their opinions. You can request to join the Facebook group by clicking the link below.
Download Set-up Template
If you are like us, creation happens anywhere and everywhere, and you’re not always in front of a computer or a smartphone. Lunch breaks from your day job, long commutes to work on a bus, not so entertaining T-ball games, you get the idea, so we have created a police procedural outline template for you to download and print out. We hope this printout allows you to maintain your momentum.
We begin our outline where every thriller starts and that is in set up. During a thrillers set up, you will introduce the stories major characters, the nature of the conflict the story revolves around, and setting.
Setup includes five milestones and is roughly the first 25% of your story:
1. Hook – the literary tool that helps readers become and stay engaged with the story. In a thriller, it’s usually a murder or in our case the discovery of a missing person which turns into a murder.
2. Character intro and positioning – The introduction of the main characters and their current ordinary world. This also includes the back story.
3. Foreshadowing, intro of stakes and threat – as the setup unfolds, foreshadowing needs to be placed strategically into the outline. The hero needs to begin to understand what’s at stake, and the reader needs to realize there is a definite threat.
4. Mechanism of first plot turn – The catalyst that forces the hero into the door of no return. This is not the first plot point, but the set up to the first plot point and usually foreshadows a twist for the hero.
5. First plot point – The actual door of no return. This is when the hero has no choice but to move forward. In our case, this is the point where a murder takes place that is possibly tied to the missing persons case.
Although the milestones are in order above, this is no always the case in a novel. Characters are introduced at different times, and the hero is understanding the stakes as they present themselves throughout set-up. Because this is the case in our plot, we will use the numbers that correlate with the milestones to help keep you organized.
For example: Anything related to the hook, will end with (1). Anything related to a foreshadow will end with (3), and so on.
One last thing. Because the set-up has a flashback, I recommend you read through the entire five milestones to get a better idea of the plot, before attempting to develop as you go.
If you are ready to continue, let’s move on and get to the plot.
The opening scene, police arriving on the scene of a body found.
The hero arrives on the scene and recognizes the body as a missing person where he personally investigated the disappearance (now a murder) some time ago. (1)
The hero doesn’t believe the person who was blamed for the disappearance committed the crime.
The hero recalls how the suspect died and the case was closed.
Hero flashback to original investigation of missing person
Hero positioning both life and work (2)
Introduce Sidekick(s) (2) (introduce one or two sidekicks at this point in the story. You do not need detail, just name and job title. If you’re hero is a detective in a police force, the two sidekicks can be detectives or patrol cops, etc.)
Hero receives original missing persons call.
(Keep in mind. At this point, it’s a missing person’s call. This is not an investigation…yet. No murder is known to have been committed. The job of a detective is to investigate a possible missing person case, interview witnesses, and canvas the area.)
Initial clues in disappearance are found. (4)
Tip: At this point in the story, the hero is aware of a missing person and is beginning his initial interviews with witnesses, leads, etc. As he finds out new information, it’s time to sprinkle in foreshadows. The foreshadows you introduce should be related to the real killer. The elements of a foreshadow need to be added now, so when the hero begins to uncover the identity of the killer, your readership is shaking their head in acceptance for the hero is on the right track.
For example, if your killer is addicted to drugs, have your hero uncover the possibility that drugs were related to the murder and/or a potential suspect is involved with drugs as they are conducting the interviews.
Also, consider the appearance of the real killer. Is there some aspect of their physical presence you could foreshadow now? Something that might not make sense now, but will later as the hero closes in?
Clothing? During the interviews does the hero learn about a potential suspect wearing clothing that was out of place?
Pick one or choose your own.
Hero and sidekick initial interviews of witnesses and relatives and last knowns. (3) (include at least one foreshadow in the interviews.)
Hero receives a lead from interviews of a possible suspect and suspect’s hang out.
Hero has enough information to determine a crime has been committed. (based on the first clues at the scene and the interviews.)
Hero meets with superior and provides an update. The hero is officially put on the case.
Hero continues interviews focused on the initial suspect.
Tip: Time for another foreshadow. If you used a physical feature to include clothing in the first foreshadow, use something completely different this time. Do not build on the first foreshadow. Consider the living situation, vehicles, job, etc. as foreshadows here.
For example: When the hero was first on the scene, you should have provided some initial clues that there was a crime committed, i.e., abduction, murder, etc. You could have placed a welders pipe on the ground that had blood on it (or maybe it didn’t). During the second set of interviews (related to the initial suspect) maybe the hero learns the suspect works for a body shop. (Welding is a part of the job which would tie in the welder’s pipe from the first foreshadow).
Witness recalls a particular type of clothing of suspect, vehicle, etc. at the location and a person matching the description of the initial suspect. (3)
Hero investigate suspect hang out. Through investigation tactics, the hero learns of the suspects possible home address, work address, or another hang out location. (the point of interviews is to keep the momentum going. Make sure the hero always has some sort of lead to work through.)
Hero investigates suspects location and finds (information from one of two previous foreshadows) For example: If you foreshadow a drug problem, the hero will find drug paraphernalia. (This leads the hero to believe he is on the right track in locating his initial suspect.)
Tip and Spoiler Alert: Build up the initial suspect as much as you can at the beginning of this investigation. Because the initial suspect is NOT the real killer. This initial suspect is going to be the person from the beginning of the novel that goes down for the crime.
Sidekick arrives on scene and more (information from one of two previous foreshadows) is found leading sidekick and hero to determine the suspect is probably their killer.
The suspect is nowhere to be found.
Hero continues interviews and closes in on suspects possible location.
A seemingly unrelated murder is committed. (4)
The hero is handed the murder case.
Tip: The hero has to investigate the murder. The murder should happen in relatively the same location as the disappearance of the first person. The hero should find something at the murder scene that ties both cases together. This is the first plot point. The hero has a big problem on his hands.
Both cases are now related. (5)
End of Set-up.
That’s it for the the first 25% of your novel outline. Take your time to use this outline and build out the set-up of your novel. Learning how to write a fiction novel takes time.Consider using the “what if” game and expand on your outline to include additional possibilities.