As you know, I have been working on my children’s history story about Portland for a little over a year now. For the first six months I read about Portland history so I know how it became a city and what sort of interesting things happened here. The Oregon Historical Society and Belmont Library became my favorite hangouts.
I chose to put my story in the spring of 1903, when President Theodore Roosevelt came through Portland on a country-wide tour. There was a parade, a ceremony in what is now Washington Park, and a banquet. It was a very big deal and I think it would make a good backdrop for a mystery story. But as I told you, I don’t know much about mysteries.
So, I studied that, too. For a few weeks, I read Nancy Drew books and articles about mystery story plots, character development, and clues.
But as a teacher, I never really understand something until I need to teach it. So I pretended I was teaching someone about how to make a mystery story. I cut shapes out of paper to show everything that happened in the story: action, characters, description, distractions.
I practiced using these pieces to map out the first eight chapters of The Bungalow Mystery, #3 of the Nancy Drew books. I could see when action happened, when characters were introduced, how the chapters alternated between action and description, and how each chapter ended in a new mystery or dangerous situation.
This took some of the mystery out of writing my mystery! I am now working on my own story, using these paper pieces to make the characters move to solve the riddles of the story and come to a happy ending. If I don’t like the way it is going, I just move the pieces around! I feel organized, less confused, but flexible enough to create and re-create the story until it is right.
Of course, once I have this visual outline done, I still have to write the actual words….but that’s the fun part! I am happy to have found a way of working that works for me.