Writing a Mystery within an Over-arching Trilogy

Mathiya Adams, October 18, 2015

One of the challenges I face when writing my Mark MacFarland Hot Dog Detective mysteries is wrapping two story lines together. In my first trilogy (Avid Angler, Busty Ballbreaker, and Crying Camper) this challenge was not at all difficult, since all three separate murder mysteries were all intertwined with the over-arching story.

However, when I got to my second trilogy (Desperate Druggie, Eager Evangelist, and Freaky Fan), the problem became more difficult, since my goal was to have the over-arching mystery totally independent of the three separate mysteries. As much as I am a plotter for my main mysteries, I confess with some degree of embarrassment to being more of a “pantser” in how I approached the second trilogy over-arching plot.

By the third trilogy, I had learned my lesson. I started preparing a Blake-Snyder plot outline the over-arching plot as well as one for each of the three story mysteries.

Then I discovered a second problem.


The time required for each separate mystery also had to align with the time requirements for the over-arching mystery. Just as each of my book mysteries had to have a logical time sequence for events to happen, so also did my over-arching story require a logical and believable time sequence.

It’s a lot easier to achieve this if you approach it as a pantser, I must say. I did find that if I put lots of action into the story, the smoke and flames of flamboyancy often covered up timing flaws, but unfortunately, my mysteries are not thrillers. The tone and nature of my books limit the number of high action scenes I have, so I can’t rely too much on smoke and flames.

I am forced to rely on planning.

The third issue is providing a proper interface between the over-arching story and the three book novels. My goal is to have three or four interaction points from the over-arching story in each of the three novels. That gives me nine to twelve scenes, minimum, to tell the over-arching story. If I use many more than that, I start to interfere with the pace and flow of my book’s main story line. I usually use sixty-plus scenes to tell my mystery, and if I use too many of them to handle the over-arching story, I fear my story will be structurally weakened.

It is possible I worry too much, but I would rather be safe than sorry. I think that is the curse of being a plotter.

The solution to all three problems, at least for me, is paying close attention to my Blake-Snyder outlines and extreme attention to a calender. I use the Blake-Snyder outlines to determine what events happen and the calendar to make sure they all happen within a reasonable span of time.

And finally, I try to make sure the interaction points don’t conflict with either the story plot line or the over-arching plot line, yet are still consistent with my calendar and my characters’ development.

1 thought on “Writing a Mystery within an Over-arching Trilogy”

  1. I recall a scene from one of your later works where I wondered how the two seemingly divergent events were related, but was later reconciled in the next book. It’s a very interesting approach to storytelling.

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