Fate of the Union by Max Allan Collins and Matthew V. Clemens
Bouchercon panel discussion, October 9, 2015
Plot Twists in Mystery Narrative (paraphrased notes)
Lori Armstrong (moderator), Karen Olsen, Matthew Clemens, Penny Pike Warner, Kate Flora
At this panel I learned Matthew Clemens collaborates with Max Allen Collins. Here’s how Max describes their writing process: “Our process is one we have shared openly. I usually come up with the basic premise of a novel, and we then – in several sessions – come up with a plot. We both work on a chapter breakdown/synopsis, and then Matt writes a shortish rough draft, which I polish and expand into a longer novel.”
Is it difficult to come up with plot twists?
KF: Not really, and plot twists can be large or small. They are merely unexpected things which add conflict—for or to—the character(s).
PPW: The movie Titanic is a good template for plot twists: first suicide, then the iceberg.
MC: Max and I brainstorm an outline that includes twists—then I write the first draft.
KO: The Danish TV series, Dicte is one example of how to do it. The lead character, a reporter, keeps making bad choices, that lead to trouble and conflict.
Any other examples or comments?
PPW: Girl On the Train by Paula Hawkins, The Murder of Roger Ackroyd by Agatha Christie.
KO: As I was writing one story, the killer changed three quarters of the way in, so I went back and added a few clues along the way.
KF: Yes, there are plot twists for writers too! The Purlioned Letter by Edgar Allan Poe—hide things in plain sight.
PPW: In the movie Clue anyone could have done it, so it’s just a matter of what you want to do.
Describe your writing process.
PPW: I plot first, work out main events before I begin writing.
MC: I start with an outline, but it’s sand, sometimes characters don’t do what you expect.
KO: I’m a pantser, only the wide strokes are known at start.
LA: I’m more of a plotter, but I leave a lot of room for midstream changes.
Do your characters drive twists?
MC: Characters do what they need to do.
KF: I follow the characters—they either reveal facts or lies—either could be a revelation (twist).
PPW: Yes, I think twists come out of the characters.
More examples with major plot twists.
Red Dragon by Thomas Harris, Turtle Moon by Alice Hoffman
Movies: No Way Out, The Hangover, The Usual Suspects, Sixth Sense