For me, plotting is the hardest part of writing a novel. Writing mysteries require extra special diligence when it comes to plotting because situations and scenes that occur at the beginning of the book must be followed up and addressed in what follows. I have no trouble coming up with an inciting event to start my story. It carries me several chapters. And then I run out of steam.
This never used to happen when I was a plotter and I'd figure out my entire plot while allowing for changes as I wrote. But I have turned into a quasi-pantser. Now, often after writing a third of my WIP with more than two hundred pages to go, I'm not sure how to move on. I know that my two storylines will converge; I even know my killer. But how to fill the next two hundred plus pages with logical, exciting, well-paced prose that ends on a satisfactory note requires serious thinking.
It's a good thing I have a few techniques that have served me well over the years and set me on the right track so I can finish my book.
1. I reread what I've written. After all, the first third of my mystery introduces the situation, the setting, my characters as well as the first murder. I'm lucky that whenever I go back to page one, I find I'm happy with what I've written. Also, I discover places where I can further my plot. Unbeknownst to me, my subconscious has been setting down important hints and clues that I'm quick to follow up in upcoming chapters. Think of Anton Chekov's famous quote “One must not put a loaded rifle on the stage if no one is thinking of firing it." (Bartlett's Familiar Quotations.) Then of course, there are the red herrings to be added that serve to misdirect the mystery reader. Knowing that my WIP is in good shape so far gives me the inspiration and confidence to move on.
2. Plotting requires both logic and creativity—the ability to consider various possibilities and to choose the one that best suits your story. I am grateful that I belong to a group of mystery authors I can count on to help when I get stuck. Often one of their ideas will be the perfect solution. Other times the simple act of explaining the problem and asking for help stimulates my own creativity and I come up with the plotting solution all on my own.
3. I'm not good at sitting down to focus on a plot problem. My mind starts to wander. I check my email, my Amazon standings. Facebook. Instagram. I find that solutions to my plot problems come when I'm walking by myself. In the shower. Even in a doctor's waiting room. It's always when I'm doing something that doesn't require much thinking. I imagine it's different for everyone, the time when one's mind is receptive to finding new solutions.
4. Finally, I have faith that the necessary solution(s) will come to me and I'll finish the book in a satisfactory way. Why? Because I've done it before. Plotting a novel is a series of solving problems. I've come to trust my writing instinct because I've set up my What If? situation carefully and with much thought. Some of that thought process has developed over the years and now works on an unconscious level. Writing a novel is never easy, but somehow the procedure becomes part of the mind's inner workings. The mind cooperates and helps us along. I've yet to give up on a work in progress because I couldn't work out the plot. Far be it from me to know how this miracle works, but somehow it always comes through in the end.