Writing a Collaborative Mystery Serial

I’m collaborating with several other Second Wind Publishing authors to write a series of mystery novels online. We are posting the chapters on a blog so everyone who wants to can follow the serial as we write it. Actually, collaboration is a bit of an over-statement. Rubicon Ranch is more of a cross between a role-playing game and round robin or campfire tale, with each of us authors taking turns adding to the story without knowing where we are going except toward the solution of the murder. We each create and control a POV character, show who s/he is, what relationship s/he has with the deceased, and why s/he might want the victim dead.

I have it easy — my character, Melanie Gray, is a photographer/writer who wanders the desert taking photos for the coffee table books she used to write with her dead husband. (He wasn’t dead when they were working together, of course.) He died in a one-car accident while texting his mistress, though there are suspicious circumstances leading investigators to think that perhaps he was killed. Melanie has a talent for finding strange things in the desert, such as the child’s body stuffed in an abandoned television console in the first book, Rubicon Ranch: Riley’s Story, and the scattered body parts that were found in the second book, Rubicon Ranch: Necropieces. Her presence at these crime scenes is all that leads the sheriff to suspect her, though I do try to add a bit of intrigue to make it seem as if she could be guilty.

The other authors, however, have to simultaneously prove that their characters are the murderer, yet also have a plausible explanation for why the characters acted guilty if they weren’t the murderer. (That’s because we don’t know whodunit until all the end of the book. So not only do readers of the ongoing story not know who the villain is, neither do we.)

In the first book, the authors solved the problem of simultaneously setting their characters up to be murderers while allowing for the possibility that they were innocent by giving their characters strange characteristics, such as sleepwalking, to keep the characters themselves from knowing if they were the killer.

In the second book, there was no way the killer could be unaware of having killed the victim. Even if by chance the character killed in some sort of fugue state, the character was still faced with a dead body, which he or she cut in small pieces and distributed around the area. The authors created some wonderfully devious characters with strong motives for killing the evil man who damaged them for no reason other than because he could. Any of them could be the murderer. And any of them could simply be innocent (or not so innocent) red herrings.

We are through with the second book and are in the process of organizing the third installment of the series. In this one, Melanie won’t find a body in the desert since understandably she’s a bit leery of walking in such a deadly place, so she will have to find it elsewhere, perhaps beneath the wheels of a blow up figure of a Santa Claus on a motorcycle.

We have a victim — a real estate agent, the same one who found the disembodied head of the victim of the second book inside the house where the victim of the first book once lived. Apparently she likes to snoop, and since so many residents of Rubicon Ranch have a secret they are willing to kill to protect, it sounds like the potential for a lot of mayhem!

I’m looking forward to seeing what the other authors come up with. I hope you will follow along with us as we continue this innovative crime serial.

Meantime, if you haven’t checked out Rubicon Ranch, and wish do so, click here: Rubicon Ranch.

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Pat Bertram is the author of the suspense novels Light Bringer, More Deaths Than One, A Spark of Heavenly Fire, and Daughter Am I. Bertram is also the author of Grief: The Great Yearning, “an exquisite book, wrenching to read, and at the same time full of profound truths.” Connect with Pat on Google+

Putting the “Who” in Whodunit

I’m collaborating with several other Second Wind Publishing authors to write a series of novels online on a blog. The first novel is about the death of a little girl. Her body was found in the desert outside a bedroom community that once had been a working ranch, hence the name of the series, Rubicon Ranch.

Collaboration is a bit of an over-statement. Rubicon Ranch is more of a cross between a round robin or campfire tale, with each author taking turns adding to the story, and a role-playing game. We each create and control a POV character, show who s/he is, what relationship s/he has with the deceased, and why s/he might want him dead.

I have it easy — my character, Melanie Gray, is a photographer/writer who wanders the desert taking photos for the coffee table books she used to write with her dead husband. (He wasn’t dead when they were working together, of course.) He died in a one-car accident while texting his mistress, though there are suspicious circumstances leading investigators to think that perhaps he was killed. Melanie has a talent for finding strange things in the desert, such as the child’s body stuffed in an abandoned television console in the first book, and the scattered body parts that will be found in the second book. This is all that leads the sheriff to suspect her.

The other characters, however, have to simultaneously prove that they are the murderer, yet also have a plausible explanation for why they acted guilty if they weren’t the murderer. (That’s because we don’t know whodunit until all the end of the book. So not only do readers of the ongoing story not know who the villain is, neither do we.)

In the first book, the authors solved the problem of simultaneously setting their characters up to be murderers while allowing for the possibility that they were innocent by giving their characters strange characteristics, such as sleepwalking, to keep the characters themselves from knowing if they were the killer.

In the second book that we are in the process of organizing, there is no way the killer can be unaware of having killed the victim. Even if by chance the character killed in some sort of fugue state, the character will still be faced with a dead body, which he or she will cut in small pieces and distribute it around the desert.

So how do you write a character from a strict third person limited point of view, from inside the character’s head, proving that your character is the killer, while at the same time giving yourself an out if the character turns out to be innocent?

Well . . . If your character has killed before, you can have him/her worrying about if the sheriff will find out what s/he did, without being specific as to which crime s/he is wondering about. You can have your character act guilty — perhaps desperately trying to cover something up. You can have him/her try to pin the murder on someone else, offering assistance to the sheriff, which would make your character seem guilty, but in the end (if your character is not the killer) have an alternate explanation. You can be hiding something in your house that can be construed as your having Morris’s body that you’re cutting up bit by bit. I’m sure you can come up with better ideas than these, but you get the idea.

I’m looking forward to seeing what the other authors come up with.

Meantime, if you haven’t checked out Rubicon Ranch, and wish do so, click here: Rubicon Ranch.