So, you have a hole in your story.
Use genre expectation and questions to find the hole.
State the problem (or what you think is the problem.)
I was writing Book 4 in my mystery series. Doing well until I reached 18,000 words. I did have solid characters and action. BUT (how I hate that word) there was no danger, no suspense, no tension. I knew it could be anything from events (or lack of them) to word choice.
Ruminate (think deeply about something.) One of the most useful writers’ tools. (Lie on the sofa and tell people you are working.)
For two nights, I watched and crocheted hats, my go-to for keeping front-mind busy so underneath can brainstorm. No real progress on the story. (I did make 2 .)
Time to step back and look at the big picture of the story.
Go back to the key ingredients in your genre. The mystery scenes I use, by the way, are the ingredients that Agatha Christie used in her notebooks. They are also noted in Author, Robert Ray’s book, The Weekend Novelist Writes a Mystery.
The discovery of the murder
The reporting of it
Revelation & solution
Sure enough, I did have the ingredients. However, there was no zip, no tension. I asked, ‘what increases tension? Was it plot short-falls? Language choice? Character deficits?’
Maybe I needed a ‘ticking clock’ where time is running out and the sleuth is failing or in danger. Ah danger, lots of danger. That’s usually a good one. But what will give me more danger for my characters?
List the key events your characters need.
For me it is a sleuth who:
1) arrives to view the murder scene
2) investigates & interviews witnesses & suspects
3) learn secrets,
4) figures out the critical secret that points at the killer
5) finds herself in mortal danger because the killer knows she knows
6) escapes or is rescued or a bit of both
7) reveals the clues and catches the killer
8) gets reward
Steps 4 and 5 were the two missing pieces in my story—this time.
Dissecting the various elements required in a mystery, I easily saw what was missing. I needed to make things worse for my sleuth to increase tension, and to put her in mortal danger to ramp up suspense. Easy, eh? Actually, in retrospect following a process did make it easy. I finished the book and published it in October 2017.
Stories have building blocks. Genres have expectations.
In looking at the expectations for a mystery, I found my missing blocks. You can do the same in your genre.