Thursday, January 31, 2019

Breaking Down the Urban Fantasy Mystery Formula: Private Life Subplots

So we all love a good mystery, and most of that plot line is going to be about the murder, who did it, and particularly in an urban fantasy the weird world it takes place in that is so much cooler than ours (and why is my neighbor not a vampire?!). Of course, something that can (and probably should) be just as weird is the inevitable private life subplot that comes with the mystery you're serving.

Let's get to it, shall we?

You have your sleuth. They have their reasons for getting into whatever mystery you've set before them and they're doing a pretty good job hashing out clues and making a list of suspects when personal drama rears its ugly head.

There's a reason this is part of the genre.

A personal life subplot is really great for helping the reader get to know the character you're playing. It could be as mundane as trying to get a date or as complicated as battling alcoholism, but whatever it is, it's something not directly related to the case that is making the sleuth's life complicated.

Three guesses why this is important.

If you said 'because it humanizes your sleuth' you are correct, sir!

Most of our detectives are going to be larger than life in one way or another. They should be unusually skilled at something. Unusually skilled at something =/= Mary Sue, but that's a topic for another blog entry. That said, as awesome and bad ass as your protagonist is, she (using female pronouns because the vast majority of urban fantasy protags are ladies and this is one of the only genres for which this can be said so we're going to let them have this please and thanks) needs to be relatable too.

In the middle of a custody battle? Great. Plenty of people go through that at one point or another. Having a personal problem like addiction? Yes, excellent, it shows a weak point. Everybody has those.

Here's the rub though.

Whatever you choose to do, make sure you do the research and treat it respectfully. Yes, even if it's something you yourself have gone through because here's the thing. When you've been through something, you become close to it, and sometimes it makes you a little too close to write about it objectively without taking some time to read about other people's experiences and get some distance.

"But this actually happened to me once," is not a good excuse not to do the research.

So anyway, personal life subplot should be a story arc of its own. At least three scenes (build, conflict, resolution) but I try to make it four because it fits the way I pace things much better. You can introduce this subplot as its own scene or as a part of another if you're strapped for space. The same with the building of the plot. I've seen plenty of stories where the subplot happens during the investigation and we get to see it through text messages and thoughts while the protagonist is doing their actual job.

Personally, I like to give it a little more space than that, but it's whatever works for you.

Anyway, here's my shameless plug of the night:

Torchlighters. 1920's, demons, mobsters. What it means to be a family in more than one sense of the word. It's gonna be a good time and it should be available for pre-order on the 7th so keep checking back for more information about that!

Fortune Favors,
Megan R. Miller

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