Copyright 2011 by Gary L. Pullman
Typically, the story starts in media res, with the discovery of a body. Early on, perhaps in the second chapter, the detective is introduced. He or she is often slightly eccentric, unassuming, and of superior intellect, although he or she may disguise his or her intellectual superiority in various ways. During the course of the investigation, the detective discovers various clues and red herrings as he or she examines evidence and unofficially deposes suspects. Finally, the detective learns how and why the murderer committed the crime, identifies the killer, and an arrest is made.
To plot the story, the writer may begin with character (the killer, the victim, the detective, or a supporting character, such as a suspect or an eye witness); with scene (the when and the where of the murder); with the crime and its commission; with the motive (or motives) for the murder; or with the means by which the murder was committed. Eventually, all six of the following questions should be answered in a single sentence:
Here are three examples, one fictional and two actual (but the actual ones could be fictionalized as novels or movies)*:
Adrian Monk [who] fingers a Mexican coroner [who] as the culprit who faked the cause of death (midair drowning) [what] of a parachutist [who] in order to lure the consulting detective south of the border so he (the coroner) could engineer Monk’s death [why] after Monk had tarnished the coroner’s professional reputation [when].
Three years ago [when], Casey Anthony [who] (allegedly) kills [what] her three-year-old daughter Calley [who] by drugging and asphyxiating her [how] in Orlando, Florida [where], so she (Casey) [who] can resume her carefree, single, party girl lifestyle [why].
After his mother dies [when], Ed Gein [who] shoots [what] Bernice Worden [who] in her hardware store in Plainfield, Wisconsin [where], so he can use her body as food, clothing, and decorations [why].
*Actually, Gein has been the subject of a movie, Ed Gein (2000), starring Steve Railsback and Carrie Snodgress and directed by Chuck Parello.