Bad Guy Tree

01 Oct

No, this isn’t a new exotic cultivar. It’s my take/process of keeping track of all the plot lines so they don’t fall through the cracks of the story. Since I write mystery that’s the model I’ll use.


The Bad Guy


The narrowing of suspects


Suspect Number 1      Suspect Number 2      Suspect Number 3


Flesh out the motive


This is a good place to slip in a twist.                Eliminate Suspect Number 3


A clue that change everything                                 The resolution of a red herring


Hint at the Motive


A twist sending everyone in the wrong direction      Evidence that points to several people


The collection of evidence                                   Chasing clues


Introduce the bad guy in a subtle way


The change in the real world


The murder


The real world

The roots are the backstory. They’re there, but you can’t see them. And as with plants, if there’s a problem, you look to the roots/soil first for the problem.

The idea is a sort of outline that really isn’t. (My traumatic memories involving outlining sentences in my childhood prevent me from labeling anything an outline. But that’s for my therapist.) I put mine on a white board so I can turn around and look at any time. It also allows me to erase things or switch them around as the need arises. Using paper, in my case, is a terrible waste of forest resources.

The tree allows me to make notes around the edges—I’ll have a brainstorm in the middle of a scene about something that has nothing to do with what’s going on at the moment. These brain flurries are always flashes of brilliance…especially when I try to recall them later and can’t. The tree highlights the main points and allows me to keep track of what’s going on when.

In a mystery, you must know who the bad guy is before you start. If you don’t, you run the risk of wandering around your plot looking for him and the story becoming hopelessly convoluted. A mystery is all about the puzzle…and characters. But the puzzle has to be there or your readers won’t go along for the ride. And if they do once, a true mystery fan won’t pick up your next book. This happened to me with an author I enjoyed. Her books were humorous and fast-paced. Then she committed the ultimate sin in mystery. The puzzle fell apart so she just ended the book. Needless to say, I won’t spend another dime on one of her books. Yes, I do hold a grudge.

The beauty of the tree is you can add as many suspects, clues, red herrings, and twists as you like. And if you decide a red herring has promise, you can make it relevant. If a new twist occurs to you, drop him/it in and add the leaf to the tree.

If you’re one of those who likes to have parallel plots, this is a great way to keep track of both of them. Simply, hang them side-by-side.

You can also plug in the Writer’s Journey steps and characters. Or use the tree for romance. You can also keep track of the myth you’re employing, plug in a romance, slip in twists and turns, and keep track of them all.

I hope this sparks some ideas to help you with your process.


Posted by on October 1, 2013 in Idaho


16 responses to “Bad Guy Tree

  1. Judith Keim

    October 1, 2013 at 8:29 AM

    Peggy, This is fantastic. I love the simplicity and flexibility. Thanks!! My mind is spinning with ideas.

    • Peggy Staggs

      October 1, 2013 at 11:37 AM

      You’re welcome. I’m always trying new ways to simplify my writing.

  2. Jennifer

    October 1, 2013 at 9:15 AM

    Another one for my tool box. Thanks Peggy!

    • Peggy Staggs

      October 1, 2013 at 11:37 AM

      I’m glad I could help. Happy writing.

  3. marsharwest

    October 1, 2013 at 1:11 PM

    I think this is a useable idea, Peggy. Just not for me. I can’t read anything I write by hand. LOL Or at only for a very short time. But I can see how helpful this layout would be.

    • Peggy Staggs

      October 4, 2013 at 6:07 PM

      I hear you about the hand writing ; ) I print.

  4. Stephanie Berget

    October 1, 2013 at 5:44 PM

    Peggy, I love this. I’ve already got an idea to try on it. Thanks.

    • Peggy Staggs

      October 4, 2013 at 6:08 PM

      I’ve found it so helpful in jogging my memory about things I’ve let drop.

  5. Lynn Mapp

    October 1, 2013 at 7:37 PM

    Peggy, I loved this idea. Thanks for sharing it with us.

    • Peggy Staggs

      October 4, 2013 at 6:08 PM

      I keep trying to find the perfect system.

  6. Corina Mallory

    October 2, 2013 at 5:26 PM

    This is fantastic! I do everything on the computer, but I’ve been thinking that I should try to branch out into some paper brainstorming and I think this would be a useful tool.

    • Peggy Staggs

      October 4, 2013 at 6:09 PM

      I use a white board. That way I can change my ever wandering mind.

  7. Janis McCurry

    October 3, 2013 at 10:19 AM

    Good tip for following the plot. Thanks.

    • Peggy Staggs

      October 4, 2013 at 6:10 PM

      I hope it works for romance as well as it does for mystery.

  8. maryvine

    October 3, 2013 at 3:15 PM

    Very good blog post today, Peggy! I’m going to copy it and use it as a guide. Thanks!

    • Peggy Staggs

      October 4, 2013 at 6:10 PM

      If you have any improvements let us know.


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