In the past week I've been working on improving the mystery in my work in progress. Since the book is supposed to be a mystery, I need to make sure the mystery is a good one that makes sense and keeps readers reading.
So, as I sat down a few days ago to work on fixing the poorly-written mystery plot of my story, I started brainstorming things for my characters to find out, and clues for them to put together, and so on. In terms of plot vs. character, this sounds like a plot thing, right?
Well, yes and no.
Of course it's a plot thing; the crime and subsequent attempts to solve it are what move the story along. But what gets investigated as the detectives try to unravel it? People. (And events, but for this post I'm going to focus on people.) Crimes are committed by people, and to learn more about the crime, you have to learn more about the people.
If a detective has suspects, they're going to try to find proof that one of the suspects did it. And to do that, the detective needs to investigate his/her suspects, which means the detective is going to learn more about them. Now, of course not all of the suspects are the criminal, but they will still have secrets of their own. This, I realized, might be a good way to develop the suspects (side characters). If a detective is learning more about a certain side character, then so is your reader. And then the detective can then use what s/he learned about the side characters to help him/her catch the real criminal. For example, if the detective learns the mailman is a good shot, he can help take out the villain in the climax.
So, with this new realization, I started thinking about the mystery in a new way: Which side character do I want to investigate, and therefore develop? We'll see where this new train of thought takes me. Obviously I'll need to think about other aspects of the story, but this will be a good starting point.