Have you ever written a mystery? Do you like reading them? I read mysteries voraciously as a kid—Nancy Drew, Trixie Belden, etc. I've also read more than my fair share as an adult. (I love Sherlock Holmes!) And then I decided to try to write one.
Boy, was that a taller order than I expected? I had ideas, of course, but the more I wrote, they less sense they seemed to make. I started reading books on writing mysteries. I came away with some thought provoking statements on the need of society to hunt the bad guy, how the stakes must be archetypically life or death, and how to chart your clues. I created spreadsheets of every character, charting where they were while the hero was doing X, Y, or Z.
In short, I got lost.
So I asked some adult mystery writers, "How do you do it?"* Laurie R. King, who writes the fabulously convincing Mary Russell series said, "It's just all up here," while tapping her temple with a zen-like calm. Kate Carlisle of the charming Brooklyn Wainwright series (she's a bookbinder who solves murders!) said, "Oh, I just go back and fill in the clues later." Playwright and journalist Kitty Felde said, "If you figure it out, let me know."
Finally, I decided to simply ask myself, "how would I solve this crime?" I've decided the trick is to get to know your hero and ask them the same question. After all, deductive reasoning is logical (if I know my Holmes, and I do!) And logic varied from person to person, whether it should or not. So, know your villain, know your crime, and know your hero. The rest should fall into place.
At least, that's the working theory. When I figure it out, I'll let you all know.
*Full disclosure: I do not know all of these fine women. Sadly, being a writer does not come with an all-access pass to a private club where we all talk shop. Sometimes the fan girl has got to step up and ask some questions!