Upcoming Agent Spotlight Interviews & Guest Posts

  • Rebecca Williamson Agent Spotlight Interview and Query Critique Giveaway on 7/8/2024
  • Sheila Fernley Agent Spotlight Interview, Critique Giveaway, and One-Hour Zoom Call on 7/29/2024
  • Erica McGrath Agent Spotlight Interview and Query Critique Giveaway on 8/12/2024

Agent Spotlight & Agent Spotlight Updates

  • Agent Spotlights & Interviews have been updated through the letter "K" as of 3/28/2024 and many have been reviewed by the agents. Look for more information as I find the time to update more agent spotlights.

How to Plot a Mystery/Thriller Guest Post by Victoria Wlosok and How to Find a Missing Girl Giveaway and IWSG Post

Happy Wednesday Everyone! Today I’m excited to have debut author Victoria Wlosok here to share about her debut YA mystery How to Find a Missing Girl. I love mysteries and Victoria’s involves a detective agency, which makes me even more excited to read her book. And I’m excited to learn how to write a mystery, which I may want to do someday.

Here’s a blurb from Goodreads:

For fans of A Good Girl's Guide to Murder and Veronica Mars, this whip-smart thriller follows a sapphic detective agency as they seek the truth behind a growing trail of missing girls in small-town Louisiana. 

A year ago, beloved cheerleader Stella Blackthorn vanished without a trace. Devastated, her younger sister, Iris, launched her own investigation, but all she managed to do was scare off the police’s only lead and earn a stern warning: Once she turns eighteen, more meddling means prison-level consequences.
Then, a year later, the unthinkable happens. Iris’s ex-girlfriend, Heather, goes missing, too—just after dropping the polarizing last episode of her true crime podcast all about Iris’s sister. This time, nothing will stop Iris and her amateur sleuthing agency from solving these disappearances.
But with a suspicious detective watching her every move, an enemy-turned-friend-turned-maybe-more to contend with, and only thirty days until she turns eighteen, it’s a race against the clock for Iris to solve the most dangerous case of her life.

Before I get to Victoria’s interview, I have my IWSG Post.

Posting: The first Wednesday is officially Insecure Writer's Support Group Day.

Purpose: To share and encourage. Writers can express doubts and concerns without fear of appearing foolish or weak. Those who have been through the fire can offer assistance and guidance. It’s a safe haven for insecure writers of all kinds!

The awesome co-hosts this month are: Sonia Dogra, J Lenni Dorner, Pat Garcia, Sarah - The Faux Fountain Pen, and Meka James!

Before I answer this month’s question, I want to share that my daughter’s wedding was on August 25th. It was a lovely wedding, and everyone had a good time. It was great seeing all my family. And my daughter and I, with the help of my son-in-law’s mom and the maid of honor, made bouquets and flower arrangements with about 500 flowers. Here are a few pictures of what we made.


Optional Question: The IWSG celebrates 12 years today! When did you discover the IWSG, how do you connect, and how has it helped you?

Congrats on our 12-year anniversary! I discovered the IWSG through other members of the group whose blogs I followed. I used to read members’ posts and comment on them. But I did not join the group for a few years because I always blogged on Mondays. It took me a while to realize that it is okay to change the day of the week I post to be part of this group.

I’m so glad I did. Almost all of my blogger friends are part of this group. I really appreciate how everyone has supported my blog and the authors I feature. And I try to help when I can through my Follower News when members of this group that I follow have books released. I love what a supportive group we are and how we help each other on publishing journeys. Like any artistic venture, being an author and writer is very hard and filled with rejections and hard times as well as joyful ones.

And I know you’re supporting me today when I’m feeling a bit insecure about an SCBWI zoom webinar on how to find a literary agent that I’ll be presenting tonight. I’ve practiced it so many times that I pretty much know my 40-minute talk by heart. I hope participants learn something new from it.

How to Plot a Mystery/Thriller by Victoria Wlosok

I’ve always been more of a pantser than a plotter—which in my case, means I begin writing a story with little to no idea of where it’s going to go—so when I first set out to write the YA thriller that eventually turned into my debut novel, How to Find a Missing Girl, I immediately felt overwhelmed.

Even though I was obsessed with whodunits growing up—A to Z Mysteries, Cam Jansen, and The Hardy Boys made up the bulk of my favorite serializations in elementary school; I flew through 39 Clues and Nancy Drew a few years afterward; and as a teenager, I spent hours poring over every book by Holly Jackson and Karen McManus that I could get my hands—I quickly realized that for all my experience reading detective novels, however, I had no idea how to write one.

It didn’t help that I felt intimidated by the mere idea of sitting down to plot out a thriller. “I could never write a mystery,” well-intentioned friends would tell me upon hearing the genre of my next intended project. “How do you decide who the killer is? When do you figure out the microtwist? Do you know what happens next?”

As a pantser, of course, I didn’t have answers to any of these questions, and this made me doubt my capabilities as a mystery/thriller author in the first place. After all, how could I create an intricate story when my entire drafting process was the metaphorical equivalent of lobbing wet spaghetti at a wall?

Still, though, I understood that no matter how many nail-biting, pulse-racing, hair-raising books I devoured, I would—as a pantser—lose interest in crafting my own if I knew how the story ended before I’d even started writing it. So despite not knowing where my book was going, or having a plot, or knowing the bad guy, I just started writing, drafting How to Find a Missing Girl with a discovery approach (and almost none of the right answers), hoping in doing so I would surprise myself as both a reader and writer.

And I think it worked.

Once I stopped fighting the idea that I had to have the answers to every big question behind my thriller novel in order to write it—What’s the twist? Who’s the bad guy? Where did the missing girl go?—and instead switched my focus to hitting the general beats of similar books in the genre, I found that—for the first time—I was actually able to work on the novel and get it done.

So. If you’re like me and you’re a pantser (or if you cannot relate to my process at all, but still would like to know a good place to start writing a mystery/thriller), here are my top tips and tricks for plotting one. (In five easy steps!)

STEP ONE: Read as many mysteries and thrillers in your age category (and outside of it) as you can get your hands on.

      This is self-explanatory, but I think reading widely in the mystery/thriller genre is necessary before you dive into plotting a book within it. Are you planning to write a Scooby-Doo-inspired paranormal mystery? What about a locked-room murder mystery? Or maybe a boarding school thriller with secret societies, dark academia aesthetics, and suspicious drownings are more your speed? Whatever you’re interested in drafting, similar books may already be out there—so figure out what makes them good (or bad), how yours will stand out in a crowded market, and what elements you want to draw from them and bring into your own work.

      Also, don’t just read YA if you write YA, or Adult if you write Adult. There are so many interesting ideas in different genres across age categories; by expanding your reading horizons, you’ll broaden your writing ones and help strengthen your sense of story.

STEP TWO: Know you don’t have to know everything. (But you should understand your theme and your characters.)

      As I said before—it’s absolutely okay to not know everything that happens in your mystery/thriller before you write it. If you don’t know who’s responsible for the Bad Thing That Happened, that’s fine! You can figure it out as you write. If you’re not sure whether to make the (suspiciously) helpful side character someone who actually wants to see the protagonist fail, no worries—you don’t need to have a concrete outline for everything. You’re allowed to surprise yourself as the story progresses. (In fact, I think you should aim for this to be the case!)

      In terms of plotting a mystery/thriller in its early stages, however, I encourage you to take the time to truly pin down who your main character is, what they want, and how their central role in the story will shape the theme (or universal message) of the book. What are you ultimately trying to say with the mystery or thriller that you’re crafting; when you hold up your novel as a mirror to society, what are you hoping the book will reflect? Will your story best be told with a character that was wrongly accused of their best friend’s murder, an amnesiac who wakes up next to a body with blood on their hands, or an amateur sleuth trying to piece together who stole their ex-boyfriend’s science fair project? Sketch their traits, too—is your protagonist impulsive or shy? Hot-headed or quiet? Grieving or gloomy? Why? Why should your reader care?

      Like any other genre, thrillers and mysteries rely on their main character to drive the plot forward. Even if your protagonist is more of a passive observer, the way they interact with the world around them will shape your novel in more ways than one, so figure out what makes your main character function first. The form of the mystery or thriller (and how it's conducted) will take place around them, and the theme will stem from these combined interactions.

STEP THREE: Figure out the Main Crime.

      Although I’m a firm believer in the idea that you don’t have to know everything about your novel’s plot in order to write it, having the Main Crime sorted out will help you keep your plot focused as you progress through the book. Taking the time to pin it down (even if you aren’t yet sure of the specifics) will give you a driving force to refer to throughout the manuscript as you draft.

      Was someone kidnapped? Murdered? Framed? Did an object go missing? Is there something weird, unsettling, or sketchy happening in your main character’s small town/New England boarding school/vacation resort? How do people react to the Main Crime? How does your well-defined protagonist react to and interact with the Main Crime, and how does the Main Crime serve as a vehicle through which you can explore your novel’s theme? All of these elements feed into each other, but the Main Crime of your book should drive most of the tangible manifestations of conflict and plot within your story. Because of this, take the time to think about how the Main Crime is introduced (Through your inciting incident? At the midpoint? Is it concealed and then revealed in the third act?) and whether it will branch out into multiple Smaller Crimes that your character must also investigate throughout the book.

STEP FOUR: Decide which clues will point back to the Main Crime, which will lead to the Smaller Crimes, and which are meant to confuse your reader by being red herrings.

      Thriller and mystery readers are observant, and they’ll actively be searching for clues as they read your novel. You don’t have to have an extensive list of what these clues are before you begin drafting (nor do you have to know how your protagonist will stumble onto most of them), but attempting to world-build out an item (or a set of concrete items) that your characters must find/look for/notice in order to bring them closer to solving the Main Crime will also help you uncover the thematic necessity of the story. Work backward on this one if you can—for example, if you know your protagonist will break into a top-secret database near the beginning of the third act and realize the organization they’re working for was lying to them all along, you can set up breadcrumbs leading to the importance of the database in the first and second acts. If you set the foundation later on, you can go back and make it seem purposeful during revision.

      The Main Crime may not be the only crime within your mystery/thriller. If there is a B-plot or other subplot, you’ll want to introduce it after the Main Crime first gets introduced, layering the mystery and showing there’s more to it than just the Main Crime. Whenever the investigation into the Main Crime may be running out of leads, you can pivot to a Smaller Crime or introduce a different Smaller Crime to flesh out the world, story, and layers of mystery. 

      Also, don’t forget to add red herrings! It wouldn’t be a mystery/thriller novel without some fake leads, and these can be a fun way to make sure your main character doesn’t figure out everything right away. Red herrings are usually introduced during pinch points during the second act (40% and 60%), but they can break up the monotony of your story through unique settings, characters, or interactions while your main character is investigating the false lead(s). 

STEP FIVE: Craft an outline of emotional plot beats to work toward in your manuscript, and begin drafting. 

      Once you’ve read books in the mystery/thriller genre, fleshed out your main character, grasped your novel’s main theme, figured out the Main Crime and the Smaller Crimes, thrown in enough red herrings, and settled on a few key clues, you’re ready (in my opinion, at the very least) to begin drafting in earnest. 

      I don’t think it matters too much where you go from here; if you want, you can sprinkle in clues on the second-to-last page if inspiration strikes, and then go back and reinforce them throughout earlier sections of the book. While plotting a mystery/thriller, I like to keep myself on my toes and add in cliffhangers whenever I feel like it, even if I’m not sure how to resolve them yet. Personally, I love reading mysteries and thrillers most in the moments in which I’m shocked by a clever, well-foreshadowed twist on the author’s part instead of when I’m pleased at being right about the conclusion of the story, and I try to apply that concept to my drafts to ensure there are plenty of interesting developments within the story along the way. 

      Here is a general overview/baseline for emotional plot beats in mysteries/thrillers (adapted from Save the Cat and Alexa Donne’s YouTube video titled “Must Know Thriller Beats”) that you may want to use to help guide you for the rest of your writing process: 

      5% - Hint of Danger; something goes wrong or causes unease within the protagonist’s normal life/situation

      15% - Inciting Incident; the protagonist decides to investigate the situation in earnest due to a combination of internal and external forces

      25% - Fun & Games (Investigation); the protagonist is looking into the mystery and trying to piece together what happened due to the Main Crime

      40% - Pinch Point #1; First major red herring introduced; carries danger

      50% - Midpoint; something greatly changes or reverses in regards to the investigation, specifically with the Main Crime

      60% - Pinch Point #2; First major red herring is wrapped up and/or second major red herring is introduced; carries danger

      75% - 80% - Point of No Return; the protagonist gets caught up in a dangerous situation and can’t come back unscathed, typically because the impact of the Smaller Crimes or red herrings is also catching up to them

      95% - 100% - Microtwist; an optional twist that upends the story one final time, forcing the reader to look at everything differently 

And there you have it! 

On the surface, plotting a mystery/thriller is a daunting task; but broken up into smaller parts, it becomes much more manageable. If you’ve been holding back from writing your mystery or thriller book idea because you’re hung up on outlining the story, give yourself the grace to not know everything about your book before you sit down and start working on it. You never know—the reader you could end up shocking most might just be yourself. 

Thanks for sharing your advice, Victoria. You can find Victoria at:

Website: https://www.victoriawlosok.com/

Twitter: @xvictoriawrites

Preorder link 

Giveaway Details

Victoria is generously offering a hardback of How to Find a Missing Girl for a giveaway. To enter, all you need to do is be a follower of my blog (via the follower gadget, email, or bloglovin’ on the right sidebar) and leave a comment by September 16th. If your email is not on your Google Profile, you must leave it in the comments to enter the contest. Please be sure I have your email address.

If you mention this contest on Twitter, Facebook, or your blog and/or follow me on Twitter or Victoria on her social media sites, mention this in the comments and I'll give you an extra entry for each. You must be 13 years old or older to enter. This book giveaway is U.S.

Upcoming Interviews, Guest Posts, and Blog Hops

Tomorrow, September 7 I’m participating in the September Holiday Giveaway Hop

Monday, September 11 I have an agent spotlight interview with Heather Cashman and a query critique giveaway

Saturday, September 16 I’m participating in the Falling Into Leaves Giveaway Hop

Monday, September 18 I have an interview with Emi Pinot and a giveaway of her MG modern fairytale retelling Bee Bakshi and the Gingerbread Sisters

Monday, September 25 I have an agent spotlight interview with Jen Newens and a query critique giveaway

Hope to see you tomorrow!



Pat Garcia said...

I just finished reading the advice. It is helpful and very encouraging.
Also, I'm happy that your daughter had a lovely celebration. It sounds like there was a lot of joy there.
Shalom shalom,
Pat Garcia

T. Powell Coltrin said...

There are so many good things about your post!!! First of all, Congratulations to you all regarding the wedding. Weddings and births are wonderful.

Secondly, Victoria's story on writing and advice is very helpful. I would love to be a pantser in anything in life, but (annoyingly) I plan everything including my writing.


Melissa said...

If you do half as good of a job on the webinar as you did those flowers, you'll do great. You are very talented!

Cathrina Constantine said...

Congratulations on the Wedding!!

Good luck on your presentation. I'm sure you'll be fantastic!!!

Alex J. Cavanaugh said...

You're going to rock that presentation!
Congratulations to your daughter. That is a lot of flowers...

Jennifer Lane said...

Congratulations to your daughter on her marriage! And I agree with Alex that you will provide solid advice during your talk tonight. I'm glad IWSG brought me to your informative blog, and it's been lovely to get to know you better over the years, Natalie.

Jemi Fraser said...

Victoria's story sounds fabulous! Wishing her all the best with the release!

Natalie - those flowers are amazing! Sounds like the wedding was wonderful - congrats to all!

Sherry Ellis said...

Thanks for the helpful advice on writing mysteries and thrillers!

It took me a little while to join IWSG, but I'm glad I did. It's been a great way to stay connected to the blog world.

Sandra Cox said...

Everyone is going to love your webinar. You've got this! Many congrats on the wedding. Exciting times. And that's a lot of flowers. And many congrats to Victoria on what sounds like an awesome story. Also love your hair, Victoria;)

Madeline Mora-Summonte said...

Glad the wedding was a success! And the flowers are lovely!

And no worries about the webinar - you're going to do great!

Computer Tutor said...

There is a ton in this post, Natalie. Let me see if I remember it all. About IWSG--I think I joined it and then committed to commenting on member posts. That forced me out of my hidey hole!

Your daughter's wedding--congratulations! It looks beautiful, Natalie

Jean Davis said...

The flowers are beautiful! You did a wonderful job with the arrangements. Good luck with your presentation. I'm sure you'll do great! :)

L. Diane Wolfe said...

I love doing webinars (although in-person is always best.) You'll do great.

Mysteries are just so complex.

Jen said...

The flowers are beautiful! So happy to hear the your daughter's wedding was a joyous occasion.

I think I found the IWSG from a post on another member's website but I honestly can't be sure! I could have just searched for "best writing websites" and found it! All I know is that I'm sure glad I did :)

Great interview and congratulations to Victoria on her book!

Diana Stout said...

Fantastic post! So much great information. Congratulations on your daughter's wedding. You are one busy lady!

Tyrean Martinson said...

Natalie - I'm glad you joined IWSG; it's been wonderful to cheer on all you do. Congratulations on your daughter's wedding! I'll be cheering for you tonight for your presentation. I know you're going to do great!

Loni Townsend said...

Congratulations to your daughter! Those are beautiful flower arrangements. You did an excellent job.

I hope your presentation goes well tonight. Good luck!

J.Q. Rose said...

Awwww...a wedding. Our grandson was married in June. Seems the only thing we remember are the funny things that went wrong! Your flowers added a lot of color and brightness to the occasion. Pretty.

Thank you for that amazing overview of the mystery beats. That was a jam-packed full of info blog post. Loved it.

Fundy Blue said...

Happy IWSG Day, Natalie! I'm glad that you had a happy wedding for your daughter! Weddings are hopeful, positive events. The flower. arrangements you made are gorgeous! Congratulations, Victoria, on your debut novel! That's an achievement! The story is intriguing, and as a panster, I appreciated your tips. Wishing you success with your new book. Take care!

Kate Larkindale said...

Glad the wedding went well. Very useful advice on how to write a mystery! I've always thought I couldn't write one because I'm a pantser too, but maybe I can...

Donna K. Weaver said...

Congrats to your daughter! The flowers are beautiful!

And it makes me happy that I've managed to hang on to a a few of my old blogging buddies. <3

C.D. Gallant-King said...

Congrats to your daughter!
And Victoria's book sounds awesome, love the blurb.

Susan Gourley/Kelley said...

Oh, so much to read in your post. The flowers are beautiful. Glad the wedding went smoothly. I know you'll do great in your presentation.

Leela said...

I'm an email subscriber.

Brenda said...

Such beautiful flower arrangements, you've got skills! Congratulations to your daughter on her wedding, happy it went so smoothly. All the best on your presentation as well, can't wait to hear how it went. Victoria's book sounds amazing, love the cover, blurb and all of her detailed suggestions. Especially this about reading across different genres and age categories. I follow by twitter and email.

Victoria Marie Lees said...

Your flower arrangements are gorgeous. I'm so glad the wedding went well and you got to visit with your family. I'd be lost without my family.

Another interesting interview. Bravo, Victoria. All the luck with this new release. Thanks, Natalie!

Gwen Gardner said...

Natalie, You'll do great on your interview! You got this. Congrats to your daughter and new son in law. The flowers are gorgeous :)

Mary said...

So happy you had a wonderful time with your daughter getting married! The flowers are amazing. You'll do a great job on the zoom. All your wisdom, knowledge and generosity will shine through.

Victoria, you book sounds great! Can wait to read it. I'd love to win a copy.

Mary said...

Posted giveaway on twitter!
Followed Victoria on Twitter and Instagram.

Samantha Bryant said...

Congrats on the wedding. May they live happily and long together. @samanthabwriter from
Balancing Act

Carol Baldwin said...

Flowers look gorgeous and an interesting blog!

traveler said...

Extremely informative and interesting. Congratulations on your daughter's wedding. Beautiful flowers. The novel sounds intriguing. saubleb(at)gmail(dot)com

Elizabeth Seckman said...

You did a wonderful job on the flowers! Congratulations to your daughter!

You're going to do great on the webinar. You know your stuff!

Janet Alcorn said...

Congrats to your daughter!

Thanks for a wonderful guest post! I'm currently revising a messy draft of my first thriller, so this post is super-useful to me, especially the list of thriller plot points/beats, which I haven't seen before.

Katherine said...

How to Find a Missing Girl sounds fantastic! And this is a great post. Khpinelake (at) gmail (dot) com

Congrats on the wedding!

Liz A. said...

Excellent advice. There's a lot that goes into the structure of a mystery. It's nice to see it broken down like that.

Melissa Miles said...

I've always wondered where to start with writing a good mystery/thriller. Thanks so much for the great advice and congrats on your debut!

Jemima Pett said...

You've got such a lot going on at the moment!
Yes I had to switch my blogging to Wednesday when I started, but then I realised it was fine, and not necessary every Wednesday! (I did Mondays, Friday and Saturdays before.)
Thanks for visiting my blog every time, I really appreciate it.


Michelle Wallace said...

Congratulations on the wedding! The flowers are lovely!!
The IWSG has such a wonderful sense of community, which is hard to find in online groups. Being a part of the group has kept me moving forward (like a snail...) on this crazy writer journey.
P.S. I love Victoria's pink hair.

Debs Carey said...

Not just a talented writer and blogger then Natalie, but a skilled florist too. You are a woman of many talents. It must've been hard work, and I hope you were able to relax and enjoy the day itself. Many congratulations to your daughter.

I didn't know about the Zoom webinar (yesterday did not go according to any sort of plan here). Do you have a reply of it or was it just a live event?

Kim A. Larson said...

Thanks for sharing such wonderful information! I checked out your book from the library and can't wait to read it! Congratulations, Victoria! Natalie, congrats on your daughter's marriage. My son got married the day after (26th). Your flowers look beautiful!

Danielle H. said...

This post is like a class itself with notes already taken for me to print out. This is the best detailed mystery writing advice I've encountered. Thank you so much! I can't wait to read this book as mysteries are my favorites. I shared this on tumblr, and follow Natalie on Twitter and Instagram, and the author on Instagram.

tetewa said...

I enjoy discovering new authors and mysteries are one of my favorite genres!

Rosi said...

Wow. What a great, informative post! Thanks for that. The book sounds great, but I don't read much YA. I'll pass on the giveaway, but I'm putting the book on my list. I might get to it some time.

Leigh Caron said...

Love how you described your writing journey. I too am a pantser. I've had to resort to being a plotter sometimes to get all the thoughts and ideas out of buy head to consentrate and write. So sweet that you did the flower arrangements for your daughter's wedding.

Liza said...

Hi Natalie. I am late to posting but hope your webinar went well. Also, congratulations on your daughter's wedding! IWSG has introduced me to so many supportive writers. You are one that stands out in my mind.

Denise Covey said...

Oooh. I love the sound of this book!

Megan said...

This book sounds amazing!! (Not entering the giveaway as I'm not in the US) :)

Pat Hatt said...

Congrats on the wedding. Quite the flower arrangement too. Nicely done. Hopefully the seminar went well. Bah, can blog any day of the week or year lol it is fun to decide and lay the clues into the case indeed. Great tips.

Emma said...

Pantsers of the world unite! I plan every other detail in my existence, but when it comes to my stories, it's complete uncertainty all the way.

Congratulations on your daughter's wedding, Natalie! The flowers are beautiful.

Rebecca M. Douglass said...

Congratulations on the lovely flowers for your daughter’s wedding! And like many of us, I lurked for a while before realizing that I really could be part of the IWSG. So glad I joined and now have so many blogging and writing buddies!

Michael Di Gesu said...

Congrats to your daughter and what lovely pics! I am sure the wedding was beautiful. I am happy it turned out so well.

Thanks, Natalie for your support for writers over so many years. Your posts have given us so many agents to query as well as great advice from published authors. We appreciate all the time and effort you put into it. I hope your webinar went well!

Lidy said...

Congrats to your daughter! Sorry I missed your webinar but I'm sure it was successful. As your blog is always so informative. Sharing agents news, giveaways, etc.

Jodelle A Brohard said...

This was great advice on plotting a mystery. I found it very helpful since I've always wanted to write one but I'm a pantser too.

Sue said...

A giveaway and a resource! Cool!

Nancy P said...

Thanks! Google Twitter Positive.ideas.4youATgmail.com

Heidi Angell said...

Wow, you are such a busy blogger and pack so much into one post! Congrats on all the exciting things, especially your daughter's wedding. That is awesome!