I’m a wee little bit late posting this, but I had a great time teaching a crime-plotting workshop at Lucy Cavendish College’s “Women’s Word” lit festival. My angle was the puzzle at the heart of crime novel, based on my puzzle-designing past.

Part of what we did was take the puzzles at the start of two crime stories (one a novel, one a TV episode) and brainstorm solutions. My point was that you don’t need just one good solution, you need lots, because the bulk of your story will be spent cycling through wrong ones. Wrong, yes, but each one still must be interesting.

We started with the puzzle in Sophie Hannah’s “Little Face”: a new mother returns home from an outing and discovers her baby has been replaced by a different baby; her husband, who was home with the child the whole time, claims it is the same baby. These are some of the answers we came up with (and not one was the ultimate answer from the book!):

The second one was from a Jonathan Creek episode, in which a dozen apparently clean, unladdered stockings were found in the rubbish bin. Again, of all the answers we brainstormed, none was the one the show used:

(You can click on the images to make them larger and easier to read.)

Once we’d brainstormed all these potential solutions, we talked about reasons for making one the right answer over all the others, and the kinds of characters we’d need to champion the various wrong answers.

One of the nicest things about Cambridge is the people. All the attendees were creative and talkative, which made for a great class.

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