blogged by Jule Selbo

It happens every time I get to this point in a book – and yet I’m still surprised and angry and frustrated and consider taking up the less stressful (maybe it’s not) job of wearing an over-sized neon vest and holding STOP and SLOW traffic signs at road construction sites.

If you’re reading the Maine Crime Writers’ Blog, chances are you write or like to read crime/mysteries and are interested in how to structure the set-up, the placing of clues and red herrings, and creating possible suspects and reasons for the crime. And/or maybe you’ve grown attached to a certain investigator and want to know more (whether they be amateur or pro) about how he/she is setting out to solve the puzzles and/or nab the villains.

And, in a very human-predictable way, you’re interested in the WHY people do BAD things. How they do them and how they plan to get away with their nefarious deeds. I wonder, sometimes, if that’s the driving force behind writing/reading crime mysteries- most of us aren’t criminals and it’s compelling and fascinating to see how the bad guys’ minds work as they execute or mask their crimes.

I like the school of thought that states that antagonists should be as interesting as the protagonists – that ‘simply crazy’ or ‘just evil’ isn’t enough. I appreciate the advice that states the villain needs a raison d’être (even if skewed or malevolent or ‘all id’). The reader, through coming to an understanding of the perp’s reasons, can glean clues and food for thought about society/humanity buried in that raison d’être. The antagonist helps to flesh out the story, and the lives of the supporting characters and more.

So, by page 130, I hope I have a large percentage (all? most?) of the set-up structured, that possible villains/antagonists have been introduced, that the reader is engaged in the personal journey of the protagonist as well as invested in the solving of the crime.

And then, there’s that morning (usually when the moon is full) that a crisis of confidence crashes into my psyche. The page 130 burning questions flame: What, indeed, do I have? Is it enough? Is it too much? Is the content too fatty or too slim?

Does it need an influx of protein (more meaty events/chewier morsels of villainous behaviors)? Does it need more sugar (a little humor to lighten the load, that sprinkle of fairy dust and maybe a coincidence that won’t be deemed too much of a coincidence and will allow the story to move forward at a livelier pace)?

Or do I need more carb – when the protagonist (mine is the heroine of the Dee Rommel mystery series) is able to make lists, sit and think (drink?) and/or chat about the challenges of solving the crime and let all the clues and reasons and motives fill her stomach and brain and hope that digestion will bring about an epiphany?

(FYI, I have just sat down at The Works on Temple Street in Portland and ordered one of their great ‘everything bagels’ – just toasted, please, serve it plain), so sorry about the food mentions, I must be hungry.


So, at page 130, what does ‘my today’ look like?  Looks like back-to-outline day. First item on the agenda: Examine the original outline and see where it’s still holding true. Then adjust it to include the grace notes/fresh ideas/character impulses that I hadn’t predicted when I did the first rough outline and have added to the story.

Because my Dee Rommel series has an author-imposed (me) perimeter to each book, it’s clear (to me) how the outline needs to be structured. The first book, 10 DAYS, the crime/mystery had to be solved in ten days.  In 9 DAYS, Dee had nine days before the carriage turned into a decimated pumpkin. (Ah, more food, but this time it’s the fairy tale I’m thinking about.)  I’m working on 8 DAYS right now, and at page 130, find myself at the ‘four day’s left to solve the crime’ mark. If private investigator Dee can’t get the bad guys identified and off the streets in the remaining four days, her client’s well-being (possibly his life) is in great danger.

So, today I’ll put eight pages of plain white paper in front of me (horizontally) and label each one with the days: 8 days, 7 days, 6 days left to solve the crime and so on and so on. I’ll divide each page into six columns; one column for THE CRIME, one for  PERSONAL GROWTH, one for RELATIONSHIPS (here I’ll use different colored pens to signify friendships, her boss and romance), one for SUPPORTING CHARACTERS (use of different colors here will also be helpful), one for MAIN ANTAGONIST, one for WHAT HAVE YOU FORGOTTEN, DINGBAT BRAIN.

I’m expecting that this halfway mark outline will look a lot different from the initial one. Why? A: ‘Cause I now know more about the new characters I’ve created for 8 DAYS. And B: Because there’s been the natural organic growth of the story (for me) – the growth that only happens while actually writing the pages – and thus I may have had a new idea or two and now they have to be incorporated.


  • If you are an outliner – does the outline change during the writing process? At what point do you need to take a look at it again? Perhaps adjust it?
  • If you are a pant-ser – do you ever have to step back and list the events/beats/major plot points or character changes along the way. Or can you keep it all in your head?


I’ve just finished a crime/mystery book (started and completed during the two-day Portland Great Chill that took place last week). I was taken aback by the author’s predilection to repeat information. Maybe he/she/they (take your pick) decided that the typical reader rarely sits down and reads an entire book in one or two days. Maybe it was the writer’s way to remind himself/herself/themselves of what had gone down (in the story) for the characters – just the day or hour before – and in the edit, no one excised the unnecessary.

I imagine most readers’ brains work in similar fashion. Even if I’ve put a book aside for a few days or a week, once I pick it up and start reading again, the memory cells jump out of the pocket in my brain where they’ve been resting and become clear and usable.  I don’t need the constant repetition.


Since reading mysteries is an art and targets those people who like to solve puzzles and embrace clues in their brains, how much do you think the reader retains? Does repetition serve a purpose and how can it be used judiciously? How much is too much?

Would love to hear what you think… read what you think…

About jselbo

Jule Selbo's latest book, 10 DAYS, A Dee Rommel Mystery, the first in a mystery/crime series, received a starred review on Kirkus and just landed on Kirkus Top Five List of Crime/Mystery books from independent publishers. It's also a finalist in the best of Foreword Review and Maine Literary Award. She absconded from Hollywood (and her work there as a produced screenwriter)to Portland Maine to write novels. Other books include Find Me in Florence, Dreams of Discovery -The John Cabot Story and Breaking Barriers - Based on the Life of Laura Bassi. The next book in the Dee Rommel series: 9 DAYS, A Dee Rommel Mystery was released in September 2022 and is nominated for a Clue Award and received a starred Kirkus Review. 8 DAYS, the third in the series, is scheduled for release November 2023 and Jule is now working in 7 DAYS.
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9 Responses to PAGE 130 AND THEN WHAT?

  1. John Clark says:

    I have a similar issue. At a certain point, usually when I’ve figured out what happens at the end, I lose most of my steam. Writing becomes a drudge instead of an adventure. I hit that point a couple weeks ago. Then a scary thing happened (more about that on Friday in my blog), and I’ve returned with a semi-vengeance.

  2. Anonymous says:

    Sympathize. I am at page 360 and still struggling. Some books just fight being written. This one has never had flow. Re: your question about reminding readers…for me it needs to be done because I don’t always read the book in two days and sometimes have forgotten, but here brevity counts…a phrase, not a paragraph. I admire all the work you put into structure. I am usually a pantser but start out knowing a lot about the plot. I actually call myself a cooker because of how much I know before I start. But I don’t write it down. The aging brain may change that.


  3. kaitlynkathy says:

    I wish I was as organized as you are! Unfortunately, I’ve never been able to plan ahead, but I do start making a chapter outline when I’m perhaps halfway through a book, mainly so I can keep track of who knows what when. I update that as I go, but not until I’ve actually written the scenes in question. When I have a complete draft and am revising (and revising and revising) I update the chapter outline as I go.

  4. maggierobinsonwriter says:

    I am in awe of your organization! I’m such a pantser I often don’t know who the murderer is until many pages in, and right now I’m almost at The End and am thinking maybe I picked the wrong person, LOL. I usually have to re-read the ms 3 or 4 (or 5) times as I go, cause I forget everything. The mucky middle is always awful. Why are we doing this again?

  5. matthewcost says:

    I will occasionally have my protagonist summarize the case to help remind the reader of the disparate pieces of information out there. I feel like I have a lot of threads that weave in and out and that would be helpful but hope it is not repetitive.

  6. Anonymous says:

    Great post!

  7. kaitcarson says:

    Chapter 13 is my personal Waterloo. Figures, huh?

    I tried outlining and failed miserably. I tried pantsing and took the long road through the woods. What works for me is keeping a beat sheet. I use the standard goal/conflict/disaster-reaction/dilemma/decision format, and a spreadsheet that shows the turning point is in each scene. This lets me bullet point the highlights of each scene and sometimes, when I’m very lucky, it hangs together 🙂

  8. Brenda Buchanan says:

    I appreciate, but don’t share, your penchant for organization. I very much share your dislike for repetition. I find it tedious, sometimes enough for me to set a book aside.

    • jselbo says:

      Yes – sometimes I’ll put the book aside – and sometimes I start to skim. All the things I hate to do –

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