Song of the Thin Man

Inciting Event: Band leader Tommy Drake is murdered. In a mystery, the (first) murder will almost always be the Inciting Event. Sometimes you’ll see it as the Hook (the very first event), but note how its placement here allows the story to set up its characters–both the protagonists and the players in the crime–in its first eighth. We’re already invested in the people before the murder actually happens.

First Plot Point: Phil, who owned the gambling boat where Drake was murdered, is accused of the murder. He and his new wife Janet ask Nick to prove him innocent. Nick turns Phil over to the police for his own protection. Even though Nick and Nora were on the boat in the first eighth of the story, before the murder in the Inciting Event, they don’t become officially involved with the conflict until this moment. Up until this moment, they have no reason they can’t stay in their pre-murder “Normal World” and not get involved with the investigation. But from this point on, they’re involved.

First Pinch Point: While looking for clues on the boat, Nick discovers the loan shark Amboy who threatens him. Nick also learns that Drake had somehow paid off his debt at the last minute before he was killed. This turning point both provides literal new clues in the investigation and an emphasis of the general antagonistic force (the murderer) and danger in the form of a knife-wielding bad guy.

Midpoint: Nick realizes the murder weapon belonged to Janet’s father, who was unhappy about her marriage to Phil. The Midpoint in any story should bring a major realization that changes the protagonist’s perspective of the conflict. In a mystery, it should be a major clue, which is what we find here when Nick realizes the significance of the murder weapon. However, it is also worth noting that this realization is not so great that he’s able to instantly solve the case. He doesn’t completely comprehend the conflict. But from this point on, he is on the right track to understanding it.

Second Pinch Point: Nick finds Drake’s former girlfriend murdered. If there’s going to be more than one murder, the Pinch Points are good places to stage them, since they’re perfect illustrations of the stakes. Plus, they always switch up the conflict by providing new character dynamics.

Third Plot Point: Nora fears that an angry (and possibly guilty) Janet Inciting Event: Band leader Tommy Drake is murdered. In a mystery, the (first) murder will almost always be the Inciting Event. Sometimes you’ll see it as the Hook (the very first event), but note how its placement here allows the story to set up its characters–both the protagonists and the players in the crime–in its first eighth. We’re already invested in the people before the murder actually happens.

Climax: Nick decides to host a party on the boat. Nick sets the stage to put the suspects in the final pressure cooker and see who blows his top. The final eighth of the story is a distinctly uniform and confined section of scenes that all hang together: this time as a party at which all the principle characters are present.

Climactic Moment: The killer caves under the pressure, reveals his identity, and is then shot by his wife who loved Drake.

Resolution: Nick and Nora go home to bed. Asta the dog sleeps with Little Nicky.

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