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A Complete Short Story Walkthrough: Using ChatGPT to Create a Mystery Story From Start to Finish (Part 2)

firefighter in danger

This is part 2 of a 3 part series. Find Part 1 here.

Following from my previous post, this post will be about the character development and mystery pieces for “The Fires of Deceit,” the short story that I created with ChatGPT. If you want to see how I brainstormed the story with ChatGPT, check out the first post in this series. In the final post I’ll show how I created the actual text.


Character and Mystery Development

Throughout this section I’ll add notes about why I chose the prompts I did in italics and pullquotes. Everything in regular font is the original conversation between ChatGPT and myself.

[nova@novaleigh.net]

This is great! Now I’d like to develop each of the characters a little more. Can you help me brainstorm about the main character, Lincoln? I imagine that he’s grown up in the town, tried to make it as a cop in a big city but failed for some reason, maybe had a relationship that failed or a marriage that didn’t make it, and decided to move back home and be a private detective. Could you help me elaborate on this more?

Once I have a decent idea of some of the plot aspects, I generally spend a little time on character development. For such a short story I didn’t need to do a lot, but having a basic background for everyone important helps me see how to shape it all better and often gives me new ideas for the plot

[GPT]

Certainly! Let’s flesh out Lincoln’s character based on the information you’ve provided:

Name: Lincoln Occupation: Private Detective Background: Grew up in the small town where the story takes place

Character Traits:

–   Persistent and determined

–   Empathetic and sensitive to others’ emotions

–   Cynical and world-weary due to his experiences

–   Observant and analytical

–   Has a dry wit and sarcastic sense of humor

Backstory:

–   Lincoln grew up in the small town, forming close friendships with people like Aaron, the victim.

–   After high school, Lincoln moved to a big city to pursue a career in law enforcement. He completed police academy training and joined the force.

–   During his time as a police officer, Lincoln faced the harsh realities of urban crime, which eventually took a toll on his mental health and relationships. He became increasingly disillusioned with the system and the politics within the force.

–   Lincoln had a significant romantic relationship or marriage that ultimately failed, partly due to the stress and long hours of his job, and partly because of his growing cynicism and emotional withdrawal.

–   After experiencing a particularly traumatic event or facing disciplinary action (e.g., due to bending the rules in pursuit of justice), Lincoln decided to leave the police force and return to his hometown to start anew.

–   Back in his hometown, Lincoln opened a small private detective agency. His experiences as a police officer in the big city provided him with valuable skills, but also left him with emotional scars and a sense of isolation from the community he once knew so well.

Motivations:

–   Lincoln is driven by a strong sense of justice and a desire to protect the vulnerable.

–   He takes on Aaron’s case not just for the fee, but also to make amends for losing touch with his old friend and to reconnect with his roots.

–   Throughout the story, Lincoln is motivated by the need to prove himself as a capable detective, both to the town and to himself.

This more detailed character sketch should provide you with a solid foundation for developing Lincoln’s character in your story. Feel free to modify and expand on these ideas as needed to create a protagonist that resonates with you and your readers.

Image: Midjourney

[nova@novaleigh.net]

Can we develop the victim more now? Aaron who is a volunteer firefighter. I think he has two young sons, and coaches baseball. The community loves him but his wife is bored with him and falls in love with a younger firefighter who used to be Aaron’s friend.

[GPT]

Of course! Let’s flesh out Aaron’s character based on the information you’ve provided:

Name: Aaron Occupation: Works at a local business (e.g., hardware store, family-owned grocery store) and is a volunteer firefighter

Character Traits:

–   Hardworking and dedicated to his family and community

–   Friendly and approachable, well-liked by the town residents

–   Enthusiastic about sports, particularly baseball

–   Trusting and perhaps a little naive in his personal relationships

–   Has a strong sense of duty and responsibility

Backstory:

–   Aaron grew up in the same small town as Lincoln, and the two were friends during their school years.

–   After high school, while Lincoln moved away to pursue a career in law enforcement, Aaron stayed in town and started working at a local business.

–   Aaron joined the volunteer firefighting team, where he became a respected and valued member. He was always willing to put his life on the line for his fellow citizens.

–   He married his high school sweetheart and had two young sons, to whom he was a devoted father.

–   Aaron coached the local youth baseball team, further endearing him to the community.

–   Unbeknownst to Aaron, his wife became bored with their stable but predictable life. She began an affair with a younger firefighter, who was once Aaron’s friend, and fell in love with him.

–   Aaron remained oblivious to his wife’s betrayal, focusing on his family, job, and volunteer work.

Motivations:

–   Aaron was driven by a desire to serve his community and provide a stable, loving home for his family.

–   His dedication to the town, his family, and his friends was the cornerstone of his life, which ultimately made his murder even more devastating for the community.

This character sketch of Aaron provides a strong foundation for the victim in your story. His positive qualities and devotion to the town will make his murder more impactful, and his wife’s betrayal will add an element of tragedy to the narrative.

[nova@novaleigh.net]

how about the wife? I imagine her being disillusioned with family life and excited by the idea of an affair. Can you help me develop her more, and help me think through why she would want her husband dead?

[GPT]

Certainly! Let’s flesh out the wife’s character and explore her motivations for wanting her husband dead:

Name: Emily Occupation: Stay-at-home mom or part-time worker at a local business

Character Traits:

–   Outwardly content with her life, but secretly yearns for excitement and passion

–   Restless and disillusioned with her marriage and family life

–   Prone to making impulsive decisions

–   Charismatic and persuasive, able to manipulate others

–   Struggles with feelings of guilt and fear of being discovered

Backstory:

–   Emily grew up in the same small town as Aaron and Lincoln, eventually marrying her high school sweetheart, Aaron.

–   Over the years, she grew increasingly bored and disillusioned with her predictable life, feeling as if she had settled for a mundane existence.

–   Emily longed for excitement and began to resent Aaron for his unwavering dedication to their family and community, which she perceived as stifling.

–   She became emotionally vulnerable, and when she met the younger firefighter, let’s call him Jake, she was drawn to his passion and impulsiveness.

–   Emily began an affair with Jake, reveling in the excitement and danger it brought to her life. Their relationship intensified, and they fell in love.

–   As Emily’s dissatisfaction with her life grew, she and Jake began to entertain the idea of being together permanently, but they knew that a divorce would cause a scandal in their small town and potentially jeopardize their future.

Motivations for wanting her husband dead:

–   Emily felt trapped in her marriage and believed that Aaron’s death would grant her the freedom to pursue a life with Jake without the shame and repercussions of a divorce.

–   She may have feared that Aaron would eventually discover the affair, leading to devastating consequences for her relationship with her children and her standing in the community.

–   Emily and Jake may have convinced themselves that they were doing what was best for everyone involved, rationalizing their actions and minimizing their guilt.

–   In her desperation for a new life, Emily may have seen Aaron’s death as the only way to ensure her happiness and a future with Jake.

This character sketch of Emily provides a deeper understanding of her motivations and the reasons behind her decision to conspire with Jake to kill her husband. Her internal struggles and the moral ambiguity of her actions can add complexity and intrigue to your story.

Now that I’ve got some character backstory, I switch to figuring out the mystery aspects. This particular story was fairly straightforward because I only wanted the actual culprits and didn’t use a lot of red herrings or other suspects. For a longer mystery, or one that focuses more on the puzzle of the crime, I would go into more detail than I’ve done here. Every story has its own unique needs and it’s always best to tailor the process to the specific project you’re working on.

[nova@novaleigh.net]

Can you help me figure out how they murdered Aaron and how they covered it up?

Image: Midjourney

[GPT]

Of course! Here’s a possible scenario for Aaron’s murder and the subsequent cover-up by Emily and Jake:

1.  Murder Plan: a. Emily and Jake, aware of Aaron’s dedication to his firefighting duties, decide to use this to their advantage. b. They devise a plan to stage a fire-related accident, knowing that Aaron would be among the first responders to the scene.

2.  Execution: a. Jake, as a fellow firefighter, has access to the fire station and its equipment. He discreetly tampers with Aaron’s firefighting gear (e.g., air supply, protective suit) to ensure it malfunctions during the next emergency. b. Emily, with Jake’s assistance, starts a fire at an abandoned building, ensuring that it would be reported and that the volunteer firefighters, including Aaron, would be called to respond. c. As planned, Aaron’s gear malfunctions during the fire, leading to his death. Since the fire is intense and the circumstances chaotic, his death appears to be an unfortunate accident.

3.  Cover-up: a. To cover their tracks, Emily and Jake act devastated and shocked by Aaron’s death, feigning ignorance about the true cause. b. They also take care to hide any evidence of their involvement in starting the fire, as well as their affair, to avoid arousing suspicion. c. Emily and Jake continue to support each other in secret, planning to wait a suitable period before they can be together openly.

4.  Investigation: a. When Lincoln begins his investigation, he starts to notice inconsistencies in Emily and Jake’s stories, as well as evidence of their affair. b. Lincoln may also uncover some clues regarding the fire’s origin or tampered firefighting gear, leading him to suspect foul play.

Integrating this murder and cover-up scenario into your story will provide a compelling and suspenseful backdrop for Lincoln’s investigation. It also adds an element of danger and urgency, as Emily and Jake’s desperate attempt to maintain their innocence unravels under the detective’s scrutiny.

[nova@novaleigh.net]

This is great! I love the idea of the tampered with equipment. I have a few minor tweaks. I was thinking that maybe the motive isn’t just to preserve their standing in the community, but maybe to access Aaron’s life insurance. And I was also thinking, since the death was made to look like an accident and wasn’t investigated, maybe the father has come to Lincoln because he’s suspicious of Emily for some reason and is sure his son’s death wasn’t an accident, even though everyone else believes it is.

I continue adding new details throughout the conversation as they come to me, like I’ve done here with the life insurance motive, and this way ChatGPT will know how I want to change what we’ve done so far. This works far better for GPT-4 than it did for GPT-3 because it has a much longer memory (or tokens) and can remember what’s come before.

[GPT]

I’m glad you like the idea! Incorporating the life insurance motive and the father’s suspicions will add more depth to the story. Here’s how you can adjust the plot accordingly:

1.  Motive Adjustment: a. In addition to wanting to preserve their standing in the community and avoid the scandal of a divorce, Emily and Jake are also motivated by Aaron’s life insurance policy. They see it as a means to start their new life together without financial worries. b. Emily might have been the one to convince Aaron to increase his life insurance coverage in the months leading up to his death, further solidifying her and Jake’s plan.

2.  Introducing the Case: a. Aaron’s father, suspecting that his son’s death was not an accident, approaches Lincoln for help. He shares his suspicions about Emily, possibly because he noticed her secretive behavior, her sudden interest in the life insurance policy, or her closeness with Jake. b. At first, the town and the authorities accepted Aaron’s death as a tragic accident. However, the father’s insistence and his decision to hire Lincoln pique the detective’s interest, prompting him to take on the case and start an investigation.

3.  Investigation: a. Lincoln begins his investigation with the father’s suspicions in mind, focusing on Emily and Jake as potential suspects. b. As he delves deeper into the case, Lincoln uncovers evidence of their affair, their involvement in starting the fire, and the tampered firefighting gear. He also discovers the motive related to Aaron’s life insurance policy. c. Lincoln’s investigation gradually exposes the truth behind Aaron’s death, with the climax being the confrontation with Emily and Jake, where he presents the evidence he has gathered.

By adding these elements to your story, you create an even more compelling narrative with additional motives and a stronger reason for the father to involve Lincoln in the case. This will also provide your readers with a deeper understanding of the characters’ motivations and the stakes involved.

[nova@novaleigh.net]

I like this. I think maybe the father’s suspicions were raised because Emily didn’t react to the death of Aaron in the way he thought she should. And then he saw her and Jake together somewhere. I would like to adjust the length of this story to about 3000 words. Can you create a new outline starting with an introduction to Lincoln at his office (possibly drinking during the day. He is very bored) and quickly move into the visit from the father where he outlines his suspicions?

After I do the brainstorming, character development, and mystery details, I generally switch to creating an outline for the story. I try to include whatever details I have in mind that we haven’t discussed yet (like his day drinking).

[GPT]

Certainly! Here’s an adjusted outline for a 3000-word story, starting with Lincoln at his office:

1.  Introduction to Lincoln (250 words): a. Introduce Lincoln, a private detective in his small hometown, at his office. b. Describe Lincoln’s boredom and his habit of drinking during the day. c. Briefly mention his past: his unrequited love for Emily, his failed attempt at being a big-city cop, and his return to his hometown.

2.  Father’s Visit (250 words): a. Aaron’s father visits Lincoln, sharing his suspicions about Aaron’s death. b. He mentions Emily’s unusual reaction to Aaron’s death and how he spotted her and Jake together. c. Intrigued, Lincoln agrees to take on the case.

3.  Background Research (500 words): a. Lincoln looks into Aaron’s life, uncovering his past with Emily, his role as a volunteer firefighter, and his life insurance policy. b. He also researches Emily and Jake, learning about their connections to Aaron and each other.

4.  Initial Investigation (750 words): a. Lincoln interviews townspeople, gathering information about Aaron, Emily, and Jake, and their relationships. b. He starts to notice inconsistencies in Emily and Jake’s stories, as well as hints about their affair.

5.  Discovering the Affair (500 words): a. Lincoln uncovers definitive evidence of Emily and Jake’s affair, making them prime suspects in Aaron’s death. b. He confronts Emily and Jake separately, observing their reactions and gauging their guilt.

6.  Uncovering the Murder Plot (500 words): a. Lincoln discovers the tampered firefighting gear and traces it back to Jake. b. He also finds evidence of their involvement in starting the fire and their motive related to Aaron’s life insurance policy.

7.  Climax – Confrontation (250 words): a. Lincoln calls Emily and Jake to Aaron’s father’s house for a confrontation. b. He presents the evidence he has gathered, exposing their affair and their roles in Aaron’s murder.

8.  Resolution (250 words): a. Emily and Jake are arrested for their crimes. b. Lincoln reflects on the impact of the investigation on his emotions and his past with Emily, finding closure and a renewed sense of purpose in his life.

This outline should provide a solid structure for your 3000-word mystery story, with a balance of character development, investigation, and suspenseful twists. The introduction of Lincoln in his office sets the stage for the father’s visit and the subsequent unraveling of the murder plot.


I really used to hate all the character work for stories. I know some people really like this aspect of writing, but that was never me. Something about walking through backstory, character sheets etc really bothered me. I wanted to understand my characters, but I didn’t want to spend the massive amount of time it took to work through it all myself. So I was stuck with either working through the drudgery of it or not getting a very good idea of my characters.

This is one of the reasons I love ChatGPT so much. I can give it broad ideas about my characters and it quickly fills in the details. And if I don’t like what it comes up with I just try again, adjust what it gives me. Now I can see my characters much better without the part that made me hate the writing. Pretty cool, if you ask me.

If I was creating a longer piece or had more ideas about my story, I would expand on this process and prompt with a lot more details than I did in this post. But like I always say, the better and more detailed your prompts are, the better ChatGPT will respond.

In the last post, I’ll share the actual text creation and the final story, as told by ChatGPT.


ChatGPT for Fiction Writing by Nova Leigh cover

Want to learn more about writing fiction with ChatGPT? Check out my book, ChatGPT for Fiction Writing!

Filled with detailed tips, explanations, prompts and examples, this is a great guide for anyone wanting to start writing better fiction faster.

Includes an entire chapter on character development for fiction.


“Only actionable book I have ever read in kindle.” – Amazon Reviewer

1 thought on “A Complete Short Story Walkthrough: Using ChatGPT to Create a Mystery Story From Start to Finish (Part 2)”

  1. Thx for this post. The problem I have with ChatGPT for this task is that it seems to loose the context. It doesn’t stick to ideas and detail it out, even if I ask to to so, but keeps creating new ideas.

    Maybe it is the way I use ChatGPT is the reason?

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