Monday, October 22, 2012

Turning a genre meme on its ear

You know that scene where the detective gathers the suspects for the big revelation? Hercule Poirot almost always staged one of those scenes, beginning with AC’s first book, The Mysterious Affair At Styles.

I remember the day I was thinking about how those scenes seemed contrived, artificial.  Two weeks later, I was writing one of them for Seen Sean?

I did my best to turn the meme sideways:  People come and go throughout the scene; one of my main characters gets a strong slap on the face; one of the series’s recurring charcters wants to kill someone; and in the end, no one (else) dies or goes to jail.

What do you think?  Did I pull it off?

Monday, October 15, 2012

First novel as autobiography (sort-of)

It is said that every writer’s first novel is autobiographical to some extent.  While none of the events of Unthinkable happened in the real world, the autobiographical aspect comes into the descriptions of the grief of the victim’s family.

When the direction of the story became obvious to me (this was early on), and I knew that writing about the emotions experienced by Barbara Penfield’s family would have to be displayed in some measure, I had to draw parameters around what I would describe.
  • It would draw on the grief I felt over my father’s suicide.
  • It would not be tawdry or maudlin.  On the contrary, restraint was the key to authenticity.
  • Since this was a murder mystery (not lit-fic or chick-lit), simple external description would be sufficient.  Barbara’s family would have to stay on stage, since they were involved (ahem!) in the murder’s solution.
  • When it was time for the emotional cloud to lift, it would be through an experience the family shared.
  • When, after the solution is known, a reconciliation occurs, it would only come with regret.
If you’ve read Unthinkable, how did I do?

Thursday, October 11, 2012

Dual main characters

When I started the Mason & Penfield Mysteries I had this notion that there were 2 people, John Mason and Ron Penfield, who would share protagonist duties.  But I wanted to avoid a certain number of relationship types that had been done before:

  • Mentor/protégé — This has been done a lot. (If you’re is tempted to say mentee rather than protégé, be warned: I have snipers hiding in the ceiling where you’re reading this.  Capiche?)  Mason, the police detective, has a protégé, but he is (mostly) used as Mason’s extension.
  • Movie/drinking/sports fan/etc buddies — This relationship is too casual to make sense for a murder mystery series.
  • Strangers who meet and combine forces — I find this more plausible than the recreational buddies above; it offers plenty of opportunity for tension between the dual (duelling?) MCs.  But every conflict would be a surprise to them as well as to the reader. I wanted more familiarity between them.
  • Partners — Again, there is plenty of room for conflict, but without some hook (like the detectives on the TV show Common Law), it’s difficult to make them unique.
  • A/B partners — i.e., one partner starts the investigation, then turns it over to the other.  While this provides structure, there’s no reason for the 2 people to not be 1, since they function as 1 anyway.
  • Husband/wife — think Tommy & Tuppence. Don’t think Hart To Hart.

What I settled on was 2 guys who were former co-workers, and who had a grudge between them, a grudge caused by one’s misbehavior; who had gone down separate career paths in the meantime. In Unthinkable, Mason is forced to investigate Penfield; by the end, each understands the other a little better. A few months later, in Seen Sean?, their friendship is strained by Penfield’s actions, but they wind up cooperating to reveal the killer.

My WIP (work in progress), [title redacted] is starting out a little differently: We begin with a dead body and lots of police procedure.  This puts Mason center stage, and at my current point (about 20% of the first draft is complete), Penfield is just stepping onto the stage.

Two questions:
  • What do you think about the interplay between Mason and Penfield?
  • What other dual protagonist types can you think of?

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

A writing goal I failed at

In my previous post, I mentioned the parameters I set around the Christian content of Unthinkable and Seen Sean? One goal that I tried and failed at:
  • No explicit Christian “message”. When I got to Barbara Penfield’s funeral in Unthinkable, I needed to give John Mason, my (non-Christian, actually lightweight, Americanized Zen Buddhist, meaning he meditates frequently) police detective, something to react to, so we hear a little of the Reformed minister’s funeral sermon before Mason wanders off into his own thought.
What do you think: Did I go too far?

Tuesday, October 2, 2012

About my characters’ Christianity

If you’ve read Unthinkable or Seen Sean?, you know that one of my main characters, Ron Penfield, is a Christian. When I decided to make the Penfields share my religion (no term-quibbling here, please), I had to set parameters for how I would and would not allow Christianity to shape my stories.  It comes down to a few things:
  • Nobody hears voices. (I once listened to a Christian radio mystery, and thought the visions the “detective” had were a Deus ex Machina, literally. Father Brown, Miss Marple and Hercule Poirot never had visions, and all 3 were explicitly Christians.)
  • Characters must be imperfect.
  • Conclusions must satisfy, but they must be imperfect.
  • No cuteness.
  • Avoid “on-camera” conversions. I’ve seen this done badly in the 2 or 3 Christian novels I’ve read, and I want to avoid it unless I can write it well.
If you’ve read either book, how did I do?