A3Writer: And That's the Game & ramblings
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Sunday, November 30, 2008

And That's the Game & ramblings

     Well, NaNoWriMo is all but over. I crossed the finished line on Thanksgiving Day, but I've kept going, trying to maintain the NaNo schedule to finish out the month. While I have crossed the word count line, I have not finished the story I'm telling. Beginning tomorrow I will likely revert back to my previous goal of 1,000 words a day, as I believe that the quality of my work is somewhat better with the lower word quota.
     I've been pondering how mystery novels are written. I read an interesting book, How to Write a PI Novel, which address that very question. I thought that I had been doing it wrong. At first perception, it seems that the mystery novel must be meticulously outlined and scripted out in every detail before writing begins, or else that tiny handkerchief with the trace of chloroform that didn't quite get consumed in the fireplace could not be discovered. However, the book informed me that some writers don't have a clue as to the identity of the perpetrator when they begin writing, and they simply "wing-it." Of course this relieved me to no end since I only have the barest outline I work from, which is to say scraps of paper scribbled with ideas that occur to me at odd times with jagged lines connecting the ideas in some kind of time sequence.
     Raymond Chandler's famous essay "The Simple Art of Murder" (some kind of pdf viewer required) which tells of how Dashiell Hammett "gave murder back to the kind of people that commit it for a reason, not just to provide a corpse; and with the means at hand, not hand-wrought dueling pistols, curare, and tropical fish." For some reason that line always struck me, and the majority of my work in exploring this genre has been to define the culture and population of the people my PI would interact with. I've tried to define things through necessity instead of circuitous logic. Now, before some people get mad, I have nothing wrong with circuitous logic and the meticulously planned and plotted perfect crime, but that's not the kind of story I'm interested in writing. I'm not trying to do Holmes trying to eliminate the impossible and go with what's left. I'm trying to find the most reasonable, and quickest explanation for events in a setting that is already improbable. To that end, I simply ride with my PI throughout the case and try and imagine what events might take place in relation to the plot, surrounding the characters involved. I like to think I am following in Hammett's and Chandler's vein that the people committing these crimes are not purposefully trying to craft the perfect murder. They are committed by a group of people who have little regard for live and law, and requires no more thought than looking both ways across the street.
     Now that I think of it, I believe that was my difficulty with reading Crime and Punishment. In only a few pages into the book, I already knew that this simple crime would result in the murderer cracking under the pressure of what he had done. To that end, I could not bring myself to read through the remaining four hundred pages to reach that end. It was no mystery to me, and I had no interest in following the self-tortured soul through his inevitable breakdown. The character held no interest for me (which I think is something in the style of Russian writing). It is my hope, therefore, that I am providing interesting and entertaining characters as they pursue the story. I also do not think that my PI will always need to solve a mystery. Certainly I don't think that "A Funny Thing Happened One Night at the Blackthorn" is much of a mystery. I included it as an entertaining story that should also help flesh out an event referenced in the first book I wrote. I am planning to include another short story that will celebrate Christmas, and also have little in the way of mystery, but have a story with good characters (and I believe that it will properly keep with the Christmas spirit).
     Well, my short post-game turned into a long ramble through the world of writing from masters of mystery. I believe I will be exploring more of these ideas in the future to help refine my approach to mystery. Either later today or tomorrow I shall post up the graph summarizing my NaNoWriMo writing totals.


ZUrlocker said...

Hi, I enjoyed your blog post. What was the name of the book about writing a PI Novel that you were mentioning?


Zack Urlocker said...

Posting comments here is pretty hard!

A3Writer said...

Zack, thanks for commenting. The book is Writing the Private Eye Novel. The link goes to Amazon.

Zack Urlocker said...

Thanks much!