My dear friend, and fellow author, Valerie Biel has convinced me to write a blog.
I thought my first one should introduce what I would like this blog to be. To offer a writing tip or two. To say something about the importance of the arts to the world and to our lives. And to respond to questions and engage in a discussion with you, my readers, on topics of interest to you. So, please do join me in the creation of this our blog.
In thinking about what writing tips I might be able to offer, I decided to start with my genre of choice, the mystery/thriller. I have developed a 7-Step process to writing a Mystery/Thriller. I call it “The Seven Clues,” because I think it’s catchy. They are:
- Finding the idea and scribbling it down (POV, past or present, where and when – it’s not the “what” it’s the “how.” I am often asked, “Where do you find an idea?” “Must I write in third-person past-tense?” We will cover this in our next blog.
- How to Start (outline, pants, I-points or m&m). So mostly what you’ll hear at writing conferences is “first you need to create an outline.” Indeed, there are a ton of writing books on how to create an outline. Patterson will go from a rough outline to a more refined outline. There are also a bunch (that’s how much I know about percentages) of writers who write without an outline – by the seat of their pants. Thus, “pants.” Some writers, I am one of them, create a list of “Implication Points.” These are the moments that will cause a significant change for a character or plot or story. If you imagine you are looking at a graph of a business or a stock and the line is heading in one consistent direction and then suddenly takes and turn down or up, the point at which the direction changed is an implication point. Clearly, it doesn’t have to be that dramatic in your story. Also, the points are flexible both in order and number. Finally, M&M simply stands for mix and match. Some writers, I believe Dan Brown is one, will just start writing (pants). After 3 or so chapters he will create an outline for a portion of, or the entire book. So, okay, after I decide how I want to proceed, let’s say “pants.” How do I start? Hint, an unsolved mystery is a thorn in the heart (Thank you, Joyce Carol Oats)
- The Characters. Limit the number of main characters and distinguish each from the other.
- The Corners. Yes. You must write yourself into a corner you do not (yet) know how to get out of.
- The Plot, Clues, and Red Herrings.
- The Story and Keeping your promise to the reader
- How and when to End. But it must be inevitable and a surprise. (Thank you, Aristotle).
For this blog, rather than starting with number one and working our way down, I will jump into number six, specifically, “keeping your promises.” Because last evening, February 19, 2020, I attended the I.B.C. Café Book Club. It was a lovely evening, with wonderful hors d’oeuvres and drinks even – “egg creams.” I believe it is important for authors, when invited, to attend a discussion of their book. We write in solitude and, but for our editors and friends, we often don’t get the opportunity to hear what our readers thought about the story and details within the story. I learned a lot and was inspired by last night’s discussion. One of the general writing questions that came up was the idea that the author must keep his/her promises to the reader. And so, with that discussion fresh in mind, I jump to number six. I will use Weepers to illustrate points as the members of the I.B.C. Book Club did last evening. In Weepers I made four promises to my reader.
First, through foreshadowing I promised the coming of an event. For example, in chapter one, which takes place on Christmas Eve, 1951, Angelo, seven-years-old, asks his father why no one has stolen the three Christmas trees on the Journal American Newspaper loading platform. His father answers, “They belong to Uncle Nunzio.” Bang! Three promises or foreshadowing — The reader has not yet met Nunzio, but knows he should not be messed with; this is a bad neighborhood because even a child knows people steal Christmas trees; and there is a relationship between Angelo and “Uncle Nunzio,” and Angelo understands why no one took the trees. I make a check-off list of all of my foreshadowing, as well as other promises, for my final draft review.
Second, through character development, I promised a change or some other action in one or more characters. For example, in chapter two, Angelo’s mother, Anna, tells Father Joe (her priest) that Angelo is changing and becoming more like the projects in which, they live. I now have an obligation to my reader to show that change to a reasonable degree and at a believable pace.
Third, through each major character, I promised a consistency that rings true. So, while in my first draft, “the end,” was a resolution for all main characters, such an ending would have been a betrayal to Angelo, Anna, and a couple of other characters. To make that ending ring true, I would have had to jump ahead by means of an epilogue (this is often done in books, on TV, Movies). I fear such an epilogue would have felt like a ploy to my reader. In addition, since Weepers is both a stand-alone novel, and the first in a series, I had to decide which sub-plots to wrap-up, and which ones to dangle in an effort to create anticipation for future novels in the series.
And fourth, I promised the resolution of mysteries. Describing Weepers in 15-words I would say that an “NYPD cop killing in 1957 has unexpected ties to a young father’s disappearance in 1951.” So, here I must unravel the killing of a police officer, the disappearance of a young father, and the six-year link between them. I must do this with suspense, reasonable surprise, and intrigue. And at the same time, my reader must not feel cheated (no bolts of magic, dreams, etc.).
Finally, as I said above, Weepers is the first of a four-novel series, but I also want it to stand-alone. Therefore, some questions and foreshadowing remain. However, it is crucial that they are not detrimental to a free-standing story. As I said, I make a check-off list of all of my foreshadowing, as well as other promises, for my final draft review.
So that’s my two cents about the importance of keeping promises, not just in a mystery but in all genres. I plan to write a blog every two weeks, unless life barges in and demands an unavoidable time commitment, I’ll let you know. In my next blog I will start at the top and discuss “finding the idea and scribbling it down. And in future blogs I will stroll along the other six issues as well as issues and questions you might raise.
I would also like to reach beyond writing, in this blog, to the arts in general. I grew up in a housing project on New York’s Lower East Side. Public libraries saved my life in many ways. Reading took me on adventures and influenced my dreams. I became interested in writing poetry. The art museums were admission free and I became interested in expressing myself through oil painting and photography. I would love to hear how the arts influenced you.
Please share any thoughts you have regarding this blog or anything else. Let’s engage. I look forward to hearing from you.
Thanks for being here, Nick