clues at the scene

clues at the scene

Tuesday, October 30, 2018

Placing the Clues

At left, public domain photograph courtesy the US Forest Service.

Here, two experts discuss the optimal placement of the second body in the plot map of the story.

We know the first body comes in the first act. Duh.

I have a holiday story that I've played with for a few years now. Ugh.

I hate writing that.

Anyway, cute opening (for a holiday murder)  as my former police detective makes his way to an all night diner where the investigating officer devils him a bit. We learn the officers married sisters and only one marriage took. Only one career took as well.

Guess which one?

Anyway, the story just never works in the last two thirds.  I'm two slow on the second body and the whole business drags.

I'm not Chandler. I cannot delay the complication indefinitely. I can't have my character drive around blithely in the car engaging in an internal monologue.

I need an action event.

Now, my second body is going to be immaterial to the primary case -- or so we think until the twisty bit at the end. That's beside the point.

I have to get the reader to the end of the story for any of my slight of hand cleverness to matter.

I don't know why I haven't realized the second murder comes too late in the story before now. In some versions, I don't even have the second murder.

I mentioned it is a holiday bit, didn't I?

I'll make some notes over Thanksgiving and box it for next spring when I'm letting the long-form project cool on ice. This holiday diversion is a short story.

I can't believe I didn't see that the action was dragging.

I honestly thought it was the language. I thought the tone was too noir.

I can be an idiot sometime. Where'd I put the body map?

Sunday, October 28, 2018

Ink on the Page

Here it is at left.

I'm conducting a complete re-draft of an earlier work because I've figured out how to use a murder to twist a bit of commercial fiction into detective fiction which holds the hook longer.

At the left of frame, a couple attempts at this chapter. In the composition book, the chapter.

What you don't see is the set of outline notes (Scrivener) and the handwritten draft after it has undergone another tweak as it is transposed into Scrivener.

I file my completed longhand chapter in another binder (for reference) and start the next chapter in the composition book which holds my ready-reference of arcs, characters, and bits I think have to go into the tale "somewhere about here."

I've used this mechanism with success in non-fiction but less so in fiction because - gasp - I had to spend some serious time this year studying the mechanisms of telling a story in long form. Hey, I don't have the M.F.A. and hadn't internalized some of the pieces of fiction upon which I really ought to have had a better handle.

I had to get smarter. It hurts a little both to say now and to do previously.

So, pen to paper two or three times to let those little bits of compositional brilliance -- you know the things you think of "on the fly" that end up being the best bits of the piece -- coalesce into a contiguous whole then into the electronic version with the language edit to catch the little errors we make when too absorbed.

Don't be afraid of the ink. It allows for revision and refinement in a free-form way which is unassuming and keeps the voice of self-doubt at bay. At least, it works for me.

There's literary fiction hiding behind so many works that are commercially more accessible. Making that change on the page is easier for me in ink.

Besides, having a little ink on your paw at Sunday dinner is a good feeling.

We could all use that good feeling about our writing -- especially so when we can have it without saying one word to family or friends about the pursuit.

Get a little ink on yourself. It's good for the soul.

Thursday, October 25, 2018

Carefully Darling, Carefully.

Broken egg illustration hosted on wikicommons. Lovely picture courtesy Etat sauvage from 2007. Outstanding image. Thanks for the use.

You know the type.

You're at dinner thinking about your writing or something related to your writing being "all quiet" keeping to yourself (because you are that huge introvert nerd writer) and some bore insists in asking what you are thinking about.

What lie do you tell?

I mean - honestly. Between us.

You sit at a dinner with seven other people in a restaurant and you wonder how your murderer can kill 'em all. Maybe he only wants to kill one of them but a little collateral damage isn't that bad. The character is a murderer. He has to do bad stuff.

Maybe he kills everyone in the restaurant ? Sure.

He poisons the water supply and just pokes at his food. Everyone else gets it. Of course, he has to explain how he survived when all the other patrons die but there is probably somebody else who makes it. Maybe the redhead bulimic over by the door pulls out, too? 

Hey -- it's not a terrible thing. It's a condition and it might save her life ... if she's in a restaurant full of poisoned people. You play the cards you'e dealt. I'm colorblind so the scintillating alien mind-beam from over in the science fiction stories isn't going to get me. 

My point is you're at dinner and you are plotting the demise of a person, people, a continent. Whatever.

Somebody pushes and pushes and wants to know your thoughts.

Do you mention you were thinking of how their liver might go with fava beans?

Of course not. You lie and say you were thinking of Yosemite or your honeymoon or the Caribbean beach of last winter.

You can tell me, though.

You can admit you were thinking the low lift-over tailgate of the new Subaru is perfect for your petite soccer mom contract assassin to drive because it makes her afternoon murder easy to tidy-up after. Maybe if she used the dog ramp to roll the body up into the rear. Hmmm.

You can tell me.

The pushy person at the dinner? Well.

Don't ask what you don't want to know. Every good attorney in a crime novel knows that one.

 Fava beans?

Tuesday, October 23, 2018

The Composition Tango

Nate Grigg allows us to use his photograph at left of hay bales through his generous sharing on wikicommons. Thanks, Nate!

One after another into the stack they go.

Bales become time. It isn't 2 o'clock. It's another 130 bales since lunch. Another tier on the stack.

It's another pass with wagon and bale lift.

Another paragraph before coffee.  Run the edits on chapter seven before eating. Transpose three more chapters into Scrivener before the weekend is over.

I never knew stacking hay was preparation for the real work I wanted to do. I certainly didn't think so at the time.

My characters don't spend enough time relaxing as the crew re-positions their yacht for the winter. I thought of this on the way to the day job yesterday morning. I should research the filthy rich. Better scotch. Learn to like caviar on toast points. Maybe bathe in champagne..

I haven't a story with a filthy rich noir-style protagonist. Ah, the black hearts and broken dream of the super-privileged. There's always angst. There's envy. There's murder.

I remember a comic from my youth where Scrooge McDuck squared off against the Beagle Boys. Hmm. One versus many. I liked the beagle boys better.

Sure, it's a not the most identifiable of character schemes. It would however be fantastic research.

One has to plan and plot.

Off to the ink. I wonder if I can get a tour of a bank vault if I asked nicely?

The Britannia 74 below. It's a semi-custom on an established design making it affordable luxury. Even the very wealthy have to be careful with money.

Lovely yacht.

Thursday, October 18, 2018

Not Gonna Row Itself

At left, an image of a  rowboat hosted on wikicommons and made available here by amanderson2. They title this image our little row row boat Bled Slovenia. I'm assuming the case choice for the title is germane to their intent and have preserved it here.

The photo is delightful as it illustrates the dilemma of re-casting a novel: it doesn't write itself.

Sure, we want help with the work. After all, writing is decision making. Usually it is at least 130,000 individual decisions. Having someone make some of those decisions for us would be lovely!

Is this character too likable? Not likable enough? Too minor and I should bring them back later? Too annoying (Hello, Jar Jar) and I should push them down an elevator shaft in the next act?

Writing is decision making and even recasting a work that you've passed through a couple drafts requires the entire litany of decisions, again. The feedback from a couple test readers can be a life preserver on a stormy night ... only after the draft is done. [ Bulwer Lytton Fiction Prize ]

I'm putting words on the page. I think they're the right words. I'm happy with the words. I've solved plot problems. I've re-crafted characters that needed some attention.

I'm rowing the boat.

Just like you.

It's nice to think I'll go into spring with a full re-write and detail edit of a work that has too long been a problem for me. I suspect if the thing keeps springing into your head over most of a decade, you must tell the story

What is it Bukowski says about the prose must come bursting out of you

He never said it has to come out in the same form in which it goes to publication!  

I'm rowing the boat. I'm scratching the itch. I'm telling the story.

I'm whistling in the dark walking past my personal graveyard.

Just like you.

Keeping pulling on the oars. There's something out there. I can hear it.

I have clam chowder on the stove. Then, the ink and the snoring of a foxhound.

Not a bad evening, I think.

Saturday, October 13, 2018

The Cleaning of the Pens

At left, the cleaning of the pens at hand.

I use the copper Lilliput from Kaweco despite it requiring cartridges. It travels well even on airplanes.

There is a Lamy Studio pen in there with the ink converter reservoir. Also a couple of Cross pens one of which is an anniversary gift from 1999 and so never leaves the desk, now. It's an adventurous pen.

I've completed a couple of non-fiction works over the course of the spring and the summer. I've been to Rocky Mountain National Park and Yellowstone Park in that same time. I've chased trout a great deal. I've rolled out a new product to a customer. I've improved my chess game.

It's been a good year so far but for fiction.

I have drafted a few incomplete runs at short stories that have gotten stuck in my throat. They're still there.

I've written a couple of new short stories both of which need some work. One is quite good but needs the polish I haven't done in the last month.

Now, back to long form fiction and a story I've figured out how to tell.

Am I good enough yet to tell the story I intend? We'll not know unless I do the work all the way to completion.

First, the washing of the pens.

Now, the writing of the prose.

It'll be a grand autumn.