Plotting My Demise

I’m hesitant to write what I’m thinking about today because a whole series of posts about this same topic (sort of) is ultimately what led me shut down the blog last time. But I think with a little time away, and some deep soul searching I may be able to work through it this time.

I’m having trouble picking what novel to work on next.

You may remember that I went through about two years of hell the last time I thought about this and it nearly drove me insane. At the time, I thought it was a struggle between what I wanted to write and what I thought, marketing-wise, what I should write. So finally I just shut the hell up and wrote the book I thought I wanted to write at the time, a first person PI mystery. I finished it, but wasn’t happy with it and gave up on it early on in rewrites. Then I got really excited about working on a fast-paced, darkly funny crime novel that I’d wanted to write for years. I finished that one and was briefly happy with it and even sent it off to an agent after some rewriting. Then I got away from books for a bit and wrote a short story that I really liked. After a month or so, I started thinking about that book again and went back and read it. I hated it. There are some good parts to it, but mostly it was ridiculous and confusing and messy. So I started thinking about what else I might write and this is where the trouble began.

After thinking about why I was shooting down all of these ideas, I realized that there are actually two things going on in my head. The first, minor thing, is a contemplation of what would be the most marketable. With a family now, I’m thinking that if I’m spending all of this time away from them it should amount to something. And there’s always the voice in the back of my head reminding me I want to be a full-time writer and all of that fantasy BS. But that’s not the real problem. The real problem is that I’m absolutely terrified to plot another novel.

Plot has always been my weakness and I’ve tried to find ways around it, but as I’m looking to my future it’s smacking me full on in the face. Again, there are several things going on with my plotting fears. The first is how boring, or ridiculous, most plot elements seem to me. I realize I work in a formula driven genre and that should encourage me, or provide me with some sort of security blanket. But I don’t want to write about serial killers, I don’t want to write a lot of action scenes (I’m bad at them and I always skip over them anyway in books), and every time I think about raising the stakes it just seems so stupid to me. I have a problem suspending my own disbelief in fiction.

I’m torn between my natural skills (breezy prose, funny dialogue, quirky characters), which tend to lend themselves more toward over the top, potboiler writing, and my natural instincts which seem more toward the realism, simple, small stakes, type story. I don’t think I have the skill to pull off the small stakes “literary” thriller if you will, but I don’t seem to be able to let myself go completely free and off the hinge to do more Victor Gischler or Tim Dorsey type stuff.

In a perfect world, I would like to write a Spenser-type PI series with a continuing character, lots of dialogue, fun characters, and little or no extended action scenes. So when it comes to that, I believe it is a commercial decision because I don’t think that would fly in today’s marketplace. And if that’s the case, I should write it anyway because I should care about commercial concerns. So it appears I’ve worked through it. For now. I’ll write my first person PI novel, again, and will continue doing it until I make my dialogue so strong, and my characters so awesome, and my prose so engaging that I can get away with a less than steller plot. Maybe eventually I can even get my plots to a decent level. I have seen over the four books I’ve written a marked improvement so it’s probably just a case of sticking to it.

5 thoughts on “Plotting My Demise

  1. Here’s my advice – freely given…

    First, a “continuing character” is something the publisher will decide. If they want another, it continues, if they don’t…

    Second, “marketplace today” is only something to think about if you have ARCs in your hands. My next book is one I wrote in 1998. SMP bought it in 2003. Publishing moves quite slowly. Kids born the day I typed “THE END.” are in the fifth grade now.

    Third, voice and character trump plotting. Every time. That and good prose. If it’s funny, let it be funny, but if the reader trips over even the smallest flaw in the prose, the book sucks. Good prose, good characters, good voice makes people keep reading. Good plotting can help. If you think about it, people odn’t know it’s a good or bad plot until the last pages… Give me a character I like, and I’ll read as they do just about anything.

    You don’t work in a “formula driven” field unless that’s what you want. Look at my story in Uncage Me and then Jakubowski’s. What’s the formula?

    Create your hero, then give him a task that seems harder than he can handle. Watch as comlications arise, and the hero proves his mettle. There’s your plot. Done.

    BTW, isn’t someone already writing a Spenser-type PI novel?

  2. Isn’t everyone writing a Spenser-type P.I. novel? Have you ever considered not writing a crime novel at all? A lot of the things you say here makes me think you could write a humourous mainstream novel about a young guy trying to be a writer and raise a family in these hard times times. Think Nick Hornby.

  3. You know what? Patti is on to something. Remember how you were joking about your TBR stack being split between books with black and pink spines? I would love to read something that captures your unique sensibility.

  4. What Laura said, but most importantly, what YOU decide. The marketplace is a changing wildebeest and don’t you want to be the one who writes the book everyone else wants to copy?

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