It feels good to have a break after nine days working in a row. I have another nine days in a row ahead of me so I have to take my relaxation when I can. And relaxation for me includes napping and blogging. Just how God wanted Sundays spent. With the current job in show mode the last couple weeks, Ive had lots of reading time between light and sounds cues so I’ve been burning through more books than usual and they’ve been influencing the way I write. Most authors I’ve heard say they don’t read fiction, or more specifically fiction of the kind they write, while they’re in the middle of writing a novel. They say they don’t want the books they read to change the way the write. I can sort of see the logic behind this but it’s never been that way for me.
I think I read more PI and detective novels while I’m in the middle of writing a novel than other times and I think the last few books I read show why. I’ve been trying to raise the stakes in my current plot and I think it’s been going well, but I’ve also been browsing through Carolyn Wheat’s fabulous instruction book “Writing Killer Fiction” to help me structure the suspense and one thing I realized my PI wasn’t doing was developing theories about the case as it progresses. He just goes from interview to interview and the case gets more and more complicated but none of it showed signs of tying together.
Now, for the first quarter, or third, of a mystery novel the plot should get more and more complicated without showing any signs of connecting. But I think to keep the reader engaged through the rest of the story you have to start throwing them some bones and connecting the dots. Of course we all know the dots won’t connect quite the way it seems, but by midpoint there should at least be theories. Wheat says that by midpoint the story should take a dramatic turn and unravel all of the previous theories, but first, she says, there must be theories to unravel.
So yesterday I went back through and added some theories to start tying some of this mess together so I can gleefuly rip those theories apart in the next section of the book. Two of my recent reads, “Sacred” by Dennis Lehane, and “Sorrows Anthem” by Michael Koryta helped me see some ways to do this.
“Sacred” is probably my favorite Lehane novel and it is a brilliant symphony of betrayal and lies. From the first page motives and friendships and partnerships and events are twisted on the reader until by the midpoint I wasn’t ready to believe a single thing was really the way it looked. The Koryta book, on the other hand, was a nice solid example for how to build a standard mystery plot. He doles out information very carefully and in smart ways and I took notes.
The other book, “In a Strange City” by Laura Lippman was a nice one for me because he showed me a motive that worked very well and had lots of resonance without being tied to incest or drugs. Almost everyone of the last chunk of books I’ve read had a plot that spun on drugs or incest. I won’t spoil Laura’s book but I liked the motive and it made me think about what to do with mine. In Wheat’s book she talks about the Resource Base which is at the heart of the novel. This is what the killer wants that results in the murder our detective is called in to solve. There are several examples given from recent crime novels, especially those of Sue Grafton who has a great eye for interesting and voliatile resource bases.
None of these books affected my style or voice or even directly my plot. But a steady mix of good crime novels keeps my idea bank fueled and my imagination active.