Posted tagged ‘mystery’


May 15, 2008

I didn’t set out to write the Finnegans novels as continuous stories. Now that I have three novels written, though, I’m beginning to see some effect like that.

I realize that any novel has to stand on its own strengths and story line, and I think I’ve written them to do so, but I have plot ideas for a half dozen more Finnegan novels, and I’ve found that I’ve been slipping little set ups for the other stories into the ones I have already written. I don’t suppose that is bad at all. It gives the characters some long-term integrity. I won’t merely introduce some interest or behavior in a character that I’ll pretend is long standing. I’ll have already established it in another story or two.

For example, Greg Finnegan haunts used bookstores. In an event that pre-dates the chronology of my novels, he came upon a novel written by someone he’d never heard of but who wrote a proto-feminist story set in an actual Missouri River town. One of the reasons he visits used bookstores is with the hope that he will find another novel by this author. His quest comes up in some casual way in each of the three novels that I’ve written, but it will be the core of the plot for a novel I am yet to write (probably the next one, which I plan to title Finnegans Deciphered).

One wouldn’t have to read the earlier novels to appreciate the plot of Finnegans Deciphered, but if one had, one would have a better sense of Greg’s character in this aspect. (We really need an epicene pronoun in this language!)

In the novel I just finished, Finnegans Afoot, Ann resolves a long-standing personal relationship problem. I started establishing this problem in the other two novels, but I had no intent at the time to set up the resolution. I was just doing it to give her character some depth. But then Afoot came along and the resolution, which is a subplot that doesn’t drive the central narrative, found a nice fit. Once again, one wouldn’t have to read the other novels to appreciate it, but the set up is there. (Oddly, though, if one read Afoot first and then went to the other novels, the unresolved issue would be there though the reader would know it was addressed.)

Mystery novelist Susan Wittig Albert has used continuous character development in her China Bayles stories. I seem to remember her saying that this hadn’t been her intent originally but that her characters more or less called out for the continuity. I understand that she introduces a pregnant character in one of her novels, but in the next novel the character is no longer pregnant and there is no discussion of the new baby. I haven’t read that far into her series yet, but I’m told it’s true.

Update: I received an email from Susan Wittig Albert correcting my misunderstanding about her series of novels. Although I could swear that I heard her say that she had never intended to write a continuous story across her novels, she says that she had from the beginning. Also, she says she had not forgotten that one of her characters had a baby. Rather, she says, she forgot that the baby’s mother had chosen one name in an earlier novel and gave it a different name in the subsequent novel.

In my defense, I do say above that “I seem to remember,” so I wasn’t really asserting anything. Nonetheless, I’m pleased to know that she had intended continuity from the start.

Short story stuff

May 10, 2008

With the first draft of Finnegans Afoot completed, I allowed myself to get started on a short story. Although unrelated to Finnegans Afoot in terms of character and plot, I have set it in the same community and even made use of one of the core motifs of that novel. It really could stand alone, though.

I’m enjoying the buzz I get from the early stages of creativity. I am immersed in a whole new story with different characters and a different (and a bit more comic) resolution. Plus I don’t feel the weight of 70,000 words ahead of me. This story will come in at under 4,000 words, and I’ll probably trim it considerably from that. In fact, when I sit down and write two hundred words, I’ll have deleted two hundred and fifty from what I’ve already written. So as the story progresses, it gets shorter. (There’s a philosophical conundrum. I wonder what I could do with that as an idea.)

This isn’t a story of a crime so much as one of those impossible scenarios. A criminal is eluding the authorities, and his means of escape is baffling. The resolution of the story is finding out how he did it. I’m having fun fooling around with that.

I expect to have a first draft finished in a week or so, then I’ll let it cool and revisit it later. I’ll also complete the read through of Finnegans Afoot (which I continue to appreciate more as I go). Then I really must get going on Sleep of Reason, which I desire and dread in equal portions.

Writing is rewriting

May 3, 2008

I’ve begun the read through of Finnegans Afoot. I’ve been making lots of notes about things to add or emphasize and things to review for continuity problems (are they hiking up the mountain or down it? is the scene set on a Wednesday or a Thursday?). Plus I want to smooth the areas where I had earlier added ideas long after finishing a given chapter and such. The total word count of the first draft was a little low as well, so I’ve been looking for opportunities to slip in more substantive writing (rather than just fluff). I’m confident that it will all come together. As I noted earlier, I grew to like this story much more as it grew closer to completion.

Even so, after reviewing five chapters (not quite one third of the novel as currently written) I’ve only netted a gain of 147 words. Could it be that the novel is so perfectly written that it requires no significant work? (Of course not! Don’t think I’m being vain.) I suspect that it is the nature of earlier chapters to be better polished simply because they have been around longer and have had regular work done to them during the process of writing the whole novel.

Writing is rewriting. I learned that lesson long ago. Every bit of writing benefits from a cooling off period followed by heartless review and reworking. One ancient Greek philosopher recommended letting a piece of writing sit for something like eight years before coming back to it to revise it. I don’t think I want to wait that long, but I only finished the last chapter a week or so ago, and I suspect that I’ll need to give it yet another heartless review after a few months.

Chapter 14 is completed

April 27, 2008

The words did not come easily, but I managed to finish Chapter 14 of Finnegans Afoot. My problem was twofold. First, it’s a climax chapter, and I wanted to get it exactly right. I don’t know if I did, but given the perspective of time and a complete read through of what has come before it, I think I can get it there. Second, though, is that I’m writing about a subject well out of my experience and certainly out of my comfort zone.

I had written most of the chapter earlier in the week and simply needed about a thousand words to finish it. Instead, I got started on Chapters 15 and 16. I finished those before I got myself back to Chapter 14. That non-sequential writing is odd for me, but it did afford me an unexpected opportunity to set up a great deal of tension at the end of Chapter 16 by just a few words in Chapter 14. Knowing so well what was going to happen, the idea of doing that came to me like a particularly well time gift. I love it when just a few words can do so much work in a story.

Anyway, I’ve gotten a start on Chapter 17. It’s the last chapter of the novel and I wrap things up, but only by implication. I’ve really come to hate final chapters and epilogues in mystery stories that get everything settled and explained too neatly. Life is full of rough edges and unsatisfying resolutions, and I wanted this chapter to end the story in a similar way. Yes, the mystery is solved, and the reader will see that. It just won’t be done in black and white on the page. I don’t think readers have to have everything laid out before them and explained. They are clever enough to understand the meaning with the right amount of suggestion.

I’m not in any race to finish Chapter 17. I managed to get about 500 words down already, but my concluding chapters don’t generally swell to the 3,500 word count I try to achieve (and usually surpass) in the other chapters. I may finish it tomorrow or next week. I need to give a thorough read through of my notes for the novel so I can remember just what I need to get done in this chapter. And then I will do it. And then it will be done. And then onward.

Note: Somehow I failed to publish this post on time. It should have appeared on April 19. If it sounds out of sequence, that explains why.

Afoot finished

April 26, 2008

Yahoo! as they say. I finished the first draft of Finnegans Afoot this morning. The last chapter comes in at just over two thousand words, which is a little lean for regular chapters but fine for a wrap up.

I had started out this moring intending to work on a short story that has been occupying my imagination lately, but I thought I should first visit Afoot and see if any stray thoughts might contribute themselves to the last chapter that was waiting to be finished. As is generally the case with my writing efforts, when I get myself into something I find that I have plenty to write, and I kept going until I was finished with the chapter.

As I’ve noted a few times, this novel was more of a struggle than the others I have written. I attribute that to the insufficient imagining I had done with it. I had intended to begin Finnegans Deciphered originally, but I considered that the plot had too many similarities to Finnegans Festive, which I had just finished. So I set that novel aside and got going on Afoot. Unfortunately, I hadn’t conceived all of the scenes and actions as fully as I should have before I started working on it, so I had to struggle in many places.

This probably explains why the total word count is a bit short of the recommended 70,000 for a typical mystery novel. I intend to let the novel ferment for a week or so then give it a read through, looking for places where I need to smooth some rough insertions and supplement some incomplete ones. I expect to boost the word count a bit by this work, but unless I add some subplot, I won’t be adding a lot more words.

Even so, I’ve grown to like this story a lot more over time. Maybe it’s the euphoria of having it finished that makes me feel this way, but I really do think it is a good and worthwhile effort after all.

So Afoot is in the bag. I’ll probably concentrate on the short story I mentioned, which, coincidentally is set in the very same place as Afoot though with completely different characters and a completely unrelated plot. Then I think it’s time to get working on The Sleep of Reason.

End of the trail — almost

April 18, 2008

I’m astonished at how much progress I have made this week on Finnegans Afoot. Two chapters just fell into place. I have only to finish up one chapter, and then on to the hard one: the last chapter. That’s going to be tough because it brings in an entirely new character — one who has appeared throughout the novel in memory and consideration — and I must wrap up the mystery, almost all by inference.

I’ve concluded that I’ve managed to have such swift success with these recent chapters because I’ve been envisioning them for so long. The final chapter, though, is one that must be done right, and I expect I will be self censoring and second guessing every word. In other words, it may not flow as easily.

Then a read through to smooth the obvious rough spots. After that, I’ll put it aside to simmer.

What next. Do I take a break or jump right into The Sleep of Reason? That story is so different from my Finnegan stories that it might be nice to take a mental break. I could perhaps work on a couple of short stories that have been knocking about in my brain. Stay tuned.

Here and there and everywhere

April 16, 2008

Normally, I’m very compulsive about writing in proper sequence. I don’t try to write a scene until I have written the scene before it (all of the scenes before it). I would never start a new novel until I had finished a current novel–or given it up as hopeless. (You may recall that I have written several chapters of a new novel I’ve called The Sleep of Reason while in the middle of Finnegans Afoot. I can justify that by noting that The Sleep of Reason began as a short story and then became a novella. Once I realized it was a full blown novel, I set it aside until I have Finnegans Afoot finished.)

So I am surprised as you are to find that I’ve nearly finished Chapter Fifteen of Finnegans Afoot long before I’ve finished Chapter Fourteen. These are high tension chapters, and they are just flowing from my fingertips. In the last four days I’ve written more than 5,000 words, which is an astonishing pace for me.

My two sleuths are attending business in different parts of the story universe, and each is facing a crisis/revelation moment. All I have to do is stay out of their way and let the action unfold. So I guess it’s not surprising that I could be writing two chapters at the same time. The action in each is independent of the other, so I don’t really need to see how one plays out before I can begin the other.

This high-speed writing phenomenon is something I have seen in the other novels I have written (the two other Finnegan novels and a pair of young adult novels I wrote years ago). It comes as I approach the end of the story. I guess I have imagined this part of the story so long that I know just how to write it. Or maybe I’m so sick of the story that I motivate myself to get it finished. (Honestly, I don’t feel sick of this story.)

In any case, I can see the goal line, and it feels good to be sprinting toward it.

Chapter 14 begins

April 13, 2008

With that insertion chapter 8.5 behind me, I was able to get back on the trail of the story. (Hiking is the activity in the novel.) I already have an excellent start on Chapter 14. As I hoped, it is writing itself. I have more than 2,000 words down, and it won’t take much more to complete the chapter. Let me restate that. It won’t take much effort to complete the chapter, but I expect that at least another thousand words will contribute themselves to the cause.

This is an important chapter (aren’t they all in their way?) because a part of the mystery is revealed. My plan all along was to have one of my two sleuths figure out part of the solution and the other to figure out the other part. Ann will know the “who” of it all; Greg will know the “what” of it all. If they can get together to share what they know the mystery will be solved. Alas, forces prevent this from happening.

Tension has racheted up significantly by this point in the story, and now suspense gets added. By the end of Chapter 14, the reader will have serious concerns about the fate of one of the protagonists. And because I am devilsh about it, the next two chapters will head off in a different direction, leaving the reader with unresolved concerns for the time: suspense.

I had serious doubts about this novel for a long time. I was certain that the word count would be too low, but that’s already resolved itself with at least three more chapters to come. And I worried that the story just wasn’t any good, but now that I’m in the climax section, those worries have gone away.

It’s still rough, but I’m much more confident about it. I’ll give it a read through when I’m finished to smooth the rough spots as well as I can, then I’ll let it sit for a month or so. There’s plenty of other writing to be done will I let this novel incubate.

Chapter 8.5 is finished

April 12, 2008

At least I think it is. I finished writing it yesterday, but I’m pretty sure it’s going to need a rewrite or at least an enhancement. I was sort of racing near the end to get it finished, and I think I gave short change to one little scene that may require a revisit. Even so, it came in at a healthy 3,500+ words

A sort of teaser I put at the very end of the chapter needed a little support work in the following chapter, but that’s okay. It was easy enough to do that. I added about 200 words and the transition was made.

And then back to what I think are the four remaining chapters of the novel. I’ve been thinking about these for a long time, so I hope they write themselves readily. Once I have those done, I’ll probably do a read through of the whole novel to fix all of the obvious non sequiturs, but then I’ll leave the whole thing to simmer for a while before I give it a more thorough going over.

Chapter 8.5 – a later look

April 7, 2008

I’m making good (though slow) progress on this chapter of Finnegans Afoot. It starts out mild and ends with a bang. The tension level of the story gets kicked up, and several important points get set up, so I’m working hard to make sure it’s done right.

One or two more sessions ought to get it finished, then I can go back to the final chapters of the novel yet to be written. (I realized I needed a chapter inserted earlier in the story, so I stopped where I was and went back there to write that needed chapter.)

All of this is symptomatic of the scattered creative trials I have suffered with this novel. Although it is now all coming together satisfactorily, it needed to have been imagined more thoroughly before I got started writing it. When the time comes for a complete read through, I think there are going to be a lot of rough spots that will need smoothing.