Thursday, October 22, 2009

The Parallel Plot or What My Novel is About

What is my mystery novel about? This is a question I ask myself each time I begin a new mystery. If that sounds strange, it’s because there are actually two answers.

Of course, I know what my mystery is about. For instance, the book I’m currently writing started with a teacher asking my protagonist to find her missing student. That’s the plot. That’s what my mystery is about. However, every contemporary crime novel has a subplot or a parallel plot. What is my parallel plot about? In my novel, the boy has run off to escape a teacher who has sexually molested him and parents who have likewise failed him. This is what my parallel plot is about, and it’s what holds my interest and keeps me writing.

Often, the parallel plot is the exploration into the human condition. During an interview with Mystery Scene, Sue Grafton said, “Mysteries are about the psychology of crime and the psychology of human nature.” The second half of her statement is what makes contemporary crime genre so powerful, popular, and important.

When I’m asked why I write crime fiction—as opposed to (how many times has this come up recently on our blog?) mainstream fiction—I always say, because there is no difference. Hamlet, after all, is a murder/suspense tale. Any level of exploration of the human condition that can be achieved in a so-called mainstream or literary novel can be equally explored—plus some additional entertainment—in a so-called crime novel or mystery.

It’s why I love what I do, and this is why my second question is so riveting. What is my parallel plot about? What do I want to say about the teenager who has seen all the adults in his life let him down? Can my protagonist help him? And what does it say about society if my protagonist cannot help him? As a boarding-school teacher, these are people I care about and important questions I want answered. They are the questions that make up my parallel plots. Where better to explore them than in my fiction?

1 comment:

Debby (Deborah Turrell) Atkinson said...

Here, here, John. Well said.