Thursday, March 06, 2014

Plot Thoughts

John here.

I’m 45,000 words into my 2015 novel, so I’ve reached the hard part. This is where I need to be thinking about an exit strategy. That’s putting it politely.

In other words: How the hell am I ever going to end this book?

My “outline” for this novel consists of six pages of character sketches and motivations. That pales in comparison to what many authors produce before they write. Jeffery Deaver says he outlines for eight months in order to write a novel in three. Twist Phalen once told me she writes a 100-page outline for a 300-page book.

Plot remains the hardest thing about writing for me. It’s what keeps me up at night. If I’m being totally honest, my fears are probably the result of a long-held dyslexic hangover. If you grew up dyslexic in the 1980s, you developed a serious aversion to being thought stupid. The term “learning differences” hadn’t yet been coined. But “slow” sure as hell had been. And I’ve been trying to avoid that term ever since.

Maybe it’s why I spend so much time worrying about the logic behind my plots. Which brings me back to character motivation. Raymond Chandler, in his essay “The Simple Art of Murder,” wrote, “Everything written with vitality expresses that vitality; there are no dull subjects, only dull minds.” But Chandler also said something to the effect of, When the book slows down, have someone enter the room with a gun.

And this is 2014, and readers demand a lot from the crime-fiction genre. I’m one of those readers. I want books that keep me on the edge of my seat like a Dan Brown novel but also give me a character I can grow with, a la S.J. Rozan.

Am I asking too much?

But consider this from James Hall, a best-selling mystery author and a professor of creative writing at Florida International University: “Writing a novel of suspense, I've discovered, is a far greater challenge than writing a mainstream, ‘respectable’ novel, in which nothing much needs to happen for a lot of pages. I think this genre has attracted some of the best novelists of our era, mainly because it’s a form that demands great discipline and forces good writers to stretch themselves in all sorts of ways” (January Magazine; March 2005).

Our genre is more literary than at any other time in its history. That’s a lot to live up to. It also pushes me to write the best books I can.

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