Tag Archives: mystery

So I Finished Unisplaining…

19 Nov

I’m approaching the 50k goal of #NaNoWriMo and my novel is still going strong! However, when I outlined my sci-fi mystery story, it didn’t occur to me that at this point, I was shifting from explaining the universe to explaining the characters. And I’m not sure I like the characters more than the universe… I want to go back!

I’ve found that when I use an outline–or usually, an outline based on a template–I end up with a much more successful story. This time, more than most. At time of this writing (a couple days ahead of actual time), I’m only at Chapter 6 of a 12-chapter outline at 38k words. That’s great! That means I’ll actual reach traditional novel length this time! 🙂

To paraphrase Stephen King (in the prologue to Different Seasons), Novella sounds like a South American capital. “Bienvenidos a Novella, capital of La Revolution!” It looks like a novel, sounds like a novel, but there’s something off about it. Whenever he suggests printing a series of novellas to his publisher, the agent gets that uncomfortable look as he hears the chimes of Latin music through the room.

Novella is where I like to write. I don’t like dragging out scenes–I feel my characters have enough to say–and too many subplots kill the flow of my main story. So most of my novels are actually novellas, which make it difficult to sell to a publisher. But since I’m my own publisher these days, who cares?! Sell ’em for a discounted $1.99 and get ’em out there!

But in a sci-fi story, the universe is a character, and I really enjoyed building up this universe. Writing on the line of “Isn’t that cool?” balanced on “That sounds familiar enough to be believable” was a lot of fun. However, that “character” has been established, and if I’m supposed to be at the halfway point–or past it–I need to focus on the people who live in this universe.

The trick, I guess, is to make the characters as interesting as the universe. After all, if they’re not interesting, what’s the point of introducing them to the audience? “This is Joe, he pumps gas down at the corner store.” Not exciting. Now if Joe is secretly building a time machine to ruin the life of all his ex-girlfriends… that’s something to talk about! 🙂

So when I introduced the exiled ruler of another planet, okay, now I’m excited! Not as much with the gardener last chapter… but we’ve got to eliminate the possible suspects. Here’s where I need to really examine my outline and decide, “How do I make my characters as interesting as the setting I put them in?”

How do you deal with this obstacle? Have you had to change a background character into an active character? Do you like living in Novella? Let me know in the comments below!

Balancing Unusual and Formula

17 Oct

So getting ready for @nanowrimo in three weeks means that I need to get my story idea ready. Although I’m usually a “pantser,” after my last story, I realized I really need to plan out where I’m going with my next story. So welcome to the world of mystery templates.

Because I realized my sci-fi story was turning into a mystery, I figured I needed a mystery template. So I found the “Classic 12-Chapter Mystery Formula” which will give me the structure I need to plan out my story. The first chapter made me realize that “Oh, just shooting the victim doesn’t really help.” Although most of my story was planned to be the chase of the villain, not as much the search, I realized that I need to set up clues for the hero to identify the villain later.

So moving onto Chapter 2 shifted my perceptions on where to start my story. Don’t start it on the frontier planet, with the hero brooding over the victim’s death – actually SHOW the murder, show the world that the hero comes from, show WHY the hero cares. I know – this sounds obvious, but I’ve always found that the hero(s) need to have backstory, which means to me, “Why should I start from the beginning?” I’m always a fan of getting to where the action is, not the build-up. But in mystery, the build-up is ALSO the action.

Then Chapter 3 tells me to start a sub-plot; check, already had that planned. However, I’m not to the frontier planet that I want the reader to go to. So I’m realizing I need a sidekick for my hero as a way to explain to the author how we get from urban planet to frontier planet. It also allows me to develop the hero and start to get to the nitty gritty of what makes this character–and their universe–really cool.

So I need to figure out Act II – direct the investigation towards a conclusion which later proves to be erroneous. My original plan was to make everyone on this frontier planet a suspect, since a) there’s less people and b) why would someone move to a hell planet when you live in virtual paradise? So everyone there is trying to hide from something. Think Alaska. 🙂

This where I’m currently stuck, because this means I need to flush out the folks who live on hell frontier planet. Act III, where the sleuth figures out he’s on the wrong track… that’s going to be easier once I figure out the other suspects.

What do you think? Am I on the right track with this formula? Do you like templates? Do you despise them? Let me know in the comments below!

Unclaimed Territories

16 Oct

While I’m planning for my next story project, I’m realizing that this story is really more of a mystery than just the outlandish sci-fi that I’m used to. So to plan this monster (and make sure I don’t repeat the mistakes of my last book), I have to use a mystery novel template. However, I’m facing a completely different set of rules, and it makes me a little nervous.

It reminds of the term “unclaimed territories,” which sounds more obscure than “undiscovered country” or “unknown lands.” In Maine, most of the thick mountainous, forested land is referred to as the “Unclaimed Territories,” due to the fact that under the (now repealed) Homestead Act of 1862, this land was so difficult to use that no one claimed their allotment… or few stayed on to keep it in their family. So instead of creating vast swaths of national parks (like they did here in Arizona), they just call it “public land” and do the same thing they do here – the state gets to permit logging companies to harvest trees on a cyclical basis.

So how do I claim the territory of “sci-fi mystery?” When researching this, I actually found “Frank Gruber’s Foolproof Formula” first, written by an author of the pulp era, and then I found the 12 chapter template. So let me focus on the tricks first. Well, you need a crime. Check – that’s the motivation for the hero. However, Frank pointed out that to keep the reader’s interest, it has to be unusual. This is an ongoing point – anyone can write murder on the train, but the “why” and “only your sleuth can solve it” is the important part.

So this really inspired me – Gruber goes on to make the point that the hero AND the villain need to be larger than life. They need to be colorful and powerful to keep the reader interested. So that made me realize that I should reframe my characters to touch on that. I’m already creating an ultra-tech universe in which people can be larger than life (and frequently are), why not expand on that?

It’s the term “unusual” that really attracted me. I’m not a big fan of mystery, so for me to pick it up, it HAS to be unusual. Sherlock Holmes is a high-functioning sociopath who gets into drugs when he’s bored. Cadfael is a herbalist monk in 12-century England. I’ve read other historical mystery before because I like the setting – I’m crap at figuring out the mystery. So I’m seriously adapting my story idea to embrace the unusual… which with ultra-tech, isn’t going to be hard.

I’ll get into the 12-chapter mystery plot structure next post, but what do you think? Should I embrace the “unusual” in my book structure? Was my last book TOO unusual for you? Let me know in the comments below!

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