Wednesday, December 4, 2013
The Race to the Finish
One of the things about reading a mystery novel is that the closer to the end you get, the faster it goes. It might take two hours to read the first hundred pages, but only one hour to read the last seventy-five.
That has a lot to do with the inherent nature of storytelling. In the first hundred pages of the book, the reader is still getting the lay of the land. That involves processing a lot of stuff, from understanding the physical setting of the book to getting the characters sorted out. There have been some mysteries where even after two hundred pages, I was still scratching my head over whether Neville was the duke’s brother or prospective son-in-law.
The closer the reader gets to the last page, the less of an issue that is. By then the reader knows who’s who and what’s what, and the story is galloping to a finish. If the reader has made it that far, almost every mystery is a page-turner at that point.
The Author Feels the Pain
Much of what the reader goes through in reading the book, the author experiences as well in the writing of it. From my own experience, I would say that writing a novel is like running a marathon. There’s the rush of excitement at getting started, the long slog through a seemingly interminable middle, and the final burst of adrenalin at the race to the finish.
When I wrote my first mystery novel, The McHenry Inheritance, I felt those three phases acutely. When I began writing, I had a deadline for finishing the first draft in my mind, and after the first two chapters, I figured I’d beat that deadline with no worries.
Not so fast. The middle of the book proved to be rough, even excruciating, sledding. I began to see previously unplanned things I had to do to both build on what I’d already written and to set up what I had in mind for the finale. Halfway through the first draft, I was bogged down and realized there was no way I’d hit the deadline.
Then a funny thing happened. As I got back to the last three chapters, the confidence returned, the fingers began flying over the keyboard, and I made up lost time, finishing at around five o’clock Christmas Eve, a week ahead of schedule.
Round Up the Usual Suspects
I’m currently wrapping up the first draft of my next Quill Gordon mystery, and the pattern has repeated itself somewhat. Learning from past experience, I plotted out the book and the characters better this time, with the result that writing the middle was less of a quagmire.
At the same time I was writing the middle of the mystery, I was finishing work on a nonfiction book of local history, on which there was considerable time pressure to publish this year. That slowed down the writing of the mystery, but once the history book was off to the printers in early October, I was able to devote my attention to the mystery, with gratifying results. The penultimate chapter was completed last night, a week and a half ahead of schedule.
With the holidays coming and my business workload easing, I’ll be writing fast and furious the rest of the year. Allowing for revisions, formatting, and all the other minutiae of finishing a book, I’m hoping to have it published in the spring of 2014. The race to the finish is on, and it’s every bit as much fun as it was the last time around.