This blog is devoted to remembrances and essays on general topics, including literature and writing. It has evolved over time, and some older posts on this site might reflect a different perspective and purpose.

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Wednesday, April 2, 2014

Every Day and in Every Way

            When I wrote my first mystery novel, The McHenry Inheritance, I didn’t really have any goal other than to see if I could come up with a mystery good enough to show to other people. Because it was the first time around, I did it on a wing and a prayer, plodding forward with the idea in my head until it was done. I had no experience or basis to compare the effort to.
            The result was a book that has garnered decent reviews and decent traffic for a first work by an unknown author. But when I was finished with it, I knew I could have done better, and, knowing at least some of where I stumbled along the way, made some effort to change the way I wrote the next one.
            So the second time around I did more outlining — not just of the plot, but also putting down details of the setting and the characters before I sat down at the computer and began writing. I’d done a plot outline for the first book, but the second outline was considerably longer and more detailed.

Pick One Thing and Work It

            I also decided to try to focus on improving in one specific area, and chose character and dialogue. With that in mind, I looked at my grab-bag of story ideas and went for the one that was probably most dependent on character and atmosphere to carry the story forward. The result was the second Quill Gordon mystery, Wash Her Guilt Away, which should be up on Amazon in four to six weeks.
            As I’ve mentioned before, this is essentially an English country-house mystery, in which a group of people — some known to each other, some strangers — are brought together in an isolated setting. Tensions simmer, and eventually someone ends up dead. Because Americans don’t, by and large, do country-house weekends any more, I made the setting a remote fishing lodge, at which the guests are thrown together by a stretch of unremittingly bad weather.
            Starting afresh with the same protagonist, but otherwise a different setting and different cast of characters, I had the freedom to invent anew and be only slightly limited by what I had written in the first book. I even gave my lead character a different fishing sidekick and had some fun developing the new sidekick’s persona.

Diagramming the Plot

            There’s no telling what the readers will think, but I felt there was some improvement and plan to follow much of the same process for the third one.
            Which, by the way, is already started, with a goal of being in print (or at least in e-book) by the end of 2015. At the moment I’m only 90 percent sure about the title, so I won’t be giving that out yet, but I can tell you three things about it:
            1. It will take place in a different setting from the first two books and will have a new set of characters;
            2. The exception being that Gordon and one of the sidekicks from the first two books will reprise his role;
            3. The focus for improvement will be the complexity of the plot and the ingenuity involved in unraveling the mystery.
            This time I’m doing a formal story board and calendar for the action to ensure that everything falls into place as it should and diagramming the plot with even greater precision than before. Perhaps this is an exercise in literary Coue-ism, but if you’re not improving, you’re going backwards. I even know what I want to work on in the fourth novel, but let’s get this one done first.