Monday 24 April 2017

The Trials Of A Crime Writer: Making The Dots Join Up


As a kid, I loved me a good crime novel. My first adult book was Hot Money by Dick Francis. I listened to it on tape so many times that it was almost constantly in my walkman as I cycled around town. Once I got a little older, I branched out into reading crime novels. I'm talking Harlan Coben, Kathy Reichs, Karin Slaughter and then later, Sue Grafton. I loved them! Like really loved them and it wasn't just the dark side of it all, but the way they were presenting me with puzzles, where the final picture was known but how they connected together wasn't. I loved trying to work out whodunnit and looking for clues along the way. It followed me into my writing life when after finally finishing The Friendship Triangle, I went to work with Blackout and wrote my first mystery novel. After that I was hooked on thinking up new and interesting ways to make that puzzle and fit the pieces together.

I have never really been a visual person. I much prefer making connections in word form rather than in looking at a picture to garner how everything draws together. So I paint my own pictures in my words and they allow me to run a film clip of what I see happening through my mind. However, if I can't make that connection with the words, then no such clip appears. So when I'm writing, and planning I want to be sure that it's the words that build the picture rather than relying on my own imagination. If I can't do it with the words on the page, then how can I expect the reader - who won't have access to my imagination - to make those same connections. I can not control how someone views my book in their mind as they read, and nor do I want to. But I can control the information they're given access to.

I've always been someone who plans a lot while at the same time doesn't rely on their plans too much when it comes to actually writing. Take for example the Dying Thoughts books. Having finished the series I can look back on those final books and smile because I knew the world so well, that my need to plan was left somewhat at the wayside. I knew how Tara would react and all I needed was a plot that I could weave through the words. Yet now I'm at a point where I'm writing both a brand new series and the second in what will likely be a trilogy. I no longer have that intimate knowledge of my characters. On some level I do. I know how Lock will react to a point, but at the same time, having lived in Tara's world for fifteen years, and lived in Lock's for just over one, it's a big change to suddenly be making choices for her. With my brand new series, it's even harder because I'm just discovering these characters and with that discover comes the plot that I've had to stop and plan more.

My point is that part of being a crime writer is there needs to be a stage in the story when things start to become clearer. When the main character(s) are looking at each other and pointing fingers, joining up the dots. Oh yes, there should be some level of that all the way through the book. After all that's the point, that's the plot of the story, but about 70-75% into the story, you should be starting to have some serious suspects. It was that that always drew me to crime and mystery because you would spend the whole book wondering and reading and greeting every characters with suspicion and sometimes it was only later, once the climax and big reveal happened that you were able to see the dots for what they. They were spread through the pages and sometimes you'd spot them and think: how does that fit in? But sometimes you wouldn't.

It was a source of great pride to me that people who read Blackout never seemed to guess the ending. I love that part of writing and I especially love that part of writing the books that I do. A way to twist and turn the reader around until they're never quite sure what's a red herring and what's actually a big sign pointing to the bad guy. It's something I always admired in other crime writers. As I said above, I read...well Hot Money so many times (I even went so far as to buy the unabridged on tape and still have it on my bookshelf!) and yet every time I did it, I spotted something new. Some new piece of the puzzle that had escaped my attention. And even though I know the story well enough now I still love re-reading or listening to it. It's the same for me with the other crimes writers who I will happily buy and read whatever they write because they tell a good story.

As I write more and more, I realise that while I may not be an overly visual person, nor an overly visual writer, but I do love connecting the dots. I love the whole process of it and I love reading reviews when the reader hasn't been able to spoil the ending for themselves. It's one of the reasons why finishing a book for me brings with it a rush of adrenaline and a nice high feeling because not only did I write a whole book, but I completed the puzzle. And who doesn't love completing a puzzle?

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