The devil’s in the details

I hate plots.  Why do I need a plot, anyway?  I have 300 pages of all these great scenes with all these grand characters, and then I have to sit down and do a rewrite that makes sure it all makes sense. 

Because a mystery novel kind of needs to make sense.  Mainstream fiction can bumble around and follow the characters through their messy human days, and science fiction can always introduce an alternate reality, but crime fiction has to have a tidy sequence of events.  And because people who read crime fiction are both bright and pay attention, they sort of notice when the author tries to arrange a nice brightly patterned carpet over a gap in the floor.

So for the past week I’ve been wrestling with plot, producing a blizzard of paper scraps with notes and problems and solutions, taking breaks to cook (weird meals get produced at this point) and swim (great way to allow ideas to drop into the mind) and when all else fails, to go out and stab weeds for a while.  Which last may not help with the plot, but it both helps with the weeds and reminds me that writing is better than a lot of jobs out there.

And my general state of distraction is even greater than usual.  My daughter talked me into taking a break to get coffee, and I spent half the time staring off into space (Now, if Mycroft did X and Sophie then could be there, but why didn’t Russell see…)

Please God of Crime Writers, if you help me out here and let my poor fevered brain see how this is supposed to work, I swear that next time I will be good and hammer out some kind of outline before I begin.  I swear I will stick to a nice linear plot that can be described in two sentences.  I swear I will never write a book with more than two points of view.

And then the other day I get the schedule for the Book Passage Mystery Writers conference, in two weeks, and what do they have me talking about?  That’s right.

Plot.

Comments

  1. Mem Morman says:

    Could you tell us what book you are currently working on?

  2. Laidee Marjorie says:

    “Please God of Crime Writers, if you help me out here and let my poor fevered brain see how this is supposed to work, I swear that next time I will be good and hammer out some kind of outline before I begin. I swear I will stick to a nice linear plot that can be described in two sentences. I swear I will never write a book with more than two points of view.”

    Oh, Laurie, please don’t make promises that you can not possibly keep!

    And shouldn’t that be Goddess of Crime Writers??? [wink]

    Thanks again for sharing your process with us. It’s no wonder it takes a full year to produce a work of literary art. I am shocked that it doesn’t take decades.

    –Marjorie

  3. Ah, how we all love irony. Good luck with conference!

  4. Laurie King says:

    This is for The Green Man–and I just noticed that the category tags at the sidebar have vanished, so you have no way of following my progress. I’ll have to get that repaired. (Adds to Things to Do list..)

    And no, a goddess of crime writers would be much more understanding.

  5. The devil’s in the details…but isn’t God lurking somewhere in those details, too?

    -Rebecca from NC (who drove to VA for the book signing)

  6. Merrily says:

    Laurie,
    At least you are making a masterful effort to shape all those delightful things into a plot. I can think of one or two writers I’ve read who quite evidently just said, “oh, the hell with it, I’ll paste all these incidents together and call them a book.” I name no names.
    I just finished listening to the audio version of LANG and am now even more fevered for the next book, although doubtless that’s the sort of comment that will send you staring off into space again. No pressure!

  7. Mary Clemens says:

    Thanks so much for sharing your musings. I can feel your frustration but your way of explaining it does put a smile on my face! Best of luck and I hope the gods of crime writers are smiling down on you.

  8. Laurie,

    They say honesty is the best policy. Go to the conference and tell the good confolk you are clueless when it comes to plotting. But hey, you manage to sell a whoooole lotta books in this state of not-so-blissfull ignorance.

    Which came first, the chicken or the egg, er, umm plot, or characters in cool scenes. Does it really matter? Wannabe writers who go to cons all want to know one thing: How do I become a writer? You know the cold, hard answer to this question–sit your butt down in front of the computer and keep writing until things start to look right (or, if not right, at least not horrible crap).

    Moral of Laurie’s story? You too can write without plot and yet sell a good story. That’s what editors are for….(grinning, ducking, and running)

  9. Pat Mathews says:

    And interestingly enough, irosf’s lead article is on using music as a block-breaker. Not that it would probably help with the plotting.

  10. Bill Mosteller says:

    I’m reminded of the quote, not sure from whom: “Writing is easy, just sit there with pen in hand and paper before you and wait for the blood to appear on your forehead.”

  11. Jessara says:

    I don’t like plots much myself. For one thing your longtime readers are suspicious of the characters if they react predictably to stimuli, and where’s the suspense then? The swan simile comes to mind: serene and peaceful above water, paddling madly underneath just to keep up. It’s the backstory that makes your worlds so believable, not the ‘from thus to so’ progression. If you achieve this impression by letting the characters run, then inserting flashbacks to explain how they got there, so be it.

  12. Steve Willson says:

    I think plots are highly overrated. 🙂 The romance (in both meanings of the term) is what is important. As long as the sparks fly between Russell and Holmes and they catch up with the bad guy, it’ll all work out.

  13. Tim Harness says:

    Crime fiction and Science Fiction mentioned in the same entry, perhaps it’s time for me to read Isaac Asimov’s “The caves of steel” and “The robots of dawn” again. Looking forwards to your next book, I think it will be fun.

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