Murder for writers

Consider this:

Every story has a Beginning, a Middle and an End. Every mystery has an Investigator, a Killer and a Victim. Three points of view. Without one, the story is incomplete.

For a Mystery, the story does not come in that order. The murder is the End of the Story for the Victim, the Middle of the Story for the Killer, and the Beginning of the Story for the Investigator.

Someone somewhere finds a dead body. Half of the Police Department shows up, giving the Scene of the Crime a very thorough once over. It’s the darndest thing. It looks like the Victim had a comb and a large hair brush. But the Victim was bald. Turns out that the corpus delicti was not the owner of the apartment.

So the cops do what cops always do? They go in search of back story. They ask questions. Why was said Victim spreadeagled on the bed and pumped full of chicken feathers? Just whose apartment was this anyway? And that question that always comes up when there’s a dead body: “Did So-and-so have any enemies?

So what do the cops do now? It’s as the Carpenters used to sing, ‘It’s only just begun.” They keep asking questions.

The Victim had friends. They had a mom and a dad. They had co-workers and business associates. They had a wife or a husband. And they are all saying the same darned thing, “Everybody loved him. He was the gentlest of souls.”

It’s enough for the police to say, “Liar, liar, pants on fire.” Of course, the corpse had enemies. And more than likely it’s going to be someone who had a grudge against So-and-so for years.

Perhaps the deceased man stole the Killer’s homework in the sixth grade. She’s been carrying a grudge for years. That F she received from the male teacher for the missing homework ruined her life. The police won’t know this until they bring in a therapist to tell them. The therapist will discover that the murderer has a deep psychological grudge against men. That incident forced her to never trust a man again.

Recently the Killer worked for an online website that provides research papers to students to turn in as homework. One of those assignments had triggered her unconscious obsession to get even with the victim.

And the Killer will spend the rest of the story trying to send the police on a wild goose chase of misdirection.

That homework theft led the Victim to a lifetime of cheating. Cheating on his taxes. Cheating on his wife. Cheating his business associates and embezzling  money from the business. By the time the cops get through, the Victim won’t have a friend in the world. And it’s possible that the Killer will get off scot-free. Unless.

Or the Killer may have been traumatized by the simplest of things. Like not getting that cookie her mother promised. Or not receiving a valentine from her sweetie. Or it could be something much more traumatic.

So what was the Victim doing, sleeping in somebody else’s apartment? He was staying at an AirBnb while his house was being tented for termites. The owner of the apartment was off in Spain, playing footsey with the Victim’s wife. And the murder was a case of mistaken identity. The Killer thought the Victim was the owner of the apartment.

It only goes to show you there may not be any justice by the end of the story. There may only be a crime solved.

Near 500 words: Prompt City

Are you looking for a new type of prompt for your writing? Here’s a method that can work for both stories and essays:

1.Choose the first sentence (or the closing line) of a story or novel you enjoy.
2.Write that sentence as the first line of your essay or story.
3.Continue writing two or three original paragraphs that originated from that opening sentence.
4.Drop the opening sentence.

EXAMPLES
(The first sentence will be underlined)

1.Opening Sentence from A Tale of Two Cities by Charles Dickens:
It’s the best of times; it’s the worst of times,” the President addressed his the college students.
“You lie,” a woman yelled out, then stomped out of the gathering.
Watching this demonstration on his TV, he turned the remote off and turned to his wife. “I can’t stand this anymore. Insulting the President like that. I’m going to do something about it.

In this example, you might want to change that “It was the best of times; it was the worst of times” to another line of dialogue.

2.Opening Sentence from Moby Dick by Herman Melville:
Just call me Ishmael,” Detective Hamilton introduced himself to his new partner.
His partner reached over shook Ishmael’s hand. “Morris. I was in Vice for three years.”
“Hope you’re aware that we do things different around here, Morris. Do I have to call you Morris.”
“My friends call me Mo. Hope we’ll be friends.”
“Friends have not got any thing to do with things around here. And you can call me Ish.”
Ish and Mo headed out to their unmarked car.
“Where we going?” Mo asked.
“To arrest a suspect.”

3.Closing sentence from The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald
So we beat on, boats against the current, borne back ceaselessly into the past. Our boat slips easily through the time tunnel until we reach our destination in another time, another century, another long ago. I study my watch as the hands run backwards at super speeds. We pass the dock for 1900, then 1800, then 1700, then 1600. We move the oars ever so slightly till they’ve turned the boat into an alley where we pass 1590, 1580, 1570. We turn into a new alley.
My partner stops at the dock for the year1664. “This is it.” He steps onto the pier. He grabs my hand and pulls me out of the boat.
On the dock are twelve doorways, one for each month. We walk through April, then step on the mat that reads twenty-six.
He reaches into his pocket and pulls out a small locater. Types “Stratford-upon-Avon, Warwickshire, England.” A flash of light and we find ourselves on a dirty street.

As you can see, this can be quite a lot of fun. And who knows? Your characters might end up kidnapping Shakespeare and bringing him to the twenty-first century.

Near 500 words: The What-if Principle

What if you are stuck starting a story? Or what if the dreaded writer’s block has attacked you in mid-sentence? You are siting in front of your computer and there’s that monster of a blank screen. As the Ghostbusters used to sing, “Who you gonna call?”

Well, I have a simple solution to those dilemmas. It’s worked for me hundreds of times. it’s called the What-if Principle.

When you can’t think of what to put on paper, write the words “What if.” Then think add a phrase to that. Like “What if the boat sank” or “What if Mr. Darcy told Elizabeth Bennet that he was gay” or “What if your character got hit by a bus” or “What if I wrote a funeral from the corpse’s point of view.”

Once you have written down that What-if phrase, then ask Why. And keep doing that for as long as it takes for you to start writing a scene. Here’s an example of the process:

1.What if my character, Joe, doesn’t get out of bed on Monday morning.
Why? His girlfriend DeeDee dumped him the night before.

2.What if DeeDee hears Joe didn’t show up for work and she calls him.
Why? She’s having second thoughts about dumping Joe.

3.What if Joe doesn’t answer the phone.
Why? He finally drags himself out of bed and takes a shower.

4.What if Joe’s sister, Marsha, shows up at Joe’s house.
Why? She is worried about Joe because he was dumped.

5.What if DeeDee drives to Joe’s house and leaves angry.
Why? DeeDee doesn’t know Joe has a sister. She see’s Marsha’s car and thinks he has a new girlfriend.

By the fifth or sixth What-if, there’s at least enough to provide momentum for the next few scenes.

Try it and see if it works for you. I know it does for me.

Nanowrimo time and suggestions for success

Ever want to write a novel? Next month is an excellent chance to give it a try. November is Novel Writing Month, better known to one and all as nanowrimo. The great thing about nanowrimo is that you won’t be alone. Thousands will be doing it. And for the experienced, there something extra. Nanowrimo gives you have permission to write in a genre you don’t normally write, So why not join in? Here’s the link where you can sign up.

And now that you have signed up, I have some suggestions to make your experience a successful one. You see, I’ve participated six times. Twice I managed to end up with a story from each of two of the novels: Baseball and “The Funeral“. And one of them still needs editing before it can be published. So here are my suggestions:

1.Preparing in October. Let your loved ones know you won’t be available during your novel-writing time. Find a convenient spot where you can write during November. Figure what tools you will need: pens, pencils, computer, software, dictionary, thesaurus, etc. Then have them available November 1. Come up with an idea of what you want to write. Who the characters might be. What situations they are in. You don’t have to plot out your story but have enough to hit the ground running on November 1.

2.Remember the novel you are writing is a first draft. All first drafts are crap. Don’t spend any time trying to pretty up this one until December.

3.Don’t use software you are unfamiliar with. You’ll either end up learning software-ology during your writing time. Or you’ll give up frustrated. Not because your novel isn’t going well but because the software is out to get you.

4.Don’t wait till your writing time to figure out what you’re going to write about for the day. Spend a few minutes the night before, deciding that, or when you finish your day’s writing. Then you can hit the ground running instead of loosing some of your writing time planning.

5.Your writing time is for writing, not research. Mark where you need to research, then move on. You can either do the research later that day or after the novel is completed.

6.Treat yourself along the way. When you have reached your first week’s word goal, do something nice for yourself. You’ve done good and you deserve a pat on the back.

So let’s raise a glass to all those who go on the journey. It’s going to be one heck of an adventure.

 

Uncle Bardie’s Spotlight Creator: Norman Mailer

Once a week on Friday, Uncle Bardie celebrates the creativity in others by shining a Spotlight on a movie or a creator. This week’s Spotlight Creator is Norman Mailer:

Here he is interviewed by the conservative icon, William F. Buckley. It’s too bad we can’t have such a respectful discussion between liberals and conservatives these days.

In the 1950s, many proclaimed Norman Mailer as the great American novelist, the successor of Ernest Hemingway. His career began with The Naked and the Dead (1948). During the 1950s, he struggled to write a successor that would live up to that first novel’s potential. But still the critics hoped. Unfortunately he was not Hemingway. He was Norman Mailer.

Then he took on the establishment and his persona grew and grew until he seemed to be everywhere. It made some wonder when he had time to write. It got to the point where it seemed that when Norman Mailer farted, the world stood up and applauded. Then he turned to non-fiction and journalism.

His Armies of the Night (1968) won the Pulitzer Prize. Between that book and his masterpiece, The Executioner’s Song (1979), for which he won his second Pulitzer, he wrote several journalistic works like Of A Fire on the Moon (1971) and The Fight (1975). He seemed to have found his subject, American society in the last half of the twentieth century as seen by Norman Mailer.

Norman Mailer was accused of being a misogynist. He found it easy to get into a fight. His personality was that of a brawler. Of all the writers who came out of the World War II generation, Norman Mailer seems to have the potential to become that which he dreamed of most, the great American novelist. With only a few exceptions, he fell short. It seemed like much of his life he was in search of a subject. And such a struggle it was. But always there was his ego.

For writers and artists, Mailer can be a warning. Never let your ego get in the way of your art. But one thing that Mailer reminds all of us about. Words matter, and writers matter. We forget that at our own risk. They tell us things we don’t want to hear. They tell us the truth. If for no other reason, that’s why Norman Mailer matters.

And here is Mailer’s legacy to his fellow writers: