This fall, I have at least three book clubs reading “Murder Becomes Manhattan.” When I appear at a book club, one question I am always asked is, “How do you go about writing one of your novels? Do you pretty much have the plot laid out when you start? Or do you change it along the way?”
The answer is ‘yes.’ And, ‘no.’
I am a linear thinker, so my tendency is to produce a book in a linear way. But it is almost impossible to write a good mystery thriller that way. That’s because you want the stray comment offered by someone in Chapter 17 to become the vital clue unearthed in Chapter 46. You want the subplot between two characters carefully developed in the first half of the book to take a sudden veer into unexpected territory in the second half.
But that requires some serious planning, some meaningful forethought, and sometimes what we in the industry call “backwriting”. I have backwritten a lot in “Murder Becomes Miami,” which comes out in November. That means I thought of a very cool way to shake things up late in the book, but for the shake-up to make sense, I had to go back and insert a few elements earlier in the book. The result I think is a book that’s more rich, I think, and something different to some degree from what I thought it would be when I launched into it.
That said, if I constantly stopped and shifted and backwrote, I might never finish a book. So here is what I do: I tend to charge forward with a general idea of the plot. I allow for the possibility of twists and turns I didn’t expect along the way but continue barreling forward with the goal of getting the entire story told.
THEN, I go back and refine, and shape, and sculpt, inserting some elements and discarding others, until the final story is ready for you to read.
How do you write? Similarly, or somehow different?
They seemed to appear overnight. Small, colorful doors, with locks, embedded in tall trees in a greenbelt in my neighborhood. Quirky, intriguing and mysterious.
What I love about these doors is how they represent in such a great way what makes a mystery book like Murder Becomes Manhattan so appealing. The small detail, missed by most (in this case, missed by most passing motorists and pedestrians) yet yielding so many questions.
Of course we know no one, or thing, lives behind the doors. But they conjure up mysteries nonetheless. Who had them installed? Why in that location? What do we think could be behind the doors? Are there others we’ve not yet noticed? All questions Dalton Lee would consider as he wages his hunt for The Organization…
Murder Becomes Manhattan has essential clues to the killer’s identity, and the victim’s connection to The Organization, scattered throughout it. But they are subtly woven in, delivered in passing. At least, I hope they are. 😉
The importance of subtlety in delivering clues has become more apparent to me as I watch such television series as “Scandal” and “Castle” and “How to Get Away With Murder”.
On the latter show, it was a small detail of background wallpaper in an incriminating photograph that revealed the racy photo was actually taken in the home of the character played by Viola Davis. In another episode, house numbers briefly seen in a video turned out to be integral to identifying someone being somewhere they should not have been.
Last night’s episode showed a newscast with a reporter delivering damning information and in the middle of the report, someone runs past the camera behind the reporter and mugs it. I have no doubt that small detail will loom large later in the show.
With mystery readers becoming more and more savvy, I believe it is becoming more and more difficult to embed clues the reader will not recognize as having importance. What deftly hidden clues have you found well executed in the mystery writing you have encountered?
I am very excited that Murder Becomes Manhattan is now available for pre-order at both Amazon and Smashwords.
Available as of October 26 are the eBook versions, which contain links to lots of rich online photos and videos that enhance the murder mystery experience. We expect pre-orders of the hardcover and softcover versions to also be available by November 1.
Downloads of the eBook versions and purchase of the print versions will launch November 11!
Pre-order Murder Becomes Manhattan here.
As it turns out, aliens were not responsible for the mysterious patterns showing up in the sand next to high-rise apartment buildings in Edgewater, Florida, recently. Or were they?
First an elaborate and intricate compass pattern appeared on the beach overnight. A day or two later, out of nowhere, a Mobius-like triangle pattern materialized. People now speculate an artist is responsible for the magical elements. But no one has claimed them as of yet.