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Monday, September 27 2010

 Murder mysteries always have one guaranteed plot point in common: someone in the book has killed or will kill someone else. We might not know why at the beginning of the book, we still might be unsure by the middle of the book, but by the end of the book, the protagonist will discover the motive behind those killings.

But how serious does the motive need to be? How cranky will the reader be if the killer has a weak motive? Certain motives are always accepted. A killer might be compelled to murder to avenge an injustice (real or perceived) against themselves or loved ones. People often kill for financial gain or to prevent someone else from revealing their evil doings.

And then there are murkier motives. Like a guy who kills the person that accidentally ran over his pet turtle (okay, I made that up). A few months ago, I read a story where the killer acted to hide a scandal that involved their great grandmother, who had been dead for decades. Sorry, that's not a valid reason in my mind to kill someone. The lack of compelling motive ruined the entire book. Made it all seem so silly.

The motive must be even stronger when dealing with a serial killer. Sure, when a person kills multiple people, they're generally insane, but they still need a good motive, regardless of whether it's based on real events or those fabricated in their head. And the more people they kill, the better the motive needs to be.  

The best motive is one where you almost feel bad for the killer. You can understand their reasoning and wonder if you'd respond in the same manner yourself. Because no one is all good or all bad. Everyone has varying shades of evil in their personality, which makes picking a motive that much easier.

Posted by: Staci McLaughlin AT 03:09 pm   |  Permalink   |  2 Comments  |  Email
Monday, September 20 2010

The draft train is on track to wrap up within the month. At least that's what I told myself this morning. Last weekend, I spent two days panicking that I'd never finish this book, miss my mid-October deadline, disappoint my agent (and myself), and freeze in a crippling case of self-doubt.

The crisis arose from those pesky suggestions in Don't Murder Your Mystery. An entire chapter is devoted to gestures and how empty ones can slow the story, mute the characters, and bore the readers. So, silly me, I decided to do global searches on the more common gestures (smiling, frowning, shrugging, etc.), under the misguided belief that I'd whip up some interesting new gestures in no time and be back to more important changes. But, oh, the stupid happy people in my book, always smiling. Why? Why? Why? What is there to smile about? A man's been murdered. You should be sad. But don't frown. That's just one more frown for me to find and replace. The changes took HOURS, slowing my planned revisions and making me doubt my writing ability altogether.

 When I'd finally slogged through my all-too-frequent grimaces and chuckles, I moved on to random words that rarely belong in novels, like "still" and "really." The number of times I used "still" in my three hundred pages was downright embarrassing and just another example of sloppy writing (oh yeah, "just" is overused, too).

I wasted almost a week making those changes, putting me completely behind on the rest of the book. But this week, I wrapped up most of those problems, added a missing scene, redid the first four chapters, and am back on schedule (okay, I confess, it's a new schedule, but one that targets mid-October). And as an added bonus, my oldest kid is back in school most afternoons, so as long as my youngest takes a nap, I'll have one to two hours of uninterrupted writing time. I might make that target date yet!

Posted by: Staci McLaughlin AT 07:56 pm   |  Permalink   |  2 Comments  |  Email
Tuesday, September 07 2010

The San Jose Mercury News had an interesting editorial last week about the state of brick-and-mortar chain bookstores and how they're rapidly failing. Barnes and Noble has put itself up for sale, Borders is struggling. The author also suggested that no one really cares. The public isn't exactly cheering for the demise of these giants, but they're not weeping in their lattes either. And at first, I had a rather apathetic response to hearing how these stores were rapidly going downhill. I mean, come on, they had no qualms about opening shop and knocking the local book store owner right out of business. Fair's fair, right?

But then I thought a little further. How I love to walk into a bookstore, roam the aisles, pick up a book and read the back. When I buy books online, I generally know exactly what book I'm buying. I don't browse the cozy mysteries in hopes of stumbling across one to buy. Online shopping is too limiting in that regard. Even with Amazon's Look Inside feature, I still don't get a taste of the author's style. I can't flip to a random page and read an excerpt. Amazon can't provide the tactile joy that comes from holding a perfect, uncreased book in my hands.

And from an author's viewpoint, what of the traditional "Meet the Author" book signings? How will I market my book if, fingers crossed, I ever manage to get it published? Sure, even if the big chain stores fold, Walmart will still sell books, but I can't imagine sitting at a little folding table in the tire section, trying to convince someone to buy my book. Marketing has moved online, as has book shopping. It's become impersonal. Authors do blog tours or try to draw people to their web sites. While I'm ridiculously shy and would no doubt throw up if I ever had to host a book signing, there's something quaint and nice about it. But, doesn't the very word "quaint" mean old-fashioned? Something from the past that people find enjoyable yet obsolete? So perhaps it's time to move on, shift the book selling and buying experience completely to the web. But I'll miss those brick and mortar behemoths, those endless aisles, those bargain bins. But I'll have to adjust, as I did when cassette tapes disappeared, when I threw away my VCR tapes. I'm just not happy about it.

Posted by: Staci McLaughlin AT 09:30 pm   |  Permalink   |  Email