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Monday, June 20 2011

I hit the halfway mark of my rough, rough, rough draft for Book Two a week and a half ago and figured that was a good stopping place. Our family was scheduled to drive down and make our first visit to Disneyland a few days after that. Between planning what to pack, washing what to pack, and packing what to pack, I knew I wouldn't be concentrating on Dana's latest adventures in Blossom Valley. But I decided I couldn't waste all that time, so instead I plotted what I could accomplish while I was at Disneyland.

 

With the straight and boring drive down I-5 and the time I'd spend on a bench while my youngest napped, I figured I could at least think about where the story was at and where it was going. I made an outline of everything that had happened in the book already, so that I could look at the summary and see if the scenes offered enough variety, if anything was too repetitive, or if I had any gaping holes to fill. Then I made a list of questions, including whether I needed a stronger motive for the killer and what clues would point to his guilt. I even threw in a page that listed my original descriptions of all the characters as a reminder.

 

With all those papers tucked into my backpack, I threw the pack in the car, ready to solve all my plot problems. And that's pretty much where everything stayed for the majority of the trip. Coasting down I-5, only 45 minutes outside the Bay Area, I reasoned that I had hours and hours to tackle my problems. Why start so close to home?  Once at the hotel, we got caught up in unpacking, finding dinner, and taking the kids to the pool. And at Disneyland, my youngest barely napped, and when he did, all I could hear was the deafening roar of the thousands and thousands of parkgoers walking past our bench. Do you have any idea how many people are at Disneyland during the summer? People watching is way more fun than trying to think of a name for the gas station owner's wife in my latest book.

 

But all was not lost. Finally, after barely thinking about my book for three days, I got out my notes and notebook on the drive home. And lo and behold, all that time off actually helped. With a complete break from writing, I'm rejuvenated and ready to tackle the second half. The answers to most of my questions were glaringly obvious and I even thought up some new ideas. Sometimes, you just need to take a vacation, both physically and mentally, to clear out the clutter and start fresh.

Posted by: Staci McLaughlin AT 07:22 am   |  Permalink   |  0 Comments  |  Email
Monday, June 06 2011

My five-year-old son has discovered the joys of Looney Tunes. With at least ten channels offering current children's programming and cartoons, I hadn't thought to show him the classics that I grew up watching. But I happened to turn on the Boomerang Channel the other day, and pretty soon, my kid was in hysterics. I've never heard him laugh so hard at a show. Of course, today's shows are more focused, with Diego rescuing animals, Curious George learning to count and recycle, and Sid the Science Kid conducting experiments. And that's all great. I want to know my kids are learning something when they watch TV. But sometimes we all need the pure silliness of Looney Tunes. Based on Jake's laughter, I'd say these old shows stand up to the test of time.

I've noticed that about old mysteries as well, particularly Agatha Christie novels. I found a handful on my bookshelf a while back and am rereading them for the first time in years. One difference between the mysteries of a few decades ago and those of today is that mysteries today are heavily driven by characters, from the protagonist to the victim to the supporting cast. While everyone is fond of Miss Marple and Hercules Poirot, Christie's books focused less on characters and more on plot. She was a master at creating puzzles and interweaving clues that gives the reader enough information to solve the crime but usually leaves me stumped.

Part of her technique was to throw in lots of random clues, some of which were related to the murder and some that only applied to other secrets of the various characters, leaving it up to the reader to sort out which was which. And, of course, she'd always throw in a red herring or two, just to cause a little frustration.

Another favorite technique, particularly in the Miss Marple stories, was to have the characters lie. I have a tendency to believe people when they state things, even fictional characters, but Miss Marple is shrewder than me. She would always comment that unless she could verify what someone said through corroborating evidence, she couldn't accept their information as fact. But it's so easy to take people at face value, especially the distressed young woman who needs Miss Marple's help or the wise old man who wouldn't hurt a fly. And Christie would use that sympathy to distract the reader.

This clever plotting and test of people's mental faculties is what makes Christie as compelling an author today as any modern day writer, just like the Looney Tunes show still makes kids laugh. Some things never get old.

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Posted by: Staci McLaughlin AT 09:53 am   |  Permalink   |  0 Comments  |  Email