Wednesday, July 5, 2017

GET THEM IN TROUBLE, OR HAVE THEM EAT SOMETHING

by E.E. Kennedy
“Get them in trouble, or have ‘em eat something.” That was the sage advice given to me by a writing teacher some years ago. It was what you were to do when your plot became stuck.

Plotting is the vital job of the fiction writer and there are many ways to go about it. Some folks like to be very systematic. I read somewhere that the famous humorous novelist P.G. Wodehouse would write synopses of individual scenes on 3x5” cards, tape them in a line along the wall running around the room. Then he would move the scenes around, delete one or two, or add some. Other authors like to write detailed outlines of their plots. It provides a handy skeleton on which to hang characterizations, dialogue and description.

All that is much too orderly for yours truly. I like to start with the germ of an idea, a vague overview of a story, then plunge in writing. I know where I’m heading, but not exactly what road I’ll be taking. As I write, I find new ideas and aspects popping up.

 Nonetheless, one day, there was a moment when I became mired. The story was getting boring. What could my character do? Amelia was walking home from church. It was around noon, so I had her step into a local diner and eat something. A few pages later, Amelia is sitting in her house, trying to figure out the meaning of the elusive initials, UDJ. All well and good, but something needed to happen. Again using the above advice, I got somebody in trouble. It was Vern, Gil Dickensen’s young nephew; he had witnessed a shooting and Amelia was the first person he thought to call.

I’m a fairly straightforward person, so it takes some effort for me to work up a circuitous plot. Nonetheless, readers expect complexity, especially if your book has been billed as a mystery. Nobody can just walk across a room, they must trip over something, or encounter a cat, or find a clue. Theoretically, everything, absolutely everything, in your story should move the plot forward. The eating thing can sometimes be a bit problematic for me because as everybody knows, Amelia is a terrible cook!

Another important rule of thumb is that your characters should want or need something important. Perhaps there's something they need to find out, or locate. Maybe they just want to know why. But whatever it is, it should be important enough to make the reader care whether the character achieves his goal. There are levels to this, and sub-plots. You can have two or three characters all wanting something different. Just make sure you don’t confuse the reader. In Gone With The Wind, Scarlett O’Hara wants to have enough money to “never go hungry again.” And Rhett Butler wants Scarlett’s love. By the end, Scarlett has her wish fulfilled, but we’re in some doubt about Rhett’s.

By the end of your story, something or someone--especially your protagonist--should have been changed in some way. At the end of my first mystery, IRREGARDLESS OF MURDER, Amelia’s life is radically different. She is living a new life in another house. And she is happier. Now, I favor resolution in my stories, but having a clear, definite and positive resolution in a book doesn’t necessarily mean a totally happy ending for everybody. By the end of IRREGARDLESS, Marie LeBow has experienced both a tragedy and a miraculous, bittersweet reunion.
In the sequel to IRREGARDLESS,  DEATH DANGLES A PARTICIPLE, I got to use the "eating" device in the school lunchroom. It was fun describing how appealing--or unappealing--the food was. Plus, there's a mini-mystery about why Amelia suddenly finds coffee so obnoxious! As for getting someone in trouble, I think being accused of a brutal murder fills the bill there!
Book three of the Miss Prentice series, MURDER IN THE PAST TENSE, begins with eating. In a flashback, Amelia and her friend Lily are at the local teenage hangout, enjoying ice cream floats and contemplating being in summer theater that summer. She gets in lots and lots of trouble, too, involving the mafia, a missing person and an Adirondack hermit!

In book four, INCOMPLETE SENTENCE, I decided to do something a little different. Toward the end of the book, Amelia has gotten good and sick of running into bodies, and who can blame her? As she puts it, she has had her life threatened at least four times and has testified in two murder trials. She's just plain tired! Don't worry, though, I still got her in trouble and getting out
of it definitely involves food! 

So here I am, working on book number five (THE VILLAGE IDIOM), and I must admit, it's a challenge finding something new and fresh to befuddle the reader. I am working with the ghost of an idea, a plot twist "stolen" from Agatha Christie. It involves Amelia going back to teaching, a new and extremely obnoxious school principal and a "bad seed." And that's all I'll be saying about that!


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The Miss Prentice books are available in Ebook or paperback at Christianbook.com, Barnes & Noble and Amazon.

If you'd like a chance to win a Kindle Ebook copy of the mystery of your choice, just leave a comment below WITH YOUR EMAIL ADDRESS. I'd love to hear from you and/or answer any questions.

19 comments:

  1. I enjoyed reading this post. I know that food can be used to comfort, to reward and to congratulate but I hadn't consudered it as a plot enhancer. Please enter me in your giveaway.
    Connie
    cps1950(at)gmail(dot)com

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    1. Food looms large in my mind, Connie! LOL

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  2. I would love to have a chance to read your book.

    khsmith97217@yahoo.com

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  3. Love your Miss Prentice books! Can't wait to read this one.

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  4. Oh, how I love Amelia! I'm sure looking forward to the one! I can't wait to see what she gets into next.

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  5. I love your books! Can't wait to see what Amelia is up to next! Thanks for a peek into the writing process! Thanks for the chance to Win! paulams49ATsbcglobalDOTnet

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    1. I don't always know what's going to happen, myself!

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  6. Cute! I will remember that good advice! :)

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    1. It definitely helps when the plot gets stuck.

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  7. Love the books and the titles - having had a very proper grammar teacher in high school, the titles are great.
    betsylu2@msn.com

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    1. I had one of those teachers, too, Beth!

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  8. I haven't read any of your books but I love the titles and covers. Thanks for the giveaway. d[dot]brookmyer[at]yahoo[dot]com

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    1. Good luck in the drawing, Donna. (They're only $2.99 or less each in ebook on Amazon, B&N, or CBE.)

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  9. Would love to read your books. Thanks for the giveaway! rose blackard (@) Gmail dot com

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    1. You're welcome, Rose. Good luck in the drawing! (As I told Donna, they're just $2.99 or less in ebook in most of the major book seller websites.

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  10. Ellen, your Miss Prentice books are great. I think I've read them all (including this one, so don't include me in the drawing). And I think the advice to the stuck writer is great. I plan to use it.

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