Tuesday, December 21, 2010

More about mysteries

Mary Higgins Clark is still scaring me. I think what's frightening about her novels is that she makes you face the possibility of the existence of pure evil in human beings. I remember writing a college paper on Iago, the villain from;Othello. The moral dilemma was whether or not Iago was purely evil or was driven to evil by circumstances and those who conspisred against him. I have always chosen to believe that pure evil does not exist in human beings, but Clark makes me doubt that long-held opinon.
Recently one of the Sisters in Crime lists or sub-lists has had a discussion on meaningful deaths. If you're writing about murder, the victim cannot, should not be a throw-away character. Whoever he or she was, they were (ok, pronoun mix--I recognize it and don't know how to get around it) were meaningful people with lives and hopes and dreams and fears. Someone has to feel the impact of their deaths. In Pretend You Don't See Her, the first victim dies six months or so before the novel opens; the second, in the opening pages but almost off-screen as it were. The reader hasn't had any time to build up identification or sympathy or compassion for that person. On the other hand, through the course of the novel, the reader  comes to know--and at least for me, to like very much--Lacy Farrell who is being stalked and hunted. If she dies, the impact on the reader will be overwhelming. In my Skeleton in a Dead Space, the first victim is, obviously, a skeleton. Hard to work up much sympathy for an unknown person who has been dead for many years, and yet so that the death has some impact, I have had Kelly O'Connell, the main character, create almost a fantasy life for the skeleton, so great is her need to know who that body is. In another novel I'm working on (and have put aside for a long time) the first victim (off-screen) is the central figure's grandmother who raised her--the impact of that is easily portrayed. But there are other deaths--of  scoundrels, each in their own way. How do you work up reader sympathy for that? I think it must come from the impact on the central figure who never expected to come close to murder.
Last night, in editing Skeleton, I had an "aha" moment. One of the things we're told about writing any kind of story is that you have to create characters the reader will care about. But another maxim, for mysteries, is start the suspense right away and keep it going. I realized I'd been so occupied with characters--Kelly O'Connell and her two daughters--that I'd spent lots of time on Kelly picking the girls up from school, what they ate for dinner, homework in the evenings and getting them to bed but I'd left the mystery in the background. I'm working on remedying that. And though I've read that manuscript carefully a least a dozen times, I'm all of a sudden seeing lots of extra words--"I seemed to feel" could be "I felt," and that kind of thing. I wonder how many times one can rewrite and revise. No, I don't want an answer.
Nice day. I had lunch with my friend Charles' daughter, Marsha. It was the first time we visited since his death, and we both talked about him a lot. Marsha is blind, and she has taught me about helping a non-sighted person and, I suspect, about helping people in general. We were going to the Flying Fish which she said she liked a lot but when I mentioned Carshon's she said she really liked that, so there we went, which always suits me fine.
Tonight I was expecting Sue and her parents for cocktail hour. What I wasn't expecting was Jacob, but his mom brought him about 4:45. He settled in to watch TV minus a shirt, and I told him he'd have to put it on when company came. When they arrived, he promptly appeared in the kitchen with his shirt. We got it buttoned and then he was off to watch TV--we didn't see another thing of him, so the shirt didn't really matter. Sue's parents are from Canada but they winter in south Texas, and I do enjoy visiting with them. So it was a pleasant evening. More of the holidy spirit, which I feel strongly this year. I'm convinced 2011 is going to be a good year!

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