Saturday, May 01, 2010

Writing the Breakout Mystery Novel

Writing the Breakout Mystery – Agent/Writer Donald Maass at the 2010 Edgar
Week Symposium, April 28th, New York City.

Here are my notes about this one hour workshop. I definitely got some new ideas for another POV (point of view) and some other worthwhile tips. Now, to incorporate them into the manuscript.

Maass began by asking:

What are breakout mystery novelists doing differently?

Following the “rules” is not that important. Look outside the form for more BIG characters.

Find a mythic milieu and create multiple points of view. Make your antagonist three dimensional. The story should have a high purpose and employ all literary devices.

Think about your main characters. At what stage of life are they? What is their main problem? How does the problem get worse? Create more complications: acute, painful, urgent. Keep twisting your plot. Do not make it easy for your protagonist. Make it very, very hard. Make the worst happen. The main character should experience defeat.

Create extra plot layers with subplots, and weave them into the story. Bombard the protagonist with worse and more difficult to solve problems.

Your story contains unique setting. Set some of the extra plot layers in one of your settings. Cross story lines with your sub-plots. Make several key events to the story occur in the same place, the “magical place.”

Maass believes in multiple points of view. Maybe three. Make one of them a young person’s. Give your antagonist plenty of page time.

Opening up your story gives it even bigger potential. Make sure that your character’s experiences mirror your readers’ universal experiences. Put one prominent object that is present in the beginning of the story in its end. Keep mentioning this object. Create symbols.

Think about the world of your story. It should be special.

During a panel discussion, I heard about the nominated novel (paperback original) Havana Lunar, by Robert Arellano.  Bought it and read it.  (rather short).  His novel actually obeyed many of Maass's suggestions, and I loved the setting of  1992 Havana.  Arellano really takes us there, makes us hungry, too, with caffeine headaches (why does no one write of those?)  no aspirin, no gasoline, all the deprivations, but life goes on, and the "heroine" makes banana bread out of stale flour and some hard sugar.  The plot had some good twists and turns and didn't get bogged down in minutiae of police procedure. Only one POV, and for this short book, that was enough.  But we saw the protag as a young boy.  The world of this story was soooo believable.  Ole.    The Spanglish was challenging, but Arellano did a great job of translating without translating.  And some vocabulary "Jineta" we could figure out with no translation.

Onward to garden on this stellar weather weekend.  When I went out this morning, a sweet little field mouse was dying on the flagstones.  So sad.  No earthly idea why.  Now I must perform a little burial service.  Our cat Annie  is also not well.  Things die in spring, and that seems to contradict everything.  Or not.



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