03 October 2012


by Robert Lopresti

A couple of weeks ago I mentioned in this very spot that I had an idea for a story about blackmail, but the idea refused to resolve itself into a plot.  I spent many hours riding around on my bike, the PlotCycle (TM), pondering the little seed but it has still refused to germinate into a full-blown story.  It was like I had a pile of flesh and no skeleton to hang it on.

But something peculiar happened last week.

I was reading someone else's story -- in fact, it was "The General," by our own Janice Law in Mystery Writers of America Presents Vengeance.  A fine story it is, by the way, and I recommend it.

But my point is that a few pages in I suspected I knew how the story was going to turn out.  And, of course, I was completely wrong.  Which is fine; I like surprises.

However, by the time Janice had finished unwinding her story, I had unwound mine.  I had the entire plot for a story in my head.  Usually when I get an idea for a story I just jot it down in my pocket notebook, but I felt so strongly about this one that I hurried over to my computer, poked the hamster to start spinning the hard drive, and wrote an outline.  I even wrote the gutwrenching last paragraphs (oh, you'll weep.  Trust me.)  Now all I need is time to write the damned thing.

From original concept to fully developed plot: less than an hour.

Meanwhile, remember my blackmail story?

From original concept to fully developed plot: more than a month and still an unfinished mess.

Which leads me to my thesis statement: The human mind is one peculiar vegetable.


  1. Rob, the human mind is indeed a strange vegetable, sometimes over-cooked and sometimes raw. Love the plot cycle so you can exercise and write virtually simultaneously. To me, thinking it out is harder than the actual putting of words on paper or computer.
    I haven't yet read a story by Janice Law that wasn't excellent!

  2. Too true and thanks for your kind mention.

    I should tell you, also, that you have created a monster. AHMM just bought the third Madame Selina story- that's the first time I've ever reused characters in short stories and there is another under consideration. So thanks for the good advice.

  3. And what a perfect illustration you've chosen for "peculiar vegetable." In case anybody wonders, the green thing with the peaks is a romanesca cauliflower.

  4. Fran, but the thinking-up part is much more FUN than banging the alphabet piano, don't you think?

    Janice, I am delighted to encourage Selina. If I am her agent, do I get a percentage?

    ELizabeth, I think of it as fractal cauliflower. They are beautiful...

  5. I think my mind is one of the underground vegetables - a whole lot of thinking goes into a very little writing. But it's wonderful when the plot just unfurls itself!

  6. It's an interesting effect when someone else's story spawns an entirely new and unrecognizable plot.

  7. Elizabeth, I didn't know that!

  8. Wait--that green thing is a vegetable? I thought it was some sort of alien life form--as my son used to say, "I'm not eating that."

    My brain is more like a bowl of oatmeal, I think. I stir it around from time to time looking for raisins. Mostly I find lumps.

  9. Rob, the way you're writing these days, you're on a good roll.


Welcome. Please feel free to comment.

Our corporate secretary is notoriously lax when it comes to comments trapped in the spam folder. It may take Velma a few days to notice, usually after digging in a bottom drawer for a packet of seamed hose, a .38, her flask, or a cigarette.

She’s also sarcastically flip-lipped, but where else can a P.I. find a gal who can wield a candlestick phone, a typewriter, and a gat all at the same time? So bear with us, we value your comment. Once she finishes her Fatima Long Gold.

You can format HTML codes of <b>bold</b>, <i>italics</i>, and links: <a href="https://about.me/SleuthSayers">SleuthSayers</a>