Showing posts with label choices. Show all posts
Showing posts with label choices. Show all posts

12 April 2013


by R.T. Lawton

Most times, a character or potential scene will pop into my head while I am half-asleep and dreaming or when my conscious mind runs free and daydreams take over. With either set of circumstances, I try to write down those ideas or impressions as soon as possible, retrieve them later and insert them into specific story categories in my computer files. Then, when it is time to write another story, I have something to start with rather than facing that empty white page with a blank mind to work on it.

And, to assist my muse and I, while she is sitting there on my shoulder impatiently waiting for me to get on with it, I have various cheat sheets to help move the story forward. These cheat sheets may be considered as low tech and not on a scholarly level, but they work for me. Here is my list of categories used in writing mystery short stories, as I tend to break them down. You probably already have similar info stored in your brain, but go ahead and take a peek, see if anything sparks a new idea for you, or if you have your own brainstorming ideas to add to this particular list.

Dupin questions sailor in
"The Murders in the
Rue Morgue"  (US PD)
01) The Locked Room ~ a crime occurs in a locked room and the detective/reader must figure out how the crime was committed and who did it, such as:
     a) "Murder in the Rue Morgue" - an orangutan climbs in the locked door apartment, kills and escapes up the chimney.
     b) "In Bond" - the warehouse roof is purposely hinged and the thief uses a nearby construction crane to lift out the bonded wine.
     c) "The Bond Market" - a bond courier is killed in a locked and safety chained hotel room. Thief/killer uses a bent metal strip fashioned to re-hook the safety chain after he leaves the room. (It's a modern burglar tool.)
     d) strings have been used remotely to fire a gun, etc.
     e) what NEW ideas can be brainstormed?

02) Deductions ~ the detective derives a conclusion by reasoning and/or clues.
     a) amateurs - Miss Marple, Cletus Johnston & Theodore, etc.
     b) PI stories - to include Sherlock Holmes, Nero Wolfe & Archie, Sam Spade, Marlowe, Mike Hammer, etc.
     c) Police procedural - 87th Precinct stories, Law and Order, CSI
     d) the pertinent clue comes out in a witness or suspect interview.
     e) what other ideas for how the crime or criminal was deduced? Or, what clue can be inserted and how?

03) A Mistake ~ the criminal makes a mistake.
     a) Mister X's alibi doesn't hold up because he was in the wrong place to see something, or he wasn't left
       handed, or couldn't have known important info, etc.
     b) He left behind an incriminating piece of evidence.
     c) What fresh and innovative types of mistakes can be capitalized on?

04) Confusion & Red Herrings ~ a misleading clue has been inserted into the story.
     a) The clues make someone appear to be the criminal, but the detective/reader doesn't have a full
       understanding of the clue yet.
     b) The real clue is hidden in with several other clues.
     c) The important clue is glossed over by one of the characters for some reason.
     d) What other Blue Smoke and Mirrors can be used?

05) Suspense or Thriller ~ a feeling of intenseness, may be combined with action
     a) The ticking time bomb - will hero get there in time and do what must be done?
     b) Reader knows the killer - will hero stop killer in time?
     c) What new gimmicks can be conjured up, other than:
          1) runaway train, car with no brakes, bus with speed bomb device, aircraft with no live pilot
          2) bomb with timer, which wire to cut?
          3) will an object central to story be found and acquired?

work in progress: my 5th e-book
06) Caper ~ the theft or attempted theft of a valuable object or commodity, often by humorous criminals
      (one of my favorites)
     a) Donald Westlake's stories - Dortmunder series
     b) Lawrence Block's stories - Bernie Rhodenbarr series
     c) Holiday Burglars series

07) Historical ~ use a lot of research to set these (another favorite of mine)
     a) The crime, solution, setting and characters come from the research into that time period.

08) Noir ~ dark atmosphere, hero loses out (haven't written one of these

Many of those listed above can be intermingled with one of the other categories.

Anyway, this is one sample of many lists or cheat sheets I keep around while writing short mysteries. By having a reference to glance at when needed, I can have a jump start on brainstorming, or in the case of other lists; names for characters of different ethnicity; crimes to commit other than common murder; types of swag to be acquired from various crimes; a chronology of historical events; a catalog of series character's traits, history and happenings for individual historical series; and so on. In short, I have choices which can be quickly made without interrupting the story writing in order to research for the needed information. The information is already available at hand and is added to periodically as I find new data.

So what lists do you use to make your writing easier for you?

08 March 2012

What If?

A writer spends a lot of time considering the What If's for stories. I sometimes wonder about the What If's of my own life, too.
What if I'd been born in another time and place?

Right smack in the middle of a technological explosion, todays's writers are considerably blessed to have computers with the formatting, spell check and grammatical help so readily available at the touch of a keyboard. Imagine what minds like Dashiell Hammet, Raymond Chandler or Rod Serling could have done if they'd had such conveniences and didn't have to pound out their stories on a manual typewriter? I'm thinking of all the writers who dipped a quill into an inkwell with awe. Today's writers are quite fortunate to have technology on their side.

Thinking about the faster access to research questions is amazing, too. Even turnaround time between most publishers is quicker via e-mail than traditional snail mail submissions. Speedy acceptances keep a writer's soul happy. You notice I didn't mention that rejections also reach us sooner, too. But because we've spent less time waiting for an answer, the pain of a refusal isn't even as dreadful as in the old days where a writer haunted our mailbox and practically attacked our mail carriers for news about a submission.

Ask almost any college-age or younger person how to do something (especially on a computer) and following the inevitable eye roll, will be the answer, "Just Google it!"

While it's easy to find out to do almost anything via the Google search engine, sometimes I miss the one-on-one when another person shares information instead of leading me to directions on a computer screen to dicipher.

However, I admit I appreciate the fact that Google never balks at telling me what it knows. That and being available 24/7 not only is terrific, but soothes my ego by not reminding me I am lame for not already knowing the answer myself. I'm often writing into the wee hours of the morning (or night depending on your half-empty or half-full theory). Most of my friends do not wish to be disturbed when I have a question at that time of the day about whether a law in effect in my state would be the same in another or how a weapon would work under certain situations. Google loves to answer day or night without qualms and is never too tired and rarely uncertain about the information.

I'm sure somewhere in time, some people groused about the telegraph wires messing up the landscape as much as people do about everyone having to have a cell phone (or tablet or computer) at their side, practically attached to their hip. Fearful they will miss "something important" if they aren't plugged in, these people are becoming more and more the majority.

Yes, the telegraph lines did take away some majesty from the scenery, but look what they brought to society; communication capabilities changed the world.

Yes, I get annoyed when people are texting from the bathroom stall, plop their cell on the table while we're lunching and keep more an eye on the device than they do our conversation. (You know who you are! LOL)

But, I do understand the awful sinking pit in the stomach feeling when I realize I forgot my cell and realize I am on my own if something goes wrong with my vehicle or need to get in touch with someone immediately (Have you noticed how few public phones are available these days?)

Technology is like a frenemy. We can't escape them and desperately need to keep a close eye on them.

What if I didn't find inspiration as a writer? Or acceptance for my work? What if no one wanted to read my stories?

Without any chance of publishing, I'd still write. Without any other person beside myself reading my work, I'd still write. It gives me joy to do so ... and because I don't know how to stop. If I were to never find any new inspiration, I'd resort to strictly writing the facts. Nonfiction is also good for the soul.

What if instead of writing about crimes, I lived a life of crime? First, that's impossible for several reasons: 1. I'm too chicken to attempt many of the things I write about. I couldn't personally live with the immoral choices of breaking the law. I have toomuch respect for law enforcement to ever want to be sitting in the back of a patrol car. And 2. I wouldn't do well in jail because I am sure I could not handle those uniforms (the same kind every day???) and especially the shoes they make you wear is enough to make a girl cry.

What if I'd gone into law enforcement or became a lawyer or a judge? Hmm, I'm not certain I'd want to chase a perp down a dark alley or have to represent the bad guys in court (and the prosecutors don't get paid enough to work that hard.) I'd probably enjoy being a judge, but they expect you to work your way up to that, so I guess that's out.

No, it's best I stay where I am and stick to writing. The only What If's I need to employ are the ones that concern my characters. I think that's the best answer for me and I didn't even have to Google it.