Showing posts with label what jf. Show all posts
Showing posts with label what jf. Show all posts

05 May 2012

What If? The heart of the story


by Elizabeth Zelvin

I’ve heard it said that every story starts with a “what if,” a question in the writer’s mind that provides the seed from which all the rest grows. It makes sense to me.
Let’s look at the classics. Romeo and Juliet: What if the children of two families engaged in a bitter feud fall in love? King Lear: What if a man divides his estate among his heirs while he’s still alive? Hamlet: What if a man finds out his uncle may have murdered his father—but he’s not sure? Pride and Prejudice: What if a rich bachelor moves into the neighborhood of a family with an entailed estate and five daughters with no dowries? Jane Eyre: What if a man with a mad wife locked in the attic falls in love with the governess?

In a whodunit or a novel of suspense, “what if” can trigger the action, the plot, the mystery itself. Josephine Tey, Brat Farrar: What if a foundling with a yearning to belong is persuaded to impersonate the missing heir to a family whose members look just like him and share his passion for horses? Stuart Woods, Chiefs: What if a serial killer is a pillar of the community who spreads his murders out over 40 years? The DaVinci Code: What if Jesus married Mary Magdalene and had a child whose descendant still lives in the present day? The Hunger Games: What if in a dystopian future America, teens chosen by lottery are forced to fight to the death on reality TV?

But for some writers, the plot is not the starting point. A situation, setting, or relationship can generate a “what if” that becomes the stage on which the solving of the mystery is played out. Or the “what if” may generate a whole series. Laurie R. King: What if the aging Sherlock Holmes meets a young woman who’s just as smart as he is? Margaret Maron: What if a modern Southern woman whose father was a famous bootlegger becomes a judge? In science fiction, sometimes called speculative fiction, “what if” is the whole point. But mystery writers too need a reason to set their characters in motion, a burning curiosity that they can impart to the reader.

I didn’t consciously think “what if” when I sat down to write Death Will Get You Sober (2008), the first mystery in my series about recovering alcoholic Bruce Kohler. But when I applied the question to what I’d written, I realized that my central “what if” did not pertain to the murder and its solution but to the characters I had created to solve it and future mysteries in the series: Bruce, his best friend Jimmy, and Jimmy’s girlfriend Barbara. What if there were two best friends, inseparable from childhood? What if both were alcoholics? What if one of them got sober and the other didn’t? What if fifteen years later the other one stopped drinking too? What would happen to the friendship? What if we throw in a codependent girlfriend who cares as much about what happens between them as they do—and is much more eager to talk about it? To me, the relationships of the protagonist and his friends gave life to the mystery.

I knew all along that I was not going to allow Bruce to drink again. There are enough novels about the struggle with the bottle. My mission was to write about recovery , which as an alcoholism treatment professional with many years’ experience, I know can be rich, complex, rewarding, moving, and sometimes hilariously funny. In Death Will Help You Leave Him (2009), I needed a new “what if?” What if Bruce, having dealt with his addiction to booze and achieved stable sobriety, discovers that codependents, who become addicted to destructive relationships in which they try in vain to control and rescue the alcoholics and addicts that they love, are not only “those other people who have to go to Al-Anon” but also alcoholics like Bruce himself? Bruce had to struggle against being hooked in a relationship with his crazy ex-wife that could destroy them both.

In the new book, Death Will Extend Your Relationship, I wasn’t ready to give Bruce yet another addiction. I wanted him to enjoy his recovery in the clean and sober group house in the Hamptons where, as it says on the jacket flap, “somebody’s not abstaining from murder.” So what if this group of holiday housemates is as dysfunctional as an alcoholic family? What if one of Bruce’s friends gets blindsided by another kind of addiction? What if “as the summer heats up, secretes and lies start buzzing around this dream vacation like flies at a beach picnic”?

08 March 2012

What If?


by Deborah Elliott-Upton

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.