by Barbara Ross
Looking out at the melting snow and knowing there will be a fresh coating tomorrow. Sigh. This winter…
There comes a time with every book when I have to take a pause from rolling up word count to figure out what really happened. Not the vague hand-wave of the synopsis, but the mechanics of the crime and the precise roll-out of the who-knew-what-when. And then solve the problem of how, in a first person narrative, the sleuth figures it out. What can be revealed to the audience gradually so there’s not a big information dump at the end (which is where my current book was heading–hence the pause), but at the same time doesn’t give the game away?
I have to make a time sequence, minute by minute, of what happened on the night of the crime. If my murderer and several credible suspects have opportunity, as well as motive, I have to keep them all from running into one another. I have a book, unpublished, where the body is found on the golf course with the sprinklers running. II have so many people walking around that golf course in the middle of the night in question, it feels like I need a traffic cop.
Then I have to list every thread of the story beat-by-beat and then interweave them again into their most dramatic sequence, but also a sequence that makes sense in the story’s time and geography.
And that’s just the plotting. Then there’s understanding the characters and their motives. In mysteries almost every character has a secret and at some point in the process, I have to know exactly what each secret is.
I hate doing this, because I know with every decision I’m making, the perfect, but perfectly vague, platonic ideal of the book in my brain is disappearing.
In a recent article in the NY Times Magazine, Catherine Martin, Oscar-winning costume and production designer, said about her collaboration with her husband, director Baz Luhrman-
Often, when he starts a new project, she said, she can feel herself straining to grasp the idea. “I imagine it as if there’s something out there, like a shape that I can’t quite make out, and that he’s actually pushing my synapses to map the surface of this object. You can feel the pain of that mental effort.
Sometimes I feel that way chasing my own brain.
I have to push myself to do these tasks and it is exhausting, but I also know I can’t finish without doing them
So, fellow writers, does everybody feel this way? I know we all have different processes, but at some point in every project, do you have to take that trip through the tunnel into the light?