Whether Puzzled or Pieced
I’m starting this post with a problem that needs a solution. I don’t usually go to the air waves, so to speak, looking for solutions, though I recently asked for opinions on a story.
My usual MO is to write a very long email and whine at one of a handful of other writers who’ve been in the spot previously. The brainstorming can get intense sometimes and lead to plot expansions, character manipulation and redefinition, and many other marvelous avenues for a story.
Writing a mystery, even a cozy one, isn’t easy for me. I love to read them, but the one I’m trying to write drives me to distraction during writing sessions. Hence, that’s why it sits unattended on my hard drive at the moment. Women’s fiction can be a bear to get right; not too preachy, not too erotic, not too passive.
What is it that has me puzzled on my novel “Dreamie’s Box”? Three chapters were finished and I was racing toward the fourth when I realized that the story just wouldn’t work the way I wanted it to. Oh, characters, premise, crime, and motives galore were in place. That’s when it hit me, as Misty Lackey would say, in the back of the head with a large club.
I couldn’t place the characters anywhere close to where I wanted them. Where I wanted them wasn’t a place I’d been to before, and I was too swamped with other work to do the necessary research to get to know Savanna, GA and its surrounds.
Why would I choose such an unfamiliar setting? The answer is that I’ve always wanted to go there, but never got the proper opportunity. I don’t want to get into why we didn’t go there during the winter of 2011.This situation requires that I think of a new setting, still in the south, and one that I can picture in my head and know enough about to make it real.
Imagine a huge light bulb flashing into illumination above my head.
While sitting here at the keyboard, writing down my woes for all to read, it hit me where the setting has to be, towns and people that I’ve known all my life and can place accurately and with authenticity. My, that does make me feel so much better. I like that a problem solves itself when you just talk it through with someone else.
Since you’ve all been so kind as to allow me some wiggle room to solve my puzzle, I’ll go to pieces.
Those bits of business that help define a character in such a way as to make her memorable and real are what I call pieces of the puzzle. Working with setting and plotline uses the same types of bits. The tiny details are what scream authenticity to the reader, even if she’s unaware of the phenomenon.
Many years ago, while at university, I met a man in the sciences building. He was retired Air Force, who’d gone back to school to find a new calling. During our conversation, he mentioned some little thing about Yuma, Arizona.
I asked if he’d ever been out to the military’s firing range up near Aztec.
He’d been there. I mentioned a gas station that used to occupy barren space between the two towns and the sign that swung on its post in the wind. The sign was a metal disc, rusted, and barely legible, and for those who made the drive on a quasi-regular basis, it marked the last pit stop available to drivers until getting to their destination town of either Yuma or Aztec.
He told me that the station was gone, but he knew the one of which I spoke. He’d dropped many a quarter in the soda machine outside that sandy-floored place while emptying the rest of his wallet for gas from the pump. He seemed surprised that I knew the place, its sign, and why I’d thought of that particular detail.I couldn’t tell him. He could just as easily asked why he’d remembered, so vividly, emptying his wallet for gas, even as a quarter bought a cold soda. The gas station had been gone for many years.
The area had changed, but for those who’d been down that highway during the long years before 1976, the sign remained on its post, swinging and creaking in the wind.
Those are the kinds of pieces that I hunt now, to place within chapters of a mystery to give it roots, a strong trunk, and branches that reach out to snag the reader. And thanks to writing this post, I have all that I’ll need to do just that.
My puzzle has it pieces; my story its setting; and my mind its needed calm.
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