Saturday, April 24, 2010

Wow, there's a lot of tension on DorothyL

DorothyL is a mystery Listsrv that's been in operation for eons where readers and authors get together to talk about mysteries. By and large it's fun, plus you connect with people who share your interest in killing people. Every now and then thought it goes through a testy phase where people are irritated with each other and there is much flouncing (as much as one can flounce with words, and, surprisingly, you can flounce a lot!).

Someone posted  a tongue-in-cheek thing (sort of a MadLib) version of how to write a cozy. Protag greets her postman/doctor/gardener and discovers that his wife/dog/turtle is missing. It went on from there, with a cookie cutter plotline. And yes, there are a lot of cozies out there that would fit that mold nicely. But let's face it, you could do the exact same thing with a police procedural or even a political thriller (aside from John Le Carre they all have that Jason Bourne factor these days). And a number of writers who write cozies were affronted, and a lot of other people (including some who write cozies) said, get a sense of humor.

But I think people are missing the point. I believe you could actually write that story, plucking out the appropriate insert at the appropriate time, and it could be a KILLER story. Because, really, most books aren't that different from each other. Sure, every now and then you'll get a book that blows your socks off in how it eschews convention, but these are rare. My point is that you could write a book using that template and write a very good novel. Because it's not necessarily the destination, but how you drive there. That's the difference between a good writer and a great writer: someone who understand voice, tension, and characterization in service of plot. By this point, if I don't know who did it by the end of the third chapter, I'm convinced I'm suffering from some dreadful brain disease. Because there are very few surprises left in me. Some of this is because I believe (like Nancy Kress, see previous post) that the author makes a promise and that promise should be fulfilled. Unfortunately, in the mystery world that means you know, usually, that Miss Scarlett did it in the library with the candlestick. I think the last book that really surprised me, I mean, knocked my socks off whoa, was Michael Connellly's "Concrete Blonde." What a mofo wonderful book! That was written years ago, which will tell you that, yeah, surprise isn't happening. So the getting there is now so much more important because I know what the "there" is and who will do it.

It's like you're driving to L.A. You can go down 5, you can take 1, or you can do a whole bunch of backroads through dusty, poor rural towns where the WalMart in Fresno is putting all the local shopkeepers out of business. The ending is the same, but the drive?

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