It was just over two years ago that I wrote the draft of a Holmes pastiche for particular publisher. I had hoped to see it out on the bookshelves by now – but we all now how slow some publishing wheels grind. It was a fun exercise, however, and one that set my usual writing lines on a different tangent.
That lost Holmes novel, was more or less mapped out in advance as part of a series it was both easier and more difficult to write. Easier because my bete noir – the end – was a given, and harder because my usual forays off piste into interesting lines of research not included in the original synopsis were curtailed.
Since the new year I have been working on a novel that is a little out of my usual arena – a crime novel. This is, in some ways, quite similar in that it follows a reasonably tight path by its very nature.
Being a whodunnit the clues need to be sprinkled from page one, and scattered at regular (and logical) intervals, but not in a way that becomes an exercise in joining the dots. Yes, leeway for changing tack to some extent, but always with the basic premise firmly in mind, or else the spectre of constant rewrites to accommodate new lines of plot are a real danger.
Many people who read procedural crime might see logic as the key to success, along with staying in character. Avoiding the pitfalls of those ‘don’t go into the cellar’ moments is – for me at least – to be avoided. Those things shoe-horned in to fit the plot. Or else the ‘nice touches’ that add colour bit occasionally also have unintended downsides that are hard to work around.
Just this morning I was reminded of a plot device by the inimitable Prof Tolkien who wrote of the blade carried by Frodo, which glowed blue in the presence of Orcs. I have always thought that a dual-edged sword (‘scuse the pun). Yes, that luminescence will warn the bearer of orcs in the vicinity – but it is also a bit like shining a flashlight in a dark cellar. Something of a giveaway if it shines too bright in the wrong place and wrong moment. One assumes orcs would see the blue glow as easily as the Hobbit… A small point but something I don’t recall being touched on in LOTR? (A while since I’ve read so I may be wrong…)
But, as always, I digress…
Plot on the current crime project has been harder work than anticipated but I have now reached that critical section – the denouement – when all of those threads need to be pulled in.
I will freely admit I have always had a trouble with endings – never being sure whether readers prefer a nice neat bundle tied up with a bow, or a more enigmatic ‘…’ that leaves them wondering. I am always tempted by the ‘kill them all’ approach in short fiction, but that is not one to adopt when embarking on something that could have potential longevity.
As a reader I lean toward the mysterious ending with questions that haunt the reader long after the final page has been read. But I am very aware of how that can and does cause consternation amongst the many, who prefer the satisfaction of a ‘line drawn’. I can see the appeal in both.
I suspect this book will be a fairly neat package when that is the nature of the whodunnit genre. And I shall obviously be leaving room for more to come – always a realist but ever the optimist!
Now – about that ending…