Creating Conflict: A Necessary Ingredient in Mysteries

All fiction has some non _____ in it (fill in the blank). No, not nonsense, non-sequiturs or non-profits (although some of these nons may show-up in fictional works). What do most works of fiction contain that starts with “non”? I’ll make it easy for you: just about all fiction contains at least a few non-fiction elements (sci-fi and fantasy possibly excluded).

My fiction is no exception, especially when it comes to the setting. I like inserting my characters into real places. Locations I’ve visited; where I feel comfortable and right at home. Peaceful, uneventful places. Throw in my heroine and it’s not so serene anymore. And it shouldn’t be. Would you read a mystery without action and conflict? I didn’t think so.

Here’s how my real life might go: I walk into a restaurant, enjoy a delicious meal on the patio, and watch a gentle breeze ruffle nearby palm trees.

Then I think: What would happen if my heroine, Corrie Locke, popped into a similar place? What would she eat? Where would she sit? Who’s she with? Would she have a chance to finish her meal? Of course not.

She’d sit with friends, toward the back…but she wouldn’t eat. She’d be starving, but a little something would get in the way of Corrie and her meal. That little something is called conflict. Conflict is what makes a mystery tale suspenseful.

Nail-biting, tension rousing conflict is a must. How to create it? Just insert obstacles between the hero/ine and their goal. For instance:

– Corrie runs to her car to chase after a villain. Can she? Nope. The car has a flat tire. Now what? (The flat tire is the obstacle);
– Corrie and Michael break into an office and are snooping around when the janitor sticks his key in the lock. Did I mention that hiding places were scarce? (MURDER GONE MISSING);
– Corrie wrangles with a difficult movie star in order to find clues leading to a killer. Personality clashes occur, which also create conflict. (MURDER: DOUBLE OR NOTHING).

I let the scene just unfold in my first draft. Then I go back and ask: how can I rewrite this to make matters more difficult for Corrie? I’ll use the setting, other characters, even her car to create conflict. By overcoming obstacles in fiction, our characters grow. Hopefully, we do the same for ourselves in real life.

Notes to Self on Pushing the 1st Draft Forward

It never ceases to amaze me how much my feet drag during the writing of the dreaded first draft.

I don’t mind thinking about what to write. Or about what my characters do, say, eat, drive, clue-gather or how they crime-solve. But when it comes down to the actual writing of the words, no-want-to-do.

This post is mostly for me, and people like me, whose heads spin during the drafting phase. That spinning makes it a wee bit challenging to write anything. When that happens, remember:

– Forget about finding the right words. They’ll show up on their own, later. I promise.

– Not to worry about character voices being on point or distinct. In the first draft, you’re merely willing your fictional peeps to rise up from their lifeless states. What are you like when you first wake-up after a snooze? Witty? Clever? Rarin’ to go? I didn’t think so. Give your characters time to breathe, and they will jump to life.

– Forget about timing within the story. Does the day and time really matter? A little. But the beauty of it is that you can go back and recreate the timing any way you please. How’s that for flexibility? If only real life worked that way.

– Not to forget about why you write. Isn’t it about spending time doing what you love? Questions will pop up during the head-spinning phase. Who am I? Why am I torturing myself by trying to pull out a story? What do normal, non-writer people do during their down time? Why can’t I be like them? Am I hungry again? NO. This is the time to pull out something you’ve published and read it. Or if you’re not published yet, find a book you love and imagine writing one that’s just as good or even better. Because when you finish that darn first draft, you’re going to feel splendid. It’s a huge accomplishment!

– Location is everything, right? Yes, if you’re buying real estate, but not necessarily if you’re writing a first draft. I know I write a Southern California Mystery series, but So Cal is huge! The book opens in Santa Monica because guess who hung out in SM recently?

Once I find the main locale, I let my heroine lead the way. Guess where my heroine ended up? Sorry, I can’t divulge because it would be a spoiler alert (if you might lose sleep over this, email me and I’ll spill the beans).

Carry on!

Make Writing Fun

Writing is a passion of mine, which automatically equates to doing something fun and exciting, right? Not necessarily. It’s up to each writer to create and find the fun. Kind of like planning a party or a vacation…or teaching kids. Fun may run and hide once in a while, but we can gently reel it back where it belongs.

Remember your early school days? You probably had a stand-out teacher. Exceptional teachers aren’t born that way. They’ve got a few simple tricks up their sleeves, which we writers can borrow. A few suggestions to rev up the fun meter when writing:

Read before you write. Not just anything, but something inspiring. Something you find superbly written that contains punchy words, lines and action. Sources might be a newspaper article, a book, a poem or even a quotation. Studying talent helps increase the flow of our own writing talent.

Take notes. Eminem provided this tip: collect bits and pieces of inspiration wherever you can find them, write them down and save them in a shoe box. Inspiration equals fun. Eminem shuffles through the box when he’s writing a song, and picks out words or lines that might lead him to an idea. I write ideas in a notebook as they pop into my head, and run through them once I’m done with the first draft. Reading these inspires me to make the story shine.

Don’t forget to do something fun that isn’t writing. We need down time to regenerate. If I don’t utilize downtime now and then, I feel like I’m studying for the Bar Exam…again. Which means there’s a possibility my head may explode. How fun would that be?

But there are deadlines that must be met. This is the part where you remind yourself there are carefree ways to write or rewrite that don’t involve sitting/standing behind a desk. In fact, it doesn’t involve a desk at all. I rework my writing when commuting to work, when watching TV, when walking or petting my dogs. Washing dishes is a great writing stimulator (and makes for clean dishes). This deskless writing allows for more relaxed thinking, leading to a flow of ideas. We don’t need to feel pressure while writing.

Please don’t forget the fun of writing, keep that spark lit and find ways to restore the sheer joy of writing. That’s what we signed up for!