The Eleventh

Today’s survey of choice brings up an element that I consider essential for any good story: mystery.

What makes you turn the pages of a book? What makes you curious to find out what happens to the main character?

Excellent writing is good but a solid storyline with methodical sprinklings of mystery takes a story into an elevated class.

When I first planned The Gardener, I wrote a brief outline that spanned from the beginning to the end. With a bird’s eye view, I then broke down each chapter by having a single sentence that described the main point that would be explored. Once I had those main ideas in print, I added depth by inserting location names, conflicts of interest and detailed descriptions of each character.

Before I was able to create the detailed descriptions of each character, however, I compiled a list of 40 names. These names would later become every single character in the entire book. Next to each name I would gradually add the details that would create a well-rounded individual bursting with personality, unique physical traits and their position in the story itself.

It was like being a Greek god for a brief moment in time. I was free to shape, mold and perfect every single “living person” in the book. It was exhilarating and time-consuming. I still don’t know if I actually liked it.

On top of characterization, I carefully planned the mystery factor. A hint here, a hint there, something dark and foreboding around that corner, someone dies, another person lives, two people hauled away to isolation…I had to meticulously and scrupulously focus on the small hints in order to build up the inevitable end. It was a calculating method that I had never experienced.

Most of my writing is fairly whimsical and simple. When I write professionally for commercial businesses, I sketch an outline, set up interviews, study the business location…and I listen to people talk. What they say, I put into prose. I never go to great lengths like I did for The Gardener. I never plan everything in advance when tackling a commercial project. Many times I’ve ditched an original idea because the owner of a business gives me so much food for thought that speaking to her is inspiration enough.

So when a survey flutters into my view that applauds the essence of mystery and asks for more, I am terribly pleased. The footwork, the ground laying, all the tiles perfectly placed while I stand above with my hand on my chin, eyes narrowed, focusing in on any possible mistake…and to have someone take notice of the very thing that I spent more than just time on…it’s uplifting and breathtaking and utterly beautiful. It’s like someone who has been underwater for 3 ½ minutes and suddenly a tank of oxygen appears. They breathe in the clean air and realize, in stark clarity, that they’re not only going to survive the ordeal, they’re going to have one helluva story to tell.

Now I just need to figure out how to tell the story. For the moment, however, I’m breathing again.

Published in: on January 11, 2010 at 4:29 pm  Leave a Comment  

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