Monday, October 28, 2013

Writing a Murder Mystery

The other day I was sitting in a meeting with other faculty when the campus play director said to me, “Why don’t you write me a play for next fall?”  Theoretically, the college has a contest and produces the winner in the fall production.  A seed was planted and I’m sketching it out on purpose. 

The idea of writing murder mysteries is attractive to me, and heaven knows I’ve watched enough of them, especially Agatha Christie’s, and read quite a few, specifically Sue Grafton, Susan George (Inspector Lynnley), and PD James (Commander Adam Dalgliesh).  By the way, I am currently reading an old Agatha Christie/Miss Marple.  It’s not great literature, and the character of Miss Marple is rather different.  In the book, she’s a busy-body who just sits and listens and then engages people in annoying conversations; in the TV shows she seems more prescient and in control and not at all a dotty old lady. 

However, in a murder mystery the person who is killed is usually not a person who is greatly grieved.  Sometimes there is even a reason to feel the death is a boon to the characters.  That goes against my value system and my view of good fiction, so these kinds of mysteries start out being nonrealistic, more a lark or an entertainment mode than real literary fiction.  PD James gets the closest to literary writing, but even she gets formulaic. 

Murder mysteries are only partially about finding justice.  There are some police procedurals where justice is the motive of the “detective,” but usually the motive of the author in mysteries is to uncover the solution to an intricately designed puzzle.

There are always two deaths, not just one.  The killer strikes twice so there is more evidence; or I should say there are two deaths, not always by the same hand, but it looks like it initially.  The detective must have something unique about him or her, and publishers like a distinctive character who can carry several novels, a Poirot. 

My potential idea is a comedy wrapped around a murder mystery—or is it a murder mystery wrapped around a comedy?  There will be one set (as a play must have, the main difficulty to writing a play that does not bear upon a novel or screenplay), too many characters, farcical elements, two murders, some stereotypes (the mainstay of these kinds of mysteries), and a happy ending because the people murdered, or dead, are not good people.  Still, my Christian sensibilities wonder about trivializing the death of any characters, because characters represent the human person. 

This is hardly a primer on writing a mystery.  There are different genres of them, of course, such as cozy, which I don’t care for.  A friend gave me (because she was getting rid of books) a cozy that seems to revolve around a women’s alteration shop.  The first two pages were over-run with references to fabrics, styles of clothing, sewing instruments, and fashion references.  That was enough; I tossed it aside.  I’ve read a few of the Alexander McCall Smith books, which he seems to crank out every two months (I’m exaggerating, of course).  They are sweet, but I’m too busy to read all of them. 

Does a mystery need a red herring (or two)?  Of course.  The detective can’t figure it out right after the crime, although it would be good because the second person would not die!  Does the writer/director have to play fair with the reader?  I think so.  I’ve watched enough Agatha Christie’s to know that sometimes the “detective” will pull something out of their “hat” (humhum, knowing cough) that hasn’t really been information anybody would have known.  But I like the more serious ones where the audience, if very observant, sees more than the characters, good old dramatic irony.  Since character is a secondary concern is most parlor mysteries, plot—logical, cohesive plot—is the real center.  And there should be intertwining subplots based on backstories.   

All this is easier said than done; I have the treatment but not the dialogue that must reveal the plot.  So we will see.  I thought about doing National Novel Writing Month to get it on paper, but I don’t have the time to breathe right now, much less write 1600 words a day for the month of November—although it’s a fun idea and I have done it.  It will be my next writer’s group project!

Input appreciated!  Any good books on this subject?

Sunday, October 20, 2013

Some More Job Reflections

We discussed Elihu this morning.  Elihu is not totally wrong, but he misses it.  He is a young person; he sees the world as black and white; he takes the promises literally and applies them broadly.  The message of Job is --"not so fast" on that approach.  Job is, in his eyes, putting himself as equal to God, so he suffers from pride.  Job's friend accuse him of all kinds of social crimes about which Job can honestly say, "Not me."  But Job does border on the arrogant at times.  He doesn't, and wouldn't curse God, but if time went on, would he eventually go too far?

I think that Job is getting prideful, almost to the point of too much, because of how God responds to him.  There is no reproach for sin, just strongly worded, "You don't know what you're talking about Job; you don't get that position in the universe." 

Elihu, however, is not totally right.  He doesn't understand Job, existentially, and this is an existential, human book.  He shows no compassion.  He is a know-it-all, the sin of the young.

An Old Dimension

I often find myself driving home from church and visiting my mother on Sunday afternoons about 2:00.  On NPR a program is played at that time, a link to which I have put below (at least to this week's program).  The show is called New Dimensions.  It is a new age philosophy conduit.

Despite my extreme disagreement with its fundamental principles, I enjoy the show, sometimes at least.  Sometimes a writer or poet is introduced and I get interested in some of that person's work.  Sometimes they say something I sincerely agree with, but then I find myself getting thoughtful about how much the logical conclusions of that statement may conflict and confront the Biblical world view.

Today the speakers were talking about assumptions and beliefs.  I encourage people to unearth their assumptions.  Assumptions can be very powerful; the more hidden they are, the more powerful.  And most of them are negative and largely untrue, at least they are untrue for all purposes.  Doing this dissertation is adult education, a field that is not immune to some new age influences, has forced me to be more honest about assumptions and world view.  I do believe we have a strong subconscious/unconscious that influences us and that we do well to unearth and understand.

However, I don't believe that an assumption is the same as a belief, not entirely.  A belief is named, can be verbalized, and we are aware of it. 

They also discussed how fear is such a prevalent attitude and experience of our world.  Definitely.  I, a person used to my own anxieties and learning to fight them, have been saying that for years.   The answer:  a human-made one, a reaching within ourselves. 

Then they started talking about frequencies, vibrations, love and fear, etc, saying that the Beach Boys were picking up good vibrations to counter the bad vibrations of Viet Nam.  They asserted that the world moved into a new consciousness in 1986.  This kind of talk is off-putting, to me. 

In unearthing our assumptions, we do it to understand ourselves and how we are functioning, but we ultimately do it for another reason--reality testing.  The main reality testing is measuring against scriptures, which are not full of the enlightenment world view metanarrative kind of "stuff" that is often railed against by New Agers.  But Scripture does put itself up as THE standard of truth, the ultimate reality testing means.  I do not trust humankind to create its own solutions. 

Perfect love casts out fear, says St. John.  Perfect love is from God.  Only an external source can right things.  That is the message of the gospel.

Here's the link.

Be ye Glad!

This morning our choir sang a beautiful arrangement of this song, one of which I want sung at my funeral or memorial service.  The words are so poetic, the message profound.  I don't usually get so moved by a choir number.

In these days of confused situations.
In these nights of a restless remorse,
When the heart and the soul of the nation,
lay wounded and cold as a corpse.
From the grave of the innocent Adam,
comes a song bringing joy to the sad.
Oh your cry has been heard and the ransom,
has been paid up in full, Be Ye Glad.

Oh, Be Ye Glad, Be Ye Glad,
Every debt that you ever had
Has been paid up in full by the grace of the Lord,
Be Ye Glad, Be Ye Glad, Be Ye Glad.

From the dungeon a rumor is stirring.
You have heard it again and again.
But this time the cell keys are turning,
and outside there are faces of friends.
And though your body lay weary from wasting,
and your eyes show the sorrow they've had.
Oh the love that your heart is now tasting
has opened the gate, Be Ye Glad.

So be like lights on the rim of the water,
giving hope in a storm sea of night.
Be a refuge amidst the slaughter,
for these fugitives in their flight.
For you are timeless and part of a puzzle.
You are winsome and young as a lad.
And there is no disease or no struggle,
that can pull you from God, Be Ye Glad.

Observations:  I believe the second verse can be as much about our entrance into a blessed eternity as about our experience on earth.  These are words of hope with historical reality.  My next post (above) is about a message of hope that  rings false.

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Post #1100: Theological Notes

I have longed believed, and written, that evangelicals do not have a solid theology of the Holy Spirit.  It is defensive in that it warns against the charismatic movement, but it also minimizes the Holy Spirit and gives him a secondary or tertiary role in the Trinity, a form of modalism or even heresy in my book.  The Shack didn't help matters either, portraying the Holy Spirit as a transparent Asian woman who flits around a lot.  The Holy Spirit doesn't flit.

So I will quote from The Valley of Vision today as my 1100th post:

O God, the Holy Spirit, . . .
When Thou didst hover over chaos, order came to birth,
beaty robed the world, fruitfulness sprang forth,
Move, I pray thee, upon my disordered heart;
Take away the infirmities of unruly desires and hateful lusts;
Lift the mists and darkness of unbelief;
Brighten my soul with the pure light of truth;
Make it fragrant as the garden of paradise. . .

Fulfill in me the glory of thy divine offices;
Be my comforter, light, guide, sanctifier;
Take of the things of Christ and show them to my soul;
Through thee may I daily learn more of His love,
grace, compassion, faithfulness, beauty; . . .

Tucker's Law

We are all familiar with Murphy's Law, which as the wag said, was optimistic.  Here is Tucker's Law, in the same vein.


This law has corrolaries:

 Written communication exacerbates this law.
Online students live this law everyday.

Doctoral progress and process

Yesterday I successfully passed my written and oral examinations at University of Georgia in the Ed.D. in Adult Education program.  It was a good experience, actually, but I prize learning.  The good news is I get to keep going on my research.  The bad news is I have to keep going on my research!

So, lots to do, including some revisions for the next document, which will be the summary of my data collection and how I will intervene in the system (or how the Action research team will). 

Now that I am almost in the "club" (of scholars, doctoral people, researchers, etc.) I am getting a different perspective.  I am beginning to understand the doctoral process.  It is not just hoop-jumping, although there is some of that.  It is a paradigm shift.  I have resisted that, not wanting to be made into a different person.  But I am in that process.  I won't lose my essence or my beliefs and values, but I will of necessity look at the world somewhat differently.  I am ok with that now.

However, I am old enough not to be too impressed with myself.  Like the old turtle analogy, I didn't get on the fence post by myself, although I have worked hard in my life and it's time to start enjoying that and even more, stop working so hard at unnecessary things.  I spend way too much time making things easy for my students when they could suffer through a little ambiguity to be forced to think.  Scaffolding is important, but so is trying to figure it out by oneself.  No one has accused me of not being clear in my assignments; but I learned a long time ago Tucker's Law:  If someone can possibly find a way to misunderstand you, they will.

Saturday, October 05, 2013

Ender's Game

It is almost 11 this evening and I have worked on writing, work, and doctoral studies literally since 8:00 this morning.  But I wanted to go ahead and post this, a few thoughts.

I finished this book last night.  I was reading it because it was the book of choice for a reading club I (occasionally) attend at the college.  I rarely read or watch science fiction, but some of it goes beyond the stereotypical scyfy and this book, of course, is one of them.  So I read it, although I didn't finish for the discussion last week, and I more or less knew the end--but not really.

While I did get bogged down sometimes, it is, to start, a great read.  i won't recommend a book that isn't, that doesn't make you want to get back to it, to forgo the sleep you need in order to get up at 6:00 the next morning, to keep reading one more chapter.  In a sense, it's a mystery--what are they doing to this child, when will he find out, how will he respond?  It creates a future world where all of the Earth is united in a tentative "peace" in order to fight an alien race, whom we never really read much description of, that has made first contact and plans to make it the last contact.  Or so we think. 

Second, it causes one to consider a number of ethical and philosophical questions and dilemnas.  Is it wrong to manipulate children, or anyone, for the greater good?  What is the greater good?  Who is our enemy?  What is communication? Is Ender really guilty of anything in the end?  How do we speak for the dead|?

Of course, some of it pushes the limit of credulity, especially that a six-year-old would be that smart (or his siblings), but as I said in the discussion, it creates a dream and doesn't break the dream, to use John Gardiner's terminology (The Art of Fiction, which I am due to read again soon.  Great book.)  Ender's Game has its own inner consistency.  Its prose is beautiful and clean as well.

Of course, a lot has been said about Orson Scott Card's opposition to gay marriage.  That in itself doesn't bother me, since I am opposed to calling a "partnership" of two homosexual people "marriage."  He is pretty vituperative in his comments, and may have made racist ones, too, and hateful comments about gays.  So I am not going to defend him, nor am I going to feel guilty for reading his book, and I am less concerned about whether I would go to the movie.  At some level art has to speak for itself.  I think Woody Allen has made some great movies (and some stupid ones) but I think he is a perverted little moron. 

Card is a Mormon, and I have always says it takes both a lot of faith and a lot of imagination to be a Mormon; he seems to be blessed with a great deal of imagination to construct the battle games and the bugger civilization, and most of all the exquisite ending.  I was very moved at the end when Ender confronts the "leftovers" of the bugger world, or what they have left for him.  It's the kind of book that, after I read it, I feel like I don't have any business writing fiction.  

Public Speaking Online: Part III

This is a continuation of articles below on speaking for webinars, etc.  Experts give a few other preparation tips...