Wednesday, May 28, 2014

Reflections on Writing my First Murder Mystery

Back in the fall, for some reason I have forgotten, I told the play director at my college that I would write her a play.  She likes to do original work in the fall (it also saves royalties).  My motivations were that I wanted to see if I could do it and thought it might be nice to see the students produce something I wrote.  Of course, it's not like I don't have dozens of others projects.

I worked on it a bit through the school year, getting maybe 25 pages done, but once graduation had passed I knew I had to finish it.  I had fashioned it in my head for six months, and I literally wrote it out of thin air.  I finished the first draft Sunday and sent it to her.

It is a murder mystery-farce-parody.  It parodies a lot of Agatha Christie tropes, and it pays homage to old screwball comedies of the '30s and '40s that usually starred Cary Grant.  One person is rather violently murdered but he is a bad guy killed by another bad guy; we can't have someone we care about murdered, but the "detective" tries to pin it on three innocent people who have some embarrassing secrets.  It is corny. I am not that good at one liners, so some of the comedy might be forced.  It also uses a lot of Southern cliches.  It is meant to be fun and entertaining, which is not what I normally write. 

Plays, like poetry, put certain constraints on the writer.  I only have one set (to save money, and I really don't like sitting through set changes), so everything has to take place in one place.  I like a lot of physical action on a stage.  Everything must be revealed through dialogue, and that makes for awkward dialogue sometimes.  The writer must also deal with pacing.  Something can't happen too fast; things need time to psychologically or at least conversationally happen in the characters. 

Everything takes longer than it takes, is a favorite adage of mine, and the play took longer than I wanted to spend writing it, and I have no idea how long the play is, performance-wise.  That is another constraint of playwriting--performance time.  A play can't go on five hours (well, some do, but not this kind!) That never matters to a novelist.  You write until it works. 

The story behind this play came from a couple of images:  a body hanging in a window with a knife in his back, and a girl getting married who couldn't get off her cell phone.  I also added in the idea of identity theft.  I think all creative writing starts with an image like that, or a combination, or maybe a phrase, a line. 

There are a lot of people writing novels today, and "indie" publishing; I will be writing an ebook on writing ebooks this summer myself.  Most are probably just readable, not great.  When I think how many people are writing novels, and how many people are blogging, I am not sure why I keep doing it.  I have 30 ideas for blog posts but something keeps holding me back from publishing them, something that is saying, "do you have any more to offer the world than your opinions?"  If a blog post can't add to knowledge or inspire, should I put it up, should I waste my time on it?  That is plaguing me right now, but that plague will be overcome and I'll get back into daily posting. 


fourkid said...

You are being too hard on yourself. We all have something to offer each other. "they overcame him by the blood of the Lamb, and by the word of their testimony;"

I think that we have gotten so used to Pastors telling us what to do and say that we have forgotten that the Lord said we are all to speak up and we all have a message to give.


Barbara G. Tucker said...

Thank you, Patti! That was the encouragement I needed. I want this blog to be a resource and encouragement. You were a blessing to me today.

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