As I drifted off to sleep last night, I was wondering who I might kill. I wasn't planning a murder, not necessarily, just musing about who would be the next to die. Why do you think it is that we gravitate to mysteries and suspense, specifically those which involve death?
I like the first sentence because it creates questions. Why does she want to kill somebody? Who is the victim? What did he or she do? We gravitate to mystery and suspense novels because they create questions. We can't put the book down until we get the answers to our questions. If death is involved, it becomes even more urgent that we get answers.
I agree, yet questions in themselves can become merely annoying, as if they’re holes in the fabric of information. Perhaps it’s curiosity—what next? I think it’s curiosity which draws me through life, through the darkest of times. And I think that there’s actually far more mystery and suspense in our lives than we acknowledge. Most of us accumulate a collection of such significant events: a sudden illness, a death, a loss to fire or flood, fired from a job… and we ask: Why didn’t I see that coming? What will I do now?
I agree that a murder becomes particularly interesting; the cessation of life is likely a deep-seated concern for the vast majority of people. How have you selected your victims? And why those specific characters? I’m not asking about a specific story, but more generally.
As you say, there is far more mystery and suspense in our lives than we acknowledge. If we pull from the ordinary and extraordinary of our lives, we can create mystery and suspense for our characters.
Consider ending chapters in the following ways to keep readers turning the pages:
* have someone change his/her mind abruptly
* show a strange text message on a phone
* have an email from a stranger pop up on the screen
* show the police coming to the door
* have a doctor call with test results
* provide a chance encounter
* create a false alarm
* describe an ominous image (storm approaching)
* reveal something terrible is about to happen (brake fluid leaking)
* give a surprise announcement
* reveal a secret
Even something as innocuous as having someone pull an item from his/her pocket can create What's Next.
Indeed, I agree that the fundamental element to mystery and suspense is the creation of What’s Next. Those events you have listed trigger curiosity in the reader, and their unravelling or elaboration persists for a time, taking us deeper within the story.
Do you prefer the “Who done it?” style of writing wherein there’s a death, a limited number of people available, and a reveal at the end that justifies the writer’s assertion that character X is the perpetrator for the following reasons… Or, do you prefer the interplay of many small “mysteries” and suspenseful moments which appear to hinge on elements found in some primary mystery?
I mention this because I gravitate more to the latter. There’s always a reason to ask: What’s next? While I want to see resolution, I am also accepting of the fact that new and unforeseen challenges may arise. It’s as if we’ve passed one test, but we must now study for another—even though it hasn’t as yet been scheduled.
Like you, I much prefer the interplay of many small mysteries and suspenseful moments which appear to hinge on elements in the primary mystery. This gives rise to subplots, the layering in a story that I love. If the story is not rich and complex with a network of mysteries all linked to the overall big message or resolution, I don't feel like turning the pages.
I love the red herrings in a story that send the reader one way, expecting the mystery to be solved, when the answer lies another way.
I agree; however, I don’t need the complexity to which you’ve referred to be obviously directly related to the mystery. Sometimes, I like to get to know the characters a bit more outside of the mystery. It’s a bit like no matter how serious a matter might be in one’s life, you’ve still got to eat and sleep, else you perish. Besides, I might just be lulled before something big occurs; the quiet time acts as a counter-point to that. You, of course, may disagree.
How do you feel about the protagonist in a mystery/suspense? It seems to me that there is an abundance of seriously flawed protagonists and I am not fond of those. I think my least favourite is the ex-cop who is either battling alcohol or drugs (or both), and who has either retired from or been drummed out of the police force. He has likely lost whatever family he might have had and might be haunted by a personal tragedy to boot! Despite a poor diet and lack of exercise, he nevertheless is either (1) in tip-top shape, or (2) couldn’t defend himself against a wet noodle attack.
The protagonist who stumbles along, yet resolves the mystery, fails to secure my interest. Perhaps that sort is too much like me, stumbling and bumbling through life—and I don’t need more of the same. I much prefer someone who who has more of their ducks in a row, someone I can admire and trust to lead me through the morass in which the writer has dropped me. I don’t expect them to be omniscient or prescient, merely thoughtful and competent.
Perhaps it’s because I’m getting older, but I yearn for idealism and goodness and it is my fervent hope that the real life expression of that is possible. I’m not denying the existence of evil, but I am not so much the pessimist nor the anarchist that I like to see our future depicted as one that is apocalyptic, grey, dreary and simply ugly. I’ve sometimes said that I write “bedtime stories for adults” —with poisoning, drowning, suffocation, bludgeoning…
The protagonist needs to have a flaw in order for the reader to see a change in the character arc. Each powerful character needs a flaw to overcome, for readers love to see the character overcome his/her obstacles, either physical or emotional. However, the trite characters with flaws that are overused become the characters whom we push aside. In my current crime, my cop shows burnout—he probably has PTSD—but he does not have an alcohol/drug problem. His job has affected his relationships, so he is alone. He's affected this way in order for him to have the struggle towards a better life and for readers to be pulling for him along the way. Regardless, he must be someone who takes an active role in solving his crime/problems—not the bumbling cop who gets an answer through happenstance. Even if someone else provides those answers, he must put himself/herself in the trajectory of solving the crime.
Again, I am full agreement; the “flaws” exist and the character grows to while attempting to over-come them. We agree that too many flaws and bumbling to an answer is “over-used”. It is exaggerated well-beyond anything remotely realistic.
My protagonist in The Awen Chronicles is rather subtly flawed. She starts out with little confidence in social situations but her confidence and ability to experience joy are increased over time. It’s all in over-coming the psychological burdens of her past and discovering the depth of her personal courage.
What brought you to the point of writing mystery/suspense? A general love of the genre? A particular news article that grabbed your attention? Or, something else?
Actually, perhaps we should leave that for a later time when we continue our discussion of writing… Joy Lynn Goddard's website can be reached at joygoddard.com
The main character in The Awen Chronicles, Lucy Gillespie, is a successful artist. While considering what I might write in this second blog instalment, the women artists I know seemed an appropriate topic. What of who they are as women and as artists might have made its way into the character of Lucy—I’ll leave that for you to decide.
Among them, the artist I’ve known the longest is Rocio Amozurrutia. Rocio and I became pen pals back in elementary school and have maintained a friendship ever since, periodically taking time out for those things that life throws in your direction between then and now. Somehow, we always manage to pick up the pieces and continue.
Rocio was born in Mexico City and studied painting at The National School of Visual Arts there. In 1991 she moved to Florence, Italy where she was awarded the first prize at the Fortmann Studios. While studying at the Fine Arts Academy in Florence, she worked in restoration of Gobelins and ancient tapestries of the 13th and 14th Centuries.
In 1993 she was awarded a distinction for an exhibition titled “Al Femminile” in Trento, Italy. Not only award-winning, Rocio gives painting and art therapy courses, frequently in addiction centres. Her work has been shown featured in gallery shows throughout Italy, as well as in Holland, and, of course, Mexico.
She says that her art is a metamorphosis, constantly transforming. It takes her to the darkest zone within, an underworld of madness, fury, impotence, pain and loss from which she struggles to recover her instinctive strength. www.instagram.com/elpinceldeetaine
Perhaps my Lucy Gillespie embodies some of Rocio’s spiral growth, propelled by an engine of instinctive strength. Perhaps.
Years later, at St. Mary’s School for Girls in Kitchener, Ontario, I first encountered C. Ann Kittredge as a fellow classmate. Like me but unlike Lucy, Ann’s “first life” involved a study of science—she at WLU, while I was just down the street at the University of Waterloo. In each case, our time as “lab rats” led us into teaching. While Lucy doesn’t overtly express an aptitude for science, I think her analytical skills may. When you read L’Orté Point, let me know what you think about that.
Early in her transition, Ann won the Joel Dana Memorial Scholarship as an outstanding graduating student in the BFA program at the University of Maine at Presque Isle. Today, C. Ann Kittredge (BFA, MFA) is a mixed media artist residing in New Brunswick, Canada. During the early part of her “second life”, she lectured at the University of Maine, Presque Isle where she taught drawing, painting, design and printmaking.
She continues to be fascinated by the connections between art and science; much of her imagery arises from a lengthy consideration of issues and phenomena which reside in that area where science, art, and spirituality overlap. In addition to painting in acrylic, Ann has been making mixed media works built with collage, ink, paint and other media over large intaglio prints (etchings). The layering of images and media speaks to the levels of meaning, reflecting the physical, intellectual and spiritual concerns which inspire the work.
Ann has been an instructor of children’s summer art workshops and adult drawing classes. She also served as a docent at the Beaverbrook Art Gallery in Fredericton, NB and has participated in numerous gallery showings of her art— not only at the Beaverbook Art Gallery, but also at galleries throughout New Brunswick, Maine and Vermont.
I find the transitions inspiring; they give me hope. One can become far more than one is at any point along the journey that is life. Then again, it is these real transitions, facilitated through art, which inspired me to create Lucy, an artist who forges her own path through a very personal transition.
The third artist, Hilary Slater, I have known for the shortest period of time—and that’s about forty years! During most of that time she lived and worked in southern Ontario, eventually moving her studio to Tiny Township on the shores of Georgian Bay.
Hilary is a prolific artist. Her work is greatly varied since she is very active across a broad spectrum: watercolour, oil, acrylic, pottery, textiles... and more. Primarily self- taught as a painter, Hilary has been painting for over thirty-five years, eight of them as a professional artist.
Having studied Landscape Design at the Master’s level, Hilary transposes her educational background into her art, painting native tree and plant species of Ontario into her work. She paints landscapes of the Canadian wilderness, from Ontario to Labrador. Her recent works are large-scale watercolours sealed with cold wax, mounted on birch panel, as well as acrylic painting on panel.
She has been featured in PleinairMagazine.com and AmericanWatercolor.net since she paints predominantly on location to capture the immediacy of live experience. Her inked line work creates a “stained glass” effect in some of her paintings. More recently, Hilary’s winter wet-on-wet paintings have incorporated snow as a medium, allowing the natural material to play with abstraction in her painting process.
Hilary thrives on the lack of control that her wet-on-wet techniques allow, since other mediums afford a forced decision-making with each brush stroke. Wet-on-wet forces the excitement of letting go to allow nature to take experiences while plein air painting.
Hilary says that she is inspired by the wild fetish of colour that the Ontario landscape affords. Her many years of colour research have led to the courageous combinations she now applies in both her watercolours and acrylics. Her work can be seen on www.instagram.com/hilaryslaterart . Her website is hilaryslater.com .
While Lucy Gillespie doesn’t share Hilary’s love of plein air painting, she does share a similar joy in celebrating the exuberance of nature. Readers of The Awen Chronicles will meet Lucy and her art in Book 1, L’Orté Point, but the art becomes far more significant in Book 2, Cow on the Ice.
We like to say that no news is good news, but in this case no news is merely a lack of information––and that’s not particularly good. I’m still waiting to hear about the progression of L’Orté Point in the publishing queue. It’s clearly not a hare, but the tortoise won the race anyway, didn’t it?
I ask that when you visit my website: www.gibbensauthor.ca or Facebook page: www.facebook.com/gibbensauthor that you leave some indication that you have visited. A “like” would be nice. And, of course, this website’s contact page is a convenient way to send me a private message. I hope you do!
The buttons linking my books to various sellers will become active once L’Orté Point is available. I’m definitely looking forward to making that announcement!
Here, I hope to share with readers the bits and pieces of experiences which have inspired my writing, as well as postings and photographs which relate to certain matters which form parts of my stories. Several times it has happened that upon completion of a manuscript, there is the coincidental and serendipitous appearance of articles in the media which reflect some of those same concerns, themes, locations...It’s as if we’ve falling into the same stream, and as we're being carried along by currents, have found ourselves within the same eddies and whirlpool.
But since I’m in a holding pattern, all that will need to wait. Soon, I promise, very soon.