Sunday, December 4, 2011

ROW80 Update and Why This Book Took So Long

I'm not going to do a daily break-down of what I did on the Round Of Words in 80 Days dare since the last update on Wednesday. I'll just give you the total:

From Wednesday through Saturday: 1163 minutes, or almost 20 hours.

But the book is done. I will be making some character and clue-consistency passes later on, but just now my brain's word muscle is sprained. And even after sleeping much of the day, the words for this post are coming with a lot more difficulty than they ought to.


As you may see from the sidebar, I exceeded my goals for ROW80. Fear not, I will be continuing the dare until it's over on December 22. Though I'll start that tomorrow, I won't post the new goals until Wednesday.

Why This Book Took So Freaking Long

1.) It took so long because it took so long.

I started the book in 2003, let it stall, and then took it up in earnest two years ago. It looked like a piece of cake then, and it has continued to look like a piece of cake since. But memories and old ideas have a way of changing and running out on you -- so the slower you go, the more problems you have. I will talk about this later in a post of it's own, though, because writing over a long period of time also gives you some advantages.

But mostly, in future, I'm going to use shelf-time for good, not for evil.

2.) Real Life Kerfuffle Caused Me To Take My Eye Off The Ball.

My dad died, and I discovered Indie Publishing. These two things together yanked aobut a year out of the process. There were other issues too, but they were smaller.

In future? "Life Rolls" will get you no matter what. So the lesson here is only be mindful that fate is going to get you sometimes. So even though I might try to avoid Item #1, I may have to deal with it again.

3.) I'm moving to a new level.

I can't say that I learned specific new skills for this book, but I never put them together like this before. You could even say that this is the first time I have trotted out some of the skills I've been acquiring and really put them through their paces.

I was juggling all the usual plot and character stuff with advanced Hitchcock suspense theory, and multi-layered clue/red herring usage and screenplay arc structures, all the while working out the voice and attitude of a series I hope to live with and play in for a long time. (I've done a lot of this with Mick and Casey, but it's much simpler there because I have one narrator with his own voice and style, and he smooths it all out.)

Juggling all this is hard and takes practice and the result is not likely to be the best story in this series. (But that's a good thing, because it would suck if the later books didn't live up to the promise of the first.)

And a lot of that work will not be noticed by the audience.

But it will affect the audience, and that's where a certain pride in your craftsmanship comes in.

4.) The Story Demanded It

The mystery genre has a particular problem that no other genre has: The audience is not just along for the ride. They are actively engaged in reading subtext. And the subtext of the subtext. They're like poker players and they know your "tell." When I was a kid, I could pick murderers off of book jackets. (Charming, likeable character, who couldn't possibly have done it? Yes, that's him officer.)

At the same time, the mainstream audience likes mysteries, even if they are mystified until the end. But they don't like feeling dumb. Levinson and Link (creators of Columbo, and Mannix, and Murder She Wrote) learned this lesson the hard way. When they created the Ellery Queen TV Show, they worked very hard to make it live up to the books in terms of being fair but mystifying puzzles -- and that wonderful series was canceled after one year. So when they created Murder, She Wrote, they intentionally made it easy. And that lasted twelve years.

I was one who was very disappointed at the loss of EQ, and only moderately interested in Murder She Wrote. But I question whether this is an "either or" situation in terms of pleasing the audience. It seems to me that the masters of classic mystery have always laid in multiple layers to please various levels of audience. And every mystery writer has to write a story that is still enjoyable to those who picked the killer off the book jacket. (And also enjoyable to those who didn't see it coming at all.)

And those kinds of choices are a part of this Artisan Writer thing: It's not always that complicated, but you are always crafting a reader experience.

No, maybe the Artisan thing is even more visceral than that. It's that you care about how things work.

I will be talking a lot more about clues and red herrings and writing for different levels of audience soon. But I will not post anything until Wednesday, when I post my next update and ROW80 goals.


Lesann Berry said...


....and whew!

I appreciate your comments on writing mysteries because subtext is so critical. I'm glad I found your site and will be back to browse.

The Daring Novelist said...

Welcome aboard, Lisann, and thanks for stopping by.

David Michael said...

I was happy to get the last piece of the book. I'm well into already on my Kindle. =)

I might have mentioned it before, but I have a book that has a 3-year gap in writing just past the middle. Not slow progress, though. I canceled the thing and never really intended to come back to it for reasons that seemed valid at the time. So far, no one has commented on the 3-year jump between paragraphs in chapter 12. So, yes, life happens sometimes. Just gotta learn to live with it. ;-)

I like your phrase "artisan writer". I'm not entirely sure what it means yet, but I like it. It conjurs images of handcrafted, personal stories.

Have a great week!


Angie said...

Re: the book jacket thing, that works with TV too; I can usually pick the murderer out of the opening scene. The neighbor or co-worker who has a name right off the bat, but little or no important info to give the cops is the murderer. If you never see him/her again until after the forty-minute mark, that's confirmation; they're hoping you'll forget all about that very forgettable character. :)

I've occasionally put a mystery into a story in a different genre, but when the readers aren't Mystery Fans(tm), you can take it easy, with one or two red herrings and nothing incredibly twisty. I'm a pantser, and can't imagine doing (or rather, can't imagine enjoying doing) the pre-work necessary to do a multi-layered, twisted-maze-with-dead-ends type of puzzle that genre mystery would require. I admire those who can do it, though, so definitely congrats on finishing yours. :)


Anonymous said...

Congrats! "It took so long because it took so long." - I love that. You can't be any more honest than that.

The Daring Novelist said...


Thanks again for reading! And yes, every book is different, every writer is different. I'm going to go into why it was particularly hard work for this book later, because it's a subject in itself.

Yeah, unless it's a multi-episode arc, TV shows have to use a pretty simplistic approach to hiding the twist most of the time. Still there are more techniques than just making the audience forget.

When I first started writing, I despaired of ever being able to do a good mystery, but I started with what you do -- put a relatively simple mystery element into an adventure story. And over the years, I've added more and more elements.


Yeah, I did mean that directly, but I also meant (and could not put in to words last night) that slow writing tends to be self-perpetuating: When you write slow, you create more opportunities for things in that slow you down further.

Lee McAulay said...

"Real Life Kerfuffle" - yes, that throws everything into a muddle. If our home or family life is upturned, it's often hard to focus on the self-fulfilment of writing well, and at those times the comfort of a routine job that doesn't take much mental effort can be a handy refuge. Even a demanding job outside the home can be a place to avoid the kerfuffle.
P.S. I like this 'Artisan Writer' thing. I think there ought to be a widget or something for it. I might just go ahead and design one.
But first... I have to finish editing this current novel, that came into my head with a single scene in 1996, and which has sat, finished, waiting for extra layers of complexity to be sifted over it for the last five years.

ModWitch said...

I'd be the one who never gets it until the end :-P... Note to self: don't write mysteries.

The Daring Novelist said...

Thanks, Lee. Good luck on your monster project!

ModWitch: All that much more reason I'm glad you're reading it. As for mystery writing skills; Everybody can make use of a little misdirection, promise and payoff in telling a story. But it can be applied a lot more simply with most stories.

jnfr said...

Huge congrats on finishing. I know that feels fantastic.

The Daring Novelist said...

Thanks, jnfr!