mystery writers

You hear much about the vaunted “flow” among artistic types. Being in the flow, or the zone, or whatever you call it, means you’re inside the story, seeing it play out in your mind, being a simple conduit to the mystical power of your imagination. Which is wonderful when it happens but isn’t as often as you’d like. Often as a writer you have to simply be there, be present, and hope for the best.

In editing the first draft of my new novel I often find places where the flow was present. Unfortunately that usually means I show (not tell for godssake) my characters moving from place to place, thinking thoughts they’ve already articulated, and generally feeling a bit too much. Logistics, getting people from place to place, are the first to go. They are usually unnecessary. Take them out and see if it still makes sense. (It will.) I remember teaching seventh graders writing and a boy who was completely stumped at how to get his story started without having his character get out of bed, brush his teeth, take a shower, eat breakfast, etc. etc. All the boring parts of living, right? As Elmore Leonard says, take out the boring stuff. 

The other thing in editing your second draft is that the first chapter can probably go. It was necessary for your flow when you started. It made you get deep inside the psyche of your character. But now that you’re there don’t burden your readers with it. Let it come out naturally later. I tend to load up my protagonists with heavy baggage so I’ll have something to work with later. Maybe it’s not necessary. Or maybe I can work it in little by little and not load up the poor reader too.

One thing I’ve learned as a reader is that I don’t like serious angst at the start of a book. It’s a turn-off. I’ve done it myself, and I’ve read it. You have to be seriously skilled as a writer to make it work for you, to draw in a reader to care about your damaged character. Depression, sadness, grief: they aren’t attractive to readers. Start elsewhere, young writer. Crack a joke. It’ll get you farther. Then after the story is trotting along dig a little deeper. It’s okay to have damaged people, hey, they’re out there, plenty of them. But draw the gentle reader along, don’t hit him over the head.

Back to the editing. Wish me luck.