I went to the Willamette Writer’s meeting tonight after having dinner with four members of my writing group. We drank beer – a big mistake for me since it makes me very sleepy. I worry I’ll fall asleep and knock teeth out on the beer mug.
The speaker talked about writing mysteries. My group likes to sit in the front row, which meant that I was forced to keep my eyes open and not doze off. Unfortunately, I was not up to the challenge. I had also eaten a whole basket of tater tots, which are often used in primitive jungle cultures as a sleep aid. Fight as I might, my eyes were shut tight.
That’s right. Luckily others around me were taking notes so they couldn’t see my head bobbing, but I know the speaker saw me. She was not blind, after all. The sad thing is that she was quite interesting. Her name was April Henry, in case you want to get her books.
I think I missed out on quite a bit, but here’s the part I heard. If you want to make sure readers will stay glued to your mystery plot, you need to apply a special contact cement to the cover (available at fine publishing houses everywhere). That way they CAN’T put the book down.
If you’re not able to do this for moral or ethical reasons, then you’d better write an interesting story, which is easier than you think. All you have to do is pick out one of your characters and make him your protagonist (the good guy), and then make everyone else act suspicious, and then have an antagonist (bad guy) or two. The bad guys have to do mean things to the good guy in order for the story to be interesting. And one mean thing is not nearly enough – they have to spatter the good guy with so many mean things it would be like getting shot with a shotgun and every little shot would be a bad thing, if you know what I mean.
The presentation was very well done and progressed nicely. In fact, it whizzed by but that could have been due to the tots. Forty-five minutes later, the speaker asked if anyone had questions. This is the part I hate. The auditorium was full, which meant there were quite a few people who needed to demonstrate their writing acumen by asking questions they probably already knew the answer to, just to show off their writing jargon.
For example, one woman said, “In your genre, when do you decide who is going to be the antagonist? Is that during your opening scenes or do you wait until the dénouement?”
The WHAT? The speaker was pretty cool. She wasn’t about to be sucked into such foolishness. “I’m not sure what you mean.”
Unfortunately, this was exactly what the woman wanted to hear, because she elaborated in such contrived babble that I took another ten-minute snooze. When I woke up, she was still spewing jargon like a shaken up Coke.
“I don’t approach my writing that way,” said the speaker, finally. “So I really don’t know how to answer your question. Anyone else have a question?”
I loved it! These long-winded misanthropes waste everyone’s time, and most speakers end up being too embarrassed or compassionate to cut them off. Although I’ll say one thing about them, their sophisticated mumbo jumbo is great background white noise for sleeping.
I have barely been able to keep my eyes open this whole evening. Tots and beer will do this to you, so the moral of this story is – shovel all the crap you can in front of your protagonist and sit back and take a nap while s/he figures out what to do about it. And if you want a best seller, be sure to weave tater tots into the plot. That could put the protagonist to sleep while the antagonist ties little knots in her hair. The possibilities are endless.