Plots and Characters

WhitfieldNebraskaFrontCover_Small_2016

I’ve been asked how it is I plot my novels. The short answer is: I don’t, not really, kinda sorta somewhat not.

The correct answer is: I have a general idea of story, but when my characters surprise me, my stories always benefit. In other words, I write like John le Carré.

For instance, my crime novel needs are simple: No police or justice system procedurals for me. I wanted to focus on the human factor all the way through, however and whatever it effected. At the same time, it didn’t want to get into any social issues, and if I did it had to be because it advanced the plot. Therefore…

 

One:
The good guy would not be an alcoholic or addict or gay or whatever other buzzed category is popular at any given time. Boring. 

Two:
The good guy would not be a soul so tortured or out of control that he wasn’t fun to hang around with. Comfortable with being alone, he would not be a loner.

Three:
The bad guy would not come back to haunt the good guy. There would be no long-running feuds between them. No backstory to have to explain. All that contrivance does is make the good guy look stupid.

Four:
The bad guy would get the justice he deserved. The bad guy must always die at the end. SuhWEET.

Five:
That death, i.e. true justice, would legally be by a jury of his peers, but not inside a courtroom. Awesome. 

 

In the novel whose cover you see above, I wanted a killer who was responsible many years previous of the murder of one woman. I knew I wanted her parents to find her body before they died. Simple crime. Hire an investigator to solve the cold case. Easy-peezie.

Except my bad guy refused to cooperate. My bad guy turned out to be a serial killer. He came from money, and he cleaned up good and had all the social niceties, nobody would suspect him, he could move in and out easily. But, when one man started chasing down the details of this one death, under his magnifying glass the horrific nature of his crimes — international and domestic — came to light.

But how to prove it? How to bring him to a court of law?

Well, in this my bad guy listened to me. He ran to the BVI and holed up on a small island where he was known but where he thought he was safe from the popo. Only he didn’t realize the popo was the least of his worries.

My good guy also cooperated with me. He knew the bad guy’s money was going to shut down the search for this woman and he couldn’t stand the thought of this old couple going to their graves without being able to bury their daughter next to them.

My good guy must get the details of where this woman’s body was, and then let justice take its course. Happy the bad guy went to an island in a foreign country, my good guy plans on how to get him on a boat and out into international waters where he can park his sorry killing ass and get what he needed to bring the girl home to her parents.

But if I had not listened to my characters, who kept refusing to go where I intellectually wanted them to go, the book would have been just another by the numbers crime novel with no joie de vivre, and nobody would care to spend time with these people.

This is my way of saying, look, if you’ve got a procedural, plot extensively to your heart’s content because the procedure is the star. But if you’ve got human drama, do not muzzle it.