Friday, May 1, 2015

Ice Cream, Skunks, and CLUE

I have recently come to the realization that the ‘devil’ is not in the details of writing; rather, those details actually lead to the ‘divine’ of writing.

For instance, imagine branding yourself an author of MYSTERY genres.  Then imagine plotting your course from start of novel to the end in a straight, linear fashion.  Finally, imagine trying to get more than 50 pages out of this method.   The plot would read something like this:  A person has been murdered.  The possible culprits, the weapon(s), and the location (Sounds like an abbreviated version of the game CLUE) are identified.  A logical conclusion is determined.  Someone is arrested.  Plot ends.  Butler did not do it; serves ginger ale to innocents after police leave the crime scene.  The End.


If this were the norm for novels, most people would abandon reading and focus on other, more fulfilling activities, like cow-tipping, toenail clipping, or developing lists of reasons not to eat so much chocolate.

Gratefully, this is not the case.  We love to read; and therefore, we love to write.  We love to read because the author has gone to the cupboard, pulled out an assortment of ingredients (random or not) to use in their recipe, and carefully blended them into the mix.  As a result, we find out why Colonel Mustard was really in the Billiard Room with the rope; that being, he was a Colonel during WWII in the Army Corps of Engineers, specializing in rope bridges utilized by Marvin’s Marauders on the island of Guadalcanal.  He taught the troops how to tie specialized knots in order to help the men get across the endless small rivers and canyons on this hellish island in the Pacific.  As such, and because his grandchildren were visiting for the weekend, he was showing them how to tie several of his favorite knots with the rope, all the while playing billiards with his oldest granddaughter who had very little interest in rope knots.  A solid alibi.

See what I mean?  Isn’t that much more interesting to read than what you knew about Colonel Mustard before, which is nothing?  You’ll never play the game the same way again, huh?  The author takes the most inane details and treats them like brush strokes on a canvas where no one stroke is complete without the thousand others that weave and blend the final picture. 

One additional benefit to exploring and including seemingly insignificant details is that they are often the seeds of future writings such as introductions, epilogues, or a good book series.  Many of these details can be gleaned from our personal lives and current societal events.
Case-in-point:  Here in Texas, a great tragedy recently occurred; one we all hope is very short-lived.  The news reported that the Blue Bell Ice Cream factory down the road recently recalled all of its ice cream products due to the possibility of listeria.  ALL of it!  For us here in Texas, this is the equivalent of withholding water from someone dying of thirst.  It hurts…bad!   Yes, there are other ‘frozen milk products’ available, but let’s get real.  It’s Blue Bell!

So, as an author, what can I do with this current event?  Well, if it were me, I’d turn this into a delicious mystery novel.  Who done it?  Was it a careless employee?  Did Ben and Jerry sneak into the ice cream plant in Brenham, TX and sabotage the mix of Southern Blackberry Cobbler?  Are we being invaded by an alien species that is trying to make the human race suffer by tainting one snack at a time?  Government conspiracy?  Hillary?

I guess I’m trying to say that it’s okay to open up our lives, past and present, and throw it into the mix.  It’s meaningful for the readers to help them identify with us.  It’s cathartic for us, personally, to get ‘that one embarrassing thing that happened to us back in high school’ included into our writing.  It’s emotionally satisfying. 

For me, I have a great skunk incident, a shoelace tragedy, and an awkward first kiss in Kindergarten story I really need to weave into my next ‘great American novel’.  I bet you do too.


  1. In my novel I included a flashback scene in which the main character is the victim of bullying. Not exactly what happened to me, but the same idea- thinking she is being accepted, when she is really being the punchline of a cruel joke. Tough to write, but powerful!

    My favorite thing is when I write the "what" of the story, and only later does the "why" become clear. Apparently my brain already knew, but I had to get to know the character before he or she revealed the reasoning behind it.

  2. As a reader of many different books by many different writers I can tell you if I don't find myself lost in the book after the first few pages I just give up and move on, although I can tell you that if it is an audio book I am listening to I will stick with it a little longer



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