They Mystery Writer: Short journeys end with a bullet
March 29, 2021
How fast do I reach the end of my mystery novels? I travel the crooked road until my main character ends it with a final shot.
WHEN I WRITE A NOVEL, I can’t see past day after tomorrow.
Well, that’s not exactly true.
But I seldom see past the end of the month.
Rightly or wrongly, I write in very short and very tight time frames.
Back Side of a Blue Moon is about twenty-seven days long. So are Bad Side of a Blue Moon and Lost Side of an Orphan’s Moon.
Lovely Night to Die, Rainy Night to Die, and Lonely Night to Die all begin and end in two or three days.
And all four books in the Ambrose Lincoln series – Secrets of the Dead, Conspiracy of Lies, Night Side of Dark, and Place of Skulls – come to an abrupt and crashing end before the month is out.
I deeply admire those authors who have the patience and the vision to write novels that take place over long periods of time.
Sometimes, a baby is born and grows to become a fine and revered old gentleman before the final page is finished.
It is a leisurely journey that takes a lifetime to accomplish.
It is a wonderful journey.
The character wanders through changing times and changing customs, changing loves and changing conflicts.
The boy who becomes a man faces heartbreak on page fifty.
The tears are finally dried on page two hundred and fifty.
And he has another two hundred and fifty pages of heartbreak still ahead of him.
He’s betrayed on page sixty-two.
He forgives on page four hundred and sixty-two.
A forty-year-old killer is brought to justice on the fifty-eighth birthday.
If I birth the boy, he is lost, kidnapped, sold, traded, swapped, tracked down, rescued, and returned home before he needs that second box of diapers.
I’ve tried to figure it out, and here’s the best I can do.
I gather up a handful of characters who fascinate me.
A good guy.
A good-looking girl, a potential love interest.
A side-kick that they pick up along the way.
The key character who knows the secret and can solve the mystery provided anyone finds him or listens to him.
A couple of really bad guys, the kind who live on dark streets on the dark side of a dark town.
A couple of dozen extras, as the movies call them, who are thrown on the page solely to sell train tickets, serve up dinner, rent rooms in a hotel, sell a gun or two, get in the way, get shot down, or bury the dead. Rarely do any of them have speaking parts. Those who do aren’t long for this world.
I learned that writing film scripts.
Write them in.
Pay them off.
And write them out.
With these characters running amok in my mind, I write a short story.
That’s all I do.
I’m not interested in an epic.
I don’t cover a war from the first shot to the last.
I don’t have sweethearts fall in love and then die of old age.
I don’t spend six months solving the mystery, six months chasing the fugitive and a month following attorneys around as they prepare for the courtroom fight.
I don’t have the patience for it.
I simply write a short story that’s about 40,000 to 75,000 words long.
I don’t worry about the number of pages in the novel.
I only worry about the journey.
I travel down the crooked road until my main character ends it, usually with a bullet.
Then I put a period.
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