Sunday, August 2, 2009

The Road to I Don't Know Where

Gabriella Herkert, Catnapped and Doggone

Outlines are the road maps of mysteries. I must confess. I have a limited sense of direction. Okay, I never know where I’m going. If I find the house from the driveway, I can call it a good day. Add to that my propensity to write non-sequentially and you end up with a novel in desperate need of editorial GPS. For this, I don’t use the traditional outline. I use the Hollywood Squares whodunit wall map and dart board.

Here’s how it happens. I commit a crime. Or rather my nefarious alter ego goes on a metaphorical crime spree. Any number of felonies and misdemeanors may ultimately be committed to cover up, confuse or in response to the initial crime but my book takes on the flavor of that first criminal choice. In Catnapped, it was as simple as a missing cat. Not even a crime if catnapping isn’t involved (cats tend to wander off on their own from time to time). For Doggone, I went with the crime du jour, identity theft. The crime is then my center square.

Next, I need to invite some people over for dinner. They come with as much personality as RuPaul. They’re funny, crazy or both. Each has a reason for being involved in the crime. Cops occasionally refer to this as motive. It isn’t always. Sometimes it’s the wrong place, wrong time. More often it’s that people don’t act in consistent, rational or predictable ways. They’re family. Or friends. Or known enemies. To make the show, the character needs to be a known quality to my victim. I place these characters in the outer squares around my center crime.

I put my protagonist in the emcee’s chair. She asks the questions. She judges the answers. She has a couple of contestant-cohorts to help her figure out who will win. They’re regulars. Once they’re in place I have an outline.

Then, I screw it all up by actually writing. My outline is a living thing and has to adapt. Sometimes I continue to use the initial outline and sometimes adding in the ten mistakes that the criminal makes and the ones that the cops make turns my lovely road map into a hand-drawn sketch done on the back of an envelope that a neighbor might draw to show you how to get to that place, you know the one, near the thing after you pass the whatsit but before you get to the place where those people you used to know wanted to live before they bought that other place. Sometimes, I’m too frustrated by the dead ends, U-turns and missed driveways to continue with the original plan. Sometimes I have to ask directions from my critique group, Beta readers or editor. And sometimes the scenic tour is just the ticket.



Jen said...

Gabi, you sound like you drive like me. I inevitably get lost where ever I'm going for the first I always leave myself extra time. I do often discover new things that way, though! :) Most recently I drove past my destination 3 times...yes, 3 times. In my defense it was pouring down rain and there was no sign at the road, but I did drive by it 3 times. Ever drive past your book's destination only to return and discover you'd past it?

Gabi said...

Let's just say if they gave degrees for mastering the U-turn, I'd be teaching at the post doctoral level. I swear it's not a sign of intellect. I missed that gene.

Kim Maeda said...

I prefer to think of it as "temporarily relocating" - not necessarily lost. At least that's what I used to tell my daughter when she'd notice we had passed the same landmark more than once as I casually pretended I wasn't lost driving her to school, girl scouts, friend's house, etc. Life has been almost boring since I got my navigational system in my car. Occasionally I don't listen to it. Just so it can tell me over and over: "Make a U-turn when possible" . . .