Q: What's the worst corner you've ever written yourself into and how did you get out again?
A: Whatever corner I’m backed into at the moment is the worst. Example: She left the apartment hours before she arrived at the apartment because I need her to see something that she could only see across town at that moment …but I also needed her to get the phone call at home that her partner couldn’t possibly make until that moment because he had been locked up in the villain’s basement and she had to rush out to rescue him before she realized the man she saw.... Time sucks.
It all sounds so easy when I begin. I brush past the warning signs and write, write, write, relishing the rush until that moment I come to a screaming halt, betrayed by my decision not to have my protagonist be a time traveler of a close, personal friend of Dr. Who.
It isn’t just time issues that corner me. I sometimes find the murderer I anointed secretly in chapter one isn’t such a bad person by chapter fourteen and I get a little sad to think how much my readers are going to hate him in chapter twenty-three. So I start hedging, creating little scenes in which he shows a softer side. Such a mistake. I’m just making it harder to carry off the climax of the story without severe and unwelcome revisions.
Getting out of these corners is harder than avoiding them in the first place. So, while I don’t outline, I do try hard to construct and stay with a timeline, aided by stickie notes, that forces me to face up to plot complications and straighten them out as I go. Either she didn’t need to see that clue, or she saw it from her window, or she saw it last week and only has to remember it while she waits for her partner’s call.
For characters who start to shape shirt, firmness is called for most the other time. The villain is the villain. If I don’t believe he’s dastardly enough for the job, I need to go back to the backstory and either get rid of him or add enough that I lose my misplaced sympathy. There’s something else that might be going on – maybe he isn’t the villain. Maybe my subconscious is telling me he’s the decoy and, if that’s the case, who is it I think is the real skunk? There’s always someone. I may merely have ignored my inner voice.
Corners are part of the business of being a writer – any kind of writing presents issues like these. The great fun of writing mysteries is the times I’m sitting at the keyboard grinning as I burst my way out like Superwoman, and rush into the next hot mess.