We’re Gonna Need Another Corpse

I’ve been working diligently (well, working) on the outline I talked about earlier. I’ve managed to work myself into a lousy space: Judging by the increase in outline length (doubled) I’ve probably doubled the length of the story. 40,000 words is kind of a lousy length. There are markets for fiction that length, to be sure… but not really for new writers. Besides, this has become a challenge for me: Can I write a novel-length mystery?

Being sure I can do it is one thing, but it would be nice to know how. Fortunately, I read a lot of mystery novels šŸ™‚ There are a couple options.

One option is simply to drag it out. Add complications: a witness who won’t talk. One witness who is convinced that someone else did it and willing to plant evidence to prove it. Multiple crimes having been committed by multiple people in such a way that there cannot be just one criminal, so that the detective has to figure out into whose column goes which crime. One can complicate endlessly, I suppose, but after a while things become tedious, and if the reader guesses early, it’s all over. I worry that I’ve reached the limit of what can be done in this regard, but maybe I just need to sit and think a bit more.

Another classic method is the serial killing: There just aren’t enough clues to solve the original crime, but (er, fortunately?) the killer, confident that the detective is in the dark, strikes again at someone who had the ability to expose him. Agatha Christie’s work contains a lot of this; the example that springs to mind is her Murder Is Easy, where half a small village bites the bullet in suspicious ways. Even one such over-reach can chew up pages and pages. My trouble with it is that there are so few characters involved. I’d have to think very carefully before going this route, because the addition of characters means a total rewrite. Still, outlines are relatively cheap, and this can be the most effective way of building tension, especially if the audience had been lead to suspect the new corpse of the original crime.

Another is to string together multiple shorter mysteries into one longer arc. I’ve seen this most recently in Elizabeth Bear’s New Amsterdam, where most of the chapters could stand alone as short mysteries, but are held together by a cast of interesting characters and a longer, political, story arc. This is a tempting approach: it plays to my strengths, such as they are. I’ve written several stories with this protagonist, and while a second 40,000 word story would itself be a difficulty, I don’t think that it would be insurmountable.

Moreover, there is a natural place in the story in which to put it: There is a break in the action before the final scene, during which time the story looks to have been wrapped up, but in a fairly unsatisfactory way. This could contain a related mystery, or the story of the protagonist digging up the information that leads to the final scene. I’m inclined against the latter, just because I feel that it would stretch things out and make matters too easy to guess. The former might be just the ticket.

Lots to think about.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.